Centenary of The Palace Cinema

I should think that most people in March will remember the Hippodrome (now Wetherspoons) when it operated as a bingo hall and cinema. How many know that there were, in fact, two cinemas staring at each other across Darthill Road?

Electric Palaces appeared all over the country. Some are still around today and in a better condition than ours in March. Click on the following links to take a look.

Compiled and researched by Jennifer Lawler, October 2011.

2012 sees the centenary of The Palace in March, in the grounds of the former Darthill House, now the car park off Robin Goodfellows Lane. Before opening, Mr Joseph Collingwood made an application for a cinematograph license.

August 14th 1912 The March Advertiser, Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Press




At the March police Court on Tuesday, Mr. Joseph Collingwood made an application to the Bench then sitting, comprised of Messrs. Jno. Whittome (in the chair), Geo. Sharman and Geo. Brewin, for a cinematograph license for the new Electric Palace, recently erected at Broad-street, March.

In making the application, Mr. Collingwood said due notice had been given to the Superintendent, and also to the Magistrates' Clerk, and he had also answered all the necessary questions on the form. He said he would like to say, in view of the fact that the magistrates were going to inspect the building, that they had set out with the idea of making a perfectly safe place of it, and he thought, so far as it was humanly possible, they had been successful. The one source of danger in a cinematograph place of entertainment was the extremely inflammable nature of the films, and in order to obviate all risk to the public they had placed the operating box outside the building itself, it being separated by a solid brick wall, leaving only the apertures necessary for showing the pictures through, which were 12in. by 12in. and 8in. by 8in. respectively. To these were attached automatic iron shutters, which in case if emergency could be released in a second. The only danger in case of fire would, therefore, be with the operator. In addition as a further safeguard they had installed one of the very latest types of machines, which the makers claimed to be fireproof, because the film ran out of one fireproof box into another, so that during the time it was being shown there was only a matter of a few inches of bare film. As the machine was shown outside the building with ample safeguards, he thought they could claim that they had got a building practically as safe as it was possible to make it. All the exits opened outwards, and they were in excess of the number stipulated by the very stringent regulations of the London County Council. They had practically got an exit for every sixty persons, whilst the London County Council required one exit to every hundred people.

Mr. Collingwood, as the responsible manager of the building, then stated on oath that the answers made by him on the form were correct, and the exits were as stated therein. The seating capacity was 350.

Later in the afternoon the justices inspected the building, and after a thorough examination expressed the opinion that it was as safe as it could possibly be.

The license was accordingly granted.

palace building

The building has been used as Collingwoods' auction rooms for many years. The photo shows it when it was in a slightly better state than it is today.

The newspaper also gives a full description, see below, of the interior and running of this cinema.


August 14th 1912 The March Advertiser, Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Press


March would be nothing if not up-to-date, and the latest addition to the many important public buildings which have been erected during the last few years is the new Electric Picture Palace. Less than a year ago Dart Hill House and grounds, which had a commanding frontage to the north end of Broad-street, was sold by public auction the purchaser being Mr. Joseph Collingwood. Today a complete transformation of the site meets the eye, a block of five new shops and a new Electric Picture Palace occupying the fine corner position facing broad-street and the Station-road. By the courtesy of the managers we had an opportunity of inspecting the new Picture Palace a few days ago, and we are able to give our readers a full description of the new building and its appointments.

Entering by the main front, which will be used only by patrons of the higher-priced seats, we pass through an entrance lobby which is both attractive and convenient. A circular-fronted mahogany pay box is arranged in the centre, a mosaic floor and encaustic tile dado adding richness and effect to what must be described as a very imposing approach to the vestibule, which is separated from the outer lobby by two swing doors, one on either side. Once inside this vestibule the visitor is impressed by the lavish way in which everything has been carried out. The fittings, decorations, carpets and lighting combine to produce an affect which is both original and pleasing. A white enamelled sweetmeat kiosk, with leaded glass windows, occupies a position between the doors leading to the main hall, whilst the two staircases by which the balcony is approached are seen on either side. This vestibule is quite an outstanding feature of the new Palace, and gives to the visitor an impression of completeness and comfort.

On entering the main hall we find ourselves in a room which can only be described as of fine proportions and handsome in appearance. The ground floor, which is 28ft. by 50ft., is provided with seating upholstered in velvet plush of a rich red colour, which harmonizes with the general colour scheme of the decorations. Here accommodations is provided for 250 persons, and the low price of 3d. will secure a front seat! For 4d., those who prefer to sit farther away from the picture screen, will have an excellent choice of seats. No higher price than 4d. is to be charged for seats in the body of the hall. Looking around, one is struck by the way in which every detail has been thought out. The handsome frame which surrounds the picture screen is richly moulded and ornamented, and the screen is placed so that - bar the fashionable millinery difficulty - a full view of it can be obtained from every seat in the place. The more expensive seats are in the balcony, which commands an uninterrupted view of the picture screen, and here the modest 6d. will secure a seat in a velvet tip-up chair. The three front rows in the balcony, which, needless to say, are the best seats in the house, are to be 9d., and there is no higher price than this, unless seats are booked in advance, when a box office fee of 3d. has to be added. In all, the palace will seat 350 persons, and for their safety no less than six exits are provided. Four of these serve the lower floor, or 'pit', and tow the balcony. It should be mentioned here that the floor of the 'pit' is raked, being 2ft. lower at the picture end than at the entrance, thus giving a better view of the screen to those seated at the back than would be the case with a level floor.

Of course, as its name suggests, the Palace is fitted throughout with electric light, a special installation having been put in for the purpose. This consists of a 20-horse-power 'National' gas machine, with a dynamo generating 120 volts and 100 amps. This provides lighting for the building, inside and out, including an electric sign, "Palace", in letters nearly 4ft. high, and also the powerful 2,500 candle-power arc lamp by which the pictures are thrown upon the screen. And as electricity is just as useful for purposes of power as for lighting, a small motor drives the projecting machine, thus relieving the operator of that tedious business of turning the handle. Gas has also been laid on to all parts of the building, so that, should the electric light fail, it will always be available at a moment's notice.

In these days, animated films have to be shown with perfect steadiness, as well as with brilliance. To gain this important point, the projecting machine must be of a type that will obviate the objectionable flicker, so noticeable in the older types of Bioscopes.

The machine installed at the Palace is the celebrated Gaumont Chrono. with Maltese Cross action, and which may be said to be absolutely fireproof. The films, when in use upon the chrono, are shut away in fireproof boxes, and only a few inches are available at any one time, so that the possibility of hundreds of feet of film catching fire, as sometimes happened on the older types of machines, is impossible. Further, by a very clever invention in the mechanism of the Chrono, an automatic shutter shuts off the heat of the lamp from the film, should the machine stop working from any cause. This we are introduced to what is claimed to be a fireproof machine, and when it is remembered that the operating room at the Palace is outside the building, patrons may rest assured that nothing in the nature of danger need be feared.

We had a little talk with the manager, Mr. Gibson, as to the class of pictures which it is proposed to introduce to March audiences, and we were informed that a most careful selection of subjects would always be made. Those who favour dramatic pictures will receive consideration, whilst the large class who go to the picture hall to enjoy a good laugh will not be disappointed. Almost every programme will include pictures of travel, natural history, industry, or sport, and many fine educational films will be included from time to time. A big feature of the programme will be the regular presentation of Pathe's Animated Gazette, which is in reality a news film dealing with all the latest events of the day, and is one of the most popular items in the London Halls. The Palace will open for three and a half hours every evening (7 to 10.30), and patrons can enter and leave the building at their pleasure. The full programme is gone through twice, so that visitors who enter before 8.45 will see the whole series of pictures.

British Pathe

"A big feature of the programme will be the regular presentation of Pathe's Animated Gazette, which is in reality a news film dealing with all the latest events of the day, and is one of the most popular items in the London Halls."

Many of these are preserved and available from British Pathe’s archive.

August 21st 1912 The March Advertiser, Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Press


The new Electric Picture Palace was opened to the public on Monday evening, when two crowded and delighted audiences enjoyed the three-and-a-half hours' programme of animated pictures. The handsome interior of the building came in for much favourable comment, everybody being loud in the praises of this latest addition to March institutions. Long before the doors were opened people began to congregate near the entrances, and there was something like a rush to secure seats directly tickets were on sale. The seating accommodation was soon exhausted, and the 'Full' card had to be exhibited at the entrances, and numbers had to be turned away. Some of these contented themselves by booking seats for Tuesday evening, as the next best thing to do.





When the following fine programme of pictures will be presented.


(Monday to Wednesday)

A powerful A.B.Drama
Picturesque Travel Film:
Intensely interesting Domestic Drama First edition,
Showing the latest events of the day
A First water comic.
A Great Western Drama.
Screaming Comic
A Fine Coloured Natural History Film
Thrilling Military Spectacle.
Doors open 6-45, commence at 7. Popular prices: 3d., 4d., 6d., and 9d.
Seats can now be booked at the Palace Box Office.

The pictures shown on Monday night were a very interesting and amusing selection , whilst one or two of the dramatic films were exceedingly fine. "War's Havoc" is a realistic spectacle of the thrilling events which are associated with modern fighting, ending up with a real train smash. A pretty story of love and devotion is woven into this picture, which drew round after round of applause from the audience. "His Father's Son" and the "Light that Came" are both strong dramatic stories in pictures, whilst Pathe's Gazette was quite-up-to-date with four or five of the latest topical pictures. The military airmen manoeuvring on Salisbury Plains was about the best of these from a photographic point of view.
Several very humorous pictures were included in the programme, drawing forth hearty and continuous laughter from beginning to end. A word of praise is due to Mr. Gibson for the excellent way the programme is presented. The pictures are beautifully clear and steady, even the lip movements of the various characters being easily followed.
The musical accompaniments were played with decided taste, the ability of Madame Coleridge in this particular "business" being plainly manifest.
Monday's programme is to be presented for the last time tonight, a full and complete change of pictures having been secured for tomorrow, Friday and Saturday. A matinee is announced for Saturday afternoon, when children will be admitted at 1d., 2d. and 3d. A splendid feature film, "The Jocular Winds of Fate", has been secured for next week. See advertising columns for other pictures.

The opening of the Palace brought more with it.

August 21st 1912 The March Advertiser, Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Press


The enterprise of Mr. C.W.Abbs has succeeded in supplying a long felt want by the establishment of an up-to-date café in March. It forms one of the most attractive establishments attached to the new Electric Palace and is exquisitely fitted up. Quick luncheons and dainty teas, with no fancy prices, are specialities which will be appreciated not only by the stranger from afar but by the 'local', to whom such a handy Café will be a great convenience. The ladies' rest room is the last word in comfort. Already the Café has been accorded a large patronage, and there is no doubt that as it becomes more widely known the enterprise of the proprietor will receive its due reward.