Duke of York’s

“Bring her to the Duke’s – it’s fit for a Duchess” was the motto. And it’s easy to see why.

Situated on one of Brighton’s busiest junctions with a dancer’s legs protruding from its roof, the Duke of York’s is hardly inconspicuous. It was designed by the theatre architect C. E. Clayton in an Edwardian baroque-style and its proprietor was a former actress, Mrs Violet Melnotte-Wyatt. She also leased a Duke of York’s in London; hence the name. It cost £3,000 and opened in September 1910 making 2010 its 100th birthday. A letter to the Duke from the Queen perhaps?

The stucco façade features rusticated blocks, a clock, an ached colonnade with a balcony, and a variety of windows. Unfortunately, its twin domes and flagpoles were removed in the 1950s. There was once a box office window between the two sets of entrance doors but today tickets are purchased from a booth on the right that was once a sweetshop. A florist was once on the left where an access ramp is now situated.

Black and white geometric tiles adorn the floor of the foyer from which steps once led straight into the auditorium. The foyer was enlarged, however, by shrinking the auditorium. Seats were taken from the auditorium upstairs too to make a bar with access to the balcony outside. Steps lead up to the projection room which has two projectors – a 35mm Westar from the 1950s and a modern digital unit. A small window gives operators a view of the screen over the heads of the members of the transfixed audience.

The capacity of the Duke of York’s is now 278 but originally it was 800. Bearing in mind the size of the 3,000 seat Regent which once occupied the Boots site on North Street / Queen’s Road, modern cinemas are so much smaller than their early counterparts.

The site of the Duke of York’s and adjoining Fire Station was once home to a large brewery. Indeed, parts of the brewery’s wall were incorporated into the cinema’s structure. A new slate roof was installed last year. The legs, as many ask, came from an Oxford cinema called Not the Moulin Rouge.

East Sussex Fire & Rescue has expressed a desire to dispose of the Fire Station and move to new premises elsewhere with the Duke of York’s expressing keen interest. This is a move that I would support wholeheartedly.