What have we done?

On Thursday 6th Jan at about 4pm, we exchanged contracts and now own the old picture house in Thorne. What have we done?

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A plan comes together

At some point late last year, we noticed that the seemingly abandoned, boarded up night club was for sale. It’s a dump, a massive building falling apart, paint peeling, even trees growing out of the walls! An eye sore if there ever was one.

It was up for sale for £195k, but when we enquired, we were told the owners would accept far less.

We’d been looking for a house with a bigger garden, and a bit more room, but all we could find were overpriced houses that we’d want to gut and redecorate. We really fancied building our own home, but loved living in Thorne, but where could we get any land?

The plot of the old nightclub is more than big enough for a nice town house with a big garden, and if we could pull it down, then we’d be willing to pay maybe £150-170k in total for the land + demolition costs.

We were told that the plot was in a Conservation area, and that this meant that anything built on it would have to be in keeping with the surrounding buildings. That was fine by us, but we thought we’d best check with the council.

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The planning dept pt1

Kate phoned the planning dept up to see what being in a conservation area actually meant. They told her that there would be no way that they would let us knock it down.

I couldn’t understand this because it’s not a listed building or anything, so I decided to go and see them with my big list of questions.


  • It’s not listed, so you can’t tell me what I can do, can you?
  • If we bought it, could we wait until it fell down, then build on the land?
  • If I just knocked it down anyway, what could you do to me?
  • What’s so special about it? It’s a scummy nightclub…
  • What if I got loads of people that would support me pulling it down?

etc etc etc

Jeez. Just reading this back, they must have thought I was a right idiot! I did qualify my questions though by saying, “I know some of these questions might be awkward, but I need to ask them just so I know exactly where I stand”

They told me in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t get planning permission to knock it down, that it used to be a cinema built in the 1920s and therefore historically significant, that if I bought it I was legally obliged to maintain it so it didn’t fall down, and that if I just knocked it down, they would take me to court and could be ordered to actually rebuild it.

Oh well, it was a good idea, but I returned to Kate empty handed.

That night we were talking about it, and I just couldn’t understand what was even vaguely nice about it. So I googled it, and that’s when we found the picture of the Old Kensington Picture House.

We thought it looked really nice (I know other people will disagree, but hey…) and we came up with a different approach.

If we restored the front, can we pull down the ‘barn’ bit (the auditorium) at the back? Looking at the building, it’s like there’s two bits stuck together.

When we met with the planning dept for the second time, their reaction was completely different, and very, very positive.

We decided to go for it.

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Bidding pt1

We asked our friend and builder, Rich, to give us an idea of how much it would cost to bring down the back of the cinema.

Without him going into the building, he reckoned £20k off the top of his head.

There was no planning permission on the building, but after my meeting with them, I reckon I would get it. Nothing for certain obviously, but risks bring reward.

I thought I’d chuck in a daft offer. £65k. At this point, our offers are subject to survey/contract whatever, so we could always back out.

To cut a long story short, they said they’d accept £120k. So I kept edging up my bid, but they weren’t budging.

They then told me they were going to put it into auction. My final offer was for £100k to not take it to auction, but if they did, all my offers were withdrawn.

They took it to auction.

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I’ve never been to any auction, never mind one to buy a house, never mind one to buy a disused cinema.

The different is, when the hammer falls, that forms a contract to complete. If we bid, we couldn’t then back out. We needed to do more homework.

So we paid for a professional valuation. It came back at £80k. That was what it was judged to be worth, and we’d bid over £20k more! Luckily, we’d withdrawn that offer…

And we paid for a structural surveyor. I met him with Rich at the cinema. This would be the first time we’d ever been inside it.

Phew! It is MASSIVE!! Completely gutted with 15 years of pigeon pooh on the floor. We realised it would cost a LOT more to demolish the back bit. The surveyor rang a demolition guy he knew that did the Odeon cinema, and he gave me his ball park figure. £60k – Jeez!!!

Inside the auditorium from Gwyn ap Harri on Vimeo.

A quick spin round of the kensington cinema auditorium in the dark…

From this info we realised that if we bought it even for £80k, it would cost us more than £140k before we even started to build anything. We decided that we’d still go for it, but our max bid would be £85k

I get to London with work quite a bit, so I planned a couple of meetings to coincide with the auction (oh yeah, it was in Covent Garden, London)

I was absolutely papping it at the auction, but I was determined to stick to the plan. Lot number 35. Guide price of £80k+, now that was more like it. I’d heard about the auctioneer ‘taking bids off the wall’ ie pretending that people were bidding when they weren’t, so when our Lot came up, I stood up and went to the front of the room, so I could see if anyone was actually bidding.

“Would anyone give me £80k? Thank you, 80, 82, 84, 86, 88, 90. Any more for 92?”

What!? I couldn’t see anyone bidding at all, and my ceiling had been truly busted.

“Going once, going twice… sorry, but the sellers want a lot more than that.”

Not sold, but the highest bid was for £90k. I picked my bag up and started out to get my train home.

Hang on, I didn’t see ANYONE bidding.

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Bidding pt2

Just before I left the auction house, I just thought I may as well register my interest with them. I told them what I would be willing to bid, and surprisingly they were talking to me. Why, when what I was prepared to bid was lower than the highest bid in the auction? It could only be that the auctioneer just pretended that people were bidding.

They rejected my offer of £85k, and even my generously improved offer of £86k and I went home.

Before xmas, the agent rang me, and told me he had received a higher bid than mine. I didn’t believe him, and even if they had, I figured it would be for more than £90k which I wasn’t willing to go over. So I left it, and we had a nice christmas.

Then the agent rang me again in the new year, and he must have forgotten that he’d lied to me about getting a better offer. He asked me if I would give him any more to play with and try and close the deal. I told him that after speaking to my wife, I’d only go 10% over the valuation to £88k.

He told me they wouldn’t even look at a bid less than £90k, but he then said he would waiver their fee that I knew I would have to pay, which was just short of another grand. Would I give him a bid of £90k if he waivered his fee?

I ummed and ahhed, told him of all the risks, but said, go on then, but not a penny more.

I couldn’t believe it when he rang me back a day later saying they’d accepted.

Oh my…

The next day, contracts were swapped and the cinema was ours.

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History of the building

All of this is gathered from the internet, so could be completely wrong!

If anyone knows anything of the history, or has pictures, please could you comment here, or send them to me, or I’d love to meet anyone who remembers it as a cinema, and we could have a chat about it!

Either comment on the blog or email us on oldpicturehouse@gmail.com

Cinema Treasures by Ken Roe – http://cinematreasures.org/theater/27444/

Located in Thorne, a small town to the north-east of Doncaster. The Kensington Palace Cinema was opened in 1927. It had a 20 feet wide proscenium and the cinema had a cafe.

Taken over by Star Cinemas of Leeds in 1967 and re-named Ritz Cinema, it was closed shortly afterwards in September 1967 and became a Star Bingo Club. Its last use was as a nightclub named ‘Merlin’s’, which had closed by 1998. Since then the building has been unused and empty, and is becoming increasingly derelict.

Bygone days in Thorne by John Lyne http://www.thornegazette.co.uk/news/local-news/bygone_days_in_thorne_1_620983

The old Picture House, showing Hitchcock films and the Jungle Book, Old Alfred’s movies were so frightening, sometimes you dare not look.

Wilfred Middleton – http://www.thorne-moorends.gov.uk/memorial/extra_details1.html

Wilfred worked for his Father in the building trade, paring this with his work as a pianist at the Kensington Cinema in Thorne and the Temperance Institute where he played for dances.

Better Days… – http://www.flickr.com/photos/loose_grip_99/3184454174/

The Kensington Cinema on Fieldside has seen better days. It featured highly in my 1950s childhood and many a Flash Gordon or Cisco Kid film was enjoyed at the “Satdi Matni”. It seemed a huge place to a small child.

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Loose plans

Very, very loose plans!

We want to restore the frontage of the cinema, drop the back auditorium, and make it into a lovely family home with a big back garden.

That’s it. Simple… (!?!?)

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Thorne in danger

I found this article about Thorne on the BBC.


I know our picture house isn’t that old, but it would certainly improve a bit of the town wouldn’t it?

If anyone knows of any funding / grants we could apply for, please let us know!

Comment on the blog or email us on oldpicturehouse@gmail.com

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Anne Wade remembers the old Kensington cinema

I used to go to the old Kensington cinema in the 50s and early 60s. Dad worked shifts down the pit, so mum and I used to go to see the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedies, and all the Norman Wisdom films. ‘A Stitch in Time’ was my favourite. I also saw Cliff Richard in ‘The Young Ones’ and ‘Summer Holiday’, and Elvis in ‘Blue Hawaii’. I attended the Saturday matinees only a couple of times, as I couldn’t stand the noise of the audience!! In one of your links, it mentions a cafe, but there wasn’t one in the time that I went there. There wasn’t even a shop, we had to buy sweets before entering the cinema, from a shop on Fieldside. I have queried the existence of a cafe with my cousin who is 7 years older than me, at 68, and she agrees with me. She is going to ask her cousin, who was an usherette for a time at the cinema, if she has any information for you

Thanks for this Anne!

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