NATIONAL PICTURE THEATRE

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History

The National Picture Theatre was built in 1914 and opened on the 23rd December. With its grand Edwardian Classical façade and spacious interior, it was one of the city's most elegant and popular cinemas.

The building took a direct hit on the night of the 18th March 1941 during a heavy bombing raid. On the night of the raid the audience were enjoying Charlie Chaplin's ‘The Great Dictator'. When the air-raid alarm sounded, they left the auditorium and assembled at the front of the theatre to shelter in the foyer.  As the attack from the air continued, they could not safely leave the building. Fortunately the foyer was a sizeable one, and strongly built, and this is where around 150 people were sheltering when the bomb - an air-borne mine - hit the rear of the auditorium and blew up the screen end, causing a major part of the building to be destroyed and the roof to collapse. However, good fortune smiled on the patrons that night, and remarkably everyone escaped unharmed.

The site has never been redeveloped and the remains of the building still stand.  What is left now is a grand classical façade, behind which are the stark remains of the foyer, ticket booth, stairways and the rear section of the gallery. The site of the auditorium to the rear, which was reduced to rubble by the bombing, is still recognisable within the low remains of its walls.  The ruins of the building provide a particularly good, clear and dramatic display of the effects of bomb-damage. It still exists recognisably as the remains of a bombed building, surviving ‘as hit', with a highly evocative atmosphere. As a rare surviving example of a blitzed building, and the only civilian example in the country, the National Picture Theatre provides a nationally unique opportunity, within an urban setting, where the effects of the blitz can be experienced in a civilian building.