This summer, Egham Museum is setting up a temporary exhibition in the United Church of Egham, located nearby on the High Street. The title and theme will be Our Changing High Streets, with a main focus upon how the High Street is changing as time passes, as well as looking at shops in the areas of Virginia Water, Thorpe, Englefield Green and Egham Hythe.

The changes happening in Egham have often been a source of discussion over the years – in fact, the Egham-by-Runnymede Historical Society was founded as a result of the development of The Precinct in Egham High Street. The members felt the need to preserve what Egham looked like at the time (1967), and part of their charitable objects today is still to take action towards conservation of historic buildings.

A notable example of a well-loved building that once stood in Egham was the Gem Cinema, which would have been located just over the road from where the museum stands today. The Gem Cinema was introduced to Egham in 1910, but unfortunately closed in the late 1920s, with the building being demolished in 1981. However, luckily for us, the museum has volunteers that have lived in Egham from the 1950s onwards, who are assisting in researching what the High Street looked like then and what places like the Gem Cinema meant to them.

Egham High Street in the past

The exhibition will bring to life how Egham High Street would have looked in the nineteenth century and earlier, using drawings, photos, advertisements, magazines and artefacts showing some of Egham’s long-standing buildings and what was housed in them before the present day.  The exhibition is aiming to educate residents, old and new, but it is also aiming to be inclusive. Within the exhibition, there will be a section for all residents of Egham to write down what they remember Egham was like in days gone by. All memories are welcome, whether it is of a relative who set up shop in Egham or what it was like to grow up in a different time than the present. By setting up the exhibition in the Church, the museum is hoping to create a wide community feeling and bridge the gap between the past and the present as Egham High Street undergoes changes once again.

The exhibition will also include a 3D display of shop fronts and pedestals built by Strode’s College Design and Technology students.  Inspired by our past and present High Street, and other interesting shopping areas across the country, the display will capture what shops and services the young people of today would like to see in a future High Street.

Some of the research was carried out by more Strode’s College students, who came in to the museum on Tuesday 24th January as part of an Inspire Strode’s initiative led by Royal Holloway’s Community Action.  They researched the history of Egham High Street using photographs, magazines and guide-books about Egham. They unearthed a myriad of interesting facts, including the story of a woman named Ruth Price, who ran a family business selling ladies’ clothing at 54 Egham High Street in the early twentieth century, but who we later found out was presumably priced out and re-located to 166 Egham High Street in 1933. It is businesses like Ruth’s that the museum is re-creating, from butchers to drapers to cobblers.

Furthermore, the exhibition will be held before, on and after this year’s Magna Carta Day in June, always an important event for Egham and the Runnymede area. However, after the exhibition has finished in the Church, there are plans to make the exhibition portable and take it to events such as the Englefield Green Village Fair, the Virginia Water Carnival Capers and Thorpe Fete, before it returns to the museum for all to see again.

Gem Cinema c.1910


2 Comments

David Barker · February 25, 2017 at 1:07 am

Looking forward to this one! Just for the record, is the Museum suggesting that the GEM closed in 1981? The date given may reflect the demolition of the building and not the closure of the cinema.

    Egham Museum · February 27, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Hi David, thanks for your comment. Yes, it is the demolition of the building and not the closure of The Gem, which was in the late 1920s, that we are referring to.

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