Looking for memories of Horsham's Capitol

As Derek Sturt says, for many people The Capitol is the beating heart of Horsham.

Derek Sturt
Derek Sturt

“There was a time before all the restaurants if you wanted to go out in Horsham, apart from to a pub, you would have to go to the cinema or a show at The Capitol

And that role as a hub of the community has continued – which is why the venue is already getting a good response to its request for memories of the venue down the years.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

This summer, the Capitol is planning a big celebration for its 85th birthday. Just what form that will take, restrictions permitting, remains to be seen, of course. But among the many keen to take part is Derek, for so many years so very closely associated with a venue which he describes quite simply as “brilliant.”

His wife took over the catering at the venue in 1986: “I would help her out… or I thought I was helping her out! But then I started working at the venue itself in 1989. I just clocked up 30 years before I retired 18 months ago.”

As duty manager he put in countless unsocial hours – but loved it: “I still go back there regularly. I can’t keep away!”

The Capitol in Horsham first opened as a cinema called The Ritz in June 1936. The cinema was re-named The ABC in 1967 and following a conversion to provide a theatre and cinema, Horsham Arts Centre opened its doors in December 1984.

After 20 years, the venue underwent an extensive refurbishment which was completed in time for re-opening as The Capitol (named in homage to the old Capitol Theatre) in September 2003 and then officially re-opened by Queen Elizabeth II a month later.

Derek’s first memories of the venue go back to 1950: “I used to go to the Saturday morning pictures there when it was all such a different world.”

Back then, you had a choice of three venues for your Saturday morning films: The Ritz, The Odeon and the old Capitol.

“Saturday morning cinema was very important. You would be meeting up with people of your own age.”

And yes sometimes, the odd object did drop from the circle above onto the heads of the children in the seats below… Happy memories.

Derek particularly remembers watching The Bridge Over The River Kwai. Years later, when the venue, as the Horsham Arts Centre, started showing films, it was the only cinema left. Its first screening was Top Gun… unless it was one of the Batman movies, Derek can’t quite recall.

He certainly remembers the excitement when the venue re-emerged as the Horsham Arts Centre, with its promise of theatre.

“Theatre was certainly a different kettle of fish, but for the first few years we didn’t have a lot of events in the theatre.

“We had the panto, and in the 80s and 90s we used to get touring dramas of a very high quality, which has pretty much died out now.”

Derek worked as duty manager: “It was great. I have always loved talking to people. People would come in as regulars. It was good. I really enjoyed it. But that was pre-computers, and the downside to that was that the paperwork was deadly.”

There would be four parts or stubs to a ticket. Two the customer would get, one of which would be handed in on entry. The third would be processed through the box office – and the fourth remained in the ticket book.

“The paperwork could take a couple of hours to collate. You had to make sure that the money tallied with the tickets sold. It is difficult to be exact, but I think the computers were brought in in about 1991. That made life much easier. The paperwork would take about half an hour. It was all done for you on the screen.”

If you have got some memories of the venue to share, email Tracey Grubb on [email protected]