Lost Edinburgh: Jacey Film Theatre, Princes Street

THE premises at No.131 Princes Street once contained a cinema that was small in capacity but big in reputation.

Jacey News Theatre (Jacey cinema). Picture: TSPL
Jacey News Theatre (Jacey cinema). Picture: TSPL

To those accustomed to the dominating presence of retail and food outlets for the past few decades, it may come as some surprise to learn that a small handful of cinemas once existed on Princes Street. One of the most famous was the Jacey located at 131 Princes Street (just one door up from present-day HMV). The cinema was known for its eclectic mix of independent art house cinema, continental movies as well as the odd X-rated flick.

A cinema had existed on the site since September 1912 when the Princes Cinema first opened its doors. This closed in 1935 and was soon remodelled as the Monseigneur News Theatre which specialised in showing British Movietone and Pathé newsreels. The main feature would often be followed by comedy or cartoons for the children. In the days before the widespread use of television sets, news theatres such as the Monseigneur were a tremendously effective way of broadcasting current events and up to date news to the masses. This also helps to explain their location along busy central thoroughfares such as Princes Street rather than in suburbs. A café, restaurant and smoking lounge boasting picturesque views of Edinburgh Castle were located on the first floor.

The cinema underwent extensive refurbishment in 1963, reopening as the Jacey in January the following year. The compact auditorium provided seating for 350 making it the smallest film theatre in the city. Initially the Jacey retained the name “news theatre” on its façade but this eventually changed to simply “film theatre”. The change in name no doubt a reflection of the progressive shift which had altered the function of cinemas during the previous decade due to the increase of households owning television sets. As the newsreels fell out of favour, the Jacey began to focus on independent film and art house cinema which set it apart from many of the other numerous cinemas in Edinburgh at that time. It also began to develop a seedy reputation for showing more and more X-rated features, which effectively ended its Monseigneur-era status as a family-friendly establishment.

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    The Jacey showed its last films, “I Am Sexy” and “Do You Want to Remain a Virgin Forever?” on May 3rd 1973. The film titles give a good indication of precisely which movie genre had become commonplace over the years. Very little of the Jacey’s interior survived during the building’s conversion into a retail unit, though thankfully the decorative first floor windows dating from the Princes Cinema years have remained. The American clothing chain Gap took on the premises for a time but vacated in 2011. The category B structure currently lies empty awaiting its next lease of life.

    • David McLean is the founder of the Lost Edinburgh Facebook page which documents the capital’s ever-changing landscape