Towers Cinema Hornchurch, Essex

  • 31 High Street, Hornchurch, Essex, RM11 1TP
  • Designed by: Leslie H Kemp and Frederick E Tasker
  • Built: 1935
  • Status: Closed
  • Tags: Cinema, Streamlined Moderne

The Towers Cinema stands at the western end of the High Street in the Essex town of Hornchurch, which lies within the Greater London conurbation. The cinema was commissioned by the D J James' circuit, which operated a number of cinemas across the Greater London area. Like many of the circuit's cinemas the Towers Hornchurch was designed by the Kemp and Tasker architectural practice, founded by Leslie H Kemp and Frederick E Tasker.

The design is striking and comprises a symmetrical faience-clad facade. The main frontage of the building is five bays wide, with chamfered corners and a short return before joining with the main block of the cinema housing the auditorium. The entrance to the cinema comprises three pairs of double doors opening into the foyer, accessed by steps from the street. Either side of the steps are two projecting illuminated displays windows. Outside of these, are ground floor windows, each with a panel set into the centre for advertising.

Above the entrance is an illuminated projecting canopy. Above that, the outer bays of the facade are blank, with panels used to carry advertising hoardings displaying the cinema's film showtimes. The three central bays feature double-height windows, providing illumination for the first floor cafe. The windows feature prominent horizontal glazing bars. Above each window is a moulded panel with a bas-relief representation of a Chinese dragon mask and ornamental acanthus scrollwork. The central bays are separated by rounded, fluted columns. Above the double-height windows the facade is broken by two horizontal bands of moulded faience, between which the 'Towers' name is set into a recess. The Towers name is formed of 'chuncky' block-work lettering. At the top of the facade the faience is broken by horizontal ribbed banding. The chamfered corners of the facade carry the Towers name, spelt out vertically in illuminated lettering. At night bright neon lighting highlights the prominent horizontal features of the facade, and the Towers names.

The interior of the cinema, including the auditorium, is the work of the firm Clark & Fenn, who specialised in the design and construction of ornamental plasterwork. The side walls of the auditorium are decorated with prominent horizontal banding, pierced by niches which vertical ribbing patterning to the niche back. The niches are surmounted by decorative cupola domes. The splay walls either side of the proscenium arch feature ornate, ventilation grillwork. The ceiling steps down from the rear of the auditorium and is broken by decorative banding running front-to-bank, with ornamental acanthus scroll plasterwork.

The cinema officially opened on 3 August 1935, with seating for 2,000 cinema-goers. In April 1937 Eastern Cinemas (GCF) Ltd purchased eleven of the cinemas belonging to the D J James' circuit, including the Towers Hornchurch. By Feburary 1943 the cinemas were absorbed into the Odeon circuit. The Towers Hornchurch was rebranded as an Odeon cinema and illuminated Odeon lettering affixed to its exterior. This was crudely applied over the distinctive 'Towers' block-work lettering, which was only partially obscured by the Odeon name.

The cinema closed on 6 October 1973 and was converted into a Top Rank Bingo Hall (the Odeon circuit was part of the Rank empire). It continued as a Bingo hall, becoming part of the Mecca Bingo chain in 2010. The exterior was refurbished, revealing the 'Towers' lettering after many decades, which was preserved as a feature of the building and not obscured by Mecca branding. However in September 2015 it emerged that the cinema had been sold to the German supermarket chain Lidl who plan to demolish the building to make way for a supermarket, despite there being a Sainsburys supermarket within a minutes walk from the site.

Unfortunately the Towers Hornchurch is not listed and an application for listed status was turned down by English Heritage at the end of 2015, despite the input from the Cinema Theatre Association. There is much local support to retain the building as it is a cherished landmark on the High Street. The building is remarkably intact compared to many similar cinemas. The entrance to the building beneath the canopy has been remodelled, and the display windows 'boxed in', but the facade has been preserved and the auditorium survives intact. Unlike many cinemas of the same period the Towers Hornchurch did not have its auditorium sub-divided into smaller cinemas (a process called 'twinning' (balcony and stalls sub-divided into two) or 'tripling' (balcony sub-divided from stalls and stalls divided into two)). It deserves to be saved.

Interestingly, Kemp and Tasker's design for the Towers Hornchurch was a near carbon copy of their earlier 1933 design for D J James' Mayfair Whalebone Lane cinema (located in Dagenham, not Mayfair!), the most noticable difference was the 'Mayfair' name spelt out in place of the 'Towers' name found at Hornchurch.

References

Posted by Richard Coltman on Sunday, March 6, 2016

A celebration of Modernist architecture in Britain