The Rembrandt Cinema Ewell

3rd October 1938 - 23rd April 1998

We are grateful to the family of the late Derek Phillips for their permission to use much of the text and images from the website that was set up and run by him. Derek was very interested in local history and his community and a short biography can be viewed on the introductory page.

The Rembrandt in the snow - 1987
The Rembrandt in the snow - 1987
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

The Rembrandt Cinema was a medium sized suburban cinema situated in a unique suburban location, near Ewell in Surrey. These pages aim to give a flavour of the building and its staff during its sixty years of operation and an opportunity to revisit the cinema via a virtual tour using photographs, documents, memorabilia and maybe sometime some video clips, collected over the last 20 years.

You will notice a bias towards the 1980's which is unavoidable as this was the period that Derek worked at the cinema.

The History Of The Rembrandt Cinema

Part 1: Introduction

Although the Rembrandt cinema was opened in 1938, it has connections with an earlier local cinema dating back to 1910. It was in that year that a Mrs F. Thompson had a builders merchants premises at No. 1 High Street, Epsom converted into a cinema. Known as the Cinema Royal, it originally seated around 220 people, but was later enlarged to seat 560 people. As the popularity of cinema going increased, along with the increasing population of Epsom & Ewell at that time, other larger and more comfortable cinemas opened. These were the "Super Cinema's" that were typical of cinemas that were opening all over the country. The first was the Capital, in Church St. Epsom, opening its doors on December 30th 1929. Then in 1937 the Odeon opened in the High Street near the Clock-tower. With the competition of two large purpose built Super Cinema's in the town, the Cinema Royal became run-down as business was taken away.

Shortly after the Odeon was opened, a redevelopment scheme was started at the other end of the High Street. A new line of buildings was constructed behind the old, which were demolished. These buildings included the Cinema Royal. It is supposed that Mrs Thompson, the owner, used the money from the sale of the property for her new cinema venture, the Rembrandt Cinema.

At this time, i.e. the late 30's, many thousand of homes had been built in and around Epsom & Ewell, and new districts had build up, such as West Ewell and Stoneleigh. Previously only farmland, these areas now contained many acres of housing.

Bankside Cottages c1920s, The site of the Rembrandt
Bankside Cottages c1920s, The site of the Rembrandt
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

With such a vast catchment area, Mrs. Thompson lost no time in buying a plot of land, known as The Bankside, adjacent to the railway line on the Kingston Road.

The architect for the new cinema was E. Norman Bailey, who had previously designed cinemas in Slough, Maidenhead, Reading and the Regal Uxbridge, which still exists, as a listed building. (Regals Night-club)

Council Minute of the decision to grant planning permission for the Rembrandt Cinema
Council Minute of the decision to grant planning permission for the Rembrandt Cinema

Although Mrs Thompson's name appears on the planning documents, the cinema was owned and operated by a Mrs Gardener, who also owned the Kingston Kinema (in the 70's a STAR cinema, in the 80's a pine shop and now demolished and replaced by a new Odeon). The details of this change are unclear but it seems that Mrs Gardener was involved from the start because it was she who negotiated with the owners of the new houses for the purchase of part of their front gardens for the service road to the cinema for the sum of £200. Apparently the houses immediately next to the site did not want to enter into this arrangement so she bought both the houses instead and knocked them into one home, and moved in herself with her two sons.

After the plans had been given council approval, the builders started work in January 1938, having demolished the railway cottages on the site, the cinema began to take shape, and was ready to open by that autumn.

The Rembrandt cinema opened on the 3rd October 1938 with a ceremony conducted by the mayor of Epsom & Ewell. (Ald. C.J. Shaw JP) and with personal appearances by popular actors of the day, Will Hay, Graham Moffet and Moore Marriott.

Ewell Welcomes its First Kinema, The Rembrandt.
Taken from "Kine Weekly" 6-10-38

For several years the fast growing district of Ewell has felt the need of a Kinema. This has now been satisfied by Mrs. Gardner and her son, who on Monday launched the Rembrandt, Ewell's first Kinema. Providing seating for 1,500, it is a credit to the proprietors, the architect, builder and all concerned. Despite the storm, the people of Ewell thronged to support the new undertaking and gave an enthusiastic welcome to Mr. Gardner when he appeared on the stage to make his first public announcement to them a welcome to the house on behalf of his mother and himself and to introduce the Mayor of Epsom and Ewell (Ald. J.C. Shaw J.P.).

The Mayor, speaking of his personal pleasure and the public's pride in their new home of amusement, gave his congratulations to the proprietors for their enterprise and all concerned in the design and equipping of such a well-conceived building. He referred to the growth of the film Industry and how pictures were carried to the heart of the world. This brought an allusion to the aptness of the name "Rembrandt" and to the artists life and works. He then declared the theatre open and called for a wholehearted support and patronage. Lesley Brook made a short speech though the "mike", followed by a stage appearance of Graham Moffatt and Moore Marriot. The programme was then carried through British Movietone News, a G.B. Instructional. "Catch of the season." "Squadron of Honour" and "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (Paramount). After the programme 300 guests remained to enjoy the hospitality of Mrs. Gardner and her son. An architectural description of the building, designed by E. Norman Bailey, will appear in the November issue of THE IDEAL KINEMA.

Claudette Caulbert Tom Walls
Claudette Caulbert and Tom Walls were at the opening ceremony.
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

Also in attendance was actor and local resident, Tom Walls. In his opening speech the Mayor spoke of his personal pleasure and the public's pride, in their new home of amusement.

The first films shown were, "British Movietone News", a Gaumont-British instructional entitled "Catch of the season", a 2nd feature called "Squadron of honour", and the main feature "Bluebeards Eighth wife" starring Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper, and also David Niven.

After the programme, 300 guests stayed to enjoy the hospitality of the proprietoress, Mrs Gardener and her son, James. The first manager of the Rembrandt was Mr. Leslie Walters, who later left to join the R.A.F. at the outbreak of the war.

Architect: E. NORMAN BAILEY, L.R.I.B.A.
Taken from "Cinema and Theatre Construction"

1938 Frontage
Image Credit: Premier Bioscope Collection

DESIGNED by Mr. E. Norman Bailey, L.R.I.B.A., the new Rembrandt Cinema in Kingston Road, Ewell, occupies a most commanding site on the elevated approach to a railway bridge, and though situated on an exceptionally busy thoroughfare, cannot possibly cause traffic congestion, as it is approached by a private service road, which leaves the main highway some 50 yards west of the cinema entrance and follows the steep gradient towards the car park. The exterior design is simple and restrained, and in its very simplicity and restraint it has achieved a pleasing dignity which is equaled by few cinemas in suburbs or home counties. The artificial stone rendering is in a pale cream, the colour relief being found in the old-fashioned lettering of bright green, in which the unusual name has been most suitably carried out, and in the entrance doors of the same colour. The huge plate-glass window to the first-floor café dominates the façade and tends to link up the various units of elevation, not the least noticeable of which is the attrac-tive cream canopy, manufactured and erected by Swanser & Son, Ltd.

The same simple colour scheme of cream and green is maintained in the entrance foyer, where the mauve carpet has a design which is in keeping not only with the name of the cinema, but with the period furniture and fireplace. The auditorium is a delightful study in rose-pink. This colour has been used almost entirely for the mural treatment both above and below the balcony, and while it is relieved by only the slightest touches of green and gold towards the ante-proscenium, its expanse never becomes monotonous. The ante proscenium treatment consists of recessed panels, in which sculptured effects achieve a most lifelike appearance with the assistance of a comprehensive and ingenious installation of indirect lighting. The stage draperies, in rich green, form an interesting contrast to the pink mural treatment and to the upholstery of the 1,500 seats which appears to vary from a rich mauve to a dark shade of russet according to the light in which it is viewed.

The Rembrandt has been erected for, and is to be controlled by, Mr. J. Gardner. The general contractors for the scheme were W. H. Gaze & Sons, Ltd., and the following firms were amongst the sub-contractors:
London Brick Co., Ltd., and Binfield Brick & Tile Co., bricks; Clark & Fenn, Ltd., decoration; James Walker (Architectural Decorations), Ltd., Plasterwork; Barlow & Young, Ltd., heating, ventilation, and electrical installations; Helical Bar & Engineering Co., Ltd., reinforced concrete floors; F. H. Pride, Ltd., lighting fittings; Walturdaw Cinema Supply Co., Ltd., draperies; Pixtons, 1td., seating; Merryweather & Sons, Ltd., Fire-fighting apparatus; Hadfields. (Merton), Ltd., paint; Newalls Insulation Co., Ltd., acoustic material; RCA Photophone, Ltd., High Fidelity sound - reproducing equipment; Decorstone, Ltd., artificial stone.

Part 2: The Early Years

The Café in 1938
The Café in 1938
Image Credit: Premier Bioscope Collection

An important feature of the building was the cafe, which was situated above the entrance foyer. It was common for suburban cinemas to have cafes which served teas and light refreshments.

During its first few years the Rembrandt played host to live shows, as well as films. These included performances by singers, pianists and on at least three occasions, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Basil Cameron, Richard Tauber and Sir Adrian Boult.

The cinema was run by the Gardners for four and a half years. In the early 1940's it was bought by Associated British Cinemas (A.B.C.) who were expanding their circuit of cinemas, but were unable to build new ones due to wartime building restrictions. After the end of the war, the then familiar neon ABC triangle was erected on the front of the building.

The Rembrandt in 1953
The Rembrandt in 1953
Image Credit: ABC Cinemas Ltd Archive

The cafe closed in 1953, and the area was used by a dance school for the next seven years.

The CinemaScope wide screen process came to the Rembrandt cinema in September 1954, the first film in this format was "The Command".

In 1968, A.B.C., possibly concerned for the future profitability of the Rembrandt, made a tentative application for its change of use for Bingo, and other such activities. Although the application was successful, such a move was never made. It is probable that the closure of the Epsom Odeon in June 1971 (Epsom's other cinema, the Capitol/Granada, closed in 1960) affected the decision not to resort to bingo, but to convert the auditorium into two cinemas, to offer a greater choice of programmes to the public.

Part 3: The Twinned Years

ABC EMI Sign 1985
ABC EMI Sign 1985
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

E.M.I. Cinemas & Leisure, who now owned A.B.C., had embarked on a modernisation programme, of twining or tripling their cinemas. The Rembrandt was one of the first such conversions.

The last film to be shown in the cinema as a single auditorium was "Le Mans", in September 1971. 10 weeks later, on 29th November, it reopened as the ABC 1+2, with "Love Story" in 606 seat ABC 1 and "The Go Between" in 152 seat ABC 2.

Originally, ABC 2 projected 16mm prints, but this was not found to be a success, and within 9 months equipment was installed to project the more normal 35mm gauge film.

In some respects, the twining of the Rembrandt was carried out with economy in mind, however, the method of conversion enabled those who visit the No. 1 cinema to experience some of the "Super cinema" atmosphere of the 1930's.

In the late 70's the policy of advance booking, the availability of good product and lack of opposition in "a good class residential area" was thought to contribute to the success of the cinema which made an admirable profit of £27.000 in 1977-78. This figure averaged about twice as much as Dover, Woolwich, Horsham and Wimbledon which were in the same region.

The regional manager, who was based in the offices where the cafe was originally located, wanted to build a small video cinema in the old front stalls area. Although a survey was carried out this was never built. If it had it would no doubt have improved ABC 1 facilities in regard to sound, heating and ambiance.

An advert from 1975 when the space was shared with the Majestic Reigate.
An advert from 1975 when the space was shared with the Majestic Reigate.
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

Ownership of the Rembrandt/ABC cinema passed to Cannon Cinemas Ltd. in 1996. It was subsequently owned by MGM Cinemas, and then a short-lived revisited ABC Cinemas until its closure in 1998

Part 4: The final Farewell. 23rd April 1998

Goodbye Rembrandt.
Goodbye Rembrandt
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

At the party after the final showing Derek couldn't resist the temptation to grab the ladder and a handful of canopy letters to display the final message.

Tickets to the last show
Tickets to the last show
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

The Last Advert
The Last Advert
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

The weekend after closure. Within a few days the building was enclosed by fencing. Inside the seats were ripped out and the projection equipment removed.

Derek's last photo of the Rembrandt
Derek didn't have the heart to take any more pictures after this one so this is the last picture he took of the Rembrandt.
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

A few years later...

Rembrandt Court
Rembrandt Court with the new development beyond it on the site of the houses that were next to the cinema
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

Click the ticket to take a virtual tour of the Rembrandt
Click the ticket to take a virtual tour of the Rembrandt.

Boring legal stuff relating to this page

As explained earlier the text and images for this page came from the website run by the late Derek Phillips. To preserve his work and allow ready access to it, it was decided to merge his local history pages into the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website. Of necessity some minor changes to the text were necessary and the layout has been changed to fit in with the house style of Epsom and Ewell History Explorer but in essence the web page is Derek's.

The family of the Late Derek Phillips makes every effort to ensure that the information on this web page is accurate. However, they cannot accept responsibility for any loss or inconvenience caused by reliance on inaccurate material contained in this site. Links to other sites are provided for your convenience, the Phillips family cannot give endorsement of them. They cannot be responsible for any information contained on other websites.

All material on this site (including text and images) is copyright. Every effort is being made to ensure that all sources are credited. Where no credit is given then it should be assumed that the copyright in any particular item resides with the Phillips family or that the Phillips family should be contacted to ascertain who owns the copyright before text or photographs are reproduced elsewhere. Educational use is permitted provided that no changes are made to the material and Derek Phillips is acknowledged as the source.

Commercial usage is prohibited unless formal written permission is obtained beforehand.

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