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This exhibition invited visitors to take a seat in our recreated Picture House and enjoy amazing silent films.

In July 1908, Arthur Melbourne Cooper opened the Alpha Picture House in St Albans. It was the first permanent cinema in Hertfordshire. Designed by local architect Percival Blow and seating 800, it had a raked floor, a separate fire-proof projection booth, uniformed ushers and free tea in the intervals. Melbourne Cooper showed his own films, often filmed in and around St Albans. He had trained as an assistant and cameraman to Birt Acres who, in 1895, had developed the first British 35mm moving picture camera.

One of Melbourne Cooper’s most famous films is Dream of Toyland, a very early example of stop motion animation featuring toy figures and animals. Another of his works, Rescue in Mid-Air, used trick photography to give the illusion of a woman using an umbrella to fly through the air, long before Mary Poppins did the same thing. He was a pioneer of early British film but is sadly not well-known today.

St Albans Picture House in the Gallery

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