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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

The Thatched

The Thatched

This is a brief history of 'The Thatched', rather cobbled together from my own family connections, but also from other sources - acknowledged later.

Norwich Directories first mention the premises in 1908 or just before. It is described as the Thatched Assembly Rooms with Owen J. Bond as the proprietor and W.H. Bulwer the caretaker. The last entry was in 1929.

The building on All Saints' Green began life as the Thatched Assembly Rooms, comprising a restaurant and elegant ballroom. During the early part of the First World War, it had served as a billet for troops. The thatched front portion of the building housed the restaurant and provided a facade to the ballroom, with a conventional roof but with a sliding section. When the weather was fine, the sliding roof ensured a well-ventilated auditorium in the days before air conditioning systems had evolved.

In 1915, a fourteen year lease was taken of the premises by Mr. Lew Norris, who advertised the Thatched on the 11th November as a picture house: "The proprietors have installed a cinematograph apparatus of the latest pattern and intend for a season to present high class picture entertainments - the chief feature will be a film version of famous novels, plays and classical subjects. For this' week the leading film is a lengthy production of Charles Dickens- "The Old Curiosity Shop" and nothing finer can be imagined than the presentation in picture form of the well known story".

As though the Great War 1914-18 had not caused enough deaths, the influenza epidemic which swept across Europe and the British Isles caused almost as many deaths as the war. The Thatched Theatre management reminded its patrons of their sliding roof which when opened ensured a constant supply of fresh air during the epidemic.

Local films often appeared in the programmes. My mother told me that local cameramen often filmed girls leaving work from the city factories, and this virtually guaranteed an audience the following week of those hopeful of seeing themselves on 'the screen'. Local events often were filmed, such as the opening of the Edith Cavell Memorial Home and the unveiling of the bust of the nurse by Queen Alexandra on 12th October 1918. Even more poignant was the bringing back of Edith Cavell's mortal remains for re-interment at the Cathedral.

By the late 1920's the art of the silent film had reached its peak alongside theatre design and the expertise of the accompanying musicians. In my memoirs of All Saints' Green, I described how my mother played at The Thatched:- sight-reading through a pile of music and taking in the instructions when it was to be played at a run-through of the film on a Monday morning ready for the evening performance. When she was 80, my mother could still sight-read any music placed in front of her.

My father, a 'cellist, also played in the orchestra. I think it unlikely that the orchestra often accompanied silent films, but probably played before or during the interval between films. In 1922, my father was presented with a barometer inscribed from the Manager, staff and orchestra of the Thatched Theatre. I do not know what the occasion was, but it clearly shows that several people were employed at The Thatched.

Some memorable films of the time, some of which would certainly have been shown at the Thatched included, "Ben Hur", Buster Keaton in "The General", and the biblical epic "King of Kings". In time, however, the silent film had had its day, and the sound film became the accepted system. The Thatched, like some others, never converted to 'talkies'. It chose to remain 'silent.' and eventually closed.

The last time The Thatched appeared in a directory was in 1929. The manager had been Mr. George Starkey, who lived at 5, All Saints' Green with his wife and four children. However, the manager for 1929 was shown as Nelson Arth. Stubbs. It is possible that Mr. Starkey died about this time, as I recall that when we returned to Norwich late 1930 or 31, it was his widow and family living there.

 What The Thatched was used for from 1929 until it was destroyed by enemy action in the last war I do not know, but suggest it might have been used as a store for goods to be sold in Bonds shop? Much of the damage to property in Norwich was caused by incendiary bombs, so it is possible that the arcade of thatch which had been such a feature from the very beginning could have contributed to its demise in 1942.


Information has been obtained from Kelly's Directories,

"The Picture House in East Anglia" by Stephen Peart, the well-known local historian - Mr. Ron Fiske. (for whom many thanks)

Frank Pond

August 2012