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A Brief History of the Trust

The National Picture Theatre on Beverley Road, Kingston upon Hull opened on the 23rd December 1914 with celebrations and positive comments in the local media commenting on the comfort of the seats and it being most modern of cinemas.

For the next 24 years the cinema proved a popular attraction not only with local residents but others from across the city.

On the night of March 18th 1941, the audience in the cinema settled down to watch Charlie Chaplin’s film ‘The Great Dictator’. Whilst the film was running air raid sirens across the city began to wail a warning that an air raid was expected. Patrons would have been shown a warning notice on the screen. Some would leave to go back home or to shelters, others remained to watch the film and to shelter from the falling bombs. It was a heavy bombing raid and a land mine fell to the rear of the cinema. When it exploded the blast went in to the back of the cinema destroying the screen end walls and the auditorium to the balcony front concrete cross beams. It also damaged other buildings in the area including some houses facing fountain Road and other buildings across from the cinema.

Fortune smiled on the estimated 150 people remaining in the cinema. They had moved to the front Beverley Road foyer end and were saved due the protection of the back end of the auditorium wall. After the raid they were able to escape though foyer front entrance on to Beverley Road.

After the war ended the cinema never opened again, it did however become a wonderful adventure playground for local children to climb on, to hide in and enjoy over the years. The cleared flattened rubble area adjoining the site became the play area for children’s games including rugby, soccer, and cricket and with the numerous bricks around they would build pretend houses and dens!

The post war generation grew up with fond memories of those child hood days, so it was that as adults they continued to use the Swann Inn next to the ruin for meeting when tales of the cinema and pub would be retold again and again. These were informal when some began to think about ideas to save both the cinema and the Swan Inn as heritage buildings.

The local CAMRA members in the city tried to get the Swann Inn listed because of the bow fronted window and two entrances. Others viewed the cinema as a place of memory, to remember the civilians who had lived through the Blitz. With these thoughts in mind a move to try save both buildings emerged. The licensee at the time agreed with the ideas, talks were held with the owner of the buildings which were in single ownership. Others showed greater interest in moving towards a working plan to bring the whole site in to use again.

Over time the pub meetings became more formal, looking at possible ways to save the site. With encouragement from English Heritage advisors the group became constituted, with the aim of starting a community project to save the cinema as a place of tribute, education and remembrance to those on the ‘Home Front’ during WW2 Blitz.

Being interested in the Swann building and the Cinema ruins, on one occasion, I took my granddaughter aged nine to look around the area and the old cinema ruins. I told her about what had happened. It was a sunny day and the area inside of the cinema site was covered with Ivy, shrubs and wildflowers, she commented, ‘It’s just like a museum in a peace garden’. This comment ignited the idea that the cinema was part of the history of the citizens of Kingston upon Hull and civilians nationwide who had lived, worked and suffered during the horrors of war through the Blitz 1939 – 1945.

After some consideration and talking with other interest parties, the idea was put to English Heritage (DCMS), suggesting the site could be of importance to the nation, as it was the last remaining bombed ruin in city, would they consider the site for listing?

After some time a reply came back stating, that the site had not been listed, due the fact ‘in their technical jargon ’It had not been built to be bombed!

English Heritage and other like minded organisations, continued to encourage us to continue meeting in support of the campaign.

In 2005 the NCWW2MT submitted a new application for listing of the cinema to the DCMS. It contained what was considered to be new evidence in a report with photographs.

In January 2007 we were informed, that The National Picture Theatre had been Grade 2 listed as an Iconic site linked to WW2 and the Civilian Home Front.

The Trust became a registered Charity to continue the campaign to establish, The National Picture Theatre ruins and site as A National Home Front Tribute, to be a place of education, history and remembrance, to honour the civilians who lived and worked through the Blitz not only in Kingston upon Hull but across the whole nation.

The National Picture Theatre has been acknowledged locally, regionally (Yorkshire), nationally and internationally as England’s last remaining civilian WW2 ruin, in fact according to a national survey carried by English Heritage there are only 14 war ruins remaining, most of these being ecclesiastical / church buildings.

Please join us as we take the campaign forward. You are invited to become a member, or supporter to help achieve our objective to achieve the 1939 - 1945 National Home Front Tribute for the nation within the ruins of National Picture Theatre.

Tom Robinson


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