A trip to the cinema is always a good idea when it is cold and rainy outside, and with the Odeon Cinema in Head Street and Curzon in Queen Street, Colchester has two perfect locations. 

As two cinemas in close proximity seems a lot, historically, the city used to have even more movie theatres to entertain its residents. Take a look back at the history of Colchester’s cinemas. 

The first theatre was the Electric theatre in 1910, which opened in the former Liberal Club’s lecture hall in Headgate and had a custom-built tearoom for guests to enjoy snacks and drinks. 

A year later, the second and first purpose-built cinema opened, The Vaudeville Electric, located on the St Botolph’s Junction. 


In 1920, the Grand Palace of Varieties installed equipment to be converted into Colchester’s third cinema, and was called the Hippodrome, in High Street. 

The Electric Theatre underwent a rebranding in 1924 under new management and became The Headgate Theatre. 

In 1929 the Vaudeville also changed its name and owner and became The Empire, while the fourth cinema, The Playhouse in St John’s Street opened its doors. 

The same year saw the Corn Exchange in High Street become a cinema. 


In 1931 the city peaked at six cinemas with The Regal opening in Crouch Street. 

With that many theatres close to one another, it was no surprise that the competition would lead to closures. 

In 1946, the Corn Exchange reverted back into a theatre and concert venue, but eventually closed in 1972, before homing the Co-operative Bank. 


The Empire followed shortly, closing in 1959 and becoming a furniture warehouse, before its demolition in 1971, making way for the St Botolph’s roundabout. 

In 1973, the Hippodrome was transformed into a bingo place and was known as The Top Rank bingo hall until 1985, after which it became a nightclub. 

The Playhouse became ABC after a major revamp and in 1981 also a bingo hall, which closed in 1993. 

Gazette: Playhouse - First a theatre and later a cinema, the Playhouse was taken over by the chain ABCPlayhouse - First a theatre and later a cinema, the Playhouse was taken over by the chain ABC (Image: Andy Oliver/Colchester101)

Staying unused for years, the venue was then bought by J. D. Wetherspoons and transformed into a unique pub. 

The Electric was owned by the British Film Institute by 1967 and became The Cameo, a premier arts cinema. 

Five years later, it was sold to the Star Group and eventually closed down in 1976. 

As the only remainder of the beginning of cinema, the Regal survived, which became part of the Odeon change in 1938, and officially became Odeon in 1961. 

Gazette: Closed - The former Odeon cinema, which closed its doors in 2002Closed - The former Odeon cinema, which closed its doors in 2002 (Image: Andy Oliver/Colchester101)

It was believed that it was the most visited building in the city and saw a revamp to a three-screen multiplex in 1974, with another screen added in 1987. 

Two further screens were added in 1991, before the venue was closed and reopened as a new eight-screen cinema in Head Street.