Nostalgia: The show must go on

PUBLISHED: 14:12 06 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:58 06 May 2010

Building the new Palace

Building the new Palace

Travelling showman Charles Thurston was a regular visitor to Biggleswade with his funfair and cinema. When he came to The Dolphin Meadow in Hitchin Street in 1911 he found that Noah Hull had erected a wooden cinema Hull s Electric Castle Picture Palace.

The Empire Cinema in the 1920s

Travelling showman Charles Thurston was a regular visitor to Biggleswade with his funfair and cinema.

When he came to The Dolphin Meadow in Hitchin Street in 1911 he found that Noah Hull had erected a wooden cinema Hull's Electric Castle Picture Palace.

When Wells and Winch Ltd, the Biggleswade brewers advertised a large portion of the Dolphin Meadow for sale, Thurston decided to buy these plots in order to erect his own cinema.

He had already opened two other cinemas, The Electric Palace in Harwich (now fully restored and a listed building), and the Cinema Palace in Norwich, which was renamed the Mayfair in 1946 and later became a bowling alley and a studio for Anglia Television. Mr Yelf, a Norwich contractor, started to build The Cinema Palace on November 15, 1912.

No time was to be lost as Thurston's competition was growing. Noah Hull had had to leave his prime site and was clearing a new pitch for the Castle Picture Palace.

George's Hall in High Street had been recently built as a theatre and dance hall. It was adapted to show films and opened as George's Picture Palace on November 23.

The race was now on.

Less than three months later, on February 24, 1913, Thurston opened his Empire Cinema to throngs of people and the 600 seats were soon filled.

There was musical entertainment from Horace Newman on the piano and Gordon Rainbow playing the violin. Noah Hull, who had opened his wooden Castle Cinema just opposite, engaged J Dawson as manager (he had recently managed a travelling cinema for Thurston and his brother William). Noah's cinema closed on May 13 and was billed to re-open in August. In fact it had closed for good.

The Empire flourished, but Thurston sold it in 1920 to the Suburban Theatre Ltd of Oxford Street, London.

Thurston was well known in Biggleswade, it was one of his best pitches.

He ordered a new suit each year from White's the tailors in High Street and paid in pennies.

To be continued next week.


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