The Changing Faces, and Roles, of London’s Iconic Bingo Halls.


While much of London consists of buildings that tell of the city’s history and heritage, the capital is also always moving forwards. You only have to look at the skyline to see it filled with cranes and high-rise office and apartment blocks quickly taking shape.

But the city has also always been transforming into a different kind of experience. Buildings once used for one purpose are now being converted for another. Much of this has been dictated by changing habits and customs, not to mention different demands of Londoners.

New roles for old buildings

A prime example comes as many of London’s old bingo halls, many of which have seen some dramatic repurposing.

This has happened alongside the meteoric rise in the popularity of online bingo games. In the same way that the digital revolution has made many forms of entertainment more accessible than ever before, many of today’s leading sites offer a wide range of different games to play, with more than enough choice for many people. The convenience of being able to play anywhere with an internet connection provides the flexibility that many people appreciate. And the arrival of innovative ideas like Slingo – a mixture of slots and bingo – has helped to draw in even more players.

Of course, there is still great affection for the “analogue” version of the game, as well as for the buildings where it was once played. In fact, many of these are so highly regarded that several of them are even listed buildings.

bingo! by martathegoodone, on Flickr

This means that demolition isn’t an option, and local councils and Historic England, the public body charged with protecting the country’s architectural and historic heritage strictly controls the uses to which they can both be used.

The ever-changing face of entertainment

For the bingo halls in question, they have already undergone one such change in the past. This is because they built many as grand cinemas, or picture palaces, in the Art déco style of the 1930s. But the advent of commercial television in the late 1950s saw audiences dwindle, just as live bingo was entering its boom years.

For example, Granada Bingo on Clapham’s St. John’s Hill was one of the biggest cinemas in the whole of the UK when it was built in 1937. Grand in style and famous for its opulent Renaissance-style interior, the last game was called there in 1998. Following this, they converted it into flats that kept many of the features of the original building.

Another former bingo hall, also in the area, shared a similar story. Here, it was opened in 1914 as the Majestic Theatre and was the work of one of the most famous cinema architects of the time, John Stanley Beard. Today it has become a rather grand restaurant much frequented by Clapham residents.

The circle of life

Finally, as proof that what goes around comes around, there is the former Carlton Cinema and bingo hall in Essex Road, Islington. Following its closure in 2007, plans were put in place for it to become – you’ve guessed it – a cinema.

There will be many more stories to tell as other listed bingo halls find new purposes. But the important thing is that these beautiful and historic buildings will continue to grace the capital with their style.