The site of the Empire Cinema, built in 1913, seated 500 and was billed as ”the pinnacle of Kinematographic perfection”. It was destroyed by fire on 28 February 1939 and Fireman Fred Mace was killed while fighting the conflagration. The site of the cinema, in Suttton Road, is now a small car park.
The combined efforts of the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and the Seaford Museum & Heritage Society commemorate Fireman Mace’s death on a plaque on the site of the adjacent building. The Museum archives contain a number of cinema programmes and other interesting ephemera about the Empire and newspaper cuttings about the incident.
At the inquest in to the death of Fireman Fred Mace, the Coroner stated that he had died a hero’s death. He also said he was “Not happy as to the conduct of the crowd”. Fred Mace had climbed up the escape ladder, some 45 feet high, situated in the front of the cinema, and while he was attached by a safety belt the ladder swayed from side to side. There was a gale blowing and a sudden gust caused the escape ladder to topple over and crash to the ground with Fireman Mace on it. Volunteers had been requested from the crowd to help steady the ladder but only four people assisted, a response condemned by the Coroner, stating “there was a lack of enthusiasm to come forward to help in manning the wheels of the escape”.
Inquests at this time had a jury to decide on the evidence. The foreman of the Jury commented that the apparatus was inadequate and useless. He considered that the Fire Brigade did excellent work and no blame rested to the Chief Officer at the scene.
Fred Mace was 42 years old when he died, a married man with two children and had been a fireman for 12 years. A brave man indeed worthy of being remembered by Seaford’s townsfolk.
Return to Introduction