Embassy Cinema, Tenterden, Kent.

Embassy Cinema

1 High Street,

Tenterden, TN30 6BN


Date opened: Thursday 11th February 1937.

Owners:  Shipman & King.

Architect:  Henry Walter Coussens.

Building Contractors:  Messrs Fassnidge, Son & Norris, Ltd.

Seating Capacity:  800.

First film shown: “Windbag the Sailor” starring Will Hay and Graham Moffatt.

Date closed:  Wednesday 10th December 1969.

Final film shown:  “The Virgin Soldiers” starring Hywel Bennett and  Lynn Redgrave.

Building Extant:  Retail use as an M&Co clothing store.



Oaks Road, Tenterden was the location of the Picture Theatre, an early silent, purpose built cinema.  It was advertised as being fireproof, with no steps and lit by electricity throughout. It was known as the Electric Palace, affectionately referred to by locals as simply the Picture Palace. It held approximately 350 seats and was opened on Saturday 28th September 1912.

Alfred Shipman & Sam King.

The cinema was taken over by the ambitious Shipman & King circuit during 1934. Another site on a more prominent position on the High Street was acquired, enabling the company to build a more modern cinema to their specifications. Architect, H. W. Coussens, was tasked to create a moderately sized cinema in the most modern Art Deco Style. The main building contractor was Messrs Fassnidge, Son & Norris, Ltd.

As building work commenced in earnest on the new cinema it became clear that S&K Cinemas were to close the old Picture Theatre the same month as their new cinema venture, the Embassy cinema, opened its doors.

During World War II the Picture Palace building was used as an Army Supply Depot and in the 1950s was nearly pulled down but finally was altered for use as retail businesses and offices and is now known as “The Fairings”.

The new Embassy cinema enjoyed a prominent position on Tenterden’s tree lined High Street. The red brick built box façade had three tall arched windows above the canopy level that provide daylight into the foyer/café. The generous proportions of the canopy extended the full width of the frontage. Embassy was emblazoned on the centre of the canopy and repeated above the arched windows.  At night the new cinema was even more eye catching with the amber floodlighting washing the expanse of the above canopy façade with green and white neon signage and brilliant under canopy lighting.

The Art Deco Style of the main entrance foyer of the Embassy cinema, Tenterden.

The main entrance foyer, complete with its wide polished mahogany faced pay desk and terrazzo floor gave a hint of the modern Art Deco Style that would follow throughout the building. Under floor heating in this area was a futuristic step in heating and ventilation for that period. Three large metal framed glass ceiling light fittings added to the ambience of the pastel shades used in the decoration.

Either side of the pay desk were double doors that led customers into the stalls, while on the left hand side of the foyer as you entered was a richly carpeted two flight staircase that took patrons up to the combined circle lounge and café.

The circle lounge/ café.

This large carpeted area was comfortably furnished with curved back chairs set around circular ebony tables for diners and rich red sofas providing seating for those waiting. Again three large metal framed ceiling light fittings lined up with the three arched windows. A feature wall in this foyer had a contemporary mural painting that reminded many customers of an underwater scene. A double door placed centrally in this artistic design led patrons up to the circle.

Inside the auditorium the Art Deco theme continued to impress with the modern sleek vertical lines decorated in hues of chocolate brown, fawn and beige. The ornate grillwork on the splay walls had contrasting shades of blue, white and orange. A large rectangular cove in the main ceiling had concealed lighting and together with other lighting troughs provided adequate house lighting that cast a warm glow onto the auditorium. The deep pile carpeting was the same abstract design that was fit throughout the building. The stalls held approximately 500 seats while a further 300 were in the circle, all upholstered in maroon. The wide proscenium was plain. The curtains (tabs) were gold satin that were lit by floats (footlights) and battens.  A novelty was that an effects projector located in the projection room added to the stage lighting presentation.

Alderman J. Macrae Diggle. J.P. declared the Embassy open at a Gala Evening on Thursday 11th February 1937. The first film shown was a British comedy film, “Windbag the Sailor” starring Will Hay and Graham Moffatt.

A grainy press photograph taken on the opening of the Embassy Tenterden.

The Shipman and King circuit owned and managed the Embassy throughout its time as a cinema. It enjoyed brisk business. However, it was restricted in what first run films it could show thanks to a bar being placed on them by distributors in favour of cinema operators in the larger town of Ashford that was twelve miles away. Eventually as the decline in cinema admissions progressed in the 1950s and 60s this barring clause began to pull the cinema business down. In 1969, when rumours circulated that S&K were about to close the Embassy, a local petition with 2000 signatures was handed in.

A poster advertising films in November 1969, shortly before closure.

The company had firmly decided to close and was in the process of selling the building to Vyes grocers who were to convert the Embassy into a supermarket.

The final film screened was “The Virgin Soldiers” starring Hywel Bennett and  Lynn Redgrave was enjoyed by a near capacity audience. The Embassy closed on Wednesday 10th December 1969.

The building was reconfigured for retail purposes and opened as Vyes the grocers. Later  Lo-Cost, then a Co-op Supermarket ran their businesses from the old cinema. During  2009 it was operated as an M&Co.

The original ‘Embassy’ name sign has been retained on the building.