Raiders of the lost archive: Leeds cinema they lit by gas gets lottery bonanza

The auditorium in the Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds
The auditorium in the Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds
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CUSTOMERS first passed through its doors in the same year that Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy and Gloria Swanson made their screen debuts.

Countless celluloid stars have come and gone since then but today, more than a century on from its 1914 opening, Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds remains one of the jewels in Yorkshire’s cultural crown.

Inside the Hyde Park Cinema

Inside the Hyde Park Cinema

And the UK’s only surviving gas-lit cinema is now looking forward to an even brighter future following the announcement that it has secured a £2.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The money will be used for a project that will open up archive material including film programmes and weather reports dating back to the Grade II listed building’s earliest days.

A number of original features will be restored, including the cinema’s terrazzo foyer floors and decorative screen plasterwork.

Facilities and access will also be improved, with a new box office meaning people no longer have to queue outdoors during bad weather. The cinema’s general manager, Wendy Cook, told The Yorkshire Post: “The Hyde Park Picture House has had a wonderful 102-year-long history, full to the brim with on and off-screen drama including two world wars, closure threats, celebrity guests and more than a few changes to the way audiences watch and enjoy films.

The Hyde Park cinema foyer

The Hyde Park cinema foyer

“We’re very lucky to be one of only a handful of cinemas still surviving from the early days of film and we’re thrilled that with this invaluable support from the Heritage Lottery Fund we’re able to ensure the cinema will be able to serve the community of Leeds for another 100 years.”

Hyde Park Picture House is one of a dozen projects and places getting a share of £55m courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other recipients include a country home in West Oxfordshire that inspired designer William Morris and Hertfordshire’s St Albans Cathedral, the oldest continuous place of Christian worship in the country.

The biggest funding award goes to Plymouth, which will receive £14.8m to bring together five separate collections at a new history centre in the heart of the city.

Nearly £7.5m has gone to help Royal Museums Greenwich save the Armada portrait of Elizabeth I for the nation.

The Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds

The Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds

The portrait will now be in public ownership for the first time in its 425-year history and will be permanently located at the Queen’s House, Greenwich.

Some £3.6m will pay for conservation work to remove St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Paddington, London, from the “heritage at risk” list and build a new wing to connect it to an adjacent primary school. Announcing the awards, Heritage Lottery Fund chief executive Ros Kerslake said helping to preserve a “century of cinema and community heritage” highlighted the way in which the impact of National Lottery players’ money can be felt far and wide.

She added: “Today’s investment will boost tourism and local economies, secure some of our nation’s heritage for future generations to enjoy and provide some fantastic opportunities for volunteers and visitors of all ages.”

The first film to be shown at Hyde Park Picture House was Their Only Son, billed as a patriotic drama.

1959: An elephant out, from the archives of the Hyde Park Picture House

1959: An elephant out, from the archives of the Hyde Park Picture House

Other morale-boosting releases would become a staple part of the cinema’s programme as the First World War raged across the English Channel.

It also played an important role in broadcasting news bulletins to people in Leeds desperate to keep track of a war in which so many of their loved ones had enlisted.

The cinema today has a reputation for screening the very best in independent, art-house and classic films from around the world.

It is part of Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House Limited, an arm’s length Leeds City Council organisation.