Curtain up on Harwich cinema restoration after £700,000 windfall

The original facade of the Electric Palace cinema at Harwich.

The original facade of the Electric Palace cinema at Harwich.

One of the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinemas is set to receive a new lease of life – thanks to a £700,000 grant.

Interior of the Electric Palace

Interior of the Electric Palace - Credit: Archant

The development of Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich, will be made possible by Heritage Lottery funding – with £510,000 of the money to be spent on restoration.

The work will be carried out by conservation experts Nicholas Jacob Architects, of Ipswich.

The firm is soon set to begin its involvement in restoring the venue, which includes a silent screen, an original projection room and ornamental frontage.

Shaun Soanes, architectural lead on the project, said: “This is an incredibly important building with a rich history.

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“We are delighted to have been contracted to play such an important role in its preservation and restoration.”

The Electric Palace cinema was built in 18 weeks at a cost of £1,500. It opened in 1911 with a screening of a black and white film called Battle of Trafalgar and The Death of Nelson.

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Designed by architect Harold Hooper and developed by travelling showman Charles Thurston, the venue in Kings Quay Street ran successfully for 45 years – closing only briefly in 1953, due to flooding. It was shut in 1956, however, and left derelict until it was ‘rediscovered’ in 1972.

Since then, members of the Electric Palace Trust and volunteers have managed to protect the building, which has Grade II listed status.

The venue was officially re-opened in 1981, and thanks to a minor refurbishment in 1985, now runs as a community cinema showing films every weekend and hosting special live events.

David Looser, chairman of the Electric Palace Trust, said: “The Electric Palace is not only of local interest, but is also a building of national significance in the history of cinema in the UK.

“Probably because of its out-of-the-way location, its various owners over the years were never tempted to rebuild and enlarge, as happened to many other cinemas from this early period.

“Over the years the building has received a lot of support from the local community and has managed to secure sums of money through various campaigns, donations and funding opportunities.

“We have improved access and facilities for disabled visitors, refurbished the seats and soft furnishings and installed a new sound system.

“But now, thanks to this lottery funding, we believe the cinema will be properly protected for future generations.

“A major part of this will be restoring the fabric of the building itself.”

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