There are currently no Cinemas in Bexhill. We list below a brief history of the cinemas that we have lost.
Bexhill’s first cinema was the Bijou, which opened in 1910. It went through various names and changes over the years but ‘the fleapit’, as it was commonly known, was demolished in 1954. The empty site is still there, next to the pub on the Town Hall Square.
The town’s second cinema, built to compete with the Bijou, was the De Luxe Cinema on Western Road. Known as the ‘cabbage patch’, this ‘state of the art’ cinema, opened in the spring of 1913 with a film of Scott’s last expedition to the Antarctic. It seated 625 and had a 17ft screen.
In 1919, Playhouses (Bexhill) Limited was formed to carry out an extension of the De Luxe Cinema, and this resulted in the erection of the Playhouse Cinema next door. The architect was Peter Dulvey Stonham, who designed a number of other cinemas in Sussex, including two that are Grade II listed: the Cinema De Luxe in Margate, now a church; and the Picturedrome in Bognor Regis, which he converted into a full cinema from assembly rooms in 1919, and continues in cinema use. He also designed the Picturedromes in Worthing (1914, now incorporated into the Connaught), Eastbourne (1920, now Curzon) and Chichester (1920, demolished).
Ranolph Richard’s Kinema Playhouse Circuit, who also owned the Gaiety in London Road (1935).
The Gaiety was bombed in 1940, but the main structure is still visible behind a car showroom.
The last cinema to be built in Bexhill was the Art Deco-styled Ritz, which opened in 1937 and closed in 1961.
The Neo-Georgian façade of the Playhouse was originally constructed in red brickwork with stone dressings. Behind the triangular gable frontage the auditorium’s large pitched roof, which conceals the octagonal ceiling dome, a popular feature of early cinemas and drew attention to the building from the street as well as being an interesting feature from inside. The cinema was large; apparently originally seating 1,000, split between the stalls (600) and the circle (400).
The Playhouse was operated by the Ranolph Richards Kinema Playhouse circuit until 1966 when the entire circuit sold out to Classic Cinemas and the Playhouse took this name. Bingo was immediately introduced two nights a week.
In 1974, Eric Rhodes and his son Gerald retired as Directors of the Classic chain and a handful of Classic cinemas were handed to them as a ‘gold watch’ payment. The Playhouse was renamed the Curzon and the premises were split with the stalls becoming a bingo club and a cinema in the circle.
In 1988, the cinema was taken over by Manor Estates, which retained the cinema upstairs but turned the downstairs into a shop and flea market. With dwindling audiences, and following the opening of a new six screen multiplex at The Crumbles in Eastbourne, the Curzon closed at the end of January 1991.
Nick Prince, thought it could be viable by changing the programming and doing more to market the cinema, leased the building from May 1991. Late shows, art house and special one day presentations were introduced. The numbers of cinemagoers continued to dwindle however, and the cinema closed again in May 1994. It was reopened by Ray Sutton in February 1995, and he continued until the lease ran out in October 2004. For much of this period the cinema showed art house films.
The cinema was bought by the Orminston Trust in 2005, just before the final change of ownership came in 2006 when it reopened under the management of Phillip Cotterill, who rebranded it as the Redstack Playhouse and brought in jazz, opera and comedy acts alongside the films. The cinema finally closed in 2008 and it has remained dark ever since. In recent years the premises have been stripped of all cinema fittings and equipment, and the building is slowly falling into disrepair. The current freehold owners undoubtedly purchased the property as an investment, as is apparent from its half-hearted attempts to market or let the premises and, more latterly, when it applied for planning permission to demolish the building and replace it with a mixed-use commercial and residential development.