Moonlight Drive-In

Maidstone Road,
Paddock Wood, TN12 6PY

140 cars

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Moonlight Drive-In

Moonlight Movies Ltd. was founded by Scarborough based entrepreneur Benjamin Stonehouse in 2014. In early-2015 a site was identified at Crossgates, just outside this North Yorkshire resort, and, in April, a request for planning permission for the establishment of a Moonlight Drive-In cinema was submitted. While that process moved forward, the drive-in opened, in July, utilising an inflatable screen and with space for up to 200 cars.

Unfortunately, in January 2016 the council rejected the application. Although 25 letters had been received in support, and tourism officials also supported it, 50 objections were received. Interestingly, the main objection was of noise, though, as the film soundtrack was played via in-car radios, this could only have been of patrons cars arriving and leaving the site. The council was prepared to allow shows for up to 28 days per year without planning permission, but this was clearly not sufficient. So the company continued providing ‘pop-up’ cinema services around the country, while looking for other permanent sites.

Almost immediately, one was found in Kent, at The Hop Farm family attraction just outside Paddock Wood. Housed within the largest collection of oast houses in the world, the theme park includes Hop Story Museum (about the growing and harvesting of hops), a period village, Yesterday’s World, and many other children’s activities.

The Moonlight Drive-In utilises Car Park A once the Farm has closed for the day. A large inflatable Airscreen is set up each evening, then deflated at the end of the night and left in situ (an industrial blower inflates the screen in a matter of minutes). The projector is housed in a small Portakabin, the concession stand is a (former) mobile kiosk and there’s a two cubicle toilet block – these are all permanently in position. Approximately 140 cars can be accommodated.

The drive-in opened in March 2016 with John Travolta in “Grease” (1978) as the early evening show and “London Has Fallen”, starring Gerard Butler, at 9.30pm.

Admission is per car. That had risen from the opening price of £20 to £25 by the time I visited, on Sunday 4th November 2018, to see “Halloween” (2018). Screenings are, of course, dependent on the hours of darkness: When I visited, children’s film “Smallfoot” played at 6.30pm, while “Halloween” came on at 9.30pm. The film soundtrack was originally played via car radio, but I was handed a stand-alone speaker and receiver which sat on my dashboard. Both picture and sound were fine.

A second Moonlight Drive-In opened in July 2016 at family theme park Diggerland at Castleford in West Yorkshire (see separate entry).

Sadly, it appears I visited just in time! Screenings were advertised up to Christmas 2018, but then abruptly cancelled. Screenings at their other premanent site at Castleford and other ad-hoc festive shows at various locations around the country, were also cancelled, and, in January 2019 the company’s website is no longe operative.

Contributed by David Simpson
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