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The Capitol

A cinema, a bingo hall and now a pub.

11–21 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3TW

A rare survival of a 1920s cinema, The Capitol, on London Road, first opened its doors to the cinema-going public in 1929, with a screening of Man, Woman and Sin. Renamed the ABC in 1968, the cinema gave its last picture show in October 1973. There were plans to convert and even demolish the building. However, The Capitol opened as a bingo hall in February 1978, closing in the first week of December 1996. It is now this Wetherspoon pub.

Framed prints and text about The Capitol.

The text reads: This Wetherspoon pub has been converted from the former Capitol cinema. The building is listed and described as “a rare survival of a complete 1920’s cinema”.

The Capitol was built in 1929, on the former site of three houses in a row named Prospect Villas. The opening ceremony featured speeches by the local MP and the Mayor; music from the cinema’s organ and orchestra, and the silent movie Man, woman and sin.

This featured the heart-throb of the day, John Gilbert, who had co-starred with Greta Garbo in the earlier smash-hit, Flesh and the Devil. The Silent era was nearly over, and Gilbert’s career as a romantic lead went with it. His squeaky voice revealed by the talkies was a great disappointment to the hordes of female fans.

The Capitol showed the first talkie to be seen in the area- Al Jolson’s Singing Fool- a follow-up to his famous Jazz Singer. This was the first successful sound tracked film through various different systems of providing sound had been in use since the 1890s.

The Capitol continued as a cinema until the early 1970s, when, having survived a number of attempted new developments, it was converted into a Bingo Hall. This closed in 1996.

Framed prints and text about Forest Hill.

The text reads: The name Forest Hill reminds us that this area was a forested hill until the early 1700’s. The name is first recorded around 1790.

The early forest dweller lived by charcoal burning and making wattle fencing. The oak trees were felled to provide timbers for the ships at Deptford.

In the late 1700’s the first large houses appeared. Three survive- Ashberry Cottage, The White House and Hill House. The Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) Lived in Ashberry Cottage with his mistress, the actress Dorothy Jordan.

This pub stands near the course of the old Croydon Canal, which followed the route of David’s Road. In 1809 there was a grand formal opening. However, revenues were low, and repair bills high. In 1836 the canal was closed and sold to the London and Croydon Railway.

In 1846 the L&CR experimented on their line with Atmospheric Railway. The system operated by a piston being ‘sucked’ through a vacuum, tube. Noiseless, non-polluting and fast, the system’s weak link was the leather seals used in the tube. Rats ate them. After two years the line reverted to steam locomotion.

A collection of photographs and text about Boris Karloff.

The text reads: William Henry Pratt, better known as Boris Karloff, lived a mile or so from this Wetherspoon pub, in Forest Hill Road. He was born, raised and educated in London and had intended to become a diplomat but was diverted into an acting career whilst in the USA.

“When I was nine”, he said in an interview, “I played the demon king in Cinderella, and it launched on me a long and happy life of being a monster”. He began to make films after the First World War, having spent 10 years on stage.

After dozens of silent movies and two years making talkies, he found world fame in 1931 as the monster in Frankenstein. He never looked back. His “sinister Englishness”, the contrast between his gaunt looks and cultured voice, made him the archetypal horror actor.

Films like The Mummy, The Body Snatcher, and The Walking Dead, typified Karloff’s output, but he was quite able to play for laughs. He appeared in titles as The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and with the comic duo Abbott and Costello. He also gave his monster pathos so that spectators were able to pity them.

Karloff continued to give stage performances, notably in Arsenic and Old Lace, in 1941 and ten years later in Peter Pan (as Hook of course), and appeared on television. He worked up until his death in 1969, aged 82. Several of his films were released posthumously.

Framed prints and text about culture and politics in the area.

The text reads: The former cinema housing this Wetherspoon pub was built in 1929. The sire had previously been occupied by three large houses, part of a row called Prospect Villas.

Two of these, Welland House and Prospect Villa itself, were later extended to become King’s Garth and Princess Garth. They were inhabited by two of the leading members of Forest Hill’s intellectual society, Edward Miall and Augustus Mongredien.

Radical MP for Rochdale, and later Bradford, Miall was founder of the nonconformist. Like many of his books this paper campaigned for the separation of church and state. Miall was a close friend of the radical John Bright, and a supporter of the chartist reformers.

Mongredien was an economist of French descent. He was a radical writer whose works on Free Trade led Gladstone to award him a public pension.

A more recent left-winger, Jim Connell of the Workmen’s Legal Friendly Society, lived in Stondon Park. He is best remembered as the writer of The Red Flag.

The well-known tea merchant Frederick Homiman lived at various addresses in Porest Hill before settling at Surrey Mount. The local museum, which bears his name, was set up to house his huge private collection of “curios”. Homiman gave the museum an gardens to the LCC in 1901 as a “free gist to the people of London for recreation, instruction and enjoyment”

Homiman’s daughter, Annie, was an important figure in British theatre, secretary to W.B Yates, she funded the building of Dublin’s famous Abbey Theatre. She also financed the first public performance of a G.B.Shaw play. The establishment of repertory theatre in this country is credited to Annie Homiman.

A print of theatrical inspired images, for example, Broadway.

A ticket booth inspired by the building’s former use.

It has been brought to life by including a mannequin of a theatre attendant.It has been brought to life by using a mannequin of a theatre attendant.

A poster and chalk board displaying the first film that was screened in the cinema.

Internal photographs showing how the pub has kept its original layout and design, from when it used to be a cinema.

One of the original ‘Exit’ signs of the side of the building.

External photograph of the building – main entrance.

If you have information on the history of this pub, then we’d like you to share it with us. Please e-mail all information to: