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12, Some Streeet, 12550 New York, USA [vc_empty_space height="4px"] (+44) 871.075.0336 [vc_empty_space height="4px"] silverscreen@edge-themes.com
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Our History

~ 1860-1895 ~

Folkestone Town Hall

Folkestone’s majestic Town Hall building was completed in 1860. Over three levels, it contained offices, a large assembly hall with a public gallery, a magistrates room, and a covered market place at the rear of the building.

The front of Folkestone Town Hall around 1900, framed by newer buildings. People wearing 1900s clothing walk along the street leading to the Town Hall. An early motor car drives towards the camera. Outside the Town Hall entrance stands a police officer, a man with a wooden sack barrow, and a man holding an advertising sign.
Folkestone Town Hall in the 1900s. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor at the Folkestone & District Local Historical Society.

For the next four decades, various public performances and events were held in the assembly hall for the town’s entertainment. Then, in 1896, magician David Devant came to the town with a show unlike anything seen before: a “moving picture”.

~ 1896-1909 ~

Cinema Comes to Folkestone

Cinema came to Folkestone Town Hall on the 13th July 1896, when one of the first film screenings in Kent was held in the building. The films were made by Robert W. Paul and shown to an astounded audience by magician David Devant, using a Theatograph projector. Afterwards, the Folkestone Herald reported that “nothing finer than these have ever been seen in the town.”

While many early films have been lost over the years, ‘Blackfriars Bridge’ – one of the films shown at the Town Hall in 1896 – still exists today in the collection of the British Film Institute. These early silent films were described as “animated photographs” and often showed simple scenes like this one:

In the early 1900s, the Town Hall continued to show films as a ‘Cinema De Lux’. As the popularity of touring film shows continued to increase across the country, the government introduced the Cinematograph Act in 1909, requiring the highly flammable nitrate films and projection equipment to be enclosed in a fire-proof box for public safety. This put an end to the Town Hall screenings, but led to the first dedicated cinemas opening in Folkestone.

~ 1910-1949 ~

The Golden Age of Cinemas

The first cinema to open in Folkestone was the Electric Theatre on Grace Hill in 1910. The cinema had over 400 seats in a single screen, and was very popular. After a fire damaged the building in the late 1920s, it was rebuilt and renamed the Savoy Cinema.

The Electric Theatre on Grace Hill in 1952, under its later name of the Savoy Cinema. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor at the Folkestone & District Local Historical Society.

Due to the popularity of the Electric Cinema, it was soon followed in 1912 by the Playhouse Cinema on Guildhall Street and the short-lived Queen’s Cinema on Tontine Street, which closed just five years later due to problems with the building and location.

The Playhouse on Guildhall Street in 1955. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor at the Folkestone & District Local Historical Society.

That same year, the Central Picture Theatre also opened on George Lane off Rendezvous Street. This would eventually become Folkestone’s longest serving cinema.

The Central Picture Theatre on George Lane. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor at the Folkestone & District Local Historical Society.

Later in 1934, the luxury art-deco Astoria Cinema opened on Sandgate Road with over 1,600 seats. In total, Folkestone had five cinemas in the town centre throughout the early 20th Century.

The art-deco Odeon cinema building on Sandgate Road in the 1950s. The awning displays lettering advertising Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, and Jeff Morrow in Captain Lightfoot.
The Astoria Cinema on Sandgate Road in 1955, under its later name of Odeon. Picture courtesy of Alan Taylor at the Folkestone & District Local Historical Society.

~ 1950-1988 ~

The End of an Era

After the war, cinema audience attendance began to fall throughout the 1950s, and by 1962 the Queen’s, Electric, and the Playhouse cinemas had all closed. The Astoria (renamed the Odeon) followed in 1974, leaving only the Central Picture Theatre, later renamed as the Cannon Cinema. The Queens, Playhouse, and Astoria buildings were all demolished, while the Electric building was converted into a bingo hall, nightclub, and then flats.

Around this time, Folkestone Town Hall had also been closed and was eventually sold off for retail space in the 1980s, seemingly putting an end to the venue that had been one of the first to screen films in the town.

Finally, the great storm of 1987 caused damage to the Cannon building, and repairs were considered unjustifiably expensive. It was closed and subsequently demolished in 1988, leaving Folkestone without a cinema for the first time since 1910.

An article about the closure of the Cannon Cinema in the Folkestone Herald, November 1987.

~ 1989 ~

Bringing Film Back to Folkestone

Alexander ‘Sandy’ Wallace had been involved with cinemas throughout his life, and by 1988 was operating the Flicks Cinema on Queen Street in Deal. With nowhere left for local people to see the latest movies, he saw an opportunity to bring film back to Folkestone by setting up a new cinema with his wife Mary. While searching the town for the ideal location, he discovered that the upper floors of the Town Hall were still vacant and unused.

In 1989, Silver Screen Cinema founder Alexander 'Sandy' Wallace, wearing a shirt and tie, and his wife Mary, wearing a shirt, tie and waistcoat, stand smiling at the front of the cinema balcony holding a large clock face engraved with the words "Silver Screen Cinema" which is resting on the balustrade. Below the balustrade, a golden retriever looks out between the balusters.
Mary and Sandy Wallace on the balcony of the Silver Screen Cinema shortly before opening in 1989.

The empty rooms were leased to Sandy Wallace in 1989, who recalls that he found the rooms “filthy and full of pigeons”. With the location secured, work could commence on Folkestone’s new Silver Screen Cinema.

The original town assembly hall was converted into the main screen, with a suspended ceiling added to improve acoustics and insulation. The front of the room with its arched windows dated from 1860, while the balcony and wooden panelling at the rear was a later addition in 1905. The original public gallery built in 1860 was sectioned off and repurposed as a projection box. Near the front, a side doorway led to an original 1860 “green room” and this was converted into a small kiosk for selling ice-creams during film intermissions.

A view from the balcony of the large assembly hall being converted into screen 1. The room is being painted cream, red and pink, and a red suspended ceiling has been installed. A man is working at the top of a scaffolding tower. Empty cardboard boxes are stacked in the middle of the room. A metal screen frame is fixed to the back wall in front of three arched windows which have been boarded up. Seating parts are stacked along the back wall, and a ladder is propped against the wall on the right. The arched windows at the side of the room have been boarded up.
The assembly hall being converted into screen 1 in the 1980s.

In the old magistrate’s room and council chamber, a frame was installed above the stage to create the much smaller second auditorium in 1989. The wooden panelling around the walls – dating from 1905 and painted with the names of Folkestone past mayors and dignitaries – was preserved as a feature of the auditorium. The chamber’s balcony was sectioned off to create a tiny projection box.

The front of the old council chamber, being converted into screen 2. A metal frame has been fixed to the back wall above the wooden panelling which lines the room. A scaffolding tower stands in one corner on the stage.
The council chamber being converted into screen 2 in the 1980s.

Completed in 1990, the cinema’s entrance was recessed in an arched alcove at the front of the building. The entrance archway originally led to a passage running from Guildhall Street to the Market Square at the rear of the building, but this had been blocked off by a new lift shaft and staircase leading to the upper floors, constructed after the building was sold in the 1980s.

The doors were painted gloss black and white, with the cinema’s name in silver lettering on the glass. Two poster frames to the left of the doors announced the current films, and information boards inside the entrance displayed programme information and ticket prices.

The entrance to the Silver Screen Cinema in 1990. Recessed inside an alcove at the front of the building are windowed double doors painted black and outlined in white, with the words "The Silver Screen Cinema" in silver lettering on the glass. Above the doors is a logo showing a man operating an old motion picture film camera surrounded by stars. An awning above the doors is painted black with three white decorative diamonds. To the left of the doors is a frame containing a poster for The Hunt For Red October, below a sign which reads "Showing Today". To the right of the doors are some metal railings.
The original entrance to the Silver Screen Cinema in the early 1990s.

~ 1990 ~

The Silver Screen Cinema Opens

The cinema hosted a preview night for invited guests at 7.30pm on Saturday 21st April 1990. Manager Ian Luck and assistant manager Nick Prince were in charge. Ian Luck remembers last-minute building works were overrunning on the day: “They were still screwing the door handles on just before we let everyone in!”

An invitation to the official opening night of the Silver Screen Cinema, on Saturday 21st April 1990.

After two years of planning and hard work, the Silver Screen Cinema opened to the public at 1.45pm on Sunday the 22nd April 1990. To celebrate the opening, the first adult to purchase a ticket was given a bottle of wine, and the first five children in the queue were each given a box of sweets. The first films to show were the cold war thriller ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and the family sci-fi adventure ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’.

A feature about the Silver Screen Cinema’s grand opening in the Folkestone & Hythe Extra, 20th April 1990.

These photos show the cinema as it was when it opened in 1990. In the foyer, Sandy Wallace can be seen waiting to welcome customers at the box office.

The cinema seated 537 when it opened; the antique seating in the main auditorium dated from 1925 and originally came from the Drury Lane Theatre in London.

The smaller auditorium originally seated 106, and was unraked with the screen mounted high on the wall. The layout and seating would change several times over the years to improve sight-lines and comfort.


The First 25 Years

Inside the foyer of the Silver Screen Cinema in 1990, owners Alexander Wallace wearing a striped shirt and blue tie, Mary Wallace wearing a patterned jumper, manager Ian Luck wearing a grey shirt and silver tie, and assistant manager Nick Prince wearing a blue striped shirt, all stand smiling behind the kiosk counter. Along the counter top inside a glass case, boxes of sweets can be seen. An illuminated popcorn machine is contained within the counter. A red CocaCola drinks dispenser, stacks of drinks cups, and boxes of straws are on the left side of the counter. Wooden shelving runs along the back wall, containing packets of sweets and popcorn. A framed black and white picture of a crowd surrounding Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s hangs on the wall.
The original Silver Screen Cinema management team in the foyer, early 1990s; owners Mary & Sandy Wallace, manager Ian Luck, and assistant manager Nick Prince.
Manager Ian Luck and two of the Silver Screen Cinema team in the main projection box, early 1990s.
Manager Ian Luck and the Silver Screen Cinema team in the foyer, early 1990s.
A glimpse behind the scenes in 1990, showing projectionist Robert Bailey in the projection box.

Screen 2 was altered in 1994, installing a raked floor to improve the audience’s view and enlarging the screen. The sound system was also upgraded to Dolby Stereo.

Screen 2 after the 1994 refurbishment.