The Early Years

The History

Impresario Carl Seebold arrives in Worthing

Impresario Carl Adolph Seebold came and settled in Worthing in 1904, after leaving Southend, which had been his family’s base for the previous few years.

There he had been the actor-manager of the town's Kursaal, a name that was to become well-known in Worthing, for this professional musician and impresario was going to change the face of Worthing’s public entertainments over the coming years.

Carl Adolph Seebold was the son of a rope manufacturer from Zurich. The father fell on hard times and turned to entertainment, playing the guitar and singing, to support a large family of nine sons and four daughters. Ultimately, almost the entire family adopted a musical career. As a family act they toured Switzerland, under the name of Father Seebold and his Seven Sons.

They performed well, and so great were their musical capabilities that they were invited to play before many of the royal households of Europe. An advantageous offer brought them to England, where they played at high-class clubs, exhibitions and fashionable receptions in London; their stage name being the Swiss Band, then the Mountain Singers, and latterly as the Chamonix Orchestra. Seebold had taken out a lease on the Pier Pavilion at Southend, and that town had become the family headquarters.

Seebold purchases New Theatre Royal in Bath Place

After moving to Worthing in 1904 he bought the New Theatre Royal in Bath Place and was later to be involved in the Picturedrome and Rivoli Cinemas in Worthing. Seebold instigated some extensive works to the interior of the New Theatre Royal that dramatically transformed the interior. Costing approximately £3000 the improvement programme closed the theatre for two months. It reopened just after Christmas 1909 and Seebold was applauded for his enterprising investment.

Seebold put on Sunday film shows at the New Theatre Royal. Prior to that, townsfolk watched films at the Winter Hall, a former chapel, in Montague Street; and nearby, the St James’s Hall screened short seasons of film, as well as putting on concert parties, lectures and recitals.

Seebold obtains the grounds for his intended multi-purpose leisure centre.

Seebold acquired Bedford House and its extensive garden in 1906, the land for his Kursaal project of creating an entertainment complex, in the opening weeks of 1906 and the Hall and Winter Gardens Company was set up.

Before the Dome arose on the skyline, a gap in the seafront development existed at this point, the site being occupied by the lengthy private garden,known as Bedford Lawn, of Bedford House, a large Regency period house which was situated to the north, in Bedford Row. It stood approximately where the northernmost bus garage is now situated and its gardens stretched down to the sea front pavement in the same way the original gardens of some of the neighbouring houses south of Warwick Street, such as Stanford’s Cottage (Pizza Express) and Park House (the building occupying Ask Restaurant, next to Whibley's).

Bedford House has an interesting history. Originally known to fame as Lane’s House, after its builder, it had from time to time provided residency for some notable people: including Tom Gully, who was a curious combination of prize fighter and member of Parliament, and Colonel J H Mapleson, famous in operatic circles.

Seebold leases Bedford Lawn, from the Hall and Winter Garden Company

Shareholders of the Hall and Winter Gardens Company held a special meeting in December 1909, where Seebold put forward his latest proposals to those present, who included: Aldermen E T Cooksey, E C Patching and R Piper; as well as Colin Moore, H E Snewin, W E Wenban Smith; together with the secretary, Mr A Stubbs.

Seebold explained that he proposed to erect a large building, approximately 150 feet long by 60 feet wide. Inside would be a big public hall at the north end, doubling as a skating rink, with an entrance from Bedford Row. At the seafront end he wanted an open-air theatre with a tea balcony on the first floor, with two or three shops underneath. This original plan was altered so that the open-air theatre was situated at the north end with one continuous building to the south.

The company agreed to lease it to the entrepreneur at a starting rent of £275 a year with an option to purchase for £6,150. Seebold hoped to have the new hall ready by June 1910, the following year.

And so Seebold began the task of creating his multi-purpose leisure complex which he called the Kursaal, and is now known as the Dome. The name Kursaal itself is of German origin, and was a building used by visitors at a health resort or watering place. Some seaside holiday resorts on the continent boasted a Kursaal where a variety of entertainments and leisure pursuits were housed.

As his architect, Seebold chose Theophilus Arthur Allen RIBA, who practised from 3 Duke Street, London WC. and was educated at Lancing College. Allen had already been employed by Seebold as the architect of the New Theatre Royal, Worthing, and was responsible for various hospitals and children's homes, buildings in central London and a considerable number of country houses, including one in South Africa. He could, therefore, be described as an architect of some merit and importance and it is obvious that the building was not “shoddily designed and built” as was stated by many Worthing Borough Councillors in the 1980s and 1990s.

Construction begins on leisure centre to be called The Kursaal

Seebold began the task of building his multi-purpose leisure complex which he called the Kursaal, and is now known as the Dome. The name Kursaal itself is of German origin, and was a building used by visitors at a health resort or watering place. Some seaside holiday resorts on the continent boasted a Kursaal where a variety of entertainments and leisure pursuits were housed.

The building was constructed in two distinct parts, at an anticipated cost of £6,000. The first of these, to be called the Coronation Hall, comprised what is now the cinema auditorium. In contrast to the present rich decoration, it was quite plain when first constructed. There was no suspended ceiling and the decor was “oriental” in character. Remnants of this original scheme can still be seen (exposed roof trusses and painted brickwork behind the stage and a timber latticework dado which can be seen in the side corridors. A section of latticework dado has also been preserved in the “Projectionist’s Bar” in the front section of the building).

The Kursaal opened

In 1911 the Kursaal (Later to be called the Dome) opened, boasting a large Coronation Hall downstairs, used for roller skating and public meetings and exhibitions, and the centre’s first cinema upstairs, the Electric Theatre showing animated pictures.

The opening of the Coronation Hall was on Easter Saturday (April 15th) 1911, marked by a grand promenade concert by the band of the Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The Worthing Gazette of 19th April 1911 reported the opening and mentioned that the completion of the Kursaal was intended to take place in the Whitsun of that year (although this appears to have been delayed by a few weeks). The front part of the building was not at that time completed but construction was to be "pushed forward".

On May 17th the building was apparently "on the point of completion" and, after some objections, a liquor licence was granted for the refreshment room and tearoom. At the licensing hearing, Mr. Seebold stated that up to the present time close upon £5,000 had been spent upon the property, and the cost would amount to more than £6,000 by the time it was completed. Seebold confirmed that he proposed to manage the Kursaal himself, stating that it was a very big undertaking, and that he thought a licence was necessary.

An advertisement of 14th June 1911 shows that roller skating activities were taking place in the Coronation Hall and a Concert Party (The Comedy Comets) was in residence in the gardens. Admission to the Kursaal and gardens was 3d.

The Worthing Gazette of August 9th 1911 reported a record attendance in the gardens on the Bank Holiday and stated "We shall probably witness the completion of the Kursaal within the next fortnight and then this comprehensive building, imposing in its appearance and most commodious in the accommodation it offers, will be able to fulfil the many useful functions which its enterprising originator had designed for it.

Those functions included concerts, exhibitions and public meetings in the Coronation Hall, and included an “Anglo American Bowling Alley.” Was this an early form of 10 pin bowling? A specially prepared floor of “Canadian Rock Maple” allowed the hall to be used for roller-skating. This original skating floor still exists and can be seen in the void beneath the present raked cinema seating. There were regular skating sessions, the first of which began on Easter Monday 1911. The Kursaal roller skating rink even boasted its own ladies and men’s roller hockey teams

Also used for social functions and variety shows, the Coronation Hall featured Seebold's very own Comedy Comets and later The Worthing Whimsies, the latter being a combination of highly accomplished performers, including London baritone Harry Reynolds, providing some of the best entertainment on the south coast.

The entertainment complex originally included a tea garden to the north of the Coronation Hall. The substantial stage (which still exists behind the present cinema screen) was fitted with opening doors in the north wall (evidence of the opening can still be seen), allowing a concert party to play to those outside in the garden as well as to patrons within. The garden was linked by two gangways to the Coronation Hall, passing each side of the stage. The tea garden is now part of the bus garage site.

The front part of the Kursaal, including the tower, was completed between August and October 1911. It contained shops in an arcade on the ground floor, a licensed refreshment room on the first floor facing the sea, with a large balcony and canvas sun awning, a ballroom and cinema (“Electric Theatre”) and billiard rooms in the tower above.

The Kursaal Electric Theatre opened to the public on Saturday 7 October 1911. The opening was reported in some detail in the Worthing Gazette of the 11th October, which stated that “The exhibition of animated pictures has always been regarded as an essential element in the enterprise.” Films were displayed continuously from 3 p.m. until 10.45 p.m. and among the inaugural films were a Vitagraph film entitled “The Convict's Pet” and a Lion film entitled “A Bolt From The Blue”. If copies of any of these early films still exist, please let us know.

Advertisements for the Kursaal appeared weekly in the Worthing Gazette explaining the various attractions on offer and it appears that the Ballroom, refreshment rooms and roller skating rink could be hired for private functions at certain times.

Contemporary newspaper reports continued to confirm the popularity of the Electric Theatre. Among the films shown in the remainder of 1911 were a picture concerning the electrification of the Brighton Railway from Victoria to Crystal Palace, 'The Legacy', 'The Good Shepherd', 'A Rough rider's Romance' and, on 20th December "a superb representation of the Niagara Falls, constituting one of the very finest scenic pictures we have ever witnessed since the introduction of animated photography; a superb example of the work of Pathe Freres".

At this time, another venue showing films was the Winter Hall in Montague Street which continued to show Shanley’s Animated Pictures with two performances nightly at 6.30 and 9 pm, with a daily matinee at 3 and special prices for children of 2d, 3d and 6d.

On 27th December 1911 the Gazette reported "Mr. Seebold has arranged that his patrons shall be amongst the first in the country to witness in pictorial form the scenes of the great Delhi Durbar, and he has accordingly issued instructions to his London agents to buy the first, finest and longest film that arrives in England".

The Kursaal was also used for “one-off” events such as The “Grand Trades and Inventions Exhibition” of November 1911. This exhibition seems to have been something like present-day Ideal Home Exhibitions. It included demonstrations of “Paper Bag Cookery”, Toilet Soap, a Hall of Laughter, Egyptian Temple of Mystery, Hindoo Magic and an illuminated Fairy Fountain. Any information on “Paper Bag Cookery” would be welcomed.

A Unionist Political Meeting was held in the Coronation Hall on 25th November 1911, "the most largely attended in the history of the town". It was chaired by the Duke of Norfolk who commended the foresight in providing such a great hall for the benefit of the town.

At the end of November the Worthing Gazette reported improvements in the heating of the Kursaal by the provision of radiators and technical improvements to the Electric Theatre involving "two new machines of the very latest type". This apparently enabled the pictures to be shown without waiting to change the spools. An "improved type of picture" was also promised. This work was completed by 29th November, when the Gazette reported "there was no waiting at all.... the pictures continue to be of the highest grade, and are exhibited with even greater clearness than before".“Comfortably upholstered armchairs” were also now available to Electric Theatre patrons.

The two-projector system was still in use at the Dome at the end of the 20th century with a pair of Peerless Magnarc projectors dating from the 1930s. It requires some skill on the part of the projectionist to avoid obvious discontinuity in showing the film. This system has now largely been replaced in cinemas by projectors that do not require the film to be split onto several reels but enable it to be shown in one continuous length. Although this modern system has been installed at the Dome, one of the original projectors is retained for demonstration purposes.

During 1912 the Electric Theatre increased in popularity and lists of the films to be shown were quoted in the advertisements. On the Easter bank holiday there was a record attendance and it was reported that 300 people were turned away. The various activities at the Kursaal continued and further improvements were made to the Electric Theatre, including better ventilation (15th May 1912).

The Kursaal garden altered to accommodate all-weather performances

The Kursaal garden to the north of the building was modified in 1912 for outdoor entertainment with the addition of raked seating and benefiting from an awning to keep patrons dry in wet weather, so that performances could be carried out daily irrespective of the weather.

Daily performances were given, wet or fine, from 3 pm till 4.30 pm, from 6 pm till 7.30 pm and from 8.30 pm till 10.15 pm; the price of seats being 3d, 6d and one shilling.

Despite the fact that the printed list of songs, duets and concerted items from which the daily programmes were compiled embraced nearly 300 different pieces, fresh numbers were introduced, such as the song “Partners” by Mr Fisher Jones, “The Curate” by Mr Mat Melrose, and “Donague” and “The Telephone” by Miss Lalla Melrose.

Coronation Hall altered to show films there

As films gained in popularity over roller skating, the Coronation Hall underwent changes in 1913 to allow the showing of pictures there to a much larger audience than upstairs on the first floor.

The Gazette of 31st July 1912 confirmed the continuing popularity of the Kursaal and of the Electric Theatre, some patrons being compelled to stand in order to watch the films. A film entitled 'Me an' Bill' was recommended. It is also reported that the exterior of the Kursaal will be "a brilliant blaze of light" as new "electrical arrangements" will be completed.

The Worthing Kursaal was conceived as a major development and viewed as a prestigious addition to Worthing's attractions. It was always intended to include the display of animated pictures and is one of very few cinemas in the country to have shown films since 1911 without any significant break.

Animated pictures, as the films were called then, became so popular that during 1913 Seebold made alterations to the Coronation Hall to show films there to a much larger audience. The greater part of the hall was shut off from other parts of the building and entrance was gained by the door at the side of the original box office. For those wishing to view the pictures from the gallery he had a stairway made in what was formerly a small railed-in portion at the end of the skating rink, leading to both the east side and the south side of the gallery. The western portion of this part of the structure was enclosed, to afford the entrance to the garden.

Seebold took to showing animated pictures at his New Theatre Royal in Bath Place as well. Daily from 3 pm till 10.30 pm there was a continuous show of films, including “Love’s Revenge,” “The New Cow Puncher” and “A North Country Romance,” accompanied by the Bijou Orchestra.

New floor added to Coronation Hall

A temporary raked floor was added to the Coronation Hall in 1914 as an improvement for showing films to a wider audience.

Seebold made further improvements to the Kursaal at the beginning of 1914 when the scenic setting of the stage in the garden was brightened and the lighting effects increased.

Electrical improvements were made to the main auditorium as well, where still further changes were made. In order that everyone in the cinema could see and hear distinctly Mr Seebold had the floor graduated, with the rise from the front to the back being a full five feet.

The garden immediately at the rear was still accessible to the audience during the interval, and as the adjacent section of ground had been raised, steps were provided to lead down into the garden.

New Picturedrome cinema competes with the Dome

In 1914, a rival cinema, the Picturedrome, opened in Union Place and there was much competition between the two picture houses. (Today the building forms part of the Connaught Theatre.)

The Kursaal changes its name to the Dome

Coronation Hall converted into proper cinema

In 1921 the Coronation Hall was converted into a proper full-time cinema. The side galleries were retained, the end boxes converted to take the projection room and ancillary equipment, a permanent raked floor was constructed and rows of tip-up seating provided, and an elaborate plaster ceiling was installed to hide the steel roof trusses. At the southern end of the hall a large wood-panelled foyer was created where patrons could wait for seats to become available. This 1921 conversion is what we still see on the ground floor today.

When the new Dome Cinema opened on 18th July, it was pure luxury, and right from the opening of its star attraction, Pollyanna, featuring the popular heart-throb, Mary Pickford, and accompanied by a six piece orchestra, it drew large audiences.

The opening ceremony was performed by the mayor, Alderman Mrs Chapman J P, who was greeted on arrival by Mr Seebold and presented with a bouquet of flowers by his youngest daughter.

First floor converted into ballroom

It was not until 1921 that the upstairs Electric Theatre where they showed Animated Pictures was converted into a ballroom. It re-opened in October 1921 as the King’s Hall Ballroom, which could also be hired for private functions and whist drives.

Magistrates agree to Sunday performances

Magistrates reluctantly upheld an application by Seebold in 1922 to continue his Sunday performances at the Dome. For some years many councillors as well as clergymen had been trying to ban films on Sundays.

The development of cinema, whereby people could view films from all over Europe as well as America, brought with it a significant number of objectors who were concerned with the moral fibre of the content sometimes being projected.

In response to these social watchdogs, a Board of Film Censors was created to stop ‘moral laxness’ or ‘antisocial attitudes’, that were presumably in many of the new films, from being screened in Britain.

But the power of this Board was sometimes questioned by local councils, who feared that the Board were not as severe as they should be, and so specific powers were given to town and district magistrates, and to council committees.

In Worthing the harsh differences of opinion between the modernisers and the old guard met head on during the 1920s. Those against these ‘borderline’ films, films thought to have sensual as well as sexual content, were determined to ban them.

Many councillors as well as clergymen were horrified that any film, whether explicit or not, should be shown on Sundays. For years they battled with the town’s cinema proprietors, but, in April 1922 magistrates reluctantly upheld an application by Seebold to continue his Sunday performances at the Dome.

It was in the following year of 1923 that those campaigning to ban ‘immoral’ films put all their efforts into getting the film “Foolish Wives” banned in Worthing. The magistrates were supplied with a report from Worthing Police which stated that the film was “grossly sensual and repulsive” and ordered that the film was not suitable to be shown in the town.

But the manager of the Picturedrome, Mr C W Kent, implored the Bench to wait until they had seen the film which wasn’t as bad as they had been led to believe, especially “when it is considered how far society has progressed in its broad-minded attitudes towards expositions of life and human nature on the screen.”

The film “Foolish Wives” did imply the thought of adultery but nothing more, and after having seen the it the magistrates lifted the ban.

Seebold opens his Rivoli super-cinema

In 1922 Seebold sold the New Theatre Royal and set about planning for a new super-cinema in Worthing. In the face of dwindling audiences the Winter Hall in Montague Street closed in October 1923.

Seebold’s super-cinema, the Rivoli, opened on 10th March 1924, as the focal point at the junction of Chapel Road and North Street, and standing on the site of the former mansion, Worthing Lodge.

Completed to very high standards the picture-house cost more than £75,000 to build. A huge vestibule had enough room for up to 200 patrons and was overlooked by a large tearoom upstairs.

There were enough seats in the auditorium to accommodate 1200 customers, while a further 500 could be seated in the balcony. Additional room was available in six ground floor balconies. A remarkable feature of the Rivoli was its sliding roof, which could be opened on hot evenings to provide extra ventilation and exhaust the tobacco smoke.

Seebold purchases the Picturedome

Not surprisingly, by this time the Picturedrome was making losses and in 1926 Seebold acquired it, which meant that Seebold owned all three of Worthing’s cinemas.

Exposé of Christ causes consternation in the community

Seebold was in the news again in October 1928 when he was to screen a film about Christ’s life, an action that caused much discontent in the town. The film in question, “King of Kings,” was objected to because Jesus Christ should not have been the subject of popular entertainment and commercialism.

Worthing Council had to make a decision on whether or not to ban the film, and at the end of a lively debate the council voted by a majority of just one that “King of Kings” could be shown in the town.

Talkies arrive in town

The next stage to arrive in the progress of cinematography was ‘Talkies’, and it was the Rivoli, of course, which was the first to be wired for sound, quickly followed by Seebold’s other two cinemas. The first talking film shown in Worthing, Al Jolson’s “The Singing Fool” was at the Rivoli in 1929.

Picturedrome closed for conversion and refurbishment

In 1933 Seebold closed the Picturedrome for three months for extensive alterations, which included the addition of a stage and dressing rooms, the installation of the very latest in modern comfortable seating, and the latest type of white opaque screen was installed.

At this stage Seebold owned all 3 Worthing cinemas, but just two months after the Picturedrome had been reborn the Plaza super-cinema opened in Rowlands Road, breaking the impresario’s monopoly.

Second super-cinema built, the Plaza

Opened on 14 December 1933, in the presence of a 2,000 strong audience, the Plaza was built at a cost of £80,000. Equipped for the provision of first-class stage plays as well as screening films, the super-cinema, as it was then called, was a tribute to the skill of the architect Mr H Weston.

The opening programme contained two outstanding items: an organ selection by Dando on the £4,000 John Compton organ, the first instrument of its kind; and the showing of Santa’s Workshop, the most costly Walt Disney coloured ‘Silly Symphony’, seen in Worthing before its London release.

After the performance a reception for 350 guests was held in the finely appointed first floor ballroom.

(The cinema closed in 1968 and is currently a bingo and social club.)

Art Deco Odeon Cinema opens

At the grand gala opening of the Odeon Cinema on Saturday 24 March 1934 famous British film stars were there and a large crowd had to be controlled by police. Anne Grey, a striking blonde, became the centre of attention, and there was a rush to glimpse the four other stars: Molly Lamont, Dave Burnaby, Kenneth Kove and Dorothy Boyd.

The picture house, set back from Montague Street in Liverpool Road, was actually opened by Lord Winterton who drew attention to a paragraph in the souvenir programme which said that as far as possible the directors would screen only British films, and everything made for the Odeon was British.

One of the few purpose-built Odeons to have an organ installed, possibly to compete with the recently opened Plaza, Henry Wingfield was at the console of the British Compton 3/6. It was on a lift, and featured a special illuminated glass surround in which such illusions as ‘snowfalls’ and ‘flame effects’ could be produced at the flick of a button.

Designed by architects Whinney, Son and Austen Hall, the building boasted a circular-ended projection by the entrance housing tea rooms on both ground and first floor levels.

The south-facing front of the building and the tower were coloured cream to contrast with the remaining brickwork.

The auditorium and balcony seated 1600 patrons. Air conditioning was provided. A special feature of the Art Deco interior was the lighting, and there was a band of light around the proscenium opening, providing varying effects using three-coloured lighting.

(The Odeon closed in 1986, and the popular and familiar landmark was demolished by Humphrey Avon to make way for his Montague Centre complex.)

Worthing boasts 5 large working cinemas

Together with the Dome, the Rivoli, the Picturedrome and the Plaza, the Odeon brought the total number of working cinemas in Worthing at this time to five. The town had two theatres as well: the Pier Pavilion and the Connaught Theatre. (The latter at this time was not at the same venue as it is today but at the adjacent premises now known as The Ritz.)

Picturedrome cinema closes and converts to theatre

A significant change in the field of local entertainment came in 1935 with the closing of the Picturedrome cinema in Union Place on Sunday 16 June. The following day alterations began to convert it into the Connaught Theatre that we know today.

When it reopened, the theatre was run initially by Messrs Charles Bell and W Simpson Fraser who leased the building. (The latter became known as Bill Fraser who played Snudge on television’s Bootsie & Snudge.)

Seebold dies

Just two years after marrying for the second time Carl Adolph Seebold died. It is a fitting tribute to this clever impresario who also created Worthing’s first super-cinema the Rivoli, as it was known, that his magnificent Dome complex should be restored to its former glory.

Scaffolding erected and cupola removed

In 1952 during the post WWII period scaffolding appeared around the Dome turret. Passers-by were initially concerned that the structure may be taken down, but their fears were unfounded, thankfully, as the poles were put in place to carry out essential renovations. Rotting windows were repaired and missing roof slates replaced before the structure was repainted. At the same time the original cupola at the very top of the Dome tower and the decorative railings around the tower’s roof, which by this time were in poor condition, were removed.

Dome Cinema modernised

Following technological advancements in the film industry the Dome Cinema was modernised in 1954 with the addition of Cinemascope sound and a wide screen.

Rivoli cinema destroyed by a huge blaze and never rebuilt

Burnt out in 1960, the remains of the auditorium were eventually taken down, but the spacious foyer remained largely untouched and was used as a furniture auction room, until it was demolished in 1984 for road widening.

It stood at the junction of North Street and Chapel Road and became victim when the authorities decided to enlarge the road to a dual carriageway.

Plaza cinema closes and converts to Bingo

The Plaza cinema in Rowlands Road fell victim to dwindling audiences and showed its last film in 1968 before it was converted into a Bingo hall. Today it is occupied by Gala for bingo and social activities.

This left just the Odeon to compete with the Dome cinema.

Back to top