AS SOUTHAMPTON Film Week approaches its dramatic finale with the screening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at The Mayflower Theatre, we take a look back at one of the oldest theatres in the city.

It served the community for almost four decades, originally trading as an all-round theatre, later becoming a cinema.

In December 1886 the Empire Palace Theatre opened its doors in French Street and Bugle Street, providing a host of entertainment to adoring crowds.

They hung posters to advertise the picture house – some of which provide an interesting insight into what they were showing and the prices they were charging.

For their grand opening they staged the musical White Eagle starring Winnie Melville and Derek Oldham – the first performance of the production in England. The show was staged nightly for two weeks and included matinees on both Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Prices ranged greatly depending on seats, the cheapest being one shilling and three pence, the most expensive being one pound and six shillings.

Interestingly, because it was in the days before area codes were introduced and telephones were in abundance, their two contact numbers were listed as simply being “2001 and 2002”.

The owners of the theatre, Moss Empires Ltd, claimed the the venue had “Bigger, brighter, better entertainment”.

Then Walturdaw Co Ltd took over ownership in November 1908 when they rebranded the establishment as Empire Theatre and made it exclusively a cinema.

The venue boasted 1,200 seats and hosted a variety of films, including a range of Walturdaw’s Animated Pictures, with admission fees ranging from two to six pence.

The new owners claimed it had “The best pictures and the best music” with “champion programmes”.

The projectionist sat in a booth with a corrugated iron roof and was required to wind the projector at 75 revs a minute in order to keep the film running.

Empire Theatre came up with a novel idea to advertise – by sailing a house boat in Southampton Water with their name and show times painted upon the side.

As purpose-built cinemas with better technology sprung up across the city in the early 20th century, it became increasingly difficult for Empire Theatre to compete. In 1925 they had no other option than to close their doors for the last time, and the building was consequently demolished shortly afterwards.