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A large crowd gathers outside the old Langley Institute

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: January 13, 2005

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Last month we reproduced, from the pages of a new book about the history of Langley, a photograph taken outside the village’s Institute and Temperance Hall, a regular gathering place for the locals of many generations.

Here, thanks to photograph collector and regular contributor Anthony Page of Halesowen, is another picture of that same place, taken from virtually the same position, though very little about it is known for certain. Anthony tells us that it is thought to date from the nineteen-twenties, and the hats and clothing of those portrayed seem to bear that out. But thanks to the perfect clarity of the original, we can tell precisely what films were showing in the village at that time, and date the picture that way. The largest poster nearest the camera is for a film entitled Blind Husbands, ‘with Eric von Stroheim’; next to it is Hidden Loot, and furthest away Fighting with Buffalo Bill, starring, from what we can make out, Wallace McDonald.

Blind Husbands, a little research reveals, was a silent film released way back in 1919, written, directed by and starring Erich von Stroheim, who enjoyed a short-lived but apparently quite spectacular Hollywood career. We can find no mention of the other two films, but this at least dates the picture to just after the First World War.

The crowd seems to be exclusively women and children, many just babes in arms, and at least one in a pushchair. A man in a uniform and cap is a blur as he rolls by on a bicycle, too fast for the photographer’s long exposure. But what was it about this crowd that warranted the presence of a camera - what was such a large crowd waiting for in those difficult times? According to the recently-released ‘Playing and Performing in Langley’, edited by Terry Daniels, the Institute itself began showing films at just about this time, and continued until the ‘talkies’ were introduced. It was known officially as Langley Palace in its silver screen days, though informally it was always ‘The Snob.’ Could this perhaps have been one of the very first screenings at the Palace, hence the large crowd and the photographer?

Please get in touch if you can tell us anything more about the scene.

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