The Park Cinema
The Park Cinema was an independently operated cinema that opened in 1913 at 232 Hither Green Lane on the corner of George Lane. It had been refurbished in 1930, to install sound equipment and re-opened with the Janet Gaynor film “Sunny Side Up”, boasting a new wonder organ.
In 1931, architect Leslie H. Kemp was employed to modernise the cinema, particularly the facade, which received a ‘modern’ Art Deco style. The cinema went dark in 1957. Since then the building has had various businesses in it, including a boating shop and an indoor children’s playground named ‘Kids Korner’. The building was sold again in 2008 and the new owners proposed that the building be pulled down and be converted into flats. This was received by a general outburst of disapproval from the local community (some of whom had just seen the Hither Green Fever Hospital torn down and turned into Meridian South) thinking that the space should be used to serve the community in some way and that more flats, opposite Meridian South, was just not needed here. The local community at large organised and protested this development by writing to the Council, signing petitions, organising a protest outside the building (recorded in local newspapers in May 2009)
and going to the Planning application meeting in June 2009 where a number of people spoke eloquently about what the building meant to the local community. In August 2009 the planning application was rejected but we knew there might be an appeal so our commitment wasn’t done.
A group of local people got together to raise awareness of what was going on and organised the first cinema showing in Hither Green in over 50 years. They found a space in the heart of Hither Green in the form of the old Firemasters building. A warehouse hidden behind houses and an unknown quantity to the local people (This is now Hither Green Studios and has had a new lease of life in the last 6 years). Films were organised, licenses bought, funds found, food & drink prepared and a small army of community minded people got to cleaning the space
that had not been used in years and was suffering from human neglect but not pigeon or guard dog neglect who, it turned out, used the area frequently!
It was a great day, starting with a kids theatrical workshop in the morning
and then a screening of ‘My Fair Lady’ which had local ex-resident Gladys Cooper starring in it,
and we even had Sally Hardy (her daughter) come along and talk to locals after the film
(She came back to the area a few years later when a plaque was unveiled at her mother’s old house on Ennersdale Road). We then showed the Buster Keaton silent movie ‘Balloonatic’ with live piano accompaniment from Costas Fotopoulos and finished the day off with a showing of ‘Pool of London’, an Ealing Studios film noir. The day was a great success with over 200 people attending throughout the day and off the back off this Hither Green Hall was born. Three locals (an illustrator, a harpist and a city worker) went about organising the group that was officially called the Hither Green Community Hall & Arts Society to cover all the things we imagined could be accomplished in Hither Green if only we could get the Park Cinema back into public rather than private use.
In February 2010 we showed our first film at The Station Hotel (under its previous management), ‘Brief Encounter’, for valentine’s day, to a packed room. The first in a few train related films we showed at the Station Hotel before it changed hands to it’s present owners.
In March 2010 we had our first event at the newly refurbished St Swithun’s Hall (which would become our home). A day of classic films including Easter Parade, Life of Brian and Hot Fuzz (one of the best films about what happens when community comes together, in a bad way, in my opinion) and drama workshops run by Crave Theatre productions for 3 to 13 year olds.
In September 2010 we started our first season of films at St Swithun’s Hall. We had asked the local community what we should show and integrated those suggestions into what we had planned. We started with a Sherlock Holmes double bill showing ‘Hounds of the Baskervilles’ (1939) and ‘Sherlock’ Holmes (2009) followed in November by the cult classic ‘Harold & Maude’ plus the short film “South of the River” by local film-maker Ben Honeybone. December saw our first showing of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ along with “Keys” another short film by Ben Honeybone.
In 2011 The Park Cinema was up for sale again. We thought this was our time, the price had crashed so all we needed to do was find a sympathetic buyer or try and get some funding/backing and we could get this building back for our community.
We invited BBC London News along to see us project a film onto The Park Cinema Building from across the street,
we went on BBC London Breakfast radio to appeal to a wider audience and even put together a business case for investors. But to no avail. I was at the auction and talked to the buyer who bought it at a steal (£125,000 less than the previous bought price) and he confirmed that he owned Carpet Corner in Ladywell and their lease ‘might’ be up soon so they needed somewhere else to relocate to. I, personally, was happy at the time that the building would still be used so at some time in the future there would be a chance to get this building back.
Now of course we know they have tried to do exactly the same thing by trying to convert the first/second floor into flats and the ground floor into a food retailer, but in May 2015 that has been rejected by the council for a number of reasons. I am sure they will try again…..
Hither Green is a great place. There is a diverse mix of people. Those that have lived here all their lives to those that have just arrived in this commuters paradise (when London Bridge Station works properly that is). We are all colours and all nationalities. We are all ages. We are all levels of society hidden between the larger town centres, who love this area and create groups to show what we love the most. From the Hither Green Community Association and Friends and Users of Staplehurst Shops to the Friends Of Mountsfield Park, Manor Park Users Group and Hither Green Hall. We want to see this area prosper and are not afraid to put some of our precious free time into making it happen.
So ‘We Need You’. It doesn’t matter what you do in your life, we need you to lend a hand. On the whole it is a couple of hours a month preparing what we do (sometimes just over email or maybe meeting at someone’s house or at the very generous Café of Good Hope) and then a possibly exhausting but fulfilling event day. Seeing peoples smiling faces and getting thanked for what you do at the end of the day makes it all worthwhile! Can you help? Some of our volunteers over the years just help out on the day and let others do the preparation. That’s what we need. Others do research into films and people and create fantastic events but can’t help out on the day. That’s what we need. Some are technically minded but not good at talking to group’s of people. That’s what we need. Some can chat and chat and chat about something that they love. That’s what we need. If you have an interest in helping out (and even if you decide at a later date that you just can’t manage it) get in touch by email, in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section below, on Facebook or Twitter. We need every section of our community covered to show what this wonderful area of South East London is capable of.
Things I would like to see happen in the future include:
- An outdoor screening
- Black History Month events
- Special Halloween day in an especially spooky location
- More music events from the myriad of local musicians of all genres
- A Hither Green art trail to show off all the artists in the area
- Saturday morning kids screening
- Half term & Summer kids screenings
- Mums and babies scream screen
- Tea and Screen for the elderly
- How to make short film courses for teenagers
- More charity screenings
- Foreign Film screenings and talks
- Poetry and book readings/clubs
- Anything you can think of entered here
We need people like you, from all walks of life to keep this movement going and keep the great vibe that is alive in this community going. Can you help? Get in touch and don’t feel any obligation to do too much, every volunteer does what they can to help out, and we get it done.
Even if you don’t think you can help, let others in the area know. Forward on the email, retweet, share on Facebook, print this out and pass it on to your neighbours to let others who are new to the area or not on social media know that we are here and we need you!
People like you are the future of this group, without you, we can not survive!
Over the years I have talked to many local residents that have lived here since they were born. They have regaled me with stories of being able to go to the cinema every day of the week, see a different film at a different cinema in walking distance!!
Those days have gone. Lewisham is now the ONLY London borough without a cinema (Walthamstow got its new cinema last November). Why is that? We have not only campaigned for the Park Cinema but also for the site of the old Ladywell Baths to be used as a cinema.
Our petition to use that site was seen by Curzon Cinemas in May 2012. We helped introduce them to a local councillor who then took them into discussions with Lewisham planning. We were ecstatic. In September 2013 we were contacted by Curzon Cinemas asking why Lewisham Council had stopped talking to them. We asked our local councillors. They said they would find out. They never got back to us (and I asked on more than one occasion at surgeries and have asked the question at many Ward meetings). Now it seems the demolished site of Ladywell Pools is to be used as a temporary housing development for a maximum of 4 years and then they will revisit what to do with the site. Why not do something permanent with the site now? After the last Ward Meeting where the plans for this temporary building were laid out, a Lewisham employee told me and another resident that the reason they were not building any permanent flats there right now was because house prices were not high enough right now but, in a few years if the Bakerloo line does get extended down the Ladywell line, they can make much more money so want to wait for that time!! It seems it does not matter that there is already an influx of people into the area with nothing to do in the area who then go and spend their money in different boroughs. A cinema as part of a mixed restaurant/café/bar shopping and housing unit on the site of the Ladywell Pools, with its great bus and close train and DLR links would make that area safer with the amount of footfall and give residents somewhere to go without having to rush for the last train home or driving late at night in London. Isn’t Lewisham Council going to be getting enough council tax revenue from the amount of flats going up in Central Lewisham and Catford as it is? Give people something to do here in Lewisham were they have decided to live!!
…in short I think the answer is yes, but it needs you, the good people of Hither Green to step up and say ‘Yes, I would like to do my part in keeping this dream alive.’ Without you there may not be a Hither Green Hall in the future.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to seeing you some time in the future, in the dark in front of a silver screen.
Chair – Hither Green Community Hall & Arts Society
(All the views above are mine and may or may not be shared by others so let me know what you think!)