Empire Cinema

39 High Street,
Haverhill, CB9 8AE

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Bostock Cinema Circuit

Functions: Bank

Previous Names: Haverhill Electric Palace, Haverhill Electric Empire

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Empire Cinema

In the Suffolk town of Haverhill, the appropriately named Haverhill Electric Palace opened on Monday 14th October 1912.

Built behind Dr. Goodman’s house (on the site of old Maltings off the High Street) the cinema was 80ft in length and 24ft 6ins wide. The auditorium was 65ft long, with the interior plaster walls being “warmly decorated with red distemper”. The ceiling had been stained and varnished and there was full ventilation and heating. The stalls floor had a 4ft rake. The stage was 14ft deep. There was a dressing room. The projection box was of reinforced concrete construction.

The cinema was built by the Barnard Circuit. The manager, Mr G. W. Coe, came from their Picture House at Dartford. At the opening ceremony company head Dan Barnard gave the welcome address.

Interestingly, the original name, Haverhill Electric Palace, only lasted two weeks before being changed to Haverhill Electric Empire. “Electric” was then dropped from the name in the early-1930’s.

On 25th November 1912, only a little over a month after opening, Mr A. Taylor, who had operated film shows elsewhere in the town, was said to be in “complete control”. There is no further mention of the Barnard Circuit, so presumably they sold out to Mr Taylor.

Some of the entertainers who appeared on the stage were Will Rogers (comedian), Jack Gibbs (comic and dancer), Miss Hettie Gould (“sweet ballet and vocalist”), Miss Hettie Holland (ventriloquist), The Six Northern Ladies, Maudie Winston (“popular songs and recitations”), The Great Oxford Sextette and Cissie Langley and Her Company.

At Christmas 1912 the pantomime “Cinderella” was presented. During World War I the cinema remained open. One of its star attractions was the well-known feature “The Battle of the Somme”.

In 1917 Mr Taylor passed control of the cinema to Walter Forder. That September, the engine supplying power to the cinema broke down. It was not until well into 1918 that it had been repaired and the cinema could re-open.

When the war ended, the cinema celebrated with a week long musical play “Laugh O'London”, starring Miss Phyllis Relph of the Lyceum Theatre, London.

In March 1919 ownership passed to Mr W. Flannery, who had been demobbed from the 25th Royal Fusiliers and, before the war, had twelve years experience in variety and cinema halls, among them Blackpool, Hull and Grimsby. However, in July he moved on, and Hugh Travers took over. During a national rail strike later in 1919 he had to drive to London after the last show on a Saturday to collect the next weeks films.

Competition arrived in 1928 when the Bostock Cinema Circuit opened the Playhouse Cinema. Around 1930 the Empire Cinema was acquired by the Bostock Cinema Circuit. For about 20 years the two cinemas ran together.

During World War II the military authorities asked whether the town’s cinemas could be opened on Sundays, to provide entertainment for the vast numbers of service personnel. This was granted, but only for servicemen and a friend. Apparently, the servicemen suddenly made lots of friends!

In early-1947 a special occasion was the showing of “The Seventh Veil”, starring James Mason and Ann Todd, as much of this had been filmed in the nearby village of Helions Bumpstead.

In June 1947 the Empire Cinema announced it was closing for a short period in the summer, and would re-open in the September. It did, but then closed for good on Saturday 13th March 1948.

The building stood idle and neglected for well over ten years, before Harts took it over as a motorcycle showroom and shop. Later on it was acquired by Barclays Bank.

Contributed by David Simpson
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