Monday, June 27, 2016

Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

Deco memories (2)

Here is one more memory from my brief visit to Wisbech a year ago, and it is another Art Deco structure that probably gets overlooked by visitors – even those who appreciate architecture – this town being so rich in buildings from earlier eras. This is the Empire Theatre, built in 1932 to designs by F B Ward and C E A Woolnough. A lovely example of its type, it features symmetry, metal-framed windows with stunning geometrically pattern glazing bars, and jazz-age details like that central pinnacle – all things that we associate with this type of cinema, but which are all too rare these days.

I did not manage to get inside, which is a pity, because when I returned home I read that the Empire (now given over to bingo) has a magnificent period interior. And that is even rarer, as so many cinema and theatre interiors of the 1920s and 1930s have gone, often as a result of perfectly understandable moves to upgrade, convert, or modernize. Fortunately, there are images of this extraordinary interior online, revealing stylish plasterwork, luxurious inlaid wood, metal banisters, and all kinds of other details. No wonder the building has a grade II* listing. I hope the sustaining bingo business thrives.

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Addendum An Australian reader comments on the brownish stone cladding of this facade, which would be unusual on a movie theatre in Australia. It's not that common in the UK either. In my experience, British interwar cinemas are generally built of brick, with the entrance front often covered in stucco or sometimes clad in white ceramic tiles. Back, sides, and unregarded portions generally are usually left unclad: it's the entrance front that is meant to count, and to catch the eye. I've posted about a ceramic-clad cinema before and also one in which which the brickwork is left exposed (although on that occasion my main interest was a decorative element in the form  of a carved relief).    


Hels said...

It IS a lovely example of its type, featuring symmetry, metal-framed windows with geometric pattern glazing bars and Deco details like the central pinnacle. But the colour of the front facade is a brown-ish sort of stone. That would have been very unusual here (Australia) for a Deco picture theatre.

Philip Wilkinson said...

That's an interesting point, Hels. I think it's quite unusual here too. In Britain many of these cinemas are in brick, rendered on the main front with white stucco or covered in white ceramic tiles.

bazza said...

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