Cinema in Rye

By Jim Hollands

Rye’s first Moving Picture Theatre was situated near the bottom of Landgate on the eastern side of the road. It is difficult to imagine in these modern times of mass media, what an amazing experience it was for someone living in late Victorian or Early Edwardian times to witness moving pictures for the first time.

Rye Electric Palace

Electric Palace
Electric Palace

In Rye the cinema arrived , in the form of RYE ELECTRIC PALACE in 1912. All the films were silent with titles popped in hear and there to enlighten the audience.

There is no record of the first film show at Rye’s brand new Cinema but it is possible that the one-reel chase film “The Lonely Villa” starring Mary Pickford was the film to be screened at Rye. The Electric palace was one of the few public places in Rye that generated it’s own electricity. Mains electric did not get to Rye until 1925.

Rye Electric Palace
Rye Electric Palace

The Electric Palace employed a pianist that improvised music to match the scene as the film moved on. It was affectionately known to locals as ‘The Flea Pit’.

In 1927 the first feature length sound film, ‘The Jazz Singer’, came up with a lip sync. line of speech “You ain’t heard nothing yet”. It caused a sensation and soon all the cinemas in the land, including the Electric Palace at Rye, were packed to the rafters. There was no going back. The silent film was dead and soon Rye would be getting a brand new cinema.

Rye Electric Palace in Landgate   Drawing by Brian Hargreaves
Rye Electric Palace in Landgate Drawing by Brian Hargreaves

The Electric Palace provided wonderful entertainment and service for the town over the 20 years of its existence. There were all kinds of incidents during that long period in it’s lifetime. On one occasion an East Kent Bus veered off the road and crashed into the foyer, causing all kinds of problems. The bus company were so worried about bad publicity the sent a man round to cover up the East Kent motifs on the vehicle. To no avail, as the pictures had already been taken and later appeared in the local press.

The First Regent


The First Regent Cinema Rye
The First Regent Cinema Rye

The Regent in Cinque Ports Street opened its doors to the public in 1932 and Ryers enjoyed a luxurious new 671 seat auditorium to enjoy the very latest films as soon as they were released.

Shipman & King had taken over the running of the Electric Palace as far back as 1922 and closed it when they opened their new building which was the pride of Rye, designed by Hastings Architect Henry Cousins and built by Rye craftsmen (including our senior journalist, Arthur Woodgate).

The Regent opened to a packed house showing “Jacks the Boy” a Gainsborough film made at Islington. The film was a huge critical and commercial success for Walter Forde. It starred Jack Hulbert: and Cicely Courtneidge.

The Regent was a huge success and attracted full houses every Saturday night.

Unfortunately it was not to last as long as its predecessor. The Regent Cinema received a direct hit by German bombs one Tuesday afternoon in September 1942, killing the Relief Manager, who was spending a fortnight away from the Blitz in London. It happened a couple of hours before the cinema was to open for the afternoon performance.

Although just short of my fourth birthday at the time I remember the siren going and seeing five aircraft passing over Cinque Ports Street, then almost immediately, came a huge explosion. My Father rushed back to Rye from Peasmarsh, being diverted round South Undercliffe. The soldier at the Landgate Road Block told him, “Cinque Ports Street is Down!”. He was more than a little worried because my mother and I were in my grandfather’s shop at 12 Cinque Ports Street.

Father put me in the carrier of the grocery bike and pushed me along Cinque Ports Street an hour later. There was a road block at the top of Station Approach but the policeman there let us pass when Dad told him he was going to see if his friend Sid Baker, the manager of the Co-op was alright. He was fine, so we wandered on on took a look at the poor old Regent. I have a vivid memory of the scene. The front of the building stood up, there was water pouring out of the wall where the toilets were situated above the foyer. Soldiers were in the building, pushing loose walls down and making it safe. The foyer overhang was on the ground.

One of the soldiers was chalking the words “Gone with the Wind” on the facia. This was not the film showing at the time, but it expressed the sight I had witnessed perfectly.

It was a sad end to a building that had given so much pleasure during its ten years as a picture palace.

A new Regent

The Second Regent Cinema Rye
The Second Regent Cinema Rye

In 1948, Shipman & King built a brand new cinema on the site, this time designed by David Nye The new Regent was very similar to the old building it was designed to seat 724 people.

The new cinema attracted full houses for the first two weeks. The first film that was shown was “My Brother Jonathon” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray.

There were two programmes per week, Monday to Wednesday and Thursday to Saturday. The programmes consisted of a feature film plus a ‘B’ movie, split by advertising and Pathe Gazette.

In later years, due to public demand and the easing of Lord’s Day Observance Law, a Sunday one day programme was introduced, again two films but the Sunday show did not include a news feature.

There was also Children’s Saturday Matinee.

EMI took over the Shipman & King interest in 1967 but such was the decline in Cinema attendance in the face of the boom in television EMI only hung on for a further six years until the audiences sunk to such an all time low they were forced to close the Regent Cinema on 29th September 1973. The building was demolished and houses and shops were built on the site. The only trace of the old cinema now is the name, which is carried by the Regent Motel which opened on the site in 1984.

The Kinema Comes To Rye

Now, after a gap of over 40 years, Rye has a cinema again. The new Kinema, situated in the old Lion Street School is a state of the art, two theatre cinema using the very latest technology. We wish it great success and hope it serves the town for many years to come.

“Rye’s Own” May 2015

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