A Brief History of The Princess Theatre Hunstanton

Welcome to the Princess Theatre, Hunstanton.

Hunstanton is a small Norfolk seaside resort that lies at the mouth of the Wash and is affectionately known, for obvious reasons, as “Sunny Hunny”. It is the best kind of resort with its award winning beaches that are among the safest in England, plenty of seaside sports and entertainments and a climate that boasts more sunshine and less rainfall that the great majority of resorts in Britain – What a combination!The cliffs known worldwide to geologists are made up of a thin band of red chalk sandwiched between layers of white chalk and brown sandstone known locally as Carrstone. Much of the town is built of Carrstone, but this comes not from the cliffs but from a quarry   nearby at Snettisham, dating back a thousand years or more.West Norfolk, of which Hunstanton is part, offers nature reserves, bird observatories, the headquarters of Norfolk Lavender, historic King’s Lynn, Heritage properties at Castle Rising and Castle Acre and the Royal home at Sandringham.This area of countryside and coastline has been designated an area of “Outstanding natural beauty”. What a testimonial!The Princess Theatre has certainly had a chequered history since it opened as The Capitol Cinema in 1932. Previously a hotel called Simpsons, it was rebuilt and opened on the 22nd June 1932 with the film ‘The Desert Song’.Built by Ben Culey of King’s Lynn, the Theatre is particularly noted for its construction in Norfolk  Carrstone and it contains the largest gable wall of carrstone in existence today. It was cleverly designed as a live Theatre as well as a cinema and live shows such as Fred Roper and his 20 Wonder Midgets, Private Lives and Rookery Nook were some of the opening shows to be staged in 1932.

After many years as a very successful cinema and Theatre The Capitol closed in the 1960’s. It was then sold in 1974 and changed its name to The Kingsley Centre and provided summer seasons and films for approximately two years but declined and eventually operated as a Bingo Hall. After some time it closed again and was left almost derelict for several years until the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk purchased it in 1981 under the Chairmanship of Mayor Leslie Dutton.

In honour of Lady Diana Spencer who, on her marriage to the Prince of Wales in July 1981, became the Princess of Wales, the Theatre was renamed The Princess Theatre. It was officially re-opened on the 5th of July 1981 with a concert starring The Wurzels.

In December 1988 the Princess Theatre was honoured by an informal visit from the Royal Family to the pantomime Cinderella. The late Princess of Wales and her two children Princes William and Harry, the Princess Royal and her two children Peter and Zara Phillips together with Lady Jane Fellowes all attended on Thursday 30th December at the 2.30pm performance. The Royal Princes have privately attended many pantomimes since that date.

By 2010 the local council were funding the Princess theatre annually to the tune of £300,000. Given the authority needed to save this money they close the theatre briefly prior to renting it to C and R Cinemas. Shortly afterward in November 2011 a note appeared on the door saying the building was closed and the keys were being handed back to the council.

In May 2012 Hunstone Productions, formed by four local businesses (Hallard Entertainments, Searles Leisure Resort, International Music and Leisure and James Johnson and Co Accountancy Ltd) took over the running the building.

Recognising how important the Princess Theatre was to Hunstanton’s economy they are now looking into how they can re-establish the Princess in the hearts of the Hunstanton community.

The Princess Theatre Box Office is now open every day of the year (except Christmas Day) and the programme provides a wide range of entertainment from Variety to Drama, Dance, Music, and soon to follow, Films.

A special bonus…
Thanks to Hunstanton being the only East Coast resort that faces West, visitors can enjoy the extraordinary sight of the sun setting over the sea – a memorable experience that can be enjoyed from the best view of the Green and Coastline on the Princess Theatre Veranda. Make sure you grab a blanket to keep warm and cosy.

Hunstanton’s motto is “Alios delectare iuvat” which freely translates to “It is our pleasure to please others”. The  Princess Theatre shares this wish and looks forward to seeing you soon….

Some other interesting information:

  • There is a memorial in the Esplanade Gardens with the names of the 31 people (15 British, 16 American) who lost their lives in the great 1953 floods.
  • The water tower at the top of Redgate Hill is now flats.
  • A late Neolithic Early Bronze Age settlement was found when constructing Oasis Way off Redgate Hill.
  • Hunstanton lost its 830 foot long pier in a heavy storm in 1978.
  • The Hunstanton – King’s Lynn railway line was closed down in 1969.
  • Hunstanton boasts the biggest tennis tournament in the U.K. with 1,350 entries in 2006.
  • Hunstanton has played host to both world and British water-ski championships.
  • Hunstanton is 16 miles from King’s Lynn, 45 from Norwich and about 120 from London.
  • Lord High Admiral of the Wash is the hereditary title which gives the le Strange family the rights of the North West Norfolk foreshore for as far as man can ride out to sea at the low tide and throw a spear.
  • St. Mary’s Church in Old Hunstanton was built in the 14th Century. It has a Norman front.
  • P.G.Wodehouse stayed regularly at Hunstanton Hall and typed out some of his stories whilst sitting in a punt on the moat.