Gas-lit Leeds cinema among sites to receive heritage lottery cash

Hyde Park Picture House wins £2.4m grant while William Morris’s country home in Oxfordshire is one of 11 other recipients

A tiny cinema that opened in Leeds within months of the outbreak of the first world war, now believed to be the only one in the world still lit by gas, has won a £2.4m heritage lottery grant to restore historic features and open up its archives.

The Hyde Park Picture House is among a dozen sites receiving major grants, including William Morris’s beautiful Oxfordshire country home, Kelmscott Manor, where the flowers and wildlife inspired many of his designs.

Now owned by the local authority, the Grade II-listed Hyde Park still has 11 working gas lamps, though the imposing lantern on the facade, which is separately listed, was converted to electricity. Its single-screen auditorium shows films every day, having seen off the competition of the giant jazz-age cinemas with their thousands of seats and luxurious facilities, the coming of television, and the more recent rise of out-of-town multiplexes.

Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire
Kelmscott Manor will receive £4.7m in lottery funding. Photograph: Heritage Lottery Fund/PA

Its records include decades of weather reports kept daily until 1958, original programmes and posters, back to the newspaper announcements of the cinema’s opening in November 1914, buried in columns of war news. The cinema made the best of having only 400 seats by boasting of being “the cosiest in Leeds”. It now has even fewer, having replaced the original hard narrow seats a few years ago with more comfortable ones for the bigger bottoms of the 21st century.

In its earliest years Hyde Park showed morale-boosting patriotic films including An Englishman’s Home, and newsreel of the war in which 6,000 local men had enlisted. The gas lights were turned down but kept on during the screenings, to combat reports of disgraceful carryings on in the back rows of darker cinemas.

Kelmscott, a Grade I-listed medieval house in an idyllic Cotswold village, now owned by the Society of Antiquaries, was Morris’s dream house, the rural retreat he described as the “loveliest haunt of ancient peace”. It is still full of pieces he, members of his family and circle of artistic friends owned or made, including curtains for his bed embroidered by his daughter May who lived there for many years after his death. Morris and his family are buried in Kelmscott village churchyard.

St Albans Cathedral has been given £3.9m
St Albans Cathedral has been given £3.9m to tell the story of England’s first martyr. Photograph: Graham Turner/The Guardian

The £4.7m grant is intended to restore and reopen historic rooms and buildings on the site, and increase visitor numbers. Conservation issues, space, limited parking and access through narrow country roads mean the house is currently open only two days a week in the summer.

Other grants include £4.7m to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, south-east London, to create new galleries telling the story of polar exploration; £14.8m for a new history centre in Plymouth bringing together collections presently scattered across the city; £3.9m to tell the story of England’s first martyr at St Albans Cathedral; and £3.6m to rescue a magnificent Victorian gothic church in London, St Mary Magdalene in Paddington, which is Grade I listed, and frequently used by film-makers for its soaring interior, and spectacular later crypt chapel designed by Sir Ninian Comper. The church needs major restoration work and is on the national register of historic buildings at risk.


Maev Kennedy

The GuardianTramp

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