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British Film Institute News, June 1974
The Picture Palaces
The Cinemas of Rushden, by David Atwell
Palace rear view cinemas
The Palace in the 1970s - photos by A J George
left: The Palace c1919, centre: The Royal Variety Theatre c1911, right: The Ritz

Rushden is a small Northamptonshire market town with a population of some 15,000; yet from 1936 until recent years it boasted three cinemas, all with full stage facilities. The first to be built, in 1910, was the Palace, which survives in the all-to-frequent transmutation into a car showroom. Although the original 600-seat auditorium has been mutilated beyond recognition, the side wall still proudly proclaims its name, and an old postcard from the first war period shows the original entrance from the High Street, the cinema itself being situated, as so often, in a back street. The entrance is flanked by superb posters of W. S. Hart in 'Wagon Tracks' the attraction of the week.

Until the building of the Ritz next door in 1936, the Palace was regarded as Rushden's better and more central cinema, and often had stage shows; notwithstanding this the Royal Variety Theatre remains a far more interesting building. Sited on the outskirts of the town, the latter was built in 1911. It has now become a garage, but the interior still contains much of value, including pieces of the rare original timber stage machinery. Despite its name it seldom had live shows, and quickly became known as the Royal Electric Theatre. The curious circle remains, a straight gallery across the end of the barrel-vaulted hall and set behind its own narrow 'proscenium arch', echoing the larger one at the stage end. Again an old postcard shows the building in its original state, a particularly impressive example of an early provincial cinema.

The 1930s are represented by the Ritz, the only cinema still functioning in Rushden. Built in 1936 to the designs of the Wellingborough architects Talbot, Brown and Fisher, this is externally a conventional enough exercise in brick and artificial stone, but the interior survives totally unaltered, and in parts not even redecorated since it was first built. Seating 1200, the auditorium is plain, close to the Odeon manner, relieved only by decorative grilles flanking the proscenium arch. What is most remarkable is the provision of stage facilities. Measuring some 70 feet by 40 feet, the stage is the largest anywhere within 30 miles, and is in considerable demand for pantomimes, variety and amateur dramatics. With the revival of theatre in the provinces, the Ritz would seem an ideal candidate for imaginative restoration, and reprieve from the very immediate threat of closure and demolition to make way for a supermarket.

Rushden Echo, 27th September 1918, transcribed by Kay Collins

Theatre Changes Hands—The purchase of the Royal Theatre by the Rushden Cinema Co. Ltd., from Mr. A. Franklin, has now been completed, and the new proprietors took possession on Wednesday morning. Miss Gladys E. Clayton, who has managed the theatre for Mr. Franklin for several years past, will continue as manageress, and under her able and judicious control the theatre will lose none of its popularity.

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