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March 2005
Bringing film history to life.
Paigton Picture House
The Paignton Picture House
Photo: Clive Polden
A disused cinema thought to be Europe's oldest purpose-built picture house could soon be bringing back memories of the silver screen.
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Paignton cinema buildings

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FACTS

The Torbay Picture House had 375 seats, 271 in the stalls and 104 in the balcony and there were 4 private boxes at the back.

In its early years it had a 21 piece orchestra - members were paid a guinea each to perform.

While the nearby Methodist church was being renovated the local minister used the Paignton Picture House for services.

Renamed the Torbay Cinema in 1968, the cinema was closed during the winter months.

The cinema finally closed down on 26th September 1999 following the opening of the Apollo cinema just down the road.

The last film shown was, deliberately ironic "The Last Picture Show".

The building is Grade II listed and has had very little alteration over the years - many of its original features are still intact.

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Here's a quiz question, Seat 2, Row 2 of the circle at the Paignton Picture House was the favourite seat of which author?

The answer: Agatha Christie. The cinemas and theatres in her books were all reportedly based on the Paignton Picture House, known to have been open since at least 1914.

The cinema closed in 1999 - but now plans are in place to take the deserted building back in time to become a living film museum.

It's being described as a 'living' museum because the group plan to resurrect the cinema to show movies from the very first days of silent cinema through to the 1950's.

The experience will be further enhanced by staff wearing period costume, giving the full experience of classic cinema.

Some of the classic features of the Paignton Picture House.
Photo: Clive Polden

The cinema had been earmarked as a passenger waiting area by its current owners the Dart Valley Railway.

But those plans have now been dropped and the company has said it's ready to sell the building.

Ken Rowe is the man behind the museum scheme. He says it's down to giving the historic art deco building a reason to be again.

"It's all about giving the building back to Devon and getting it back into use," said Ken. "Get it doing what it was built to do."

Ken admits that it wasn't a bolt from the blue inspiration, more a slow trickle becoming a flood.

"It's fermented over several years. I walked past it every day and I've always been interested in old buildings," said Ken.

"It's a beautiful building gone to waste and I kept thinking why won't someone do anything. Then I realised I was the someone.

"Everyone says something ought to be done, but one day you sit back and realise it's got to be you."

Paignton Picture House Roof
The insides and roof are listed

At the moment the plan is at a stand-off while Dart Valley Railway considers its decision.

"We're waiting for the owners to come back to us with a valuation," said Ken.

"I've spoken to English Heritage and the Devon Historic Buildings Trust among others and all are interested - but nothing can be done until valuation."

Already one public meeting has been held and attracted 50 people despite little notice beforehand.

Ken hopes the next, on the 4th March at 7.30pm in Gerston Christian Centre will be even bigger.

"It's going to be a tremendous amount of work," said Ken. "We're going to rely heavily on voluntary contributions to get the job done."

Article first published: 3rd March 2005

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