Electric Theatre

16 Junction Road,
Kirkwall, KW15 1JY

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Electric Theatre

In 1910 in Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, cabinetmaker D. B. Peace, aware of a new craze that was taking hold on the mainland, converted his wood store into a roller skating rink. Two professional instructors taught the patrons the intricacies of their art on a fine maple wood floor, accompanied by music from a brass band.

Four years later, visitors to Orkney were telling marvellous tales about the ‘animated pictures’ they had seen. Inspired by these stories, Mr Peace acquired a Gaumont projector and the roller skating rink became the Electric Theatre.

For fourteen years, with Mr Peace as projectionist (joined in the 1920’s by J. W. Sinclair), this was the most popular place of entertainment in Kirkwall, with its threepenny seats (only a penny-halfpenny at matinees).

Musical accompaniment was provided by pianist Rose Petrie, and Dougie Shearer, owner of the later Phoenix cinema, recalled that, as time passed, he was promoted to the post of ‘Musical Director’, which involved playing the old wind-up gramophone at each show, at what he described as a good weekly wage of seven shillings (35p).

In due course, while visiting film renters in Glasgow, Dougie’s grandfather heard about the new Brunswick Panatrope - an electric gramophone - ideal for the Electric Theatre, which had its own electricity supply from a dynamo powered by a gas generator. The Panatrope was housed in a steel case with two turntables, BTH Pickups, two volume controls and a change-over switch. A technician from Glasgow installed the equipment, which was ideal for accompanying the silent films. Dougie would use the music ‘Hearts and Flowers’ for love scenes and ‘The Storm’ from William Tell for chase scenes in westerns.

In the late-1920’s, quite possibly aware that ‘talkies’ were coming along, Mr Peace decided that the time was right for him to bring the pictures to the main street. So, in 1928, he closed the Electric Theatre and set about converting his cabinetmakers shop in Albert Street into the Albert Kinema. That opened in June 1931 (see separate entry).

It is not known what happened to the Electric Theatre building. The site is currently occupied by James D. Peace & Co, car and van hire, so is still owned by the family. However, it is unclear whether the current building is a conversion of the Electric Theatre or a later build.

(This narrative has been sourced from ‘The Cinema in Orkney’ by Kenny Thomson, published at scottishcinemas.org.uk)

Contributed by David Simpson
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