AN iconic Lake District cinema is celebrating its 95th birthday in style this month.

Bowness’s Royalty cinema has reached its 95th birthday and will be marking the milestone in a memorable way.

Two events are planned for Saturday May 21 as part of the celebrations: an afternoon concert on the Wurlitzer organ by renowned organist Howard Beaumont as well as an evening screening of the silent comedy Safety Last.

The Royalty was built by public subscription and opened as the Public Hall in 1927. 

The opening programme included a variety bill plus the film ‘The Wanderer’, a silent film drama from 1925 directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Wallace Beery and Tyrone Power. 

The broadcasting entertainer Billy Barnes provided piano accompaniment.

The public hall was built with a stage and flat maple floor downstairs. Dances were held in the early years and there were professional theatre productions as well as amateur performances. 

Windermere Grammar School presented Gilbert and Sullivan operettas there for many years.

The Royalty has had several proprietors over the years, among them Ronald Cowpe and John Bailey. 

The present proprietor Charles Morris has been at the helm for thirty years and was responsible for creating the two extra screens. 

He said: “I opened my first cinema at Elland, West Yorkshire, in 1988.

“But my wife made it a condition that if I was to run cinemas, she wanted a house in the country, preferably in the Lake District. 

“So when the lease came on offer, we jumped at it.  We’ve had thirty happy years up here and I’ve been proud to run the Royalty.”

A few years ago it became known that South Lakeland Council had put the Royalty before the planning board for consideration for redevelopment.  

“There was an outcry and the idea was soon dropped,” recalls Mr Morris.

The Royalty is almost unique in possessing its original auditorium structurally unaltered and still with stalls and circle seating.

It also has a Wurlitzer theatre organ, the only one in a functioning cinema in Europe.  This was rescued from storage and lovingly restored by a volunteer group, the Furness Theatre Organ Project, which arranges concerts and silent films with organ accompaniment.

On Saturday, the Royalty welcomed the 45 Aid Society to the Royalty: the society that was formed of the ‘Windermere Boys’, the Jewish children who came to Windermere from the concentration camps after the war. 

They saw a film that was made to celebrate the 75th year of their freedom. Some of the original Windermere children attended, together with their own children and grandchildren.

The cinema is particularly special for the children who used to visit the Royalty when they arrived in Windermere.

“An amusing tale is told of how one of them would buy a ticket and then let the others in through the side exit,” said Mr Morris.

“In fact the management knew all about it and just told the hosts how many children had come in that way and a cheque would follow for the amount due.”