CLEVEDON’S HISTORIC CINEMA
The Curzon’s history has been intertwined with Clevedon’s for over 100 years. Unlike many cinemas built in the heyday of early silents and Hollywood, the Grade II listed building has always been a cinema, never closing its doors to film-goers.
Built in 1912 by local entrepreneur Victor Cox, The Picture House, as it was then, opened with a fundraiser for the survivors of the Titanic disaster.
The grandeur of the classical-style architecture, the particularities of the tin panelling that decorated the interior, and the detail of the striking staircase to the balcony and boxes were a testament to the importance of the building as a venue to see and be seen in.
The present building retains much of this original detail and is the reason for the Curzon’s Grade II listing. Threatened with closure in 1996, the cinema was saved thanks largely to local support, and now flourishes under the ownership of the community.
ONE OF THE OLDEST CINEMAS IN BRITAIN
1820s – The Elton family begin to develop Clevedon as a small, select seaside resort.
July 1847 – The Clevedon branch line is opened by the Bristol and Exeter railway. The station was where Queen’s Square is now.
1863 – Local newspaper, the Clevedon Mercury, established
1869 – Clevedon Pier opens
October 1910 – The first “Animated Picture” shows in Clevedon’s Public Hall, presented by the Clevedon Cinephone Company, proprieters JN Cox and son, Victor.
THE PICTURE HOUSE
1911 – Victor Cox, sculptor and monumental mason, submits plans for a purpose-built cinema and work begins at the end of the year at the western end of the current site.
20 April 1912 – The cinema, called “The Picture House”, opens with a matinee to raise funds for the survivors and relatives of those lost in the Titanic disaster. Admission is 3d, 6d and 1/-
The original building seats 200 people and has mirrored double doors at the entrance. The projector is gas illuminated.
May/June 1913 – The building is enlarged to seat 389, a sliding roof is installed and electricity is connected – the first in a public place in Clevedon – all without missing one night’s show.
The roof is opened to ventilate the auditorium during the interval. Disinfectant is also squirted during the performance in an effort to “keep the atmosphere wholesome”.
1916 – The hand-cranked projectors are motorised.
1919 – Albert Type’s mews at the eastern end of the site, formerly used for horse-drawn cabs, comes onto the market. Victor Cox promptly seizes the opportunity to acquire the site to extend his prosperous cinema. Reportage of the day notes that “plans are prepared for the new Picture House whereby Clevedon will have a structure of which they will have every reason to be proud.”
1920 – Building work begins.
June 1922 – The rebuild is complete. The ornamental stonework comes from Victor Cox’s own yard in Old Church Road, and the bricks and tiles from Sidney Keen’s brick yard in Strode Road. During the whole period of rebuilding and changeover the nightly programme is never cancelled.
1927 – A sound-on-disc system is introduced for the screening of short films. Victor Cox’s stepmother, Blanche Howard, a professional singer, sometimes goes on stage to open proceedings with a song.
1930 – Two Zeiss Ikon projectors with Zeiss Arclamps are installed utilising the Western Electric sound-on-film (optical sound). The first such ‘talkie’ to be shown is “The Grand Parade” (1930) Pathe starring Helen Twelvetrees, Frederick Scott and Russell Powell.
January 1941 – The café foyer is furnished with armchairs and a piano. Its large, semi-circular stained glass window is shattered when a bomb fractures the gas main at the bottom of Hillside Road. An East Lancs Infantry serviceman, who was standing at the entrance to the cinema when the bomb fell, was the only fatality in Clevedon as the direct result of enemy action during the war.
June 1945 – Maxwell Corn buys the site, ending the Clevedon Cinephone Company.
August 1946 – The name is changed to “The Maxime”
August 1953 – The Maxime is sold to the Cleeve Cinema Company, which owns a small circuit of cinemas, and the name is changed to the “Curzon”.
1956 – The theatre boxes are closed and box fronts removed.
October 1966 – Clevedon railway station closes.
1970 – Clevedon Pier collapses during weight tests.
May 1972 – The projection room is returned to its original position at the rear of the stalls, the balcony closed and a false suspended ceiling installed. The last film to be shown from the ‘upper’ projection box was “Cabaret”. The box office at the east end of the building was also closed and converted into a small commercial unit, and the west end box office was rearranged with half the area being converted into another retail unit.
May 1989 – Clevedon Pier re-opens after extensive restoration.
Summer 1995 – The cinema is taken into administrative receivership. The Receivers called for bids, within six weeks, in respect of the business and assets. A campaign began, led by Jon Webber who in 1978 had successfully led the campaign to purchase the Rio cinema in Dalston.
November 1996 – Grants from North Somerset Council, and Clevedon Town Council funds raised locally, allowed the cinema to be bought back and the Curzon – Clevedon Community Centre for the Arts is established as a company with a trading arm, Curzon Community Cinema Ltd.
2010 – A Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £320,000 is awarded to make urgent repairs to protect the interior of the building.
October 2015 – A new café/bar, Teatro Lounge, opens at the back of the cinema building, bringing a new source of revenue to the Curzon.