Sunday, 24 May 2009

The lasting picturehouse

A few years ago Bermondsey Square was not so much a square as a carpark. Once a week it was home to the Bermondsey antiques market, but for the other six days it largely resembled the empty lot it had become during the Blitz. Long, long before that the area was actually an island in the Thames named for a man called Bermond. Later a pretty grand abbey was built on the spot, but Henry VIII put paid to that and shared the land with his courtiers who built their country mansions here.

Today you’ll not find anyone going by the name of Bermond in Bermondsey Square; there are no abbots, no courtiers and certainly no country houses. You will, however, find a proper square, flanked by Georgian townhouses, a cinema, offices, shops, a hotel and – once a week – the Bermondsey antiques market, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this summer.

Last week I interviewed Rob Wray who last month launched Shortwave cinema, a gorgeous 50-seat venue that shows good movies to a discerning public four days a week. The Bermondsey Square project was a decade in the making, and building works were delayed for years as archaeologists excavated the Roman and medieval remains beneath the site. Rob's healthy appreciation for history helped him maintain his patience through the lengthy process, and also guided his choice in cinema seating. These comfy upholstered numbers came from the Electric Cinema in Portobello, sat in storage for ages and finally made their way to Bermondsey. Even though the venue is new, Rob says he wanted it to have a traditional movie theatre feel.

(The seats are lovely and so is Rob. Go see for yourself.)

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