Dreamland Heritage Trust: The 86th birthday of the Dreamland Super Cinema

The listed Dreamland Cinema Image courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

The role of The Dreamland Heritage Trust is to conserve and promote Dreamland’s rich heritage, the Historic Rides Collection and the Archive, through a comprehensive programme of schools activities, learning, engagement, volunteering, training and interpretation opportunities.

Here the Trust marks the 86th anniversary of the Dreamland Cinema:

Today marks the 86th anniversary since the opening of the Dreamland “Super” Cinema on the 22nd March 1935.

Built on the site of the 900 seat Dreamland Variety Theatre of 1923, (later re-named Dreamland Cinema), John Henry Ilse invested over £500,000 into the Dreamland site, between 1920 and 1935, constantly adding new rides and facilities, and culminating in the construction of the Dreamland cinema complex in 1934.

The project was overseen by Iles’s son, John Bird Iles, in partnership with the established architects, Leathart & Granger and was strongly influenced by German cinema design, with no expense spared on the project.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

The spectacular art deco expressionist-influenced brick idiom frontage of the cinema was the first of its kind in Britain. The huge art deco cinema fin tower gave the building prominence from a great distance along the shoreline and was to prove influential on the subsequent design of the Odeon chain of cinemas.

The Dreamland Cinema and Ballroom building was completed in the early part of 1935 and opened its doors to the public at a grand event on Friday 22nd March 1935, attended by invited guests and dignitaries.

The first film shown at the new Dreamland cinema was “Them Thar Hills” starring Laurel & Hardy, which was followed by “The Painted Veil” starring Greta Garbo.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

Inside the auditorium, seating was provided for 1,328 in the stalls and 722 in the balcony. The interior featured art deco style design, with sculptures of sea nymphs set into the recesses each side of the auditorium designed by artist Eric Aumonier. The final bill for the development of this magnificent 2,200 seated art deco style cinema and ballroom came to £250,000, the equivalent of about £12.5 Million today.

The cinema had a fully equipped stage with a 40ft wide proscenium, equipped with a Western Electric (WE) sound system. Along with the now infamous Compton organ with illuminated console and a grand piano attached, opened by the organist Lewis Gerard.

The Dreamland cinema closed from 1940 due to the war and did not re-open until 1st July 1946. The building survived in its original form until 1973 when the balcony area was converted into a twin cinema with seating for 378 and 376 respectively, with the former stalls area becoming a live theatre using the full facilities of the stage. The new facilities re-opened on 22nd April 1973 but proved unsuccessful and closed on 11th January 1975 and was converted into a bingo hall.

A third screen seating 60 persons and using video projection was created in what had previously been the balcony bar area. This opened on 10th May 1981 and continued until closing in 1993 when the Dutch firm Bembom Brothers took over the running of the cinema and amusement park.

Images courtesy of The John Hutchinson Collection, Campbell Reith Collection, RIBA archive

It remained open with bingo in the former stalls, where the Compton organ was still occasionally used for concerts.

The two cinemas remained open in the former circle area and were operated by a small Independent chain Reeltime Cinemas, until the cinemas permanent closure on 1st November 2007 following closure of the bingo club operation in the former stalls area the previous year.

Restoration of the exterior was begun in February 2011, and repairs to the building began in earnest in June 2011. Restoration of the exterior was completed in summer of 2017 and yellow neon has been installed to highlight the building, restoring the exterior frontage to its former 1930’s glory.

In 1992, Dreamland Cinema was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage. In early-May 2008, the building was up-graded to Grade II* Listed.

The Dreamland estate was sold by Thanet council to park operator Sands Heritage Ltd in December.

Find the Trust website by clicking here


  1. We can only hope that the new owners put the building to some use – rather than it sitting empty and rotting for yet another decade . . .

  2. Any pictures of the current state of the interior? Surely the heritage trust has some, or as has been suggested in recent years the interior is pretty much trashed. Largely when under the councils stewardship and left relatively insecure

    • The interior is pretty much stripped out although many original fittings remain including the famous Compton organ. The bingo hall, in the former cinema auditorium is also still intact. The new owners, Sands Heritage, have said they may consider opening up the building for a short period, in order to satisfy the curiousity of enthusiasts and local residents, before they commence remedial work.

  3. Lovely old buildings and entertainment. Hopefully Dreamland has a future once The London Resort is opened.

    • The London Resort would destroy much of Swanscombe peninsula, which is now an SSSI. The whole London Resort scheme looks utterly tacky.

  4. Having grown up here, I have some great memories of Saturday morning cinema at Dreamland in the early to mid 60s. 6d (old pence) and there was an A and B film. And the organ at the start. Then as I got a bit older, onto the skating rink, then Rendezvous Club on Sunday evenings and then Bali Hai. What a great place Margate was to grow up.

    • Ah! yes – the Bali Hai – very often a lively evening in there.

      Yet another demised Margate pub – I can easily name a dozen that once faced the sea . . .

  5. Yes it’s a pity despite all the public money pumped into refurbishing the cinema it is still effectively a derelict shell . I believe yet more public money through the new coastal towns initiative is set go into the cinema .Graffiti is now finding its way on to the lower reaches of the building. Isn’t it about time it was cleaned off ?
    Surely SHL should be getting on urgently with refurbishment plans rather than suggesting ridiculous open day stunts! With neighbours like the billionaire Freshwater content to sit on dereliction and an indifferent council the rejuvenation of the cinema is unlikely to happen any time soon. Dreamland surely must be one of the most costly white elephants of our time having hoovered up countless tens of millions of pounds effectively, grants and subsidies benefiting only shadow like individuals for the most part and a totally unaccountable hedge fund based off shore of dubious origins and motivation.

  6. Could Dreamland senior management organise the removal of graffiti from the facing on the cinema building which has been there for months and at the same time arrange for electricians to restore the electric lighting to the lower half of of one of the sections of the the vertical fin, which has also not been working for more than six months.
    Could our local ward councillor Cllr Yates raise these issues on behalf of local residents.

  7. Roman I brought this up with the council the blue fin has not been working for a long time the lettering some don’t work there was blue floodlighting on both sides of the top part of the fin not turned on.on the subject of the equipment this is the last original projected cinema using 35mm film hope the equipment is still there.

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