Empire Theatre

Butler Road,
Halstead, CO9 1LL

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Empire Theatre

Opened in May 1915 as a purpose-built cinema with 450 seats, it added live entertainment to the bill early on. By 1927 it was operated by the Tozer & Linsell Circuit. It was rejuvenated in the 1930’s, scrapping live shows from the bill and concentrating purely on films.

At the start of the 1950’s, the Empire Cinema was bought by Ken and Harry Foulconbridge, and it received a make-over in 1951 that remains to this day. Again, the theatre closed in 1971 due to dwindling admissions.

On 27th November 1978, following the formation of the Halstead Empire Theatre Trust, the cinema re-opened once again with Robert Powell starring in “The Thirty Nine Steps”. It continued to regularly show movies (as well as live shows) through the 1980’s, 1990’s and the start of this decade.

Sadly, slumping admissions once again, plus the opening of a nearby multiplex, caused the cinema to cease screening films in July 2005. The Empire Theatre remains open as a live entertainment venue, but films were re-introduced on an occasional basis in April 2017.

Contributed by Neth Knowles

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on November 22, 2005 at 2:47 am

The Empire first opened in May 1915. It is listed in the Kinematograph Yearbook;1937 edition as having a seating capacity of 450 and down to 362 in the 1947 edition of Kine Yearbook.

In 2000 the seating capacity was 280.

Ian on December 16, 2009 at 4:30 am

The Empire continues to operate with live performances supplemented by a weekly session of bingo on a Monday evening. It has a plain but comfortable auditorium with a barrel vaulted ceiling. At the rear, the control room has been enhanced by the reconstruction (based on photographs) of the original 1915 proscenium arch. This is set above an authentic looking balcony, although seating at this theatre has always been on a single raked tier.

Photographs taken in December 2009 can be found here:-


Remains of 1957 proscenium (now backstage):

Buffer on January 25, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Interior taken July 1988

DavidSimpson on May 14, 2017 at 5:16 am

On Friday 7th April 2017, following tireless work by a team of volunteers, films returned to the Empire, when “The Girl on the Train”, starring Emily Blunt, was screened. As the film shows are interspersed with the live events, they are restricted to Wednesday Afternoon Matinees and Friday Night Film Night, plus children’s matinees on Saturdays or Sundays.

Contradicting the assertion above, that film shows were re-introduced in 2012, the history page on the Empire’s website confirms that films had not been shown since July 2005. By that time, audiences had dwindled following the opening, in November 2002, of the Cineworld at Braintree. Now, the advent of digital projection has led to an increase in the number, and popularity, of community cinemas, and it is to be hoped that the good citizens of Halstead will support these film shows at the Empire.

DavidSimpson on August 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I visited the Empire on Friday 28th July 2017 to see “The Godfather”, starring Marlon Brando and Robert de Niro. For the time being, at least, films are shown from DVD/Blu-ray. I was made very welcome by members of the Trust, and John, the projectionist, was pleased to show me around before the film started. A very enjoyable evening.

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