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Loyalty to the Royalty

Royalty cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere

[S]outh Lakeland residents and many others from further afield are outraged at the possibility of losing the iconic Royalty cinema in Bowness-on-Windermere.

Owners of the building, South Lakeland District Council, have put forward the Royalty and others of their properties to the Lake District National Park Planning Authority to be considered for redevelopment. The Royalty has already passed through the first two stages of assessment and continues to Stage 3 with the recommendation “it is considered that the site could be redeveloped for a mix of uses improving the quality of the existing offer in what is a primary shopping area. Retail uses and tourism uses would be appropriate in this location…”

The Royalty opened as the Public Hall in 1927 and was built by public subscription for the people of Bowness and Windermere. It was designed by the Windermere firm of architects Walker Carter and Walker and was built by well-known local builders Pattinsons. As well as functioning as a cinema, theatre performances and dances were also held in earlier years.

Councillors have been quick to assure residents that the future of the cinema and the building is not under threat from the Council. However Charles Morris, lessee of the Royalty for the last 25 years and also proprietor of the Roxy cinema, Ulverston, and four cinemas in Yorkshire, said “If the Council were not intending to redevelop the Royalty, why have they put it up for consideration ? The proposal went through the first two assessment stages before anyone knew what was going on; it was almost by accident that we found out. It is still going through the process; it has not been withdrawn. If approval is given, the go-ahead could occur any time in the future.”

The assessment also states : “The existing cinema building is deteriorating and detracts from the quality of the Conservation Area in its present condition.” This is also hotly disputed by Mr Morris. “The cinema is watertight, sound and with no evidence of subsidence or rot and after all my investment over the last twenty five years is in considerably better condition than when I took it over. And how can they say these things ? Nobody has been to survey the building all the time I have been there.”

Cheerful Knave, Public Hall Bowness 1927

The Bowness Conservation Area was extended to include the Royalty as recently as 2011. “How can it suddenly be detracting from it ?” said Marina Davies, one of the cinema’s supporters. “When you look at the adjacent and nearby buildings, such as the Quarry Rigg shopping centre and the public toilets, the Royalty is a paragon of quality. It is a purpose-built cinema and still has its main auditorium intact, complete with its original decorative features and stalls and balcony seating, which is something of a rarity nowadays. The many favourable comments on the internet confirm that the building is an attraction in its own right.”

The proposal can be seen on the LDNPA’s website at www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/planning (site reference 162) and comments can be made via www.surveymonkey.co.uk or by email to [email protected]; or by letter to Local Plan Review, Lake District National Park Authority, Murley Moss, Oxenholme Road, Kendal, LA9 7RL. Comments have to be made by the 29th June and Rohan Morris, another supporter, is urging people to make their views known. “We have had literally thousands of people pledging their support via social media,” said Ms. Morris, “And we have formed an enthusiastic ad-hoc committee to help with the campaign. But it is a legal process and it is extremely important that comments and objections are officially registered.”

Charles Morris took the tenancy of the cinema in June 1992. “At that time the Council were desperate to retain a cinema in Bowness,” he said. “I was given a long lease with no break clauses, so I couldn’t quit even if I wanted to. I was also covenanted to keep it as a cinema and to maintain and enhance the original auditorium. It is so sad to see how the Council have changed their views since then.”

Over the years two additional auditoria have been added in disused parts of the building, refurbishment has been carried out, digital projection equipment fitted and a Wurlitzer cinema organ has been installed by a voluntary group, the Furness Theatre Organ Project. “Organs were a feature of the super cinemas of the 1930s and 1940s,” said Mr. Morris. “But now, this is the only Wurlitzer organ in a cinema in the whole of Europe. People travel from miles away for the concerts and silent film presentations. It really would be a tragedy to lose this building.”