Residents of Ventnor familiar with passing Stafford House on the High Street when going about their daily business in 1911, must have been quite astonished to see a transformation taking place. The familiarity disappeared and was replaced by ‘The Electric Palace,’ a palace of wonder and silent films.
This was the first purpose built cinema in Ventnor and conveniently placed for everyone to use. It brought newly produced films such as Zigomar! or, as it became better known, Zigomar the Eelskin. Based on a novel by the French pioneer director Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset, the lead character was a master-criminal and likely had the audience on the edge of their seats! Hopefully, they went on to show the further three episodes that were produced in 1913.
Seats could be booked in Rose Cottage (adjoining) or in Ponder’s on the High Street. In 1919 it comes under new management and is now called The Bijou Cinema with a new projector installed that promises ‘perfect projection’. Servicemen are offered reduced price seats. Popular American comedies including Charlie Chaplin were shown and western films were a regular addition. By 1923 the Bijou is also being used to present stage plays and in 1924 is sold to ‘a well known gentleman’.
With the coming of sound and newer and larger cinemas taking over, the building that had housed a lot of happy entertainment for Ventnor people had to return to less exciting days. It is now the betting shop so it still provides excitement, but of a chancy sort.
Evelyn Knowles, Ventnor & District Local History Society. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in 2016.