Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:


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Statutory Address:

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Torbay (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SX 88998 60650



SX8960 TORBAY ROAD 1947-1/6/97 (South side) 20/02/91 Torbay Cinema


Cinema. Licensed and officially opened 1912, but actually opened previously (Soundy-Bennett). Probably designed by Hyams and Hodgen of Paignton (documentation); contractor Percy Drewe of Paignton. Free Baroque style with Art Nouveau decorative details. MATERIALS: Flemish bond N Staffordshire brick with iron reinforcment, freestone dressings; slate roof concealed behind parapet. PLAN: Facing onto Torbay Road. Deep rectangular plan with an internal balcony. EXTERIOR: 3-storey 3-bay front. Centre bay canted inwards with pedimented gable projecting on very deep brackets. Bay flanked by wide pilaster strips with Ionic capitals some distance below eaves level; first floor bow window to foyer. Very deep moulded stone eaves cornice on modillion brackets with parapet above to outer bays. Platband above second floor windows of outer bays linked to central transom of bowed foyer window. Spectacular Art Nouveau doorway to lower foyer. Round-headed varnished timber architrave with triple egg moulding. Transom with 4-light fanlight above, made up of panes of bevelled glass. 2-leaf doors, glazed with bevelled panes, the outer bottom corners of each leaf infilled with varnished timber spandrels giving an overall oval shape to the entrance. Fine sinuous timber door handles fixed to copper plate. Doorway has steps up, divided by probably original brass and timber hand-rail, upper step mosaic Deep canopy across front and over doorway (not part of the original design) is supported on 2 slender reeded cast-iron columns. First-floor stone-mullioned and transomed 5-light foyer window above with 3 transoms, glazed with Art Nouveau stained glass. 3-light stone mullioned windows to outer bays, the first floor windows transomed. Windows in the same style to one bay of the returns. INTERIOR: The foyer on the ground floor has been somewhat altered but the original stairs to the upper foyer are intact with plain, closely-spaced varnished splat balusters with Art Nouveau motifs. Stained glass decorates the window of the upper foyer. In the auditorium the proscenium arch and the orchestra pit of a 21-piece orchestra have been altered; otherwise the interior is remarkably well-preserved. The auditorium has a 6-bay barrel ceiling with ribs supported on corbels which are decorated with heads in relief of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Junior, the latter in the headgear of Moses - heads said to have been added to the original design. Ceiling decorated with mouldings of fruit and foliage. Original Art Deco-style wall lights made at a local smith's shop (Mann). The pastel colours of the wall and ceiling decoration are said to have been unchanged since the cinema opened. Grilles on long walls from the original and unusually early air-conditioning system which filtered air through a plenum plant. System (except coal-fired boiler) said to be intact. Curved balcony frontal, recessed in the centre with original decoration. Private boxes at the rear of the balcony are still in use. Tip-up seats, reduced in number and re-arranged for smaller audiences, are said to be original but re-upholstered. Roof said to be iron A-frame trusses. HISTORY: A hotel on the site was demolished to make way for the cinema. The precise date at which it opened is unclear, in spite of a remarkable archive of documentation in the hands of the present owners. A request for a licence is said to have been made to the Local Authority as early as 1907 (Mann). The Paignton Picture House Co. (whose directors included Farrance Gillie), who ran the cinema (previously known as the Paignton Electric Picture Palace) and a film library, renting out film to other organisations, was incorporated on 15 April 1913. Agatha Christie was a regular user when she was living in Dartmouth (Mann) and the cinema is said to be the model for the 'Gaiety' cinema in her fiction. Paris Singer, who remodelled Oldway Mansion (qv) is said to have visited with Isadora Duncan: documentation shows that Singer sold the cinema company a grand piano. Atwell's book lists (without claiming to be comprehensive) 8 cinemas purpose-built before 1912 as being still in use, with 7 others converted to other uses. The earliest is the Electric, Portabello Road, 1907. An extremely well-preserved example of an early purpose-built cinema with an important archive of documentation. (Dissertation for College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth: Soundy-Bennett P: The Torbay Cinema, Paignton: 1990-; Atwell D: Cathedrals of the Movies: 1987-; Documentation and oral history provided by Mr John Mann, manager).

Listing NGR: SX8899860650


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Atwell, D, Cathedral of the Movies: A History of British Cinemas and their Audiences, (1980)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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