The Electric Palace Cinema
Posted 01 July 2016
The Electric Palace cinema located in Harwich is one of the oldest specially built theatres to survive. The cinema has been beautiful restored and still has its original silent screen, original projection room and original ornamental frontage. The Electric Palace is a landmark of Harwich and a great place to visit while you’re staying at the Good Life Hotel.
History of The Electric Palace Cinema.
The Cinema was designed by architect Harold Ridley Hooper of Ipswich, Suffolk and opened on 29 November 1911. Harold created the cinema to include an open plan entrance lobby complete with pay box, a small but beautiful stage and dressing rooms, although the latter is not able to be used anymore.
In the early days of the 20th century, the travelling fairground Showman Charles Thurston would amaze crowds with his Bioscope shows. At the time these type of shows were extremely popular and drew large crowds from miles around Essex. In 1909 the Cinematograph Act was introduced which stopped Charles from being able to perform his shows. The act stated that because of fire regulations you could not use a circus tent to host any cinematics event to the paying public. Thurston undeterred, Thurston decided to build a permanent “Picture Palace” in which he could keep screening films to the public.
In 1911 he was able to get a lease on a site in Kings Quay Street, Harwich, which had become empty due to the previous building on the site being destroyed by fire. The Electric Palace was constructed in just 18 weeks at the cost of £1,500 and opened on Wednesday, 29th 1911 with the first film being “The Battle of Trafalgar and The Death of Nelson”.
The venue was an overnight success and continued to be financially successful through World War One, helped mainly due to the presence of Navy personnel in the Harwich port. As soon as the war was over the business at the “Palace”, as the venue was now named, went into disrepair due to the loss of population from Harwich to nearby Dovercourt and competition from the newer, nicer, cinemas that were there.
For nearly forty years the Palace carried on, never doing badly enough to shut, but never doing well enough to justify expansion or a major facelift. The introduction of sound to motion pictures in the 1930’s gave the cinema a lift, but it was not long-lived.
Unfortunately due to the east coast floods of 1956 the cinema had to close. After years of refurbishment work and many efforts to raise money the cinema re-opened. Despite the severe damage that the East Coast Floods had caused the cinema was able to keep the original screen, projection room and interior.
Although everything seemed to be going well for the cinema it once again found itself in trouble. The severe floods had affected more than just the cinema as nearby housing was also damaged. This devastating event meant even more people had to move from Harwich to find new homes. This step further reduced the already depleting local population and was; unfortunately, the ‘last straw and the Palace had no choice but to close after 45 years of operation. The last film ever to be shown at the cinema was the Glynis Johns comedy: “Mad about Men”, on 3 November 1956.
In November 2006, the British actor Mr Clive Owen became the patron of the cinema, and it was during his first official visit where he helped launch an appeal to raise funds to repair this historic building and bring it back to its former glory. The theatre started to introduce a Wednesday screening programme and also begun to host regular folk and jazz concerts which went down extremely well with the residents of Harwich.
Today the cinema offers the latest cinematic releases, live music and is one of the area’s most beloved attractions, and is one of the oldest cinemas in the UK.