Urban explorers uncover air raid shelter in former historic cinema in Southend

Explore - Former cinema site searched <i>(Image: DE-eVOLVED)</i>
Explore - Former cinema site searched (Image: DE-eVOLVED)

THE site of a much loved former cinema has been searched by urban explorers who uncovered a First World War air raid shelter.

Martin Halliday, a 41-year-old from Shoebury, explores old and empty buildings as well as historic sites in south Essex for his channel DE-eVOLVED.

Echo: Happy - Martin Halliday exploring the site
Echo: Happy - Martin Halliday exploring the site

Happy - Martin Halliday exploring the site (Image: DE-eVOLVED)

Over the past year, he, alongside Scott Croft and Eddy Newell, have visited the former Empire Theatre site in Alexandra Street, Southend, numerous times to explore the historic area.

Despite the site being clear now, the group managed to find an underground area.

Echo: Explore - Underground
Echo: Explore - Underground

Explore - Underground (Image: DE-eVOLVED)

Martin said: “The explore itself has taken around a year to complete. We have returned a handful of times after doing a fair bit of research as to which areas of the site to check, for the underground areas we hope still existed.

“Upon returning again recently, we noticed an entrance that we didn’t previously see.

“We knew after a huge fire and demolition work the chances of finding what we were looking for were slim, but nevertheless worth following up.

“When we first got inside underground, we all smiled, as we knew what we had found, to a degree.

Echo: Rubble - Underground
Echo: Rubble - Underground

Rubble - Underground (Image: DE-eVOLVED)

“Beforehand we researched similar buildings from a similar period and we had our hopes up for a First World War air raid shelter, which we found.

“We later found out it was actually the original theatre room which was sealed off way before the 1930s, and so was also used as an air raid shelter.

“We also came across an air raid precaution poster half buried under a pile of rubble.

“We really enjoyed this explore, as was impressed with what it was like underneath.”

The former Empire Theatre site was previously used as ABC cinema before being taken over by the New Empire Theatre Company.

It closed down in November 2008.

In July 2015, the derelict building was badly damaged by a fire, before being demolished in March 2017.

Echo: Search - Former cinema site before being cleared
Echo: Search - Former cinema site before being cleared

Search - Former cinema site before being cleared (Image: DE-eVOLVED)

It was then sold in 2016 by Dedman Gray estate agents, but nothing has replaced the site since.

Mike Gray, the managing director of Dedman Gray, said the site remained a special opportunity.

He said: “It is some years now since we sold the site, and the original Empire cinema being demolished, and various ideas have been worked on since the site has been completely cleared.

“I believe all parties involved have acknowledged this is a special opportunity and it is important to ensure a new development makes the very best of this site including the general town centre regeneration plan.

“What also makes it rather unique is that it has an open frontage at both Alexandra street, and Clarence Road and therefore lends itself to a various number of uses taking into consideration both frontages.

“I will expect to see the best use including a combination of commercial and residential nature.”

To watch, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR1VZWMXLplSoa1S200QsUroxuWcLOsbyTvvcxZdnAEu4Ca8A9v5K1envwU&v=9y2LXUhM3iI&feature=youtu.be