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A grand farewell for Ryhope cinema

A former cinema will open its doors to welcome visitors for one final time before being moved brick by brick to Beamish, The Living Museum of the North.

The Grand Electric Cinema will be transported 15 miles from Ryhope in Sunderland to Beamish, where it will be restored to its former glory and preserved for future generations, as part of a 1950s Town.

Beamish is giving people a chance to see inside the cinema for one last time, at a community event on Saturday 3rd February, before the final credits roll on part one of its history and deconstruction work begins. Visitors can enjoy pre-booked tours of the auditorium and find out more about the exciting plans, which are part of the £18million Remaking Beamish project.

The Grand, which was built in 1912, closed in the 1960s and later became a bingo hall, but is no longer in use. It was donated to the museum by Angela and Gary Hepple, and will be rebuilt at the County Durham open air museum.

Building work started this winter on the Remaking Beamish project – the biggest in the museum’s 48-year history, which will see more than 30 new exhibits added. The 1950s Town will also feature shops, houses, cafe, fish and chip shop, community centre, aged miners’ homes and bowling green.

There will be a 1950s Farm and expansion of the Georgian area, including a coaching inn where visitors can stay overnight. Thanks to the money raised by National Lottery players, the project has been awarded £10.9million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). 

Geraldine Straker, Remaking Beamish Community Participation Officer, said:

“We’re really excited to be bringing The Grand Electric Cinema brick by brick to Beamish, where it will be restored to its former glory to become a working 1950s cinema.

“We’re working with the people of Ryhope to tell the story of their heritage as part of the Remaking Beamish project so we’re looking forward to welcoming people to the cinema for one last time before it is deconstructed.”

Among the people involved in the project is Bill Mather, who was born in Ryhope and was a trainee projectionist at the cinema between 1950 and 1955.

He describes The Grand as a “Palace of Dreams” and used to visit from the age of five or six, before becoming a trainee projectionist from 10 years old.

As a young child, he refused to go to sleep until he saw the cinema close, with its lights turned, off each evening.

Bill, who spent 53 years in the cinema business, said:

“It feels fantastic to be back in The Grand. It’s better than winning the jackpot.

“The likes of The Grand was what the magic of cinema was all about. It’s fantastic that Beamish Museum is taking a cinema from the early part of the cinema business and it’s being retained for posterity. I’m lost for words.”

Bill, 77, from Durham, has been sharing his memories of The Grand in the 1950s with Beamish’s design team, recalling what the cinema looked like inside and the appearance and location of features and objects.

Beamish is also inviting people in Ryhope to get involved in a project to make a film about the deconstruction of the cinema, to be screened at Beamish and in the community. A meeting about the film project will be held on Monday, 12th February at 6.30pm at Ryhope Community Association, where people can find out more and share their ideas.

Geraldine added:

“We hope people who live in and around Ryhope will come along and get involved in the film project to record the story of Ryhope and the taking down of the cinema. No previous experience is necessary as training will be given, and we’ll be showing the film at Beamish and in Ryhope.”

Visits to the cinema on 3rd February must be pre-booked.

To book a place or find out more about the film project, contact Geraldine Straker, tel. 0191 370 4060 or email: geraldinestraker@beamish.org.uk.