Elegant venue was victim of city Blitz
- Credit: Archant
It was a century ago when this wonderful and elegant thatched Norwich building opened its doors as a cinema like no other.
This was the Thatched Theatre on All Saints' Green which began life as the Thatched Assembly Rooms with a restaurant and a ballroom which attracted the wealthy from across the city and county.
It also offered top variety acts of the day, orchestras with talented musicians and even had a sliding roof so patrons could enjoy the fresh air while watching the show.
Locals also got the chance to perform at the Thatched. One advertisement offered the opportunity to listen to the Ruby Mona Sisters from Norwich.
This was a time when those with money lived in big houses around All Saints' Green and Surrey Street while just around the corner on Ber Street and down towards King Street... life was very different for the people struggling to survive day to day in the courts and yards.
But by all accounts, most people, whatever their background, had one thing in common – a love of Norwich and all that it offered.
The Thatched Theatre was indeed a posh place but it was there for all and our reports from years ago tell of locals being proud of it and it was said the talented Italian craftsmen, many living in Ber Street, were responsible for looking after the wonderful, carved ceiling in the ballroom – before it opened as a cinema in 1915.
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Back in the 1980s, 87-year-old Gert Riches (nee Baxter), said the old caretaker had told her how an Italian artist painted the Michaelangelo-style ceiling. 'He laid on his back in a cradle to paint it and it took him two years,' she said.
As a girl Gert worked for Church and Co, florists in Prince of Wales Road, and often did the decorations for the grand military balls at the building. 'It was lovely,' she added.
Others from Ber Street remembered going to the Saturday morning picture shows – and staring at the ceiling instead of watching the film.
The thatched front portion of the building housed the restaurant and provided the facade to the ballroom, which became a cinema in 1915.
The freehold belonged to the Bond family whose fashionable store, now John Lewis, was next door.
This cinema was straight out of Downton Abbey, showing the best silent films accompanied by its string orchestra and served high teas to attract an elite patronage. No-one got into this place by offering up a jam jar or rabbit skin for a ticket!
During the First World War it served as a billet for troops.
The Thatched was never wired for sound. By the end of the 1920s it advertised itself as being 'silent but sound' but times were changing and in 1930 its days as a cinema were over.
Bonds took it over as a restaurant, conference hall and balloom and Richard Bond recalled the sprung floor which literally 'bounced' when walked on.
Dinners were often held for up to 400 people, when special gas stoves were wheeled into the corridor running beside the ballroom.
But those grand days were coming to an end. The clouds of war were looming. In the 1942 Norwich Blitz the old Thatched Ballroom, along with Bonds' large store which provided work for many local people, was destroyed. Within days the shop was selling what was left of their stock from buses in the bomb-ravaged car park.
The shop was rebuilt and has flourished... but the old theatre was gone forever.
Coming up: The story of another thatched building with an extraordinary history which didn't survive the 1942 Blitz – the medieval Boar's Head just round the corner at the junction of Surrey Street and St Stephen's.