This cinema opened on 13th October 1879 as the Warrior Square Opera House & Concert Hall. Seating was provided for 1,000, all on a single level. From March 1884, the building boasted a three manual organ which was commissoned by the then lessee, Mr. John Stuart from the well known organ building firm of Messrs W. Hill and Son. The site was that of an open-air roller-skating rink in the 1860s, and before that a long-abandoned brick-yard
Royal Concert Hall
The opening performance was that of Messiah by Dr. Abram’s famous Choral Union, the site later becoming the Royal Concert Hall, the building became a roller skating rink around 1900, then was used for bicycle riding. On 13th March 1901, Winston Churchill gave a lecture in the hall. During WW1, the building was pressed into service for the Women's Auxiliary Corps (informally WAACs) as a Mess Hall, the women being billetted in a number of the nearby buildings in Warrior Square. The Royal Concert Hall was closed in 1918 and it remained empty until 1921.
The instrument purchased from Messrs. W. Hill and Son by the Kings Road bookseller, Mr. John Stuart in 1884 featured three manuals, the 'Great Organ' having 11 stops using 728 pipes, the 'Solo', six stops using 312 pipes, the 'Swell', thirteen with 636 pipes and the pedals, four using 120 pipes arranged around the console.
Elite Picture Theatre
A circle was constructed in the building and it opened as the Elite Picture Theatre on 14th March 1921 with “The Auction Mart”, now with a seating capacity for 1,600. It was equipped with a Western Electric(WE) sound system in February 1930 and was renamed Elite ‘All Talkie’.
It was then taken over by the Union Cinemas chain and was given a new façade in 1932. When Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinemas(ABC ) in October 1937, the Elite Cinema was not part of the deal. The Elite did, however, receive an upgrade in 1937 under the ownership of Elite Picture Theatres Ltd. The carpets were a special commission supplied by Plummer Roddis, the stage drapery was changed to a similar design and all of the seats replaced and lighting replaced with a new type designed to reduce glare, with the projection equipment and screen updated. The cinema re-opened on the 31st July 1937
Taken over by Ben Jay’s Circuit, the front of the cinema was badly damaged by a German bomb on 26th September 1940, and the adjacent church was destroyed in the same bombing raid. The Elite Cinema was repaired and re-opened on Easter Monday 1941 with “Sullivan’s Travels”. At least part of the cinema was utilised by the Admiralty as a store. Six months later the Elite Cinema was half destroyed by another German bombing raid in October 1942. The building them remained closed until after the end of World War II. Repairs were carried out and the new Elite Super Cinema was set to re-open on Monday 23rd June 1947 with “Wild Harvest”.
Sadly on the day of its reopening, the cinema was totally destroyed by a fire. The blaze was watched by a crowd of 15,000 people as at 12:10pm flames leaped 50 feet high. Ironically, the following week's advertised programme was to have been the feature film “Blaze of Noon”. The damage estimated as requiring over £10,000 in repairs, the site remained derelict, occasionally making news for pieces of masonry falling until April 1986 when it was demolished and a block of flats for the elderly named Royal Terrace was opened. Screens: 1 Seats: 1600
References & Notes
- British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 5 January 1884 Pg. 0002
- St. Leonards in the 1860s
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 3 August 1957 pg. 3
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 17 July 1937 pg. 9
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 5 July 1958 pg. 7