That’s a wrap! A landmark former cinema will welcome its final visitors this weekend before it’s moved brick by brick to Beamish where it’s set to reel in film fans once more.
After being used for the past few years as a storage facility, The Grand Electric Cinema in Ryhope was donated to Beamish Museum in 2015.
Now the painstaking task begins to move the building brick by brick 15 miles from St Paul’s Terrace to Beamish in County Durham where it will be a star attraction in the museum’s new 1950s Town.
Ahead of the cinema’s removal and restoration, members of the public are being invited to see inside it in Ryhope for one final time.
At a community event being held at the cinema on Saturday, visitors can enjoy pre-booked tours of the auditorium and find out more about its future as part of the £18m Remaking Beamish project, the biggest development in the museum’s 48-year history.
As well as restoring and rebuilding the cinema, which will once again screen films and Pathé news reels, the 1950s Town will feature shops, houses, a cafe, fish and chip shop, a community centre, aged miners’ homes and a bowling green.
Among those who will be especially keen to visit the new town, which will take up to four years to complete, will be Ryhope-born Bill Mather, 77.
Bill first visited the cinema when he was a toddler and went on to become a trainee projectionist there when he was just 10-years-old. It sparked a love affair with cinema that saw him work in the industry for 53 years, rising through the ranks to becoming a general manager and area manager at cinemas throughout the country.
Bill, who now lives in Bear Park in Durham, said: “Back then the cinema was at the heart of the community and we would screen three different films a week, each week. My first experience was coming here when I was about three-years-old with my mam. She took me in the gallery and we watched a H film which was the classification for a horror, back then you could take children to those films providing the parent thought it was ok. We watched Boris Karloff in Frankenstein, and I was hooked.
“Before my mam died, she told my wife I was born for cinema.”
Bill learnt all facets of the industry during his time at the cinema, even learning how to edit films to make them shorter so people could make their last bus home.
He said: “When I walk in here I can picture it just as it was with its red seats and its features picked out in gold. It was always a beautiful cinema, others in the area were often flea pits, but this one was always in remarkably good condition.”
The Grand, which would screen films to packed houses of 910 during its peak, was built in 1912 and closed as a cinema in the 1960s before becoming a bingo hall.
It was donated to the museum by Angela and Gary Hepple who were using the building for storage. Despite not being in use for a number of years, much of the building’s striking features, such as its period plaster work and stained glass windows, are still in good condition.
Bill has been working with the museum’s design team so that it can be returned to its former glory with Beamish’s trademark attention to detail.
Geraldine Straker, Remaking Beamish community participation officer, said: “This will be the largest building we’ve ever moved and it’s a spectacular building. I think many people have driven past it so many times over the years but haven’t seen what it looks like inside.
“That was the idea behind this weekend’s community event, so that people can see inside and then hopefully come and see it again once it’s been rebuilt in our 1950s Town.
“As the plaster work is still in place we can take mouldings of that to recreate it and restore the original sections.”
Beamish is also inviting people in Ryhope to get involved in a project to make a film about the deconstruction of the cinema, to be screened at the community and at Beamish. A meeting about the film project will be held on Monday, February 12 at 6.30pm at Ryhope Community Association where people can find out more and share their ideas.
•Visits to the cinema on Saturday, February 3, must be pre-booked. To book a place or find out more about the film project contact Geraldine Straker on 0191 370 4060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org