A look back at Honiton's first cinema
- Credit: Honiton Museum
Margaret Lewis, curator of Honiton Museum, writes for the Herald.
Honiton’s first cinema was opened in the High Street in July 1913 with a performance of “Father”. Called the ‘Cinema Palace’ it was described as a neat and attractive little picture theatre which could seat an audience of 250 people.
Silent, black and white films were shown every night with matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays. Usually, two newsreels illustrating the latest news were issued every week. Every performance ended with the National Anthem.
Honiton had its own Cinema Concert Orchestra led by the conductor Victor Shepherd. His sisters played the piano and violin, and his father played the cello.
The cinema owner was Henry Richard Harris who inherited his father Richard’s bakery and confectionary business.
He converted the premises into a cinema and opened the Central Café further down the High Street. The building conversion was supervised by the cinema manager Frederick Pope.
Mr Harris invited the staff and inmates of the Honiton Union (workhouse) for the first matinee which they thoroughly enjoyed The men were given tobacco and the women and children were given cake.
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Henry frequently allowed local groups and charities to use the cinema premises for concerts and lectures to raise funds.
Henry was elected to Honiton Town Council. He became the Mayor of Honiton from 1924-25 and was made an Alderman in 1925.
He was an avid beekeeper and a trustee of many local charities, a director of the Honiton Gas Co. and Electric Light Co., a manager of the Church Schools and churchwarden at St. Paul's Church.
The Police Superintendent opposed the renewal of the cinema licence in 1924 because he found during examination that the property did not comply with new regulations.
Fixtures should have been covered in fire resistant material and another exit was required. A committee of Magistrates inspected the cinema six years later and found all the recommendations had been carried out.
Despite the Superintendent’s strong opposition again, the licence application was renewed.
Henry Harris died in 1936.
The town council debated for months in 1940 whether to rent or purchase the building for use as a Fire Station as the equipment owned by the Fire Brigade was kept in several places around the town.