In 1972 the demolition notices went up. Luckily Gordon Miller from Kingston Polytechnic spotted the Palace when teaching his students in Harwich old town and managed to get a stay of demolition.
Photo Roy Farthing
See some of the projectors working here
A very special presentation of films of the early 1900s shown on an original hand turned projector of 1912 with commentary by David Cleveland.
Nigel Lister (left) and David Cleveland.
He visited the Electric Palace in 2001 and unveiled the Harwich Society wall plaque.
Restoration – 1974 – to today
The cinema survived physically because it was located in a side street of a small town at the end of a peninsula and was simply ignored for many years. In 1972 the Palace was under threat from demolition, luckily it was spotted by Mr Gordon Miller and his students who saw the demolition notice and quickly acted by getting a protection order for the building. A dialogue then started with interested local people including Harwich Society champion – the indomitable Mrs Winifred Cooper. Newcomer GP/surgeon Chris Strachan met architect Andrew Carden at a Harwich Society function and that led to plans being made as to how the building could be saved and brought back to life again.
The Electric Palace was lucky to have had so many useful members of the trust, including some with architectural expertise, building expertise and good connections at national level and as the idea of restoring a derelict cinema was then a completely novel idea an added attraction was the charismatic name ‘Electric Palace’.
The trust then asked Sir John Betjeman to be the first Patron amazingly he said yes and the whole campaign took off at both local and national levels and has continued ever since.
Restoration continued steadily as money came in but there was a tremendous boost around the millennium. Lottery Funding of £99,000 was granted by the Arts Council of England has paid for these improvements:
- Access and facilities for the disabled have been transformed
- The seats have all been re-furbished and are the tipping type again.
- A brand new Dolby Stereo Surround Sound system was installed.
- The carbon arc light sources in the projectors were replaced with Xenon arcs.
- New carpets were laid and new curtain tracks were installed.
We were very pleased when in the 1990’s the ranking of the cinema was raised from Grade II to Grade II* listed building by English Heritage. We hope that this means that in future the maintenance of the fabric of the building will be more easily achieved with the help of grant aid.
Power for the cinema
The power for the cinema was provided by generator driven by a Crossley gas engine. Harwich didn’t have a mains supply of electricity until 1924. The generator was situated in the basement and was a great source of wonder to the local population. It was used until 1924 but is now in a very poor state of repair as many parts, including all the copper wire, were stripped out during the long period of closure between 1956 and 1975. Gas lamps installed at the exits and down the side walls of the auditorium were kept on in case of emergency. The frontage was lit up with coloured bulbs and over each side balcony there was a big globe light. There were also rows of bulbs over and along the entrance opening and around the top of the paybox.
Heating for the Electric Palace
Until about 1928 the Palace was entirely heated by a large cast iron stove. Billy Good who was pianist from 1920 to 1922 remembered the bitterly cold second houses when patrons would often bring blankets to cover their legs. A ‘central heating system’, with coke fired boiler and cast iron radiators, was installed about 1936. Heating for the last 20 years by means of heated air circulation plus a popular underfloor heating system.
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