THE Palace Theatre, in Westcliff, opened on Monday, October 21, 1912, and was something of a modern build.

It seated 1,200 patrons, plus 300 standing – compared to 603 all-seated today – and the course of its 103 year history has been suitably dramatic.

The theatre was gifted to the borough in 1942 by Gertrude Mouillot who had run it for more than 20 years and was the widow of Frederick Mouillot, a wealthy theatrical entrepreneur.

It has closed and reopened a number of times, and in the process secured a place firmly in the hearts of residents.

While its closure for a couple of months in 1939 after the outbreak of the Second World War was merely a blip, the closing of its doors in July 1969 attracted huge protests and it reopened to real delight, with the help of farce specialist Ray Cooney, later that same year.

The special architectural importance of the Palace Theatre was officially recognised in 1974, when the theatre was granted Grade II listed status.

But this status didn’t stop it from growing and expanding. The Palace Theatre Centre and the Dixon Studio opened in 1982 after the lease came up on the council-owned buildings to the west of the Palace. The opportunity was taken to replace them with a twostorey extension.

But closure has loomed large over the theatre in recent years. It shut in 2002, reopened in 2003 and then shut again in 2005. But public protest – and a petition signed by 22,000 people – helped once again get the Palace back in business.

Now run by HQ Theatres, along with the Cliffs Pavilion – the venues are collectively known as Southend Theatres – the Palace celebrated its centenary optimistically.

Southend Council, HQ Theatres and the Palace Theatre Club pooled their resources and, in early January 2013, the stalls seats and carpets were replaced, repairs were made to damaged seats in the circle and the dressing rooms and backstage areas were redecorated and refurbished.

And the refurb was just in time for a royal visit. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall became, so far as is known, the first members of the Royal Family to visit the theatre in 2014.