The Sunderland cinema which had a 10-piece orchestra, hearing aids on every seat and a cafe on the first floor

Get the popcorn and the ice cream out! We are looking back at a Sunderland picture house which was a massive hit as soon as it opened.

How many picture houses could boast its own cafe on the first floor? How many picture houses could say they had hearing aids attached to the seats?

The Havelock could and Philip Curtis, who has written all about it this month for the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, tells us more.

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Four films on the first day, a ten-piece orchestra to accompany the movies and its own cafeteria. That was the Havelock.

The Havelock cinema in Sunderland.

Provincial Cinematograph Theatres ran this cinema on the site of the Havelock House store.

The opening programme consisted of four films, the very first one being The Girl Who Might Have Been. These were shorter films than produced today and,

as there was no sound, all were accompanied by a ten-piece orchestra.

The orchestra eventually became redundant in 1926 when a Wurlitzer organ was installed.

Inside the cinema in 1961.

It was the Havelock that first introduced talking pictures to Sunderland in 1929 with Al Jolson in The Singing Fool.

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It ran for a month and attracted more than 120,000 customers with queues regularly snaking around the corner and down High Street.

It was a wonderful cinema for its time and almost immediately forced some of the lesser competition out of business including the nearby Theatre De Luxe in Fawcett Street. It boasted something that no other cinema in the town had – its own cafeteria on the first floor and this immediately became very popular.

The Havelock seated up to 1,700 in the circle and stalls and the staff included pageboys in blue uniforms and pill-box hats. It was also the only cinema in town which provided hearing aids which were attached to the end seats.

A cinematograph machine at Havelock Cinema in December 1938.
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A light was built on the very top of the cinema in the shape of a diver’s helmet. At one time beams shone out of the four face-pieces of the helmet until one

of them was blocked following complaints from ships that it was misleading.

The other three apertures were blocked up during the war when blackout regulations forbade any form of outside lighting. After the war the lights never re-appeared.

In the early 1960s the theatre was taken over by Gaumont British and The Havelock was re-named The Gaumont. The company was itself eventually taken over by Rank but the cinema retained its name.

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The Diver's Helmet on the roof of The Havelock.

The Gaumont closed its doors for the last time in June 1963 after it had shown its final film, Taste of Fear and the building was re-developed into shopping units.

A story on the picture house is included in the latest newsletter from Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

The society, which was founded in 1900, holds extensive archives which were amassed and donated by the people of Sunderland.

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To find out more, interested people should visit the Antiquarian Society’s Facebook page or its website which is at

And to apply to become a member, email [email protected]

To share your own memories of stores in Sunderland, email [email protected]

Crowds outside the cinema in 1953.
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The Havelock at night.