Remains of the Gaumont Palace, Lewisham High Street, 2009
Now being the last London borough without a cinema (Walthamstow saw the opening of a cinema last year), we carried out a brief survey to find out if there were any plans for new cinemas in Lewisham.
We wrote to the Council’s planning department. Not once but several times. We never received an answer. We searched their planning database: with one exception, mentioned below, there is no upcoming projects. We contacted Lewisham Gateway, the borough’s largest regeneration project which, incidentally, incorporated a cinema in its early drafts. Their spokesperson Nicole Benford told us that “though a cinema does not form part of the first phase of work, discussions surrounding the next phase are still ongoing and as such, I’m unable at this time to confirm if a cinema will be included”.
Rumours on social media go wild… “Breaking news …. The Capitol is closing as a pub in the next 3-6 weeks and WILL revert to a cinema,” some claim. We checked with pub chain Wetherspoon, which owns The Capitol. Their spokesman Eddie Gershon confirmed that “Wetherspoon is not selling The Capitol”.
This is perhaps symptomatic of the lack of interest and urgency by the Council to promote popular culture and foster urban regeneration. There is no doubt that the demand exists: Lewishamians travel to neighbouring boroughs to watch films on the big screen. The new Picturehouse in East Dulwich is a welcoming addition to fairly local venues in Peckham, Greenwich and Beckenham. The planned opening of the Deptford Cinema is also to be celebrated, although it will offer a niche programme of art films and experimental films. A local group in Hither Green is campaigning for a community cinema. But, for the foreseeable future, we may have to rely on (excellent) grassroots cinema projects, from local film clubs to free film festivals.
As we mentioned in an earlier post, a cinema was planned as part of the massive Lewisham Gateway urban development project. As reported on Brockley Central, part of the project seems to be back on track… without the cinema. As Emma Talbot of the Lewisham Council Planning Service tells us…
there is space available within the permitted [Lewisham] Gateway scheme to enable a cinema to be provided, dependent on a willing operator. At this time the developer is in discussion about bringing forward detailed proposals for the first phase of the scheme. The potential cinema space is located in the later phase and while it is not forming part of our current discussions, details involving the content of the later phase are still to be explored.
Lewisham remains one of two London boroughs without a permanent cinema.
The disputed Lewisham Gateway development project, which originally included a cinema multiplex, is facing further delays due to lack of finances and the current economic situation (News Shopper of 4 May). It has been announced that the project will not start before 2013 at the earliest. Joost Van Well, from Lewisham Council’s planning department, told us:
You might be aware that it has been a longstanding ambition of Lewisham Council to have a dedicated cinema in the borough again. (…) With regards to the Lewisham Gateway scheme, we have ensured that there is sufficient space for a multiplex cinema in this development. However, this subject to operators being interested. At the moment, we are not sure if there will be a multiplex scheme as part of the development. You will hopefully understand that the Council itself is not planning on opening or running a cinema. However, (…) in principle we will look favourable on any such schemes coming forward.
Meanwhile, our colleagues from Hither Green Hall are campaining to bring back the Park Cinema (pictured above) and for a new cinema to be built on the site of the Ladywell Leisure Centre.
But the good news is that right now we have a very active and larger-than-ever group of community-led cinema clubs throughout South-East London offering a diverse selection of films each month+
Update: we’ve been informed that the Park Cinema building has now been sold to a retailer (read more). Thanks to Kate of the South London Press for the information.
Following the publications of the map of old cinemas in Lewisham and the story of former cinema manager John Scott, here are some photomontages of former cinemas in Lewisham. With thanks to the Lewisham Local History & Archive Centre and dusashenka.
The Obelisk, 12 Loampit Vale. Opened in 1912, closed in 1923.
The Gaumont Palace, 1-5 Loampit Vale. Opened in 1932, later renamed Odeon, closed in 1981 and demolished in 1991.
The Prince of Wales Cinema, 210 Lewisham High Road. Opened in 1922, closed in 1959 and later demolished.
The King’s Hall, 15 High Street. Opened in 1912, bomb-damaged during the second world war.
The Rex Cinema, later renamed Studios 6/7, 15 Lewisham High Street. Opened in 1950, closed in 1986 and demolished in 1988.