The facade at the top of the exterior entrance to the Electric Palace Cinema shows scrolling decoration and the words 1911 and Electric Palace within an arched top section of the facade.
The newly restored decorative facade of the Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich. © Stella Fitzgerald/Historic England Archive
The newly restored decorative facade of the Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich. © Stella Fitzgerald/Historic England Archive

Harwich Electric Palace Cinema Saved

Staff, volunteers and trustees at the Harwich Electric Palace Cinema are looking forward to welcoming visitors once again, following repair and restoration work to save this Grade II* listed historic gem.

Working in partnership, Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund have supported a two-year restoration project with grant funding totalling more than £1.5 million (£474,791 from Historic England, including £151,291 from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, and £1,033,900 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund).

A labour of love

The restoration of this well-loved local venue has included:

  • Replacing the roof to make the building safe
  • Asbestos removal
  • Repair of the original ornate fibrous plaster ceiling
  • Redecoration of the fine interior
  • Replacing part of the auditorium floor
  • Refurbishment of the auditorium seating

Historic England has funded works including removal of the asbestos from the top of the ornate plaster auditorium ceiling, whilst The National Lottery Heritage Fund supported its conservation.

Historic England also funded urgent repairs and replacement of part of the auditorium floor after the discovery of a water leak and structural defects.

One of the oldest purpose-built cinemas

Built in 1911, only two years after the introduction of the Cinematograph Act (1909), the Electric Palace is one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in existence.

The original features include an ornate plaster ceiling, ornamental front entrance, projection room and the original screen - witness to more than 100 years of cinema history from the earliest days of silent film.

It was the first cinema created by Charles Thurston, a travelling showman who was well known in East Anglia. He built two more cinemas, the Empire Cinema in Biggleswade and the Palace Cinema in Norwich.

Architect Harold Hooper was only 25 years old when he designed the Electric Palace Cinema, his first major building design.

The cinema closed in 1956 after 45 years entertaining the people of Harwich and lay derelict for the next 16 years. It miraculously escaped demolition in 1972 due to the intervention of Gordon Miller, who rediscovered the cinema, and the Harwich Society, who rescued it.

It was reopened in 1981 by the Harwich Electric Palace Trust. This dedicated team has been responsible for running the community cinema for the past 40 years and oversaw the major cinema restoration project.

Get involved - activities at the cinema

The National Lottery Heritage Fund also supported the development of a new artistic programme for the cinema, and the appointment of an Operations Manager and an Education and Heritage Officer.

The Electric Palace Cinema opens its doors to audiences once more on 8 April with a screening of The Duke at 7.30pm. Find out about its forthcoming programme of film, theatre, live music, historic tours, traditional cinema skills workshops and more.

The team would love to hear from people that are interested in volunteering at the cinema and have a wide variety of roles available. To find out more email: [email protected] 

It is fantastic to see that this historic venue has been brought back to life ready for the public to enjoy once again. Harwich Electric Palace Cinema is a great asset for its local community in Essex. Thanks to this funding from Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the government's Culture Recovery Fund, it will be here for future generations to enjoy for many years to come.

Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston

The Electric Palace Cinema is a fascinating and very special survival. It has escaped demolition, was saved by the Harwich Society and passed to the Harwich Electric Palace Trust by Tendring District Council. With this last phase of work now complete, the auditorium is at its absolute best, retaining much of its original charm and unique character. I can’t wait to see the cinema buzzing with visitors and sharing the magic of film, in this unique setting, as it has done for over a hundred years.

Trudi Hughes, Architect/Surveyor Historic England