The Curzon

The Curzon Cinema, Clevedon, claims to be the world's oldest purpose-built, continuously-used cinema building. It opened on April 20th 1912, a few days after the Titanic disaster. The original building was at the western (right-hand) end of the present site. It had a sliding roof which could be opened for ventilation.

In 1919 the rest of the site became available and was bought by the cinema. The existing building was completed in 1922. Materials are all local. Bricks and tiles came from a brickyard in nearby Strode Road and the cinema's owner provided the stone from his own property. An organ was fitted but was removed in 1929, when "talkies" came in.

The cinema had a box office at either end and the first floor was occupied by the Oak Room Café. In January 1941 a bomb fell nearby, shattering all the stained glass in the frontage and leaving the stonework of the western gable heavily pock-marked, as it remains to this day. A 22 year-old serviceman from Rotherham who was passing at the time was Clevedon's only war fatality.

The Curzon name derives from 1953. In 1972 a change of ownership brought a number of changes. The eastern box office closed and became a shop. The remaining box office was divided and one half also became a "retail unit". Internally the Circle was closed and the position of the projector changed. It is said that an original art deco decorative scheme, made from tin plate, survives above a modern suspended ceiling and behind wall curtains. The oak panelling of the Oak Room Café also survives.

Architecturally the façade is naïve but inoffensive. There are rudimentary pediments at either end and, quite correctly, an odd number of bays. Simple embellishments to the stonework. Pilasters with angular capitals on the first floor.

  • Steve Thornton PRO 8y

    The title of "oldest cinema" appears to be a contentious subject. The Electric Cinema in London claims to be the oldest in Britain, though it has not been continuously used. I don't know if it was purpose-built. It's from 1911. There's one in Moscow from 1909, and one in Beijing that claims 1903. There's the Music Hall Cinema, Chester, which was built sometime before 1280, but I think that one might be a conversion!

    The Elks Theatre in Middletown, Pennsylvania has been continuously operating (except for a brief period of renovation in 1940-41) since October 1911. But now I read that the Municipal Theatre in Roxburgh, New Zealand, has been screening movies continuously since 1898, but it's apparently just a room in the Town Hall, not a purpose-built cinema, though there's some argument about that. Arguments? On the internet? Will wonders never cease?
  • Andy 8y

    Good account Mr Bentos. I've never understood how they claim oldest purpose-built building as the 1912 building (from my understanding through the local history books) had the new building constructed round it and was then demolished. So the fabric that stands now is entirely of 1919-22.

    I hate superlatives and now know to avoid them at all costs in the Pevsner, as any claim to biggest, oldest etc., will be challenged by someone who knows of a bigger or older. And they have to be wrapped around with so many qualifiers it becomes meaningless. The first person to cite the source (especially media) will instantly drop all the qualifiers anyway.
  • Stephen Dowle PRO 8y

    I can dig where you're coming from on this one adf. By writing "claims to be" I hoped to distance myself from the cinema's assumption of the "world's oldest" title. Quite apart from anything else it seemed very improbable, given how many cinemas there have been and still are, that the world's oldest should be my own local.
  • Steve Thornton PRO 8y

    I have to admit I wasn't expecting to hear Mr. Bentos say "I can dig where you're coming from". I didn't realize you were that groovy, daddio!
  • Andy 8y

    I meant to say the internal decoration is still there though I've never seen it. As you say, it's pressed tin plated metal, believed to be a proprietary brand called Skelionite that surfaced briefly in the 1920s, presumably rather like Anaglypta in that it emulated moulded plasterwork. This is the most complete survival of it anywhere. Clevedon would be much better off concentrating on that for its (to use a nasty acronym) USP.
  • David PRO 8y

    A sliding roof?
    That must have been something.....

    Seen on your photo stream. (?)
  • Atlantic city midmer losh fan 8y

    The compton organ is still there, i`ve got photos and its on there website too.
  • Keith Povall PRO 8y

    I saw Gremlins here in the early 80's when I lived in the town. I miss Clevedon.
  • DB TIV 6y

    Ahh..the local..saw many things there but can't remember any of them bar two, The Spy Who Loved Me and Convoy..
    I remember being thrown out along with a few friends aged about 8 circa 1973 though..
    We are looking down Hillside rd if I remember correctly..just back on the left is the old hall where as a child I had to attend many a jumble sale with mother who was usually organising and manning a stall, how violent old women can be when rummaging for the best bargains..
    Latterly I became involved with Curzon FM, a local radio station that broadcast on a restricted licence from a first floor room at the rear to the left of the cinema building.
    When alone in the studio if nature called, you had to select a long track to play, run out of the studio, grab te key to the cinema fire exit, downstairs and out in to the rd, fumble with the lock, in to the cinema loo, perform, fumble again to loock it behind you and back up to the studio before the track silence was usually due to an unexpectedly extended pee followed by a breathless presenter regaining his composure..
  • anita jays 1y

    Lol! Love these memories. I'm fortunate enough to work there now. The place where Curzon FM was situated is now offices, but still no loos! We have to troop across to the other side of the building.
    There was extensive renovation for the centenary, opening out the foyer and making the Oak Room and top floor open to the public again. There is also access to the old balcony, although restoration of that will be the next stage. Know anyone with a couple of million to spare?
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