Westerham's Silver Screen

Bill Curtis

Could you ever imagine walking to the bottom of Hosey Hill to go to the Cinema? Several older townsfolk remember doing just that in the 1950s and early 60s. Originally opened as  the Swan Cinema in 1914 when there were only a handful of other cinemas in the country, entrepreneurship in Westerham at that time was progressive to say the least!
The cinema was closed for a few weeks in 1932 whilst the projection equipment was upgraded to cater for the ‘Talkies’ films then being released.
Older resident Mons Bell remembered the transition “…I used to go there twice a week and one chap working at our butchers’ shop was five years older than me, so I used to stand to one side and he would buy two tickets ‘cos I was under-age and they wouldn’t let you in on the ‘A’ films. We’d go right down the front where the long seats were and if the projector broke down we’d all start slow clapping and stamping our feet. Some of the films were still silent when I was a kid, and there was somebody behind a curtain down the front playing the piano and another one with a sheet of tin. If there was a thunderstorm in the film they would flap the tin and somebody would shout “a bit more thunder, a bit more thunder” – he laughs. If I went with my mother we’d get the one and fourpenny seats, the posh ones at the back…”

The original promotion advertisement that appeared in the Westerham Herald newspaper in May 1914.
Entertainment programme for the re-opening of the Swan Picture Hall in July 1932 when the first 'talkie' projection system had been installed.
Other local residents had fond memories of The Swan - Gwen Smith “...that was a lovely place, we paid sixpence a time to go in and you could sit either upstairs or downstairs, but you paid a bit more to go upstairs. The naughty boys used to go upstairs and throw things down on us. You used to buy your ticket at a little desk in the foyer and you would be shown in by an usher with a torch. They were tip-up seats and I would sometimes sit with my knees up if I heard a scratching noise, as I think there were rats or mice in the place..."
Gwen continues "...We’d watch ‘Roy Rogers’ and ‘The Man in Black’ and, of course, Pathe News - that was our entertainment at the cinema. An uncle of mine, Reginald Acland, was the projectionist there. I remember it closing in the early 1960s after a really bad fire and they never opened it again…” Seen here Reg Acland lacing film in the projector
Bob Combley “...we used to go to the Saturday matinee for kids when it was still the Swan and some years later I would have gone to the cinema there as a teenager when they’d put the new face on it and called it the ‘Tudor’ - it was one of the few entertainment places that there were in Westerham apart from the pubs and dances at the local hall. I left Westerham in 1955 but up until that time I would have used it, although it was always considered as ‘the flea-pit’ or ‘bug-hutch’. If you wanted to splash out for something a bit more up-market you’d go to the Gaumont or Carlton in Sevenoaks. 
A strange thing happened with the Tudor - it closed and they fitted it with new modern projection equipment, and then it burnt down. The story went round that it was arson, but to my mind it was a case of ‘did she fall or was she pushed?’ - I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth behind that one…” The Tudor Cinema was privately owned and managed by Mr and Mrs Feast from early 1956 when it had been given a make-over from its earlier incarnation as ‘The Swan Picture Hall’. The projectionist throughout the 1950s was Ken Osbourne. In its final years, the Tudor Cinema was run by Mr W. N. Biley and his son Clive. From the outset, the cinema seated some 200 people and typically had two changes of films every week. In 1959 Cinemascope projectors were installed but in 1963 the cinema closed its doors for the last time. Shortly after closure a fire, thought to be arson, gutted the entire building. The wrecked and empty structure was not demolished until 1970, when the site became a car park for a neighbouring industrial works, Vulcan Plastics.

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