From January to March 2011, I was commissioned by Bowman Solutions to coordinate a memories project for Redcar & Cleveland council. The aim of the project was to capture the story of the place in order to preserve the history of the Palace of Varieties in the fabric of the new building. To do this, I researched the history of the site, organised talks and creative writing workshops and arranged for an Open Session for the public to record their memories. These were captured both orally and written as well as on film.
The Palace of Varieties was built on the original site of the Coffee Palace, which opened in the 1890s. It began life as a theatre in 1913, started showing movies in the 1920s, was converted into a bingo hall cum casino/night club in the 1960s and became an amusement arcade in the 1970s. It ended its days as host to a chip shop and hairdresser’s. The last time it was open to the public was as part of the Heritage Open Days in 2005/6. The building is now being pulled down to make way for the Palace Hub, which will provide workplaces and gallery spaces for the creative and digital industries.
Most people who attended the Open Session remembered the Palace as a cinema. Here are a few excerpts of what they had to say:
“We used to get all dressed up to go to the cinema. We went in couples, usually two of us, with girls from Redcar Grammar school. We took the bus to the High Street and went in at the rear entrance through the alleyway. There was a small ticket window there. I remember the cherry red velvet seats.”
“There was a grand entrance at the front of the cinema, but as kids we went through the back and into the stalls. I used to go on Saturday mornings with my two older brothers and my younger sister. We liked the ‘Laurel and Hardys’.”
“I came down from Motherwell in 1951 to serve my time with British Steel in Redcar. I saw my first cinemascope at the Palace. I did my courting there. My wife was a Brotton girl and a big film buff. She went to the films every day. I think they used to change the films every two days back then.”
“Those were the days you could come out of one film and go straight into another at one of the other two cinemas in Redcar; the Central or the Regent.”
“We used to queue up the alleyway nearly to the High Street to get seats near the back. The back row seats were double. We used to call them ‘jam shells’.”
For further details on this project see http://www.redcar-cleveland.gov.uk/thehub