Mention the name Micky Burns to older generations in Carluke and they immediately think of the Windsor cinema which sat for just over 50 years at the corner of the Market Place opposite the Crown Hotel ( now a tanning parlour ) but just exactly who was the man behind this and town’s earlier cinemas.
Micky ( Michael ) Burns was born in Enniskeen in Cavan on 15th June 1880, the second son of James Burns and Kate Reilly. By 1901 he and his older brother Owen had left Enniskeen behind and were living in Bathgate. It was here that he met an Irish lass, Bridget Reynolds, and they married in Bathgate in 1902. They went on to raise a family of seven children - Ann Josephine Dorothy Burns, known as Dot, Michael Emmet Burns, John James Burns, known as Jack, Vincent Joseph Burns, Thomas Peter Burns, Victor Septimus Burns and Gerard McAndrew Burns.
Before coming to live in Carluke, Micky and Bridget lived for many years in Bathgate and Armadale where Micky ran several businesses – the Dreadnought Pub in Bathgate as well as the Empire Palace Theatre, the Electric Theatre and the Star Theatre in Armadale.
His business interests in Carluke began in earnest with the opening of the Empire Palace Theatre in Stewart Street on 20th September 1912 although there is evidence that prior to this he put on entertainment shows in the Town Hall. The Empire, which could seat 700 people, was open six days of the week and offered both cinematic and live performances.
In the two years that followed the Empire was doing well and it looked as though Micky and family were going to settle in the town with him taking out a lease on Ellenbank Cottage in April 1914. Following a change in his circumstances, however, he never actually took up residence in the town at this point and by January 1915 the ownership of the Empire had been transferred to Mr. John R. Russell of the High Street.
In 1920, however, Micky decided to return to Carluke with his family and they eventually set up home in Stewart Street. More or less from the moment he returned to the town he was involved in promoting variety shows and other forms of entertainment in the Town Hall. By 1927, however, Micky was looking for a more permanent home for his Carluke-based
business and so he built a cinema and theatre behind his house in Stewart Street. Named the Alhambra, it opened on 10th November 1927.
Sadly, on the afternoon of 8th January 1936, the Alhambra burned down when highly flammable pieces of celluloid caught fire. Importantly and thankfully, no one appears to have been injured although the cinema was destroyed and various surrounding properties were damaged.
Never one to be held back by a problem, Micky continued to put on variety shows and show films using the Town Hall as a venue.
Meanwhile, Micky was already at work replacing the Alhambra with the Windsor, which opened on Christmas Day 1937. ( See article ‘The Windsor Cinema’. )
Although Micky lost the Windsor and two of his other cinemas – the Rio in Lanark and the Tinto in Forth – to the Gourock Picture Company a few years later, he was not without other business interests both in Carluke and elsewhere. In fact, he toured the country with many shows, some variety, some opera and, during World War 2, he even ran open-air dances.
The entertainment business was not Micky’s only strength. He also ran a successful bookie’s business from a wooden betting office behind his house in Stewart Street. This was at a time before betting shops were legalised. Local lads were paid 6d to act as bookie’s runners. It has also been said that bookie’s lines were sent up from Law Village via a leather case on the Law bus. The case was picked up as the bus turned at the corner of Kirk Road and Mount Stewart Street and rushed to Micky’s house.
Micky passed away in 1956.