The Cinemas of King’s Lynn from the Building Control Plans

The King’s Lynn Borough Archives hold the building control plans for the old Borough Council of King’s Lynn from 1883 up to 1960. The plans from 1960 to 1974 were sadly lost during the flood of the 1978. The plan registers also survive, however the earliest is unfit for production and cannot be consulted and one of the later volumes is in a poor state. With the help of a small team of volunteers we have been slowly working the way through and indexing the plans. The list shows the plans that still survive, which are too fragile to use and where there are gaps. When the work is uploaded onto the catalogue it will allow the public to better interact with the plans.

While working through the plans we have made many interesting and colourful discoveries. These include a series of plans for cinemas throughout the town. So far, the plans have been indexed from 1883 up to 1938 so more drawings may come to light later. This is a brief look at each of the individual plans and the cinemas they show rather than an in-depth history of each.

The first plan dates from May 1911 and is for the Electric Cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/290) which was situated on Broad street next to the Cattle Market. It was designed by F. Burdett Ward of Wisbech for Frederick Holmes Cooper. It had a capacity exceeding 400 seats. It was a silent film cinema and must have required a musician to accompany the films, although there is no specific location for such an individual or orchestra highlighted on the plan. There is an additional plan in the packet dated 1912 for a set of emergency stairs.

1 kl-se_2-2-2-290 detail

The next plan (KL/SE 2/2/2/346) was also commissioned by Frederick Cooper and designed by F. Burdett Ward and would be known as the Empire cinema. It was also located on Broad Street but this time at the southern end. It differs from the previous plan in that it’s described as a remodelling rather than a proposed new theatre, as much of the infrastructure was already present. This sheds some light on the previous use of the building. It had been an independent church which was then converted into the Albion Hall, which had also been used as a cinema, and later called Birteno’s Picturedrome.

2 kl-se_2-2-2-346 plans

Both these Broad Street cinemas would lose out to more modern facilities which offered films with sound. The Empire cinema would cease showing films in the early 1920’s and go on to have various uses including as a Territorial Army drill hall. The Electric Cinema would continue until the late 1930’s when it also closed. It was an army barracks during World War II and other uses afterwards. Both were eventually left in a state of disrepair and demolished during the development of the Vancouver Quarter in the late 1960’s.

One of the most artistic plans we have in this collection is for what is now the Majestic Cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/825) with a wonderful water colour of the front elevation. The plans date from June 1927 and were made by John Laurie Carnell and William Dymoke White, who had offices in King’s Lynn, Norwich and Wisbech. Described as a ‘Cinema and Ballroom’ the design has a high capacity cinema, spread over the ground floor and a first-floor gallery which includes six boxes and with a ballroom on the top floor. There are some later plans from 1955 also in the packet, which have designs for a replacement screen by C.J. Foster of London.

3 kl-se_2-2-2-825 Majestic

The next set of plans are for the St James Cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/1144), situated on County Court Road beside the relocated grave stones. The building had been used as a theatre for many years, plans of which can also be seen within the building control plans, and had been enlarged over the years. The plans are by A.H. Jones, a London architect, and dated November 1933. It had a seating capacity of 1173 over a ground floor and first floor balcony. Like the Majestic it featured a dance hall, two in fact on different floors above the entrance, although they were much smaller in size. The cinema burnt down in February 1937 and would not be replaced.

4 kl-se_2-2-2-1144 Elevation

Continuing the theme of being destroyed by fire the next set of plans are for the Theatre Royal on St James Street which were submitted in January 1937. The original Theatre Royal has been absent from this list even though it had been active as a theatre from the 1880’s and as a cinema since the late 1920’s. A fire broke out on the stage in May 1936 and gutted the building. These plans (KL/SE 2/2/2/1505) are for the replacement building which can still be seen today as a bingo hall. It was designed by Allflatt & Courtney of King’s Lynn. You can still see the full stage and orchestra pit, allowing for multi-purpose use of theatrical performances alongside films.

5 kl-se_2-2-2-1505 floor plans

The next few plans shows an image of what could have been but never was as they were accepted but never built. On the corner of St James Street and St James Road, on the site of the current police station, we have plans for the Regal Cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/1555). Dated May 1937 and drawn by J. Owen Bond & son, who had offices in Norwich and London. It had a seating capacity of 1474. The sections and elevations come with an artistic impression of how the front of the building would look with couples and cars on the drive.

6 kl-se_2-2-2-1555 artists impression

The plans for the Ritz cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/1755) were accepted late in July 1938 after another submission (KL/SE 2/2/2/1750) had been rejected earlier the same month. Interestingly, it is on the same location as the Regal cinema, on the corner of St James Road and Street, and was also never completed. It was designed by Leslie Kemp, a chartered architect from London. It has a total capacity of 1480 people over the main floor and a small balcony. There is a later deposit of plans for the same site (KL/SE 2/2/2/1785). It remodels the front and internal layout slightly, but the main body of the cinema is unchanged.

7 kl-se_2-2-2-1755 ground floor plan

Why neither the Regal or Ritz was finally built on the site is not included in the paperwork. The site was cleared at some point between 1938 and 1946, we can tell this from the Ordinance Survey maps of 1938 and aerial photographing of the town from 1946. One local legend holds that it was where a bomb dropped but the Lynn bomb map does not support this. There is neither a coloured bomb plot or the preceding pin mark in the site. Thankfully the plans still survive and give a glimpse at what could have been.

8 kl-se_2-2-2-1755 & 1785 elevations

The final set of plans are for the Pilot Street cinema (KL/SE 2/2/2/1772) were also accepted in July 1938. It was designed by Keeble Allflatt in an Art Deco style and built by Ben and John Culey. As the name suggests it was built on Pilot Street, what is now John Kennedy Way and was situated opposite the entrance to North Street. It had a capacity of 822. It opened in November 1938 and remained a cinema until 1983. It was only demolished in 2014 and the site is now a housing development.

9 kl-se_2-2-2-1772 front elevation

Written by archivist Luke with the help of current and former volunteers Alex, Hayley, David, Graham, Jen and Ellie.

This entry was posted in Snapshots from the Archive, volunteers and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Cinemas of King’s Lynn from the Building Control Plans

  1. Peter Pennell says:

    What an interesting read,if only more of the old King’s Lynn still existed..


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