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.

Picture House – Smithford Street

The Rex Cinema

The Rex Cinema

Gone with the Wind...

The Rex cinema, built in 1937, it was one of the most sophisticated cinemas in the UK. Sadly it only lasted 3 years 6 months and 17 days before it was completely destroyed in World War II. The night before it was due to show "Gone with the Wind".

Mr H.T. A. Philpot makes an announcement at a social gathering in December 1935 of his intention to build a new Cinema in Coventry that will include a café and snack bar. Coventry Corporation sold the land at the recently completed Corporation Street for £17,250 on condition that a cinema and shops will be completed within 18 months.

Restaurant – clean modern lines, soft indirect lighting, a tropical bird aviary and mirrors. The restaurant will be terraced in the style of gay continental clubs.

Snack Bar – a frieze of caricatures of famous film stars sprayed onto the wall.  

Auditorium – warm soft pastel shades of red with metallic finishes. Large vertical coves and square panels that will light the main ceiling. Curtain – gold fire proof satin.

Entrance Hall – will be brilliantly lit with soft red and gold. The pay boxes stocked with chocolate and tobacco kiosks. The large foyer will provide for both the stalls and balcony so there will be no external queuing in bad weather.

July – Building work began. Students from the Technical college visit the building site to admire the new modern pile driving method to ensure perfect foundations. First-time piles of this type to a depth of 18 ft were used in Coventry.

Apparently – During foundation works – a large masse of old foundations, huge quantities of soft black mud and a huge amount of water ingress. Large masses of horns of cattle bones and what appeared to be blood were encounter. It was suggested at the time by Mr J B Shelton (enthusiastic antiquarian) the site was once the site of the Bablake pool. If more excavations were made he suggested an old mill may have been encountered. During foundation works at the wine lodge, corner of corporation street, an ancient paddle was found. It was also suggested the large mass of cattle bones may have been from a period when the animal herds were slaughter on mass due to a plague.

Injury! Workmen injured on site – John Kirby (28) treated for a cut to head and shock. Henry Bunker (60) cut to the face and injury to the leg.  And again, Dec 36 – Ambulance called for William Deacon suffering a cut to the head after a mallet fell on him!

Cinema designed by Robert Cromie, with Mr Montague Marvin acoustic expert ensured perfect acoustics. Seating Capacity for 2,562 (500 in the circle, 2062 in the stalls). Total cost £150,000 £6,000 on furniture, decoration and kitchen equipment. Restaurant seating capacity 200, snack bar 100. Between 9th Feb – 28th Feb 1937 663 lunches, 1,218 teas, 1,039 dinners averaging 150 meals per day.

450 / 500 Tons of steel costing £12,000. Cantilevered girder for the balcony: 98 feet long, 8ft 6 inches wide, weighing 46 tons, cost £1,150 and £110 to transport it from Glasgow. 113 Piles were sunk for the foundation. The steel frame encased in brick with white reconstituted Portland Stone with a cavity ensuring the cinema is sound and damp proof.

Long window 56 feet overlooking Corporation Street. Kitchen to be ultra modern and fitted with all gas appliances – A large Regulo controlled range with the new solid top and four ovens.


Opening Night

Monday 8th February 6:50 pm. 

500 guests of the management – enough to fill the circle, stalls to be opened to the public on a first come first served basis.

Mayor [A.H. Barnacle] opened the cinema, congratulated the Philpot Brothers for a wonderful building which would undoubtedly help popularise corporation street. He added, the street had been subject to much criticism, but would be given a new start with the Rex, before long the street would gain popularity and importance of Corporation Streets in other cities.

The Mayor remarked – during his youth the great fair was the only principle source of amusement. Colonel W.F. Wyley, added – I recall a time when Coventry had only one small theatre – in Vicar Lane. [This memory would go back to about 1880 and his memory would be of the Empire Palace which stood near, what is now, Barracks Car Park]

Congratulatory telegrams came from W.F. Strickland M.P. (who couldn’t attend), Mr Lupino Lane, Mr & Mrs George Formby, Mr Basil Dean etc.

Mr Billy Milton (British Film Star), Miss June Duprez, the former Coventry Repertory company actress who is now enjoying screen success were introduced to the audience.  M’lle Vanda Greville, the French film actress was also in attendance but was to shy to come on to the stage.

The programme included – God save the king, Coventry Mayor Speech, British Movietone News, Bottles (cartoon), Interlude – Wurlitzer Organ, Feature Film – San Francisco (about the 1906 earthquake, 30 years previous, likely many of the guest would have read the news first hand).

Wurlitzer Organ – only one in Coventry

Mr Reginald Dixon was at the helm (but some reports that he was ill that night and Arthur Aikman stood in..)– he closed his performance with an extremely ‘hot’ version of Tiger Rag – Recording of him playing at Blackpool here. Reginald Dixon was booked for 4 days. Harry Farmer was to follow. 

Many guests danced on the stage to music by the Hippodrome Orchestra under the direction of Mr. W. Pethers who composed a piece especially for the night.

Projectionists – George Smith and Eddie Wileman

Only known image of the Rex Cinema restaurant

February –

16th 8pm, only a week after the cinema had opened a power cut caused the cinema to close early. All 2,200 customers were given commentary tickets. 

2,500 school children from across Warwickshire attend a Robert Mayer series of concerts for Children.

18th – Mirrophonic sound reproduction to be installed in the Rex after many transatlantic cables with the American company. The Rex is to be the first cinema in Europe to be fitted with the sound system. It was hoped this would have been ready for the opening night, sadly it proved to be impossible to obtain the system in time.

Thanks to the new Di-phonic horn system everything recorded on the soundtrack of the film, every variation in pitch and volume, is evenly distributed throughout the auditorium, preventing ‘dud spots’. The system adds a quiet beauty, even the rustling of a dress is fully auditable with the Mirrophonic sound.

At a trade show in London where the system was demonstrated, an audience of cinema professionals who had calmly sat through showings of San Francisco in their own theatres using conventional sound systems were fetched from their seats during the terrifying sounds conveyed during the earthquake sequence.

The Rex Cinema Coventry will be a ‘show house’ for the sound system. Hundreds of important people in the cinema industry from Great Britain, and indeed, Europe will travel to Coventry to hear our cinema sing aloud.

March –

George Formby makes a personal appearance at the Rex during an afternoon performance, whilst he is performing at the Theatre Royal Birmingham in “Dick Whittington”.

Cinema applies to the council for a licence to sell intoxicating liquor – summary of some of the comments:

Any person dining at the Rex, who would like to take whisky or beer with his meal has to send out for it. The drink has to be carried through the streets when it rains it is unfortunate the drinks are watered down. It would be impossible to carry cocktails from the nearest licenced premises without spilling them. Mr R. Oxley of the Queens Hotel objected to the licence. He said, he had visited the Rex Cinema, but not the restaurant, however, he had heard birds whistling overhead.

Mr Ferraro oversaw the catering at the Rex. He had previously worked at Ciro’s London and 12 trips on the Queen Mary. During the licensing hearing, it was asked – “Has the manager found that the Rex, unlike the Queen Mary, will not run on water?”

After a long hearing, the Coventry Licensing Justice decided to grant a licence for the consumption of intoxicating liquor with meals for a term of 3 ¼ years. NO vertical drinking to be permitted.

Plans made to combine the snack bar with the Rex banqueting hall next door. A small snack bar (that looks more like a cocktail bar) was to be installed in the restaurant.

May –

200 cinema electricians and projectionists from across the Midlands are invited to a special look around and lunch at the restaurant.

Royal heritage film to be shown every day during the week of the coronation. Any Boy, of any age, with the name REX will be given two free seats upon the presentation of their birth certificate.


November – Famous American Visit – Mr Spyras Skouras who owns over 800 cinemas in America was on holiday in England.

He made a special visit to Coventry to see the Rex cinema after it was recommended to him as one of the best provincial cinemas. Mr Skouras had visited several London cinemas and had been bitterly disappointed.

However, he was obviously delighted with the Rex cinema, Coventry. He commented upon the skilful design of the cinema, he said the restaurant was the best he had seen associated with a cinema outside of America.

Fire in the neighbouring shops – papers fall into the electric fire. Fire brigade quick put it out, no major damage.

The Coventry branch of the Electrical Association for Women met at the Rex Cinema.

January – Air Defence Cadet Corps Appeal: The sum of £78 has been raised by the appeal made at the Rex Cinema last week for funds to provide greatcoats, boots and other equipment for members of the No. 8 F (Frederick Bird) squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps, Coventry.

Through the co-operation of Mr H. T. A. Philpot and the management of the cinema the appeal was made by various speakers, each night prior to the showing of the air film “The lion has wings”.

The squadron expresses appreciation of the generous response of the public and states that the total contributed includes a donation of 10 guineas from No. 5 Group Centre of the Observer Corps.

Last image the Rex - The army makes an appeal for funds
The last advert for the Rex - Many local adverts in the build up to "Gone with the Wind" showing on the 26th August 1940 at 1.15 and 6.15 daily.


25th August – Direct hit by a high explosive bomb lands on the circle blowing the cinema apart.

The frontage and restaurant survive. Local paper – just a single line saying it’s out of the listing. The Avery in the restaurant was damaged but some of the birds were found to be still on their perches.

The nearby West Orchard Church & West Orchard Congregational Sunday School led the Easter parade just before the war. A large colourful banner was used in in the precession. After the bombing, it was found floating tattered in the breeze on the debris of the Rex Cinema.

Reports of bombing in/around 2nd November / early October? another hit destroys the cinema, nothing is left this time.

Later stories were reported in the 1970s – Eddie Wileman projectionist went to the cinema on Monday Morning to get ready for the showing of Gone with the wind – Corporation Street was fenced off and the Rex had gone with a blast.

19th March – Two cases of theft of lead the property ministry of supply from sites in Coventry came before the Coventry magistrates yesterday. In one case, the theft of lead from the site of the Rex cinema corporation street was alleged against two Birmingham men – Arthur Percy Griffin, 69 and Thomas Leo Leathem. Detective Coleman said Leathem was employed as a labourer salvaging material from the Rex site, and the other man was a lorry driver moving the material. The two men took the lead to a metal merchant and received £1 17s. 6d. Leathem told the Bench that he had a fit of temper and took the metal. Griffin said other drivers had had orders not to take it, but he himself had not had any such order.

Each man was fined £3 and Leathem was ordered to pay £1 7s and Griffin 10s. 6d costs.

June 14th – Coventry people heard the sound of an explosion on Sunday Morning. The façade of the Rex Cinema was blown up by a charge, the south side of Corporation Street had to be closed temporarily. 

September 26th – Battle of Britain Parade Sunday Programme: A great combined parade, representative of all services will take place at Coventry. The Mayor (Mrs Emily Smith) will take the salute accompanied by a group Captain A. G. Miller and Brigadier A. Smith.

The parade will march in column of threes, and the head will pass the saluting base on the site of the “Rex Cinema” in Corporation Street at 3 pm.

Council committee objects to a market opening on the site of the former Rex Cinema. The objection was based not on the increase of competition, but to the fact that a new market site, distant from others was proposed. It was felt that this helped to removed opportunities for comparison of traders offers by the shopping public.

April – Army Apprentices Mobile Exhibition: The famous queen mary trailer, complete with scale models of tanks, guns and modern army equipment made by boys of the army apprentice schools will be open to the public at the Rex Cinema Site Saturday 26th April 10 am – 6 pm. Free Admission

August – Sea Scots to exhibit canoes and other sea scouting equipment on the former Rex Cinema site Corporation Street for a one-day event.

December – Coventry Men’s Morris and sword dancing club augmented by a team from Birmingham will perfume at 2:30 pm on the bombed site (old Rex Cinema).

West Orchard Market to transfer to the Rex Cinema site to make way for the new Owen Owen store and the new hotel as part of the Broadgate Redevelopment.

October 9th – Market opens on the site of the Rex Cinema – Grand opening of the Rex Market at 10.30 Friday 9th October 1953 by the Lord Mayor of Coventry. Managed by Mr Leslie Walker Special displays of materials, dresses art ware, fancy and leather goods, chinaware, laces, ladies & Gentlemen’s wear, shoes, hardware, jewellery, books, novels, animal foods, pet shop, toys, confectionery, fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers, plants, light refreshments, ices, children’s roundabout. It’s a market well worth visiting.

Public notice – Coventry council give public notice of compulsory order to buy the land.

Coventry Council compulsory purchase the Rex Buildings Corporation Street at a cost of £82,475 as part of the Smithford Way redevelopment plan which include a 13 storey tower block.

Workmen building an entrance to the new multi-storey car park on Corporation Street unearthed tons of iron girders which were the old foundations of the cinema. These girders are to be torn out before the new roadway is finished. All that was the Rex Cinema has now gone, but some of the Rex complex, the shops (next door to the cinema) still remain, known as Fortress House.  

The Rex Cinema