The Early Years of Cinema in Rainham
Although a cinema no longer exists in Rainham two once flourished as regular locations for entertainment from 1914 to 1966.
The first cinema to be established in Rainham known as the Empire Theatre operated in the High Street during the war years from 1914 to 1918. Although small and basic the Empire Theatre showed regular films to the public with seats varying in price from 2d to 6d. Charlie Chaplin films like ‘The Million Dollar Mystery’ proved to be very popular and long running although other films were also shown with a piano accompaniment and were well attended. Mrs Sayer performed as regular pianist and Mr Cheeseman provided a small orchestra. Films shown included ‘The Siege of Troy,’ ‘Henry VIII’ and ‘David Garrick.’ These film shows also raised money for the war effort.
Immediately after the war in 1919 demand for the cinema was such that plans were drawn up for the establishment of a bigger, more modern and fully equipped cinema in Rainham.
Originally constructed as a Salvation Army hall, the Royal cinema could officially seat 395 people and it opened on Monday October 25th 1920 in Rainham High Street in the building now occupied by Martin Lukehurst’s furniture store. In the early years it showed black and white films with a basic but powerful lantern and a recessed screen located at the High Street end of the building and proved popular at a time when TV didn’t exist. At a later date the Royal became generally known to locals as the ‘Bug hutch.’
The East Kent Gazette reported in October 1920,
‘Inside the hall is beautifully decorated and furnished, making a handsome modern cinema.’
Marshall Harvey from Sittingbourne designed the cinema building and Kemp Brothers from Station Road in Rainham constructed it. Mr W Baldock became the first manager, Mr W Thompsett caretaker and Mr Will George the pianist.
Nearly 500 people attended the first show according to the East Kent Gazette and Mr W Furness-Maxwell, the managing director gave a speech and said that the finest films on the market would be shown.
‘Romany Rye’ became the first film to be screened with a programme of short comedies and a topical events news programme. In following weeks ‘Billeted’ with Billie Burke and ‘The Warrior Strain,’ a comedy in which the Prince of Wales appeared were also shown. Continuous performances took place every evening from 6-15 pm to 10-30 pm with a children’s matinee at 2-30 pm every Saturday afternoon.
The Royal cinema later proved to be unique in the area with its double seats and became very popular during the inter-war years with high attendances. On Boxing Day in December 1921 The East Kent Gazette reported that nearly 2,000 people attended the day’s performances. The cinema’s popularity continued for over forty years and efforts to improve it took place until it came under financial pressure due to dwindling audiences and eventually closed after the screening of ‘Cat Ballou’ with Lee Marvin on March 5th 1966.
Building previously used as The Royal Cinema Rainham, now Lukehursts Furnishing.