SAVE launches listing bid for Beatles' local cinema
6th August 2020
Following the sale of Liverpool’s landmark Abbey Cinema to supermarket giant Lidl, SAVE Britain’s Heritage has launched a listing application to ensure the iconic art deco building is protected from future demolition. The Abbey has a strong association with The Beatles, frequented by John Lennon and George Harrison who grew up nearby and is mentioned alongside Penny Lane in the original lyrics of the song ‘In My Life’.
Opened in 1939 with 1,870 seats, the cinema closed in 1979 and was used as a Co-Operative supermarket until April 2020. In May 2020 it was sold for an undisclosed sum to Lidl stores, who have confirmed that they are now ‘considering all options for the site, which include the potential for a new building’, and that ‘Lidl prefers to erect purpose built foodstores’.
Responding to concerns raised by local civic group The Wavertree Society that Lidl may give preference to demolition, the listing application submitted to Historic England seeks to ensure The Abbey is given the national protection and recognition it deserves.
The Abbey Cinerama, as it was initially known, was designed by the prominent Liverpool architect and Alderman Sir Alfred Ernest Shennan, whose other works include the grade II* listed Greenbank Synagogue and the grade II Forum Cinema on Lime Street. The Forum is the only listed cinema in Liverpool, though movie theatre historian Harold Ackroyd states that the Abbey was ‘considered the finest of Liverpool’s super cinemas’. The exterior is an excellent and increasingly rare example of the art deco ‘moderne’ style of the 1930s. Elements of its lavish original interior are also thought to survive, including Shennan’s fluted domes.
Occupying the most prominent site within the ancient settlement covered by Wavertree Village Conservation Area, the former Abbey Cinema contributes powerfully to the setting of both the Conservation Area and a number of listed buildings, including the adjacent Picton Clock and 18th century Lock Up. It also has high group value with the network of nearby ‘Beatles landmarks’, including Penny Lane, John Lennon’s first home and schools, and the birthplace of George Harrison.
The listing application details the previously little known but strong association the Abbey Cinema has with The Beatles. John Lennon features the cinema alongside Penny Lane in the original lyrics for the song ‘In My Life’, which he described as his ‘first, real major piece of work’, and George Harrison remembers the Abbey early in his autobiographical section of the official Beatles Anthology. Both were regular visitors during their youth.
Note to editors
1. For more information and images contact Ben Oakley, Conservation Officer at SAVE Britain's Heritage: firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7253 3500.
2. See here for further details on our current campaign work across the UK.
3. SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been campaigning for historic buildings since its formation in 1975 by a group of architectural historians, writers, journalists and planners. It is a strong, independent voice in conservation, free to respond rapidly to emergencies and to speak out loud for the historic built environment.