The Cinemas of Shipman & King

Jan 10, 2018 | 3 comments

In the course of research into the life of my maternal grandfather, who died during my second year of life, it become apparent that he spent some years in his early career as a “chief film projectionist” on the Shipman & King cinema circuit.

Shipman & King (S&K) owned and/or built cinemas across the South-East of England after being founded by Alf Shipman & Sam King in c.1921 (opening one of their first cinemas in Hailsham, East Sussex). At its peak the circuit contained some 65 cinemas ranging from the Exchange Theatre, Leighton Buzzard in the North; to Cannon, Havant, in the South-West; and Bijou Theatre, Rye, in the East. S&K operated the circuit up until the early 1970s when they were taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC).

My grandfather was employed on the circuit from 1945 to 1951, and certainly worked at Embassy Cinema, Dorking; Pavilion Cinema, Dorking; Embassy Cinema, Tenterden; Embassy Cinema, Waltham Cross and Embassy Cinema, Crawley.

Embassy Cinema, Dorking was originally built/owned by Gaumont Theatre, first opening in February 1938, then a short time later being acquired by S&K in September 1938; at that time being renamed “Embassy”. The Embassy closed in April 1973, and was eventually demolished in August 1983. The site now operates as the local council offices’ car park.

Located in South Street, Dorking, the Pavilion Cinema, (known locally as “The Flea Pit”), opened in 1925 and was managed by S&K until it’s closer in 1973. Flats now occupy the site.

The Embassy Cinema, Tenterden, was built and opened in 1937 by S&K, who continued to operate it until its closure in 1969. The original building still stands bearing the “Embassy” sign, but now houses a retail store.

Embassy Cinema, Waltham Cross, opened in 1937 and closed in 1972. It continued to operate as a cinema until 1993, being transformed into a bingo hall, which itself closed in early 2017.

S&K operated two cinemas in Crawley, the Imperial Cinema (the shorter lived of the two, not being an original S&K build), and the Embassy Cinema, opening 1938 and closing for refurbishment in 1979. After passing through several ownership changes, the site closed as a cinema in 1999, eventually being demolished in 2013. Retail stores now occupy the site.

For a fuller history of the Shipman & King circuit, see the following links:

A series of 5 short films on the Shipman & King Circuit:

List of Shipman & King Cinemas, with brief histories of each site