Palace Cinema

When it opened in 1936, the Palace was the only one of Medway’s many cinemas not to be built in a town centre. The building, with its distinctive flat-topped tower, stood on the Chatham side of Watling Street adjacent to the Gillingham boundary.

The decision to site the Palace there was partly because the new Darland Estate was nearby and the fast growing suburbs of Rainham and Wigmore a short bus ride away. The Palace was more convenient for residents than Chatham and Gillingham town centres and more up market than the Royal Cinema in Rainham. It was also closer to the people of south Gillingham than that town’s own cinemas.

Another factor was that while the residents of Chatham and Rochester had agreed to Sunday opening of cinemas in referendums in 1929 and 1933 respectively, those of Gillingham had rejected the idea in 1934. A cinema on the Chatham side of the boundary could cater for disgruntled Gillingham filmgoers who wished to be entertained on the Sabbath.

Construction was begun by Kent Proprietary Holdings, but Gaumont British took a controlling interest before the Palace was completed.

Although smaller than its sister cinema the Majestic in Rochester, the Palace was still large, with more than 1800 red plush seats. It had no old-fashioned proscenium arch or orchestra pit. Instead its John Compton organ stood on a raised platform in the auditorium.

The first week’s programme was decidedly tired though, George Arliss starring in East Meets West, together with Charles Butterworth in The Old School Tie.

When the Palace opened on 3rd November 1936, the guest-of-honour was the Kentish actress Anna Lee, who went on to become a member of the director John Ford’s stock company.

The Palace never lived up to its creators’ hopes, and the suburban cinema, by now renamed the Gaumont, closed in 1961. It later reopened as a bowling alley and had a variety of other uses before its current guise as a camping equipment super store. Its flat-topped tower continues to be a major landmark in this part of the Medway Towns.