Film stars on 1930s cigarette cards from Carreras
Cinema was an important form of entertainment, prior to the advent of television. In 1931, a bill was debated proposing restrictions on Sunday cinema performances. Ellen Wilkinson, a Labour politician, spoke in parliament against the restrictions and gave an insight into life in Somers Town at that time. She spoke of how people in the cities go into pubs or wherever is open on a Sunday evening. They need to escape their homes.
It is all very well to talk about staying at home if you have got a well-stocked library and a comfortable home and a room to yourself, if you want peace and quiet, but within a mile of where I stand I have visited a house with an average of eight people in a room. Are we going to say that those people have got to stay at home on Sunday night? The reason why those homes are at all tolerable is that the people who live in them are not all in at the same time.
The people she referred to who resided not a mile away were workers at the Somers Town sidings of the railway company. They lived in poor accommodation and relied on cinema as a way to escape overcrowding for an hour or two. Wilkinson said:
‘It is essentially the amusement of the poor, whether we like it or not. Even if people say you must not have any alternative to going to church, after all the churches are only open from 6.30 to 8, and what is going to happen after that? I would rather object, speaking as a member of a Christian Church myself, , to the suggestion that the Church has fallen so low in this country that the only way in which to get people to go there is to shut up every alternative place. I should hate to have to speak to a congregation that had arrived there, simply because there was no other place to go to.’
Cinema and its attractions are alluded to in this exhibit through Carreras Cigarette Cards – collectable items in every packet of cigarettes. Carreras was the local cigarette factory on Hampstead Road with Egyptian detailing and sculptures of their signature brand black cats.
By Esther Leslie