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Alexander J. Heaney

1876 - 1936

The Brass Band by Alexander J. Heaney

The Brass Band  

  Original etching.
Signed in pencil.
S 232 x 351 mm; P & I 176 x 253 mm
Excellent signed proof impression, printed by the artist himself.

Alexander Heaney’s etching shows a small brass band playing outside the Gem Cinema on Broadweir in Bristol. The Gem was originally called Broad Weir Hall (which in 1908 was used for religious services and had a billiard room and soup kitchen) and in 1909 it was refurbished and renamed Gem Cinema, the proprietors being The Gem Electric Theatre.

The cinema had 1,200 seats, the main entrance being at numbers 6-7 on Broad Weir. There was a side entrance to the gallery in Merchant Street —along an alley next to a newsagents shop and up a flight of external iron steps. It was one of several 'flea pits' in Bristol - you came out with more than you went in! Young ladies played the piano and violin between films and young boys dropped apple cores from the gallery, aiming at the heads of patrons below!

The cinema closed in 1932 and the building was used for boxing. In the 1930’s unlicensed boxing shows were frequently held in Bristol and many mismatches occurred. One such bout held at the Gem will be long remembered — on 12 February 1934 a scheduled six-round fight for a purse of ten shillings (50p) involved fourteen-year-old Jimmy Cooper whose opponent was eight years his senior. In the second round Jimmy threw a punch and, as his foot slipped, he fell and caught his chin on the canvas. The impact broke his neck and he probably died before being moved from the ring. His funeral brought Bristol to a standstill - the service was at the Dockland Settlement and the procession led to Avonview Cemetery at St George.

The premises closed for public use in 1936 and was intermittently used as a store until it was blitzed on in December 1940. The remaining shell of the building was demolished in 1957. (Thanks to Paul Townsend for much of this information).

On cream wove paper with margins. Faint mat line in outer margins, otherwise excellent original condition.

Provenance: From the collection of Phyllis Heaney, the artist’s daughter – thence by descent to her granddaughter.