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Eythorne’s Electric Theatre

On Tuesday 24th February 1920, Mr D. Foster (Roads Surveyor) of Eastry Rural District Council reported to the Council that Mr. Read, of Staple, had submitted plans for a cinema, which it was proposed to build in the meadow near Eythorne Station.
On 23rd March of that same year, the plans for the proposed cinema to be erected at Eythorne were again brought up at the meeting of the Eastry Rural District Council, “with the alterations recommended by the Council”. It was stated that the materials which would be used were from a disused hall at Stonar.” Mr. C. J. Burgess said “that they might build two cottages instead. The very people who were crying out for houses would be the people to use this cinema. At the present time they could not get repairs done, and yet they were applying put up cinemas”. He suggested that they should write to the Housing Commissioners for instructions before passing the plans and granting the licence. The Council adopted this suggestion.
The plans to build a cinema in “the meadow near Eythorne Station” came to nothing and readers of the Dover Express were told on 23rd July 1920 to “LOOK OUT for the announcement of the opening of the new Electric Theatre on the Sandwich Rd., Eythorne”.
The new “Electric Theatre” (cinema), which was a modest structure compared with the first proposals of 1920, was built in an empty field next door to the School on Sandwich Road (as marked on the first map taken from an OS map of around the time) and its “Grand Opening Night” was Monday August 2nd 1920. The programme at its opening was;
Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday, Aug, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Famous Lasky presents: Enid Bennett in “Partners Three” A Great Drama of the West. Also, a Mack Sennett Comedy, entitled: “East Lynne (with variations)” Supported by “Mutt & Jeff” Cartoons and “Topical Budget”. Thursday, Friday & Saturday, Aug. 5th, 6th & 7th. DON’T MISS THIS! Charles Ray In a Grand Comedy Drama, entitled: “Greased Lightening”, Come and see Charles Ray with his Ford. Supported by other Dramas and Comedies. Special Budget always showing. COMING NEXT WEEK—Douglas Fairbanks Continuous Performance 6 to 10 p.m. Prices: 6d., 9d., 1/3 (Including Tax) “.
The Ford reference in the Charles Ray film is to his car as “with the help of his little Ford, Andy (Charles Ray) actually nabs the villains “. Partners Three “was a silent Western made in 1919 starring Enid Bennet who in 1922 gained greater fame playing the role of Maid Marion in the film “Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks. “East Lynne (with variations)” was a Mack Sennett comedy starring Ben Turpin but no copies of it now exist. Mutt and Jeff were a popular cartoon duo, originally a newspaper cartoon strip and was first animated in 1916, and is the origin of the rhyming slang for deaf (see posters for these films). The “Topical Budget” was a silent newsreel, first issued in September 1911.
Naturally all the movies were silent at this time and so would have had musical accompaniment (played on a piano) in the cinema. Opening hours on a Sunday were restricted as Sunday Observance (keeping Sunday as a special day when people go to church) was still the norm. For example, in September 1938, Eastry District Council agreed that the cinema couldn’t open before 5.30pm on Sunday.
For some reason the cinema cannot have been the success expected as it was put up for auction by Worsfold and Hayward on 31st March 1921;
THURSDAY. 31st MARCH, 1921, Auction at three o’clock in the afternoon of the Freehold Property known as the “Electric Theatre”, situated at Upper Eythorne, on the Sandwich Road, adjoining the Schools. Standing in plot of land 48ft. 6in. by 188ft, the Theatre is 30ft. in height over all, with seating accommodation for 300. The Operator’s Box is fireproof, and contains a Gaumont Chrono Deluxe Maltese Cross Projector and all the necessary accessories. At the back of the site is the engine shed, lined in and out with iron, in which is an Austin petrol set with two cylinders, I0 h.p, with Vickers dynamo direct coupled. The Theatre, is licensed by the Eastry Council and let to Mr. Read on a weekly tenancy rental of £6 week. Situated in the midst of a working community with splendid prospects, a first-class opportunity of securing a lucrative property for investment or own operation. Particulars and Conditions Sale, with Orders to View, may be obtained of Messrs. Worsfold and Hayward. Auctioneers, Surveyors and Estate Agents, Market Square, Dover: and of Messrs. Mowll & Mowll, Solicitors, Dover, Canterbury and London.
The outcome of the auction was that the building was not sold and it continued as a cinema. It continued to struggle to attract patrons, however. A review of a film in December 1922 ended with the following sentences; “It seems regrettable that this cinema is not better patronised as the programs shown here are of the best and the pictures very clear and steady as the projector is fitted with the best possible lens obtainable, throwing over a distance of 75 ft a picture 16ft by 12 ft. The floor is at such an angle to ensure everybody gets an unobstructed view of the screen and the prices are remarkable considering the comfort provided. Next Monday the management have secured the Harma production, “The Silver Greyhound”” featuring James Knight.” The actor James Knight was born in Canterbury and started out as a wrestler before becoming a leading man in British silent films, and later a character actor in smaller film roles.
The cinema was again put up for let or sale “in full working order and with good seating accommodation” in February 1923. However. On 23rd March 1923 it was reported that Mr E. (Edward) P. (Percy) Forsythe was granted a cinematograph licence in respect of the Eythorne Cinema.
The cinema continued to show films but it also found use by a variety of organisations in the 1920s as a venue for meetings and entertainments such as for productions by the Shepherdswell Musical Society, for fund raisers for Eythorne FC and for meetings of the workforce of Tilmanstone Colliery when in dispute.
In February 1926 an application by Mr Percy Forsythe of Eythorne for the renewal of the license of the Eythorne Cinema, previously held by him, was granted (by Eastry RDC) for one year.
In the Kinetograph yearbook of 1927, Eythorne Cinema is listed. The proprietor is the Cinema House Company and it can be “booked at the Hall” by S. Forsythe. Films are “once nightly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Prices 6d to 1 shilling.” The showings are now limited to one show on three days, a significant reduction from when it was opened in 1920. Cinema House Ltd was originally a subsidiary of the London Cinematograph Company but by the 1920s it was a subsidiary, first of Electric Theatres Ltd, and then of a chain called Grand Central Ltd.
Information on the cinema in the 1930s is very sparse and it would seem that a cinema at the Elvington Settlement Hall, or using the hall as a cinema, took over as the place to go in the 1940s. It is not known whether the Eythorne Cinema stayed open during WWII but it would appear not.
In December 1946 Eythorne Cinema was put up for sale;
Sale by Auction. By Order of the Owner of the premises in EYTHORNE. Sale of the attractive Freehold Bungalow, soundly constructed of Timber Frame and Weatherboard, with Asbestos Slated Root, known as: Cinema Bungalow, Sandwich Road, Eythorne, near Dover. Containing three bedrooms, living room, kitchen, scullery, w.c. Company’s water and electricity are installed; cesspool drainage. Let to Mr. C. Washford at the weekly inclusive rental of 10/- 10d. Also, the adjoining commodious Building, constructed of Timber Frame and corrugated Iron on concrete base wall, known as: “The Old Cinema”, Sandwich Road. The building measures approximately 30ft x 85ft., and is well suited to use as a Garage or for Industrial Purposes. This Building is let to Mr. E. A. Handford at a rental of £1 10/- per month, exclusive. The whole occupies an area of about one quarter of acre, with a frontage of approximately 60ft and a depth of approximately 190ft.
Following the auction, it was announced, on 20th December, that the combined bungalow and cinema were sold for £450.
After the sale, the cinema (painted green at this time) was put to use as a garage for Hampshire’s coaches, two of which could be accommodated. The deep dug out floor which used to accommodate the seating remained. A picture previously posted by Sally Andrews shows one such coach reversing into the old cinema. The building was demolished in the 1970s and replaced by houses (See modern map).

Vince Croud

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