Smethwick, B66 3ET
On the 29th May1909 the Smethwick roller skating rink designed by a Mr G Bowden and son opened to the public on Windmill Lane. Taking five weeks to construct it had opened the previous day but was by invitation only. Later that year it closed for improvements, re-opening on the 4th September. The manager was a famous athlete at the time, a Mr Chas B Wheelwright.
In 1912 it was converted into a cinema called The Rink Picture House with 1500 upholstered tip-up seats and advertised as the New Smethwick Picture House. This opened on Easter Monday 8th April. The opening films for the first half of the week included a cowboy called ‘Nearly a Millionaire’ and ‘How Micky Dooley Survived’. The building was 146ft long and 110ft wide. Films were screened twice nightly at 7 and 9 with matinees on Mondays, Thursday’s and Saturdays. Sunday cinema in Smethwick was introduced on 7th September 1924. It was run by Bosco’s Ltd until 1920 when it was a Mr Shapeero who was in charge. He bought it, and several other halls including, the Empire Dudley, the Electric Theatre, Smethwick and The Picture House Villa Cross, in a deal worth £140,000.
Shapeero was the proprietor until Denman Picture Houses took over in 1928. The cinema closed Saturday 11th May 1929 and was demolished in the November, making way for a new much improved cinema, with building work commencing in the December. The new cinema was run by Gaumont British and the name Rink was retained. The architect was William T. Benslyn.
It opened on 7th July 1930 and the opening attraction, starting at 2.30 was a film called ‘Flight’. From the Thursday ‘Lone Star Ranger’ was screened.
The opening of the new building was performed by the mayor councillor Samuel Smith, JP. It was equipped with a Compton organ, played in the opening week by Leslie James. Seating was provided for 1,950, 650 of them in the balcony. There was also a limited amount of standing room. The proscenium opening was 45ft wide and 30ft high, making it possible to show pictures up to a size of 40ft by 28ft. There were four pairs of doors leading to the entrance hall and there was a large crush hall. Colour decoration was carried out by Mr Frank Barnes, the company’s scenic artist.
The vaulting of the staircase and foyer were reminiscent of the Italian renaissance. In 1949 it became a Gaumont. It carried on until the 1st February 1964. In 1956 friends and family of service people were invited to make sound recordings at the theatre to be send to them in Cyprus. It was the idea of the manager a Mr J G Linz. Also in 1956 the cinema was one of several run by Rank that banned the showing of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ on Sunday.
A Rank spokesperson said, “Sunday night is regarded as the ‘difficult’ night in the cinema world.”The last film was ‘Bitter Harvest’ starring Janet Munro and ‘Tiger Bay’ starring Hayley Mills.
It became a Top Rank Bingo Club, later Mecca, which closed around 2005. The building was listed Grade 2 and is now a banqueting Hall known as the Victoria suite.
David A Ellis (c) chestercinemas.co.uk