The Broadway, High Street,
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Functions: Banquet Hall
In Winchester, Hampshire, St. John’s House was built by the Knights of St. John in 1309. The original building consisted of a chapel, kitchen, dining room and infirmary. In the 18th century the roof was raised to incorporate a banqueting and function hall; between 1788 and 1845 almost every prominent musician of the day, including Paganini and Liszt, performed there.
Rather more recently, brothers John and James Simpkins leased the hall from the Trustees of St. John’s Hospital with the intention of using it as a cine-variety theatre.
The Palace Cinema opened on Thursday 8th September 1910 “showing the latest pictures on the Bioscope”. Among the first films were “At the Mercy of the Tide”, “Soap in her Eyes” and “Betty’s Removal”. Programmes were twice nightly, at 6.45pm and 9pm. Seating was provided on hard benches.
Winchester’s first picture palace closed after only a few years, on Saturday 22nd August 1914, with the dramas “The Shadow of the Footlight” and “The Rival Daughters”, plus “Pathe Gazette” and, on the stage, The Dahlias and Cedrics in their comedy ‘Pot-Pourri Act’.
Business was brisk; closure came about because the Simpkin brothers were converting a hotel into the Theatre Royal, which opened in August 1914 (see separate Cinema Treasures entry).
The former banqueting hall has had many uses over the years since its days as a picture house, including a temporary magistrates' court, a waiting room and other facilities for bus services operated by King Alfred Motor Services and a short-lived tourist attraction The Crusades Experience, which closed in 1990.
In 1993, the hall was renovated by the Immanuel Church, and made available for hire for public meetings and concerts.
In 2011, Winchester YMCA moved in, but left in 2017. The main hall is now primarily available for hire as a wedding venue.
The building is Grade I listed.
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