The Electric Palace cinema, Harwich, is one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas to survive complete with its silent screen, original projection room and ornamental frontage still relatively intact. Other interesting features include an open plan entrance lobby complete with paybox, and a small stage plus dressing rooms although the latter are now unusable. There is also a former gas powered generator engine with a 7 foot fly wheel situated in the basement.
The cinema was built in 18 weeks at a cost of £1,500 and opened on Wednesday, November 29th, 1911, the first film being The Battle of Trafalgar and The Death of Nelson. The creator of the Palace was Charles Thurston, a traveling showman well known in East Anglia, and the architect was Harold Hooper, a dynamic young man of 25 years who demonstrated his imaginative flair with this his first major building. Charles Thurston built his first cinema the Electric Palace in Harwich in 1911. In 1913, he built two more cinemas, the Empire Cinema in Biggleswade and the Palace Cinema in Norwich.
The cinema closed in 1956 after 45 years interrupted only by the 1953 floods and was listed as a building of sociological interest in September 1972 and is now a Grade II* listed building. It re-opened in 1981 and now runs as a community cinema showing films every weekend and special live and music events.
Proprietor of Electric Palace from 1911 to 1924
Charles Thurston was one of the pioneers who introduced the Bioscope in place of the Diorama in fair ground shows long before permanent picture houses were established.
The fairground cinema was particularly successful in rural areas such as East Anglia; and the Thurston company toured their traveling bioscope around Norfolk, Suffolk until 1910 when the Cinematograph Act foreclosed such temporary performance sites. In 1908 he produced The Great Show which was a combination of Bioscope and Vaudeville. Those who saw it described it as a masterpiece of fairground showmanship.
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He was elected ARIBA in 1910, having been articled to John Sewell Corder, and started his own practice in Ipswich in 1912. He had his first major building commissioned and built when he was only 25 years old and later on also designed Butlins Skegness holiday camp (1936) and other designs for Butlins Ltd. He was a Colonel in the 4th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment during World War I and in later life, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk.
Who Built and Worked in The Palace until it closed in 1956?Architect – Harold Ridley Hooper of Hooper, Olley and Earwaker, Ipswich, Suffolk.
Proprietor – Charles Thurston 1911 – 1924, Mr Bertram 1924 – 1930, Mr Goldberg 1930 – 1932, Mr Bostok 1932 -1956.
Managers – Frederick Benton, E Protheroe, C. Gilbert, Ernest Burke, Mr Ledbury, Mrs Watson, Mr C. R. Wade, John Barker.
Chief Projectionists / Operators – John Barker, F Podd, N. Tye, Sid Mills.
Assistant Projectionists – R. Smith, Mr Humphreys, C. Leeks, Mr Hansford
Pianists – Mrs Benton, Mr Crouch, Tom Rainbow, Jack De Rose, Billy Good, Miss Walker, Doris Farrow, Miss Coombes
Cashiers – Alice Barker, Miss Wills, Miss Cooper, Miss Mann, Mrs H. Durrant, G. Barton, L. Almazoff, Shrive, L. Lacey, K. Sneddon, M. Kingsley
* See a lovely picture of them all in their Sunday best in the slide show
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