Ethiopian Orthodox church says it is being “hounded” by cinema campaigners

7 Mar , 2012  

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The former Palace Pavilion nightclub located next door to St James’ Church. Photo by Laura Mackenzie.

A church group claims it is being “hounded” by campaigners opposed to turning a former notorious Clapton nightclub into an Ethiopian Orthodox church.

The St Mary of Zion Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Lower Clapton Road is facing a backlash from the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre group which fears the loss of the former nightclub’s cinematic heritage.

The site is no stranger to controversy. Between 2004 and 2006 the Palace Pavilion nightclub became associated with a number of shootings and stabbings that took place in the area, giving Lower Clapton Road the nickname “Murder Mile”.

Members of the Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre group – who want the building to be restored as a cinema – have accused the church of going back on its promise to return the building to its “former glory”. In a letter sent to local councillor Rick Muir last summer the church said it wanted to “enhance” the building’s original Edwardian features, which include the former cinema’s ticket office, a gilded barrel-vaulted roof and traditional “proscenium” theatre arch.

Paul Wolde Amlak Aiken, assistant secretary to the church’s parish council said: “I can’t understand why we’re being hounded in this way. Our redesign does not remove any of the old features. It’s an annoyance and disrespectful.”

He added: “We didn’t choose this site for a particular reason. We needed a building, it came up on the market and we put in a bid. If they wanted to turn the church back into a cinema then why didn’t they buy it?”

A flyer depicting the building when it was still the Clapton Cinematograph Theatre. Photo courtesy of Julia Lafferty.

Members of the theatre group say the plans submitted to Hackney Council on 25 January, which include the splitting up of the old cinema auditorium and the addition of a dome, make no reference to the fate of the original features.

Describing the church as “aloof”, the group’s secretary Julia Lafferty said: “When we invited church representatives to talk with us last summer, we had high hopes that they would respect the fact that the building was in a conservation area and a valued heritage asset. But since that time the shutters have come down.”

An online petition set up by Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre has so far collected 718 signatures.

St Mary of Zion, which is currently based in St James’, an Anglican church located next door to the Palace Pavilion site, has been without a building of its own for 38 years. It bought the premises at 229 Lower Clapton Road for £700,000 last May after the building was confiscated from its former owner, nightclub owner Ken Edwards.

The former owner of the Palace Pavilion nightclub, Ken Edwards. Photo courtesy of the Hackney Gazette.

Mr Edwards closed the club in 2006 following the murder of 19-year-old Barrington Williams-Samuel outside the venue.

St Mary of Zion is now waiting for approval for its plans from Hackney Council.

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14 Responses

  1. One other thing. The Friends of Clapton Cinematograph, have cheated on their on line petition. The 700 plus signatures date back to 2007 on a different campaign and not fighting the current planning application.

    Further more, many are anonymous and some are dupliate signatures.

    I guess anonymous suits them on their terms.

  2. It’s the nature of these people to attempt to bully other’s they do not agreee with.

    People respond anonymously all the time, what’s the big deal?
    Here is a link to support the church:

  3. Nathan Field says:

    So i guess you mean i am belittle myself? As i was was involved with many campaigns regarding reducing crime within hackney particularly, Clapton. I have worked with Hackney Community college for 6 years, working with the young adults, likewise with the community center in Kingsmead estate and the old Homerton House school.

    So in fact, i congratulate us ALL on the efforts WE have ALL done and will CONTINUE to do.

    You do NOT represent the whole community!

    So again i ask you to, please allow people do pass comments without scrutiny. as you mentioned on 14th March:

    ” it is an essential element of local democracy that local residents may make representations on planning applications which they consider impact adversely upon their neighbourhoods.”

    God Bless,


  4. Hello Nathan

    It would seem not unreasonable to expect that people who wish to engage in a debate about the impact of a proposed development should identify themselves,so that it can be clearly seen whether or not they might have a vested interest.

    I happen to be familiar with St Philips Church in Battersea which is owned by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. It is a particularly fine Victorian building in a Conservation Area, and it has not been felt necessary to adorn its facade with a polycarbonate arch and dome, tinted units, aluminium windows and a battery of rooflights.

    It was not my intention to be offensive, any more than I presume it was not your intention to belittle the local community groups and local councillors whose tireless efforts over many years contributed to a reduction in the violent crime which had blighted the Clapton area for over a decade, as Cllr Rathbone has pointed out.

    Best wishes


  5. Nathan Field says:

    Hello Julia,

    I suppose you could apply your answer to my question, to the question about the EOC in Battersea that you have just posted. FYI, the EOC in Battersea is not part of our administration, so how do you expect me to answer that question.

    regarding a persons identity, i dont know who Anon is, however it is up to them if they want to remain anonymous. I find you slightly offensive by your remarks. you implied that anon and anon 1 were from the membership of the Ethiopian Orthodox church.

    “It is good at last to have someone from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church who is willing to identify themselves”

    i have read all messages and at no point did anon or anon 1 state that they were members of the church. Actually, one of them identified themselves as a “Hackney resident”. Please do not assume and please also allow people do pass comments without scrutiny. as you mentioned on 14th March:

    ” it is an essential element of local democracy that local residents may make representations on planning applications which they consider impact adversely upon their neighbourhoods.”

    God Bless,


  6. Hello Nathan Field

    It is good at last to have someone from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church who is willing to identify themselves. Are you by any chance related to Mr Trevor Field who I understand is a Trustee of the Church?

    Hackney Council has a Conservation Department who can answer all queries about the Council’s planning policies with regard to Conservation Areas and the different categories of heritage assets.

    Also the Hackney Society is a good source of information on all aspects of local heritage and would be happy to explain exactly why 229 Lower Clapton Road was identified for local listing under their Love Local Landmarks scheme.

    I am sure that there are many people who would like to be able to do exactly as they wish with the buildings they own. However everyone is subject to planning regulations, regardless of who they are and what they regard their special interests to be. When the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church acquired the former St Philips Church in a Battersea Conservation Area to be their present place of worship, did they not have to abide by the local authority’s policies in regard to Conservation Areas and heritage buildings?

  7. Cllr Ian Rathbone says:

    Just wanted to be clear on one thing. Mr Edwards did not close his club. Following a superb community campaign, his license was revoked first by Hackney Licensing Committee and then after appeal by a District Judge at Bow Court and he was deemed unfit to hold a licence, much to the relieve of residents throughout the whole area as crime dropped to a fraction of what it was and people started having peaceful nights again.

  8. Nathan Field says:

    I have been reading all points and I see that it is agreed that the building is in an conservation area. However, Julia Lafferty, Is the building a listed building?

    Also in my opinion the designs would look great in Hackney and i’m sure many people locally and from far would come to see it.

    Hackney is currently a trident policed area, working with the community in tackling gang crime and also bridging the gap with youths, particularly black youths and the community. Likewise, i believe the church would do the same. The building design has been modelled after St Mary of Zion church in Axum, Ethiopia which was founded by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Sellassie I in 1955 to mark his silver jubilee. Construction of this particular building was completed in 1964 and was visited by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II a few days later in her state visit to Ethiopia. It was mentioned to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II that her coming to Ethiopia was “fundamental and deep-seated… and reaffirmed the friendship.. which unite all people”.

    Let us use this church (design) as a sign, similarly to the sign at the church in Ethiopia where the Queen united her ties with black and “all people.”

    I have lived, been educated and worked in Hackney since i was born. when i was younger these are the things i associated with Hackney; Fun, grand, united, Loving, trustworthy, no crime, no discrimination, peaceful, smiles, laughter, supportive and full of friends.

    These thoughts will always be with me due to the wonderful facilities that my local community center and Church in Dalston provided.

    I have since grownup and many of the activities i once did have stopped. crime in hackney has increased.

    lets us all now try and change this negative spiral and make Hackney a place we can all be proud of. Hackney is such a diverse place and that’s a positive we all should promote.

    1. Locally we have the Olympics which is designed magnificently of which many people from far will attend.

    2. We have a great library (CLR James) of which has historical significance.

    3. We have a great schools and Colleges of which is under popular demand especially due to its location next to the city.

    4. we have a a multi-screen picturehouse of which many travel in to watch films.

    5. we have a newly refurbished theater of which countless of people have been entertained.

    6. we have the church of England of which many people have the option to worship in.

    7. we have a large mosque (clapton pond) of which people have the option to worship in.

    8. we Now have the FIRST in the whole of the uk, an African and Apostolic originated church located in Clapton, St Mary of Zion. Let us make this a grand place, to worship and to admire as a true sign that reflects our society.

    This is just my opinion!!!


  9. The Friends of Clapton Cinematograph, which I represent, is a properly constituted community organisation whose objectives are clearly stated. These include the preservation and restoration of the former Clapton Cinematograph Theatre, which is one of the oldest purpose built cinemas in the country. We are widely known throughout the community and have no need to maintain anonymity.

    As you have correctly stated, 229 Lower Clapton Road is in a Conservation Area designated by Hackney Council, and is therefore subject to planning regulations governing conservation areas.Hackney Council has clearly laid out the requirements for the Clapton Pond Conservation Area and I suggest that you acquaint yourself with those requirements. Your continual repetition of the emotive word “hounding” does not seem to recognise that it is an essential element of local democracy that local residents may make representations on planning applications which they consider impact adversely upon their neighbourhoods.

  10. Anon1 says:

    I do not need to give my name just to satisfy your curiosity, all you need to know is that I am a Hackney resident.

    Why do you feel the need Julia to be posting these questions which are obviously directed at the Ethiopian Church?

    I can not answer these questions, but I have looked at plans on the website and the plans for the church building are suitable given that it is going to be a church. The design will be a breath of fresh air to Clapton as it features will still have some similarities to the front of the old cinema.

    It seems to me that because your not hearing what you want to hear or seeing what you want to see you are trying to make accusations to justify your actions. By your negative response its no wonder the Church are not saying much or giving you access. I don’t blame them.

    Would you like it if you bought a property and you had a group dictating what you can/can’t do or what your suppose to do according to their requirements rather than that of the local council?

    Did you ‘hound’ the previous night club owners also when they purchased the building about changes they wanted?

    Yes the proposed Church is in a conservation area but it is not a listed building!

    The Church is a positive development for Hackney & will only enrich the area and the community for the better.

  11. The posting of anonymous responses could be interpreted as yet further evidence of secrecy. Perhaps the contributors could identify themselves and answer the questions below:

    A representative of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church gave a series of written commitments to Cllr Rick Muir of Hackney Downs Ward which included the following

    1. That the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s plans for the former cinema would “renew the building to its former glory” and “enhance its original features”

    Could it be explained why that commitment has been abandoned?

    2. That their architect would consult with Hackney Council’s conservation officer to identify what was required of developers in the borough’s Conservation Areas.

    Could it be explained why that commitment was abandoned?

    3. That they would “enable the cinema group to tour the building” . Cllr Muir was told that dates would be provided for such a visit in February 2012.

    Could it be explained why that commitment has been abandoned?

    229 Lower Clapton Road is in a Conservation Area designated by Hackney Council, and is therefore subject to planning regulations governing conservation areas. To ask that a developer abides by those regulations can in no way be interpreted as “hounding”.

  12. anno says:

    if the cinema group wanted to buy the building why didnt they ? it looks a lot better now than how it looked before i thought the ethiopian church was the oldest church in the world so who better to preserve old building

  13. Anon1 says:

    Friends of Clapton Cinematograph Theatre Group,

    If you wanted the building you should have bought it.

    Would you like it if as soon as you purchased a property you had a group ‘hounding’ you to see what your intentions are for that building and recommending to you how you must retain certain features and give them access?

    Further more in October 2011 they opened the Picturehouse Cinema on Mare St, to serve the local community in Hackney.
    Why didn’t you approach the City Screen Chain (owners of Picturehouse) and advise them that 229 Lower Clapton Road was for sale and your interests in retaining its features as a cinema?

    Its unfair that you are accusing the church group of secrecy.

    Do you have your own hidden agenda?

  14. What the church group call “hounding” are simply requests for local people to visit the building as part of the regular heritage walks around the Clapton Pond Conservation Area. They gave a written commitment to Cllr Muir last year that such a visit would be arranged for February 2012, but they are now saying that they will not allow visits. Why all the secrecy?

    If they are maintaining that they will preserve and restore the historic features of the building, perhaps they would explain how their plans to sub-divide the old cinema auditorium, install a battery of rooflights at the top of the building,and construct a coloured polycarbonate arch and dome with aluminium windows and tinted glazed units on the facade on Lower Clapton Road will preserve and enhance the building’s historic character. The church group were invited to give a presentation about their proposals to local people at a public meeting organised by the Clapton Conference on 27 February. They did not turn up. Again, why all the secrecy?

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