£206,680 to help repair Agatha Christie's favourite cinema

Exterior of Paignton Picture House with hoarding outside the front

Restoration of Paignton Picture House - Credit: jaggery@geograph.org.uk

Historic England has awarded £206,680 towards the restoration of the Grade II* Paignton Picture House in Torbay.

The grant will cover the full cost of essential repairs to the cinema’s front face. This includes the repair of the intricate stone work and unique stained glass windows.

The interior of Grade II-listed Paignton Picture House with red tiered seats

The interior of Grade II-listed Paignton Picture House - Credit: Submitted

The Picture House is a purpose-built cinema which officially opened in 1912.

Believed to have been designed and built by local companies, the cinema is in the theatrical Free Baroque style with Art Nouveau decorative details, including a spectacular grand entrance and fine stained glass windows.

The Picture House was also comfortable – it was one of the first cinemas with a ventilation system, which allowed it to be heated in the winter and air conditioned in the summer.

Many of the building’s original features have survived intact, including its tip-up seats, the locally-made art deco wall lights, and the original colour scheme. Such well-preserved early cinema buildings are very rare.

Agatha Christie was a regular visitor to the Paignton Picture House when she lived in Dartmouth, and had her own pair of seats in the circle. One was for herself, the other for her butler, who served drinks during the screenings.

The grand art deco entrance doorway of Paignton Picture House

The grand art deco entrance doorway of Paignton Picture House - Credit: Submitted

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The cinema is said to be the model for the 'Gaiety' cinema in her fiction.

Paignton Picture House closed in 1999. It stood vacant without an identified role and was subsequently added to Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

In 2013, a group of local people with a passion for historic buildings set up the Paignton Picture House Trust to regenerate the building as a community and cultural hub for Torbay. The trust acquired the building in 2015.

The Historic England grant will cover the full cost of the repair of the cinema’s front face and bow windows. Historic England offered £40,000 in 2015 to help meet the cost of purchasing the building.

Work is expected to begin in mid-January and be completed by early May 2021.

The repair of the Picture House is part of a wider £2.5 million regeneration project which will see the building brought back into use at the heart of the town, providing a vibrant venue for film and the arts, education and the local community.

Rebecca Barrett, regional director for Historic England in the South West, said: “The Paignton Picture House is special for many reasons, from its architectural beauty to its association with one of the world’s greatest writers. It is also vitally important to Paignton’s past and future.

“We have been helping the trust to secure the Picture House for a number of years, and we’re delighted our grant will help move it step closer to becoming a vibrant centre for entertainment, enjoyment and learning once again.”

Paul Hawthorne, chairman of the Paignton Picture House Trust, said: "This funding will allow the trust to commence the careful restoration and repair of this much-loved building, opening up a street  frontage that Paignton has not seen in its full glory for many years.  

"It also marks for the trust the start of a push towards the eventual reopening of the building, for which we are very grateful to Historic England."

Kevin Foster, MP for Torbay, said: “The Paignton Picture House is a unique part of Paignton’s history, but in recent years became a symbol of decline in the town centre, lying vacant and disused.

"Yet the hard work of the Paignton Picture House Trust has given it new hope and this very welcome grant will help give it a new lease of life, restoring its wonderful architecture and ensuring it is ready to play its part in Paignton’s future as the Future High Streets Project revitalises the town centre into a place all residents can once more take pride in.”

The project has also received support from The Architectural Heritage Fund, the Rosalind Hicks Charitable Trust and the Cinema Theatre Association.