Picture House – Smithford Street

Picture House - Smithford Street

The Picture House, Smithford Street was the place to be to see the latest films from  1911 through to the end of the early 1930s. It kept up to date with the introduction of sound. Sadly due to issues with the lease, it closed its doors in 1932 and was demolished shortly after. 

Special Music and Picture every Sunday evening at 8pm, doors open at 7pm Tel: Coventry 3816


Architect Albert E. King designs an electric theatre for the White Arch Palace Company Limited. Seating 447 in the stalls and 180 on the balcony.

The cinema included special apparatus necessary for the reproduction of Kinemacolour films for which the proprietors have secured the sole rights for the city. The music is provided by a piano and a pianola. Films in Colour – There was a crowded audience at the first performance. The Kinemacolor film exhibited began with views of the Indian continent to the coronation in their camp in Hampton Court and followed with views of the Coronation procession. Performances were continuous each day.

1911 4th August

Our Watchword “Refinement” The Picture House Smithford Street, Coventry. The most magnificently appointed. Place of Entertainment in Coventry. Open Friday, August 4th at 6:30 pm. Continuous exhibition. Open daily from 3 to 10:30. With a superb and up-to-date series of LIFE motion pictures. The directors beg to announce that they have secured the SOLE RIGHTS for Coventry of the Wonderful KINEMACOLOR as now being hosted at The Scala Theatre London. The only existing Stereoscopic life motion pictures in Actual Colours of Nature. “The most amazing entertainment in the annals of the amusement world”. Change of program every Monday and Thursday. Prices of admission 9d 6d 3d. Tea is supplied free of charge to patrons occupying the 9d or 6d seats every afternoon between 4 and 5.30.

Music and Dancing licenses – An application was made by councillor Nichols for a music and dancing license for the white arch picture house in Smithford street. The chief constable said the building was practically satisfactory to the police and the city engineer but both these departments had ordered alterations to the balcony. These were now being carried out and could be satisfactorily completed in a very short time. He did not want to put the applications to the trouble of serving other notices and he suggested that the bench should grant the license which would remain with the clerk until the alterations were completed. There must be certain width between the seats. The license was granted on these terms.

The Picture House Smithford Street, Coventry. Continuous exhibitions daily from 3 to 10.30 pm. The finest black and white animated pictures and the wonderful kinemacolor To night and during the week “Paris The Gay City” “Bathing at Ostend” H.M. The King Inspecting Troops” “Choosing the Wall Paper” admission 9d 6d 3d

Afternoon Teas provided free Sunday next at 8pm special exhibition.

The Picture House showed a wide variety of films of the day, titles included “What Every Woman Fears”, “The Way she won him”, “Her Buckskin Knight”, “Why I would not Marry”, “Wild Woman”, “The Changing Woman”, “Medling Woman”


13th February – The aged inmates of the Coventry Workhouse this afternoon attended an entertainment at the Picture House, Smithford Street. About 120 old men and women responded to the generous invitation extended by the management of the hall. The ordinary programme of the week was shown. The interesting and varied pictures were much enjoyed by the old folks. Refreshments were also provided, each visitor was given a cup of tea and bun, these being dispensed by Mrs Nicholls and the Misses Nicholls. Councillor Nicholls, one of the directors of the hall gave a packet of tea to each woman, while each man was the recipient of a pipe and tobacco.


February – Picture House owners fined: The White Arch Picture Palace Ltd St Mary’s Gate, Derby were summoned for not keeping the gangways of the Picture House Smithford Street clear during a performance on January 12th, 1920. The defendants pleaded guilty. Sergent Gunter said the passage leading to the cheap seats was completely obstructed. The trouble arose due to the absence of the Manager owing to illness and the attendant, who was new to the job (and has since been dismissed). When the manager returned the overcrowding was immediately remedied. There was no excuse for the overcrowding and a fine of £10 was issued. 

It was learned today with regret that the death of Mr. C Lyons, Manager of the Picture House, Smithford Street occurred at 5 o’clock this morning in the Dudley Hospital. His injuries occurred due to the consequences of a motorcycling accident. Mr. Lyons met with the accident when returning to Coventry from Dudley at about 10 pm on Monday evening returning from Dudley on a motorcycle with a sidecar.

Thomas Edwards, Shaw Road Dudley watchman in the employ of the Birmingham and Midland tramway Company, states that while he was on duty in his box on Monday night he saw a man, who proved to be Mr Lyons, driving from the direction of Dudley a motor-cycle to which was attached a side-car containing a lady. He shouted to the cyclist to stop, but he drove between the red lamp and the fire bucket, with the result that he was thrown off the machine, falling into a trench 12ft long and 3ft deep, the road being up for repairs to the tram lines. Mr Lyons was rendered unconscious and the lady passenger also appeared to be injured.  They were both removed to the hospital, but the lady’s injuries proved to be not of a serious nature. 

The inured motorist lay unconscious suffering from very severe injuries to the head and other parts of the body and without regaining consciousness passed away at 5 o’clock this morning as a result of concussion. 

Mrs Lyons, who was quickly in attendance upon her husband, was with him when he passed away. The deceased was 39 years of age. Mr Lyons who had managed the Picture House for some five or six years was particularly popular and well-known in Coventry cinema circles, and was also a most staunch supporter of the City Football Club; he was a very familiar figure at the Highfield Road ground and at any function connected with it. He had had considerable experience as a motorcyclist and was generally considered to be an expert rider. 

In the sidecar Mr Lyons as a passenger a Mrs Kennedy, wife of the Birmingham cinema promotor, with a theatre at Dudley, deceased had promised to take Mrs Kennedy to Birmingham on his way to Coventry. She was thrown from the sidecar and was cut about the face but was fortunately not seriously injured. 

The funeral of Mr Lyons took place on 21st February at 12 am. Survived by his wife and son Master Charles Lyons. 

Around 1925 the lamppost at the top of Smithford Street / Broadgate had signage for the Picture House. This is my bad attempt at modeling it!  


27th August – A complete breakdown of the Coventry Corporation electric power supply shortly after two o’clock this afternoon caused a great deal of inconvenience in all parts of the city. The stoppage lasted for 30 minutes and in every case where factories obtain their supply from the municipal source, there was a complete cessation of work, all machinery being put out of action.

A matinee performance at the Picture House was interrupted when the power failed, the talkie apparatus was immediately put out of commission and the building plunged into darkness. To avoid causing alarm the manager of the theatre informed patrons of the reason for the breakdown and there was perfect order while the long wait followed. The program had only just commenced when the power failed.


30th December – Western Electric sound equipment fitted. The Talkies are here!

For the first time  a talkie with dialogue completely in French will be shown in Coventry next week when “Sous les Toits de Paris” which was wonderfully successful in London will be shown at the picture house. Of this film which deals with a song sellers career one cricitc wrote “Although the dialogue is all in French no one need fear he will not understand what is happening . If the sound apparatus broke down the film would be just as vivid and enthralling. The acting is brilliant – a film which I advise you not to miss” In support of this picture will be “The Immortal Vagabond” a simple story about a young composer who leaves his village sweetheart to sell his opera in Vienna and lose her because her father forces a marriage with the campion cattle breeder of the district. Fame loses its sweetness and he pretends to commit suicide. Years later he returns to find a statue being erected to his glory. The finale of the story must be seen, not told.


August 20th – The Picture House closes for good. Thomas Jackson who had the lease for the Picture House wanted an extension of the lease from Mr Laxon. There appears to be an oral agreement between the two that would be the case. Mr Jackson installed “Talkie Equipment” secure in the knowledge the lease would be extended – but for some reason, the agreement fell apart and ended up in the courts. The sound equipment was sent to Mr. Jackson’s other cinema – Cinema de Luxe Walsall. The building was later sold and demolished for a Dolics Shoe Shop (The first shop in Coventry to have Neon Lights!) 

Action at Birmingham Assizes – Claim for possession of Smithford Street Picture House – Dispute Concerning Oral Agreement – At Birmingham Assizes, today an action for possession of the Picture House, Smithford Street, Coventry was heard by the Commissioner (Mr T Hollis Walker k.C). The plaintiffs were Ernest Arthur Laxon and three other (formerly of Coventry) and the defendant was Thomas Jackson who held a lease of the premises and who counter claimed for specific performance of a verbal agreement for the extension of the lease. Plaintiffs were suing as trustees of the preemies which were part of the estate o the late Arthur Samuel Laxon. The action related to the termination of a disputed extension of the lease, arrears of rent also being claimed up to the date of the action. As an alternative to specific performance of an oral agreement to grant him a new lease for fourteen years from February 11th 1932 at £550 a year, defendant counter claimed damages suffered through breach of Warranty. “Talkie” Conversation – Mr J F Eales, K.C. for the plaintiffs said that the onus of proof of the alleged agreement for the extension of the lease rested with the defendant. Mr H H Joy K.C. for Mr Jackson therefore opened the case and said that towards the end of 1929 his client desired to convert the Picture House into a talkie theatre. Accordingly he communicated with Mr Laxon respecting an extension of the tenancy when the lease expired in February of this year. Mr Laxon replied that the position was somewhat delicate as his mother was not expected to live much longer, and he preferred to let the matter stand over for six months. Later Mr Jackson intimated that he could not embark o n the installation of a sound system unless he had something definite to go upon regarding the continuation of the lease. “A gentleman’s Agreement” Mr Laxon replied that he preferred to consider an extension rather than the sale of the house and the upshot was that it was provisionally agreed that  fourteen years lease be arranged with an option of purchase. Counsel described this as a gentleman’s agreement and Mr Jackson accordingly went ahead with negation with the Western Electric company for equipping the house with a sound system. Mrs Laxon died in May 1930 and there were further communications with Mr Laxon but these failed to elicit any reply and apparently other interests were being voiced. However, the following August the pair met when there was a decision that the lease should be extend as desired and that there be an increased rental of £500 with an option to purchase at £10,250. After the interview, the two men had a friendly drink together and counsel submitted that that showed that the deal was definitely fixed. However, afterwards under the will of Mrs Laxon plaintiffs were not willing that the premises should be dealt with in the way suggested. Meanwhile , Mr Jackson had been involved in an expenditure of £2,600 and also became liable for another expenditure of £3,000 in connection with the sound installation. If the extension was not now confirmed his client would lose that money.

Picture House Lease – Sequel to Coventry Dispute – Court Allows Appeal Against Judgement. The court of appeal consisting of the master of the Rolls and Lords Justices Slesser and Romer today continued the hearing of the appeal by Mr Ernest Arthur Laxon auctioneer of Coventry against the verdict of the special jury and judgement of Mr Commissioner T Hollis Walker in an action heard at Birmingham Assizes relating to the Picture House, Smithford Street, Coventry. The action was brought against Mr Thomas Jackson lessee of the premises to obtain possession and Mr Jackson counterclaimed for specific performance of an alleged agreement for a new lease or alternative damages. The jury found that Mr Laxon was not authorised to make the agreement and awarded Mr Jackson £750 damages. Mr Laxon appealed on the grounds of no evidence to support the verdict and misdirection. The Appeal Allowed – The court allowed the appeal and the Master of the Rolls, in his judgement said the court was quite clear that the trial in the court below was unsatisfactory. The summing up unfortunately did not direct the jury right on some vital matters. The action was fought on the counterclaim, and Mr Jackson claimed that a definite agreement was made to grant him a new lease, but the terms and rent were left open, and at no time was it agreed when it should commence. It appeared to him looking at the correspondence quite impossible to contend that an agreement was ever made. The correspondence seemed to defeat the contention. Away, therefore went the whole matter of the agreement and the claim for specific performance and all that was left was the claim for damages. No question was put to the jury. “Did Mr Jackson do what he did in adapting the theatre for sound apparatus relying on any representation of Mr Laxon?” and his lordship could not understand how the £750 damages were arrived at. No evidence of misrepresentation. He could see no evidence of misrepresentation by Mr Laxon. The trial was on wrong lines, but it would not be right to order a new trail. The appeal would be allowed and the judgement entered for Mr Laxon on the counter claim. The Lords Justice concurred.