Thursday, 8 December 2011

Electric Palace cinema in Harwich celebrates centenary

Electric Palace cinema in Harwich celebrates centenary

An Edwardian cinema in an Essex port town celebrates its 100th birthday now in this article from the B.B.C.  

The Electric Palace also has a remarkable history and its very existence is testament to the care and knowledge of local film enthusiasts and the goodwill and understanding of the current Town Council.  Once again we see good old-fashioned civic pride making it possible for this beautiful building to still be here a century after it first opened.

Designed by architect Harold Ridley Hooper (who went on to help create several buildings for Butlins Holiday Camps in the 1930s) the Electric Palace was built to show the "Bioscope" moving pictures of former travelling fairground showman Charles Thurston.  This soon expanded into showing films of the period and the Palace did a roaring trade throughout much of the Great War years.  It did less well from the 1920s on, despite the addition of mains electricity in 1924 and sound in the 1930s (the original pre-1924 Crossley gas engine and 100V DC generator can still be seen, unrestored, inside the building) and remained virtually unaltered from its original form.  Then in 1953 it was the victim of the infamous East Coast floods when seawater got inside the cinema.  By 1956 it had closed completely and it was to remain derelict for almost twenty years before being "rediscovered" by a local university lecturer.  Along with the Harwich Society he managed to get the Palace listed as "a building of sociological interest", much to the annoyance of Harwich Town Council who had intended to demolish it(!).  Even some of the townspeople were in favour of it being pulled down, citing its then run-down appearance, and the whole thing apparently made the national news!  Thankfully historical merit prevailed and the Electric Palace Trust was formed in 1975, staffed entirely by volunteers.  The reluctant council granted a "repairing lease" and it took 5 years to restore the cinema to its former glory; the grand reopening taking place on its 70th anniversary in 1981 with the Blue Peter team (and the original accompanist on the piano!) in attendance.

Today the cinema is still almost completely run by volunteers, with the freehold now in possession of the Trust.  Due to the way in which the Palace is run it only shows films on Wednesdays and at the weekend, supplemented with regular jazz concerts.  It also retains two original 60 year-old 35mm projectors which it still uses to show modern films in that format as well as historic films from the British Film Institute.  A new digital projector will ensure that the Electric Palace continues to show new films for many years to come.

It is heartwarming to see how a community has come together with the local council over a period of many years to preserve such an important historical landmark and get it to its centenary.  It must be quite an experience to watch a film - particularly an old one - in so stunning a building.


  1. So pleased that people care :) What a fab building!

  2. What a wonderful building! I bet the people of Harwich are glad it didn't get pulled down now.


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