Campaign aims to turn cinema bomb site into Blitz memorial

A CAMPAIGN is being launched to save one of the last surviving ruins of the Blitz from the hands of developers.

The decision by planning committee members last year to allow the bomb-damaged National Picture Theatre and Swan Inn public house in Beverley Road, Hull, to be turned into flats and a restaurant sparked a public outcry.

The theatre, which has lain virtually untouched since it was bombed, is one of only 20 to have survived in the country – and most of these are churches or military buildings in the South.

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However the market for flats has dried up because of the recession. Now a building preservation trust is proposing to preserve the cinema as a memorial to the 1,200 civilians who died in the Nazi bombardment and an educational facility bringing home the reality of the Second World War to a younger generation.

The adjacent inn, Hull and East Yorkshire's last remaining bow-fronted pub, would be turned into a micro-brewery.

The Hull branch of the Campaign for Real Ale is supporting the plans and is urging local people to help raise the 1,500 to 2,000 needed to submit a planning application. In the next few weeks thousands of leaflets will be going out to tourism information centres and libraries to raise awareness - urging "Your Heritage Needs You!"

Under the plans its handsome brick frontage would be conserved and inside the foyer would be lit and films projected onto the walls.

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The Newcastle-based owner of the site has agreed to give the trust, unnamed at this stage, six months to raise funds. The idea is use the site for educational visits by schools and occasional visits by interested groups.

Branch chairman Alan Canvess said: "The site obviously has to be tidied up and secured. There are a number of meetings going on in the next few weeks with the Lottery to raise the funds.

"There are lots of tributes to soldiers, sailors and Armed Forces but nothing to the people on the Home Front; they didn't have the recognition they deserved. We are hoping to raise enough money to put a plaque on the wall containing the names of all the 1,200 people who died."

Mr Canvess was originally only interested in preserving the pub, but got involved with the theatre after being approached by the National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust.

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Mr Canvess – who is now a committee member – said the owner was happy with their approach: "He is giving them six months to raise the money to buy the site because he isn't anticipating doing anything in that time."

Agent Chris Noble of Hull-based chartered surveyors NT3 said: "We are quite happy to work with Alan Canvess and are willing to work with him to secure his funding. We look forward to concluding a deal in the near future."

Although many residents want the building preserved and it was given grade two listing in 2007, Hull's planning committee backed redevelopment proposals, despite objections from organisations including the Ancient Monuments Society, The Council for British Archaeology, Save Britain's Heritage.

The committee took the unusual step in 2007 of supporting an appeal by the owners to have the listing removed and committee chairman John Fareham has referred to the site as a "badge of shame."

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At the time Coun Fareham said: "What sort of credit is it to a city when we have got a bombsite in a conservation area?

"Some people want it as a peace garden, a memorial to the civilian dead, but frankly we have got that in the Northern Cemetery. I'd like to see it brought back into beneficial use – and I know I am not alone in that on the committee."

The National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust says: "We believe that the ruins of the National Picture Theatre should be preserved for use as a memorial and for educational and community use and the Swan Inn restored and brought back into sympathetic use.

"The Beverley Road area and the city as a whole will then benefit. It would make a major contribution to the local community, education for children and adults and tourism.

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"The National Picture Theatre, with its national and international significance, is a unique and distinctive survival, and has the potential to draw visitors from the region, the UK and abroad."

For more information – or to make a donation to the appeal – visit

Great escape for chaplin audience

For the movie audience it was The Great Escape.

They were in the National Picture Theatre on the night of March 17 1941 watching the Charlie Chaplin movie The Great Dictator when the sirens sounded.

Unable to dash out to nearby shelters because of the severity of the raid they gathered in the foyer.

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An air-borne mine landed right on top of the rear of the building destroying the screen and reducing most of it to rubble. But around 150 people in the foyer remarkably survived unscathed.

Nearly 69 years on the theatre's grand classical facade is obscured by hoardings on one of the city centre's busiest streets.

Behind it are the stark remains of the foyer, stair turrets and booking office. However the entire auditorium has been lost or reduced to rubble.

The listing citation describes it as of "iconic importance" and "one of the most powerful reminders of one of the most formative periods of the 20th century."

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During the war Hull was one of the most heavily bombed cities in the UK.

Air raids went on longer in Hull than any other city, even after the opening of the Russian front.

Wartime Home Secretary Herbert Morrison wrote in his memoirs: "In my experience the town that suffered most was Kingston-upon-Hull."

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