Staff, volunteers and trustees at the Harwich Electric Palace Cinema are looking forward to welcoming visitors once again, following repair and restoration work to save this Grade II* listed historic gem.

Working in partnership, Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund have supported a two-year restoration project with grant funding totalling more than £1.5 million (£474,791 from Historic England, including £151,291 from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, and £1,033,900 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund).

A labour of love

The restoration of this well-loved local venue has included replacing the roof to make the building safe, asbestos removal, repair of the original ornate fibrous plaster ceiling, redecoration of the fine interior, replacing part of the auditorium floor and refurbishment of the auditorium seating.

It has not been without its challenges. David Looser, Chair of the Harwich Electric Palace Trust said: “In 2019 the Electric Palace Cinema was part-way through a nine-month project funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund when asbestos was identified in the roof void. This discovery brought work to an abrupt halt and left us with a building in a highly vulnerable state. At this point Historic England came to our rescue. They placed the Electric Palace on the Heritage at Risk Register and quickly approved a grant to clear the asbestos, with additional funding support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

Historic England has funded works including removal of the asbestos from the top of the ornate plaster auditorium ceiling, whilst The National Lottery Heritage Fund supported its conservation. Historic England also funded urgent repairs and replacement of part of the auditorium floor after the discovery of a water leak and structural defects.

One of the oldest purpose-built cinemas

Built in 1911, only two years after the introduction of the Cinematograph Act (1909), the Electric Palace is one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas in existence. The original features include an ornate plaster ceiling, ornamental front entrance, projection room and the original screen – witness to more than 100 years of cinema history from the earliest days of silent film.

It was the first cinema created by Charles Thurston, a travelling showman who was well known in East Anglia.  He built two more cinemas, the Empire Cinema in Biggleswade and the Palace Cinema in Norwich.

Architect Harold Hooper was only 25 years old when he designed the Electric Palace Cinema, his first major building design.

The cinema closed in 1956 after 45 years entertaining the people of Harwich and lay derelict for the next 16 years. It miraculously escaped demolition in 1972 due to the intervention of Gordon Miller, who rediscovered the cinema, and the Harwich Society, who rescued it. It was reopened in 1981 by the Harwich Electric Palace Trust. This dedicated team has been responsible for running the community cinema for the past 40 years and oversaw the major cinema restoration project.

Get Involved – Activities at the Cinema

The National Lottery Heritage Fund also supported the development of a new artistic programme for the cinema, and the appointment of an Operations Manager and an Education and Heritage Officer.

The Electric Palace Cinema opens its doors to audiences once more on 8 April with a screening of The Duke at 7.30pm. Find out about its forthcoming programme of film, theatre, live music, historic tours, traditional cinema skills workshops and more at

The team would love to hear from people that are interested in volunteering at the cinema and have a wide variety of roles available. To find out more email: [email protected]


Heritage Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “It is fantastic to see that this historic venue has been brought back to life ready for the public to enjoy once again.”

“Harwich Electric Palace Cinema is a great asset for its local community in Essex. Thanks to this funding from Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, it will be here for future generations to enjoy for many years to come.”

David Looser, Chair of the Harwich Electric Palace Trust said: “We are delighted to announce that the long running repair and restoration project is now complete, and that we are reopening. Due to the length of time that we have been closed and difficulties in long term planning caused by the pandemic it is our intention to reopen the cinema at the earliest opportunity and then celebrate this more prominently at a later date. Please keep an eye on our website and social media channels for more details. When we do reopen, we also have some exciting plans to broaden our activities and develop a programme for the whole community and beyond. We would like to thank our funding partners for their support, particularly Historic England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and everyone who has contributed to our crowdfunding campaign, without which this vital community asset and heritage site would have been facing an extremely uncertain future.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund says: “The Electric Palace Cinema is a wonderful piece of Harwich’s history, and it’s great to see the building is now conserved and restored, ready to re-open. Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, this important part of Harwich’s history will continue to be enjoyed by all.”


Trudi Hughes, Heritage at Risk Surveyor at Historic England – who has overseen the progress of the repair and restoration of the Electric Palace Cinema for Historic England – said: “The Electric Palace Cinema is a fascinating and very special survival. It has escaped demolition, was saved by the Harwich Society and passed to the Harwich Electric Palace Trust by Tendring District Council. With this last phase of work now complete, the auditorium is at its absolute best, retaining much of its original charm and unique character. I can’t wait to see the cinema buzzing with visitors and sharing the magic of film, in this unique setting, as it has done for over a hundred years.”