Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Often thought to have religious connections, the grand tower and archway over the footpath between Rye Lane and the car park in Choumert Grove are in fact a remnant of the Tower Cinema, one of five cinemas in Rye Lane in the 1920s. The Tower Cinema opened in 1914 and the original tower in Rye Lane was taller and featured an metal cupola. The interior was very palatial and featured a marble staircase and a fountain in the middle of a large concourse. It housed both stalls and a circle with six private boxes to the sides at circle level, and was spacious enough to accommodate an orchestra that accompanied silent films before the introduction of talkies. Publicity for the cinema in the early 20th century was enthusiastic and exhorted tourists to visit the three towers in London: the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the Tower Cinema. During the second world war, an air raid shelter was built in the cellar and if an air raid began during a screening, a notice appeared on screen inviting patrons to use the shelter.
Despite the frontage of the cinema being modernised in 1955, the cinema closed not long after in December 1956. The last films to be shown was a double bill of "The Burming Hills" starring Tab Hunter and "Please Murder Me" starring Angela Lansbury. Reputed to have been haunted, workmen working on the cinema's demolition are said to have fled in terror when they saw figures apparently walking through walls. While the tower remains and is a reminder of Peckham's heyday, a car park was built on the site of the auditorium and, though intended to be only temporary, is still there nearly sixty years later.