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Playhouse c1936, CC ILK320129

44a (40 – 42) (2) (3) Mill Road, The Windmill, The Playhouse

Cambridge’s first purpose-built cinema

No. 44a is on the south side of Mill Road at the corner with Covent Garden. Originally a stonemason’s yard it became the second cinema on Mill Road in 1913 when a brand new building was created. It was closed after the introduction of the entertainment tax in 1963 (along with the Tivoli on Milton Road) and became a Fine Fare supermarket and then the much loved Sally Ann’s charity shop.

Read the complete building report (PDF)

Watch Ian Bent talk about the history of the site.

Did You Know

The Playhouse was Cambridge’s first custom built cinema.

The cinema featured amber and pink spotlights, soft music, coloured curtains, gilded decor, blue-uniformed staff, and a facade with copper-domed towers and white marble steps.

The Fine Fare was Cambridge’s first modern supermarket with open shelves, a big display window, and a line of checkouts.


1868 – Stonemason’s Yard, R. S. Naylor
1878 – Stonemason’s Yard, George Mann
1884 – Stonemason’s Yard, George Bailey
1898 – Ivett & Reed
1913 – The Picture Playhouse
1930 – ‘Talkies’ introduced
1937 – Becomes an ABC cinema
1956 – Cinema closed
1963 – Fine Fare Supermarket
1985 – Sally Ann’s Charity Shop
2019 – Sally Ann’s closes

Census entries etc

1861 (2 & 3)

Robert S Maylor, 50, stonemason, brewer and publican, b Isle of Wight

1871 (2) The Windmill

Frederick Cowell, 38, brewer and publican, b Cambridge

1881 (3) Windmill Arms?

Frederick Covell, 49, brewer and publican, b Cambridge

1891 (2) The Windmill

George Bailey, 38, monumental mason, b Cambridge
Annie, 29, b Birmingham
Walter, 4, b Cambridge
Stanley G, 10 mos, b Cambridge
Jane Reeves, 14, servant, b Cambridge

1901 the Windmill (42) (There was officially no no.40 in Mill Road in this census)

Albert Brand, 48, licensed victualler,
Mary Ann, 52,
Elizabeth S, 19,
Harriett, 16, pupil teacher,
Elliott, 14, hairdresser apprentice

In 1911 the Brand family were in Mawson Road. In 1891 they were at 46 (34a) Covent Garden; in 1881 at 3 Auckland Cottages.

See Mill Road Cemetery entry

(42a) Fruiterer’s Shop

1913 (40 & 42) The Playhouse

For a complete listing of films shown at the Playhouse in 1914:

1962 (44a)

Fine Fare supermarket

Early days

In 1868, the site appeared to have been a stonemason’s yard (R. S. Naylor; by 1878 George Mann; by 1884 George Bailey).  By 1898 it finally surrendered its role as a mason’s yard to the firm of Ivett & Reed, which had established itself across Mill Road, between the entrance to the Avenue of Limes and Mackenzie Road, and served the Cemetery. The corner of Covent Garden was now listed as ‛40 Bailey, George, The Windmill / 42 Whitehead, A. fruiterer’. That The Windmill was indeed a public house is lent credence in 1911, when George Bailey’s successor, Albert Brand, is listed as ‛licensed victualler’.


On 1 July 1912, Cymos Ltd of Sardinia House, Kingsway, London, submitted plans for the erection of a ‛Cinema Theatre’ in Cambridge. A new company was formed to build and operate the cinema: Cambridge Picture Playhouses Ltd, Norfolk Street, London.

The ‛Playhouse’ opened on Whit Monday, 12 May 1913. In 1927 the cinema was sold to the syndicate called Playhouse (Cambridge) Ltd, which operated the Central Cinema in Hobson Street.  An image of the frontage from before 1935 shows the name given as ‛THE PICTURE PLAYHOUSE’ . In 1935, the company (by then Cambridge Cinemas Ltd) was taken over by the Union Cinema Co Ltd of Wardour Street, London, and the Playhouse was absorbed into the Union circuit, only for the company to be taken over in 1937 by Associated British Cinemas Ltd (ABC).

Interior - Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection

Interior – courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection, L.K3 20131.

The side wall down Covent Garden is where cinema attendees would queue to get in to the show.  Whilst waiting many would score their initials into the wall or simply make holes with the coins they held.

Cambridge Picture Playhouse (Cambridgeshire Collection)

Side wall August 2015, photo by Simon Middleton

Side wall August 2015, photo by Simon Middleton

Fine Fare

Fine Fare already had a store on Fitzroy Street, but that on Mill Road was the first to be called ‛Fine Fare Supermarket’, and to have open shelves and checkouts.  The new store was opened in 1963, and operated for twenty-two years.

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Collection, B.MILL.K70 1659

Sally Ann’s Charity Shop

The Salvation Army (Sally Ann’s) Charity Shop opened on 5 August 1985. It was unusual among charity shops at the time for having its own laundry facilities and canteen upstairs. The shop closed on 18 January 2019, moving to a smaller location nearby on Tenison Road.

Before the closure Mill Road History Society collected some memories from the volunteers (PDF) and some photos from the last day.

Sally Ann’s closed for the final time, 19 January 2019. Photo by Lucy Walker.


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Further information


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