Date opened: Monday 5th September 1938.
Date closed: Thursday 30th November 1989.
Owners: Frederick’s Electric Theatres.
Architect: Francis Graham Moon Chancellor.
Seating Capacity: 2200.
First film shown: “The Hurricane” starring Dorothy Lamour, Mary Astor and John Hall.
Final film shown: “Great Balls of Fire” starring Dennis Quaid.
Present use: Extant: proposed JD Wetherspoon pub/restaurant.
With a generous budget of £100.000, construction commenced during October 1937 on one of Essex’s largest cinemas. Roxy was the chosen name for this splendid cinema/theatre, but the owners changed it to the name State before it opened.
Built on a site that had previously been occupied by twenty houses on George Street, the Frederick’s Electric Theatres circuit commissioned architect Francis Graham Moon Chancellor to design a “super cinema” that would have seating in the stalls area for 1400 patrons, with a further 800 in the circle, a total capacity of 2200 was achieved.
There was a full working stage provided with three dressing rooms that would facilitate stage performances. A fifty seat restaurant/café on the circle foyer level was included in the plan. The lobby was circular and had a wrap around frieze moulded alternately in a concave and convex pattern. Above this a concaved saucer dome contained a central glass frosted light fitting composed of serpentine prisms. A splendid wide cash desk fronted with chrome, wood veneer and glass was an eye catching feature. The large staircase with brass handrails led patrons to the circle foyer, which had five scalloped segmental barrel vaults with large fish-bellied hanging lights.
The main entrance foyer also led through to the stalls foyer in contrasting warm colour schemes with richly fluted walnut pilasters supporting walnut canopies, with asymmetrical terrazzo floor in pink, yellow, black and white; and ornamental radiator grilles.
The auditorium was relatively plain with painted repeated horizontal bands on both levels. The circle was steeply raked with two vomitoria entrances from the foyer. The splay walls had plaster grillwork panels within raised ribbed vertical features and vertical bands containing repeated block design that ran the height of the walls and continuing across the ceiling. The wide proscenium was bordered with a plain ribbed aperture. The stage measured 52′ in width with a depth of over 26′.
A John Compton 3Manual/6Ranks organ, including Melotone, was installed on a lift centre of the proscenium. 500 organ pipes were housed in two chambers beneath the stage. The sound entered the auditorium via the orchestra pit through swell shutters – (large wooden louvres controlled by the organist). The organ also had a Melotone unit which was a supplement to the pipes and produced sounds electronically, fed through a large horn loudspeaker in the organ chambers. The surround of the console was the “Rainbow” illuminated glass frame design. The Compton nameplate on the console was replaced with the name State.
The State boasted a modern air conditioning system. Simplex projectors and Peerless Magnarc carbon arc lamps were installed in the projection room. Other additional features that enhanced the presentation included an extra set of curtains (making three in all) that swept open in sequence at the start of each film, an automatic piano linked to the organ, and a Brenograph carbon arc effects projector, installed in the projection room, that cast coloured light patterns across the curtains as the organist played.
The Gala Grand Opening took place on Monday 5th September 1938 at 7.30pm. The first film shown to a capacity audience was “The Hurricane” starring Dorothy Lamour, Mary Astor and John Hall.
Click on the above frame to play “The Hurricane” trailer.
Exactly one year later WWII broke out with all cinemas instructed to close immediately. However, the Government decided to quickly reverse this decision to boast morale. Anti aircraft guns were positioned throughout Thurrock to shoot down enemy planes if they flew down the Thames towards London. During 1940 a vantage point was established on the State cinema and a 25lb anti aircraft gun was mounted on the tower. Fortunately the cinema escaped from the numerous nearby bombing raids with only a crack in one of the interior pillars. The State’s business thrived during this time leading into the cinema’s heyday in the mid 1940s. However, as the huge building entered into the 1950s, in common with most UK cinemas it suffered from declining audience numbers, accelerated by other forms of entertainment and television. CinemaScope was installed and shown off, taking full advantage of the tremendous width of the proscenium. This revitalised and halted the declining audience numbers for a short time.
Through good management and presentation it weathered the rollercoaster business dips over the next two decades. It miraculously escaped being carved up into smaller separate screens that had been the fate of the majority of British cinemas during the 1960s and 70s. The larger the building the more difficult it became to make it viable. The State sank into an unprofitable situation. The Mecca leisure group bought the building in 1975 and kept it unaltered and in their portfolio for the following ten years. A form of protection for the cinema came along on 22nd February 1985 when it received Grade II listing. The final film shown under the Mecca management was “Gremlins” starring Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, closing Mecca’s tenure of the building.
Click the above frame to watch an advert filmed in the State
In 1986 Robins Cinema re-opened the State with “Back to the Future” starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. During this time a location shoot for “Who framed Roger Rabbit” starring Bob Hoskins took place at the State in 1988. Film makers were keen to use this once typical, now unique cinema to provide the settings for their films, adverts and pop videos.
The cinema admissions failed to improve under the new management and now the threat of a multiplex cinema competition at the nearby Lakeside Retail Park in West Thurrock loomed. The State reluctantly closed for cinema business on Thursday 30th November 1989 with Dennis Quaid in “Great Balls of Fire”. The building partially re-opened in 1993 when a nightclub took over the lower foyers. One off stage performances also took place by David Essex and Suzi Quatro. The nightclub operated for just seven years before the building closed completely. An unsuccessful application was made to turn the building into a church. In 2001 it fell into the hands of a supermarket chain who built a store on the car park then sold the cinema on for £550000 to TSP Properties Ltd in 2006. It remained unused but intact of many of its original fixtures.
With no heating, mildew started to take hold together with other problems associated with a building not maintained against the elements. Many became concerned about the worsening condition, such as English Heritage and the Cinema Theatre Association. Although Grade II* listed it was one of the most endangered buildings on the English Heritage ‘Buildings at Risk’ list. J.D. Weatherspoon group purchased the State in 2015. After protracted wrangling regarding the listing inventory, plans to convert the cinema into a restaurant/pub costing £5million were finally approved in July 2021. The pub will have seating for 475 customers, with a further 50 seats on a roof garden. The circle foyer will be converted into toilets. The roof will be renewed. The projection box will be renovated and preserved, leaving the original equipment in place. A roll-down screen will be installed with the restored Compton organ taking pride of place. This type of a simple, sleek modern cinema was once extremely common, but with so little unaltered it makes this fine example now unique and special.
“I remember during 1965 travelling down from Clacton with Michael Holmes, the manager of Balaam’s Music Store in Ipswich. We had arranged a visit to the State Cinema, Grayes. Although long ago I can well remember that we enjoyed a pleasant couple of hours visiting this fine building and in particular having the opportunity of playing the organ. The 3 Manual/ 6 Rank Compton organ was tonally very good although I am not sure if the Melotone was working at this time”.
It’s a distant memory now, but about twenty years ago, the State was intact and had been used as a location in films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The cinema was supported by a hard-working ‘Friends of the State Grays’ group. They opened for special shows, weekend organ recitals and open days, not to mention selling souvenir pens and key rings to raise funds!
The State was a time capsule with perfectly preserved signage and multiple circuit cove lighting, plus original projection equipment.
The Friends group person Introduced events from the stage to the large Sunday afternoon audience, but he was very particular about banning photography by visitors. I’m not sure why, as fortunately quite a few images of the beautiful interior can be accessed on the Internet.
I’ve an idea the Friends lost its way after deaths of key organisers. The building was boarded up and bought for demolition which didn’t happen. The organ which sounded so magnificent was vandalised as the building became more derelict.
Grays deserves better than this. P.L.