Covid: Hyde Park Picture House archive details 1918-19 flu pandemic

Image source, Hyde Park Picture House

“Influenza epidemic — soldiers, sailors, and children barred” – The 1918 restrictions in the Spanish flu pandemic.

A cinema that dates back to the beginning of time has found proof of how it responded to a pandemic over 100 years ago.

After its opening in 1914, Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds kept an accurate daily record of all takings, sales, and films shown.

A bin bag containing almost 30 ledgers from the past 40 years was left by a mysterious woman about five years back.

Logs are meticulously compiled to cover titles, daily takings, and any other observations like the day’s weather.

Ollie Jenkins from the Picture House says, “Remembering to read the logs is a great way to get in touch with the past. It’s very evocative.”

Just a few months after the opening of the cinema, the 1918-19 Spanish influenza pandemic would have an incredible impact on the daily lives in Leeds.

On its opening day, on Monday 2 November, staff sold 429 tickets across two screenings of My Only Son, taking just under £9.

Cinema continued to be open even though World War One was underway, showing newsreels and patriotic dramas in its gas-lit auditorium.

October 1918, a month ahead of the Hyde Park Picture Houses fourth birthday. It’s when the logs mention the Spanish Flu for the first time with an entry that contains only two words: “Influenza epidemic”.

The disease reached the cinemas two days later, on the 13th of November.

Cinema management tried to prevent the spread of the virus by taking measures, denoted in a logbook entry that read “soldiers sailors and children barred”.

On 25/11/18, there’s a shift in heart. The ledger subsequently notes that “Soldiers admitted, children admitted. Influenza still severe.”

Jenkins says that the flu epidemic felt very tragic when it was combined with the end to World War One.

“The conflict that followed was preceded by the sickness caused disruptions for customers and cinemas. But a large function of the picturehouse was to broadcast the news reels, and boost morale with patriotic films.

Jenkins says that there are many similarities to what has been done with Covid. It illustrates some of the same restrictions as ours, such as measures that were applied to soldiers and sailors travelling in cramped conditions across international borders.

1918-19 Epidemic

Spanish flu was also called the disease. The virus is believed to have spread from cramped and crowded military training camps along the Western Front. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet reached a consensus as to its source.

The virus infected approximately one third of the population. The virus was responsible for at least 50,000,000 deaths worldwide.

The University of Leeds records show that there were 1,401 deaths at Leeds in 1918 alone (a rate of 3.28 for every 1000 people). In 1919, 623 influenza deaths were recorded.

According to university, the end of war left many people hungry and vulnerable. This contributed to the 1918-19 pandemic.

The most affected were pregnant mothers, children and breastfeeding mothers.

Unabated, the daily log of Hyde Park Picture House life continued. Cinema records record royal visits such as that of Prince Charles in 1923.

In World War Two, air raids and gunfire were also mentioned along with cinema attendances.

1958 is the end of records. The cinema staff hopes that future generations will digitize these treasures and make them available for research.

This Grade II listed cinema was shut down for refurbishment as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The building is expected to reopen in September.

A community fundraising drive to pay for renovations has already raised about £35,000 and has a target of £40,000 by Christmas Eve.

This money will go towards the purchase of gas lamps at the cinema, as well as the upkeep and maintenance of the Grade II listed lamp post outside the front door.

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