Hull's unique Blitz survivor: the 25-year fight to preserve bombed-out cinema

As a youngster, Tom Robinson played with his mates amid the ruins of the National Picture Theatre.

There was always children on the bombsite. Lads flying about arms stretched out pretending to be Spitfires, girls building houses out of rubble, decorated with jam jars full of wild flowers.

"We used to try and play cricket, play football, some would be playing rugby,” he says.

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The cinema on Beverley Road in Hull was wrecked by a Luftwaffe bomb on March 18 1941 – the same year Mr Robinson was born.


The audience of 150, who were watching Charlie Chaplin’s box office smash The Great Dictator, were lucky - the bomb fell at the back, and most were towards the front.

For years after in the pub next door, the Swan Inn, people used to sit and have a drink and reminisce. "The idea came about that it would need a group – not just one person – to get together and form a committee (to preserve it)”, said Mr Robinson, whose earliest memory is his mother wrapping him in a blanket to take him to a shelter.

The idea got off the ground, after a study by the then English Heritage revealed that the ruin was an extraordinary survivor – the only blitzed civilian building left standing in England.

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"They found there were only 14 bombed ruins in England and the majority were churches like Coventry Cathedral. Ours was the only civilian ruin and it was iconic as it was a cinema.”


Mr Robinson has been involved over the past 25 years as part of efforts to get the building secured as a memorial to the civilians of World Wwar Two in Hull who put in extraordinary efforts as air-raid wardens and fire officers, in the WRVS, as clippies on the trolley buses, doctors and nurses.

The ruin has been made safe, and tours visit the site. Eventually they hope to put on events inside and establish a small education room.

In the run up to the 82nd anniversary an exhibition, Home Front, is being put on at Hull History Centre, from March 6 to March 9, which is expected to resonate deeply with those with wartime memories. It will pay tribute to Hull’s civilians and celebrate the remarkable story of the cinema.

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Most people don’t realise that Hull was the most heavily bombed British city outside London.

Ruins of National Picture Theatre, HullRuins of National Picture Theatre, Hull
Ruins of National Picture Theatre, Hull

It was subject to the first daylight air-raid on Britain during the war and coincidentally, the last piloted attack on March 17 1945 when people leaving the Savoy Cinema became the UK’s last victims of the Blitz. Mr Robinson says the city was only ever once mentioned by name in bulletins despite the dreadful suffering – otherwise it was referred to as a “northern” or “north-east” town.

The exhibition documents the events in detail, through photos, objects and personal stories of the bombing. An array of events and sites tours will also take place at Stepney Station.

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