March Electric Palace

2012 saw the centenary of The Palace in March, in the grounds of the former Darthill House, now the car park off Robin Goodfellows Lane.  


The March Advertiser, Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Press

March would be nothing if no up-to-date, and the latest addition to the many important public buildings which have been erected during
the last few years is the new Electric Picture Palace.  Less than a year ago Dart Hill House and grounds, which had a commanding frontage to the north end of Broad-street, was sold by public auction the purchaser being Mr. Joseph Collingwood.  Today a complete transformation of the site meets the eye, a block of five new shops and a new Electric Picture Palace occupying the fine corner position facing broad-street and the Station-road.  By the courtesy of the managers we had an opportunity of inspecting the new Picture Palace a few days ago, and we are able to give our readers a full description of the new building and its appointments.

Entering by the main front, which will be used only by patrons of the higher-priced seats, we pass through an entrance lobby which is both attractive and convenient.  A circular-fronted mahogany pay box is arranged in the centre, a mosaic floor and encaustic tile dado adding richness and effect to what must be described as a very imposing approach to the vestibule, which is separated from the outerlobby by two swing doors, one on either side.  Once inside this vestibule the visitor is impressed by the lavish way in which everything has been carried out.  The fittings, decorations, carpets and lighting combine to produce an affect which is both original and pleasing. 

A white enamelled sweetmeat kiosk, with leaded glass windows, occupies a position between the doors leading to the main hall, whilst the two staircases by which the balcony is approached are seen on either side.  This vestibule is quite an outstanding feature of the new Palace, and gives to the visitor an impression of completeness and comfort. 

On entering the main hall we find ourselves in a room which can only be described as of fine proportions and handsome in appearance.  The ground floor, which is 28ft. by 50ft., is provided with seating upholstered in velvet plush of a rich red colour, which harmonizes with the general colour scheme of the decorations.  Here accommodations is provided for 250 persons, and the low price of 3d. will secure a front seat! For 4d., those who prefer to sit farther away from the picture screen, will have an excellent choice of seats. No higher price than 4d. is to be charged for seats in the body of the hall.  Looking around, one is struck by the way in which every detail has been thought out.  The handsome frame which surrounds the picture screen is richly moulded and ornamented, and the screen is placed so that – bar the fashionable millinery difficulty – a full view of it can be obtained from every seat in the place.  The more expensive seats are in the balcony, which commands an uninterrupted view of the picture screen, and here the modest 6d. will secure a seat in a velvet tip-up chair.  The three front rows in the balcony, which, needless to say, are the best seats in the house, are to be 9d., and there is no higher price than this, unless seats are booked in advance, when a box office fee of 3d. has to be added.  In all, the palace will seat 350 persons, and for their safety no less than six exits are provided.  Four of these serve the lower floor, or “pit”, and tow the balcony. It should be mentioned here that the floor of the “pit” is raked, being 2ft. lower at the picture end than at the entrance, thus giving a better view of the screen to those seated at the back than would be the case with a level floor.

Of course, as its name suggests, the Palace is fitted throughout with electric light, a special installation having been put in for the purpose.  This consists of a 20-horse-power “National” gas machine, with a dynamo generating 120 volts and 100 amps.  This provides lighting for the building, inside and out, including an electric sign, “Palace”, in letters nearly 4ft. high, and also the powerful 2,500 candle-power arc lamp by which the pictures are thrown upon the screen.  And as electricity is just as useful for purposes of power as for lighting, a small motor drives the projecting machine, thus relieving the operator of that tedious business of turning the handle.  Gas has also been laid on to all parts of the building, so that, should the electric light fail, it will always be available at a moment’s notice. 

In these days, animated films have to be shown with perfect steadiness, as well as with brilliance. To gain this important point, the projecting machine must be of a type that will obviate the objectionable flicker, so noticeable in the older types of Bioscopes.

The machine installed at the Palace is the celebrated Gaumont Chrono  with Maltese Cross action, and which may be said to be absolutely fireproof.  The films, when in use upon the chrono, are shut away in fireproof boxes, and only a few inches are available at any one time, so that the possibility of hundreds of feet of film catching fire, as sometimes happened on the older types of machines, is impossible.   Further, by a very clever invention in the mechanism of the Chrono, an automatic shutter shuts off the heat of the lamp from the film, should the machine stop working from any cause.  This we are introduced to what is claimed to be a fireproof machine, and when it is remembered that the operating room at the Palace is outside the building, patrons may rest assured that nothing in the nature of danger need be feared.

We had a little talk with the manager, Mr. Gibson, as to the class of pictures which it is proposed to introduce to March audiences, and we were informed that a most careful selection of subjects would always be made.  Those who favour dramatic pictures will receive consideration, whilst the large class who go to the picture hall to enjoy a good laugh will not be disappointed.  Almost every programme will include pictures of travel, natural history, industry, or sport, and many fine educational films will be included from time to time.  A big feature of the programme will be the regular presentation of Pathe’s Animated Gazette, which is in reality a news film dealing with all the latest events of the day, and is one of the most popular items in the London Halls. The Palace will open for three and a half hours every evening (7 to 10.30), and patrons can enter and leave the building at their pleasure. The full programme is gone through twice,so that visitors who enter before 8.45 will see the whole series of pictures.