After two years of restoration, historic cinema will reopen

One of the UK’s oldest cinemas is to reopen to the public following a two-year restoration project.

The Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich, Essex was built just two years following the introduction of Cinematograph Act (1909).

The Grade II* listed venue has been on the Heritage at Risk Register since 2019 and more than £1.5 million of grant funding helped ensure its rescue, addressing structural defects and a water leak.

The work included the replacement of the roof, asbestos removal, the repair of the original fibrous plaster ceiling, and redecoration.

The Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich, Essex. (Historic England Archive/Stella Fitzgerald/ PA

Original features include an original front entrance, projection area and original screen.

Chairman of Harwich Electric Palace Trust David Looser stated that asbestos was discovered in the roof void during a nine-month-long project funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“This discovery brought work to an abrupt halt and left us with a building in a highly vulnerable state,”He stated.

“At this point Historic England came to our rescue.

The Electric Palace Cinema was built in 1911 and is one of the UK's oldest surviving cinemas. It is pictured in 1912. (Electric Palace Cinema Trust/ PA)The Electric Palace Cinema, pictured in 1912, was built in 1911 and is one of the UK’s oldest surviving cinemas (Electric Palace Cinema Trust/ PA)

“They placed the Electric Palace on the Heritage at Risk Register and quickly approved a grant to clear the asbestos, with additional funding support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

The cinema was created by travelling showman Charles Thurston, who went on to build two more cinemas – the Empire Cinema in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, and the Palace Cinema in Norwich, Norfolk.

The Electric Palace was closed in 1956, and remained abandoned for 16 years.

It was saved from demolition by efforts to list the property as a historic landmark in 1972. “building of sociological interest”, and was reopened by Harwich Electric Palace Trust in 1982.

The cinema was created by travelling showman Charles Thurston, who went on to build two more cinemas. (Electric Palace Cinema Trust/ PA)Charles Thurston (a travelling entertainer) created the cinema. He then built two more cinemas (Electric Palace Cinema Trust/PA).

Mr Looser stated that he was “delighted”The trust has completed the restoration and repair project and the cinema could be reopened.

He stated that the cinema would reopen on April 8, and then “celebrate more prominently at a later date”.

Trudi Hughes is a heritage at risk surveyor at Historic England who has been overseeing the progress of restoration work. “The Electric Palace Cinema is a fascinating and very special survival.

“It has escaped demolition, was saved by the Harwich Society and passed to the Harwich Electric Palace Trust by Tendring District Council.

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“With this last phase of work now complete, the auditorium is at its absolute best, retaining much of its original charm and unique character.“I can’t wait to see the cinema buzzing with visitors and sharing the magic of film, in this unique setting, as it has done for over a hundred years.”

Nigel Huddleston, Heritage Minister, said that it is. “fantastic to see that this historic venue has been brought back to life”Add that “it will be here for future generations to enjoy for many years to come”.

For details see www.electricpalace.com. The team wants to hear from people interested in volunteering at the cinema, by emailing [email protected]

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