This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the golden age of the silver screen in Hastings and St Leonards.
He writes. After the war, and before the wide availability of television, the need of a huge proportion of the population for affordable entertainment was fulfilled by the cinema and, by the early 1950’s Hastings boasted seven cinemas, De Luxe, Gaiety, Kinema (later renamed ‘The Curzon’), Orion, Regal, Ritz and Roxy of which today only one remains operational – the Gaiety, now the Odeon, opposite the Town Hall.
There was also a theatre, home of ‘The Court Players’, on the Pier, and the While Rock Pavilion, (now White Rock Theatre), built as a concert hall had a stage often used for plays and variety shows and some of the bigger cinemas such as the De Luxe, Regal and the Ritz would put on shows as well.
Just after the war the Borough lost its newest cinema, the Elite Picture Theatre, (the former Royal Concert Hall in Warrior Square) which was converted in 1921 and the capacity enlarged with the addition of a circle to a capacity of 1600. Sadly for the ‘Elite’ history would record it as the unluckiest cinema in the United Kingdom - on Wednesday, 26th September 1940, the frontage of the Elite was badly damaged in a bombing raid, £50,000 was spent on repairs and the cinema re-opened on Easter Monday 1942. Six months later it was again bombed and remained closed.
After the war had ended, and after a £100,000 refit, the new ‘Elite Super Cinema’ was set to re-open on Monday, 23rd June 1947 and the following week’s attraction was to be ‘Blaze of Noon’ and posters outside the cinema read: ‘Our Next Presentation ... At Great Expense to the Elite ...The Blaze of Noon.’ This was to be a bad omen for the cinema because on its re-opening day, at exactly 12 noon, the cinema burst into flames and burned to the ground and all that remained were three outside walls with the Blaze of Noon’ posters. The site remained vacant until the Royal Terrace warden-controlled flats opened in April 1986.
The ‘De Luxe’, designed by Ernest Runtz & Co. of London, started life as the ‘Empire Theatre of Varieties’, opening on Easter Saturday, 2nd April 1899. Two years later it was renamed the Marine Theatre of Varieties and in 1905 it became the Marine Palace of Varieties.
In 1910 it was sold to the ‘Hippodrome Syndicate’ who closed the theatre for it to re-open in 18th October 1910 as the 2,300 seat ‘Royal Cinema De Luxe’, with the largest seating capacity of any cinema in Europe at that time.
The 1920s saw it become the ‘Cinema Deluxe’ and the 1960s the ‘De Luxe’. The final film was the Ursula Andress movie ‘She’ shown on Saturday, 24th July 1965 - the support film that evening was ‘Jimmy Saville Presents Pop Gear’. Bingo started the following day as the theatre became the ‘De Luxe Leisure Centre’
The Gaiety, now called the Odeon, is the only one the seven cinemas open in 1950 that is still operating. It opened on 1st August 1882 as the 1,400 seat Gaiety Theatre and was first refurbished in 1888 and again ten years later.
By 1892 occasional films were shown but it wouldn’t become a full-time cinema until May 1932, when the three-tier theatre along with its eight private boxes was gutted and turned into a two-tier 1,100 seat cinema.
Capital & Provincial Theatres (Classic) took over in 1966 and the following year the Gaiety Cinema it was refurbished as the ‘Classic’.
In 1971 the cinema became two cinemas; the circle and front stalls became the 767-seat Classic One, whilst the rear stalls were sectioned off to form a 165-seat Classic Two.
By the early 1980s Classic had sold out to Cannon and in 1984 work had started on remodelling the interior as a luxury triple cinema complex opening as ‘The Cannon Classic’ on Friday, 21st June 1985, Screen One had 393-seats, Screen Two had 178-seats and Screen Three 129. By 1996 The cinema was known as ABC before becoming the Odeon.
The ‘Kinema Palace’, later known as ‘the Curzon’ was St. Leonards’ first purpose-built cinema opening on Wednesday, 5th November 1913 as a 650-seater and, by July 1921 it had been re-named simply ‘the Kinema’.
Modernisation took place in 1952 and, new, larger seats were fitted reducing its capacity to 476 and the old Edwardian frontage was replaced by the 1950s style facade that it bore until its demise.
The Curzon as it was now known was sold in 1966 was under threat from bingo but permission was refused and, for the following four years there were many attempts to turn it into a leisure centre, social club, sex cinema etc. The cinema changed hands again in 1974 and the end came suddenly on January 23rd 1977.
The building was then occupied by Brooker’s Builders Merchants. It is now the Kino Teatr and once again operates as a cinema with a music venue and includes the Baker-Mamonova gallery and an eatery
The Orion at the Memorial evolved from ‘The Public Hall Assembly Rooms’ built in 1875 where Magic Lantern shows were given in the early 1890s and occasional films shown in 1902 although ‘The Public Hall Cinema’ did not open until 24th July 1913.
In 1930 the old silent cinema was acquired by a Miss Dorothy Meatyard who immediately closed it, physically cleaned it up for it to re-open as the ‘Plaza All Talkie’, it was again refurbished during March 1937 emerging as a 544 seater with a new sound system, seats and projectors were installed.
Disaster struck on Monday, 30th September 1940 when a bomb struck the coping, fourteen people were killed and twelve others were seriously injured. The Cranfield Cinema Co. took over in 1948 and brought with it a new name, the ‘Orion’.
Bill Grant Theatres took over in 1962 with the intention of turning it into a sex-cinema. In October 1977, after being owned by the Central Assembly Room and Arcade Co. for 102 years, the row of property that included the cinema, York and Crypt bars, W. H. Smith and Jax Fashions was sold at auction and the sex films were dropped in favour of family orientated films like ‘Star Wars’.
The following year W. H. Smith had purchased the freehold of the block and intended to extend their small ground-floor shop into the cinema and make a larger store which they did in 1979. When W.H.Smith moved to Priory Meadow Yates Wine Lodge took over the premises.
The ‘Regal’ was opened on Saturday, 6th August 1932 by Union Cinemas as St.Leonards’ 1,616 seat super cinema and was originally going to be called the ‘Rialto’.
This unique cinema had a circle built at ground level to the main entrance in London Road while a series of short flights of stairs led down to the stalls. Throughout the 1930s, film and stage worked together, featuring well-known names like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and top bands like those of Jack Hylton and Jack Payne.
The Regal Super Theatre closed in 1940 and remained closed for the remainder of the war to re-open in 1946 as the Regal Cinema, solely for film but the policy changed in 1950 when it became the ‘ABC Regal’ with shows running during the high season and films in the winter.
The Regal never made a profit and in September 1956 the decision was taken to close it down and the last film was shown on Saturday, 8th September 1956.
Shortly after closure it was used for one final time, when ‘Syncopating Sandy’ broke the world piano-playing record, which earned him a place in the Guinness book of records for the next 26 years and the building remained empty until 1973 when it was demolished to make way for the twelve-storey Gundolphus House which was completed in 1975 and is now called Ocean House.
The Ritz Cinema in Cambridge Road, with a capacity of 1,984, was opened with a Grand Gala Ceremony on Saturday, 19th March 1938 by ABC (Associated British Cinemas). The ABC Minors started one Saturday morning in 1946 and continued throughout the following 25 years.
Although the cinema was known officially as the ABC Ritz it was simply called the ABC Cinema. The ‘mighty’ Wurlitzer was removed during 1964, when the cinema was completely modernised.
It became one of the town’s main live venues, when stars such as Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Billy Fury and Mark Wynter appeared on stage.
The last film was shown was on Wednesday, 6th October 1971 with demolition following later that year and excavation of the medieval Augustinian monastery known to exist there. A Sainsbury’s supermarket opened there in 1974 and the site is now occupied by ESK
The Roxy was originally the ‘Silverhill Picture House’ and opened on 29th November 1913 with 450 seats and concentrated mainly on cine-variety until 1930 when Miss Dorothy Meatyard took over and re-named it the Roxy.
She sold it to the Cranfield Cinema Co. in 1948 and when attendances started to fall it became the Roxy Continental but by 1959 it returned to being called The Roxy and continued with its art-house booking policy until 1960 when Cranfield had received a large offer from a development company to sell the site and, despite making a profit, the Roxy closed on Saturday, 30th April 1960, to stand empty for the next nine years until it was eventually demolished in September 1969 and replaced with a supermarket. It is now occupied by Carpetland.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk
De Luxe 1949.
Advertisement for the De Luxe from the winter of 1949.
Ad for The Gaiety, December 1949, note Jack Warner – he would go on to become “Dixon of Dock Green”.
The Kinema in the Summer of 1951, it would be renamed Curzon the following year. Alec Guinness’ Lavender Hill Mob is still popular today.
Summer 1951 and one of the films the Orion was showing, ‘The Fighting Kentuckian’ which still appears regularly on TV.
Pier Theatre 1949.
Harry Hansons Court Players were always popular in the Pier Theatre if live performance was what was wanted.
An early appearance of the Errol Flynn Classic at the Regal at Christmas 1951.
Classic English Actors Ralph Richardson and Celia Johnson starred at the Ritz in 1952 as did Americans Randolph Scott and Raymond Massey.
Summer of 1951 at the Roxy in Silverhill.