Highbury Imperial Picture Theatre

Highbury Imperial Picture Theatre

Opened: 1912
Closed: 1959
Address: 2 Holloway Road
Demolished: Yes

The Highbury Imperial Picture Theatre was a large 1400-seat cinema that opened on Boxing Day 1912, and was built by H. Courtney Constantine, the same architect who designed the infamous Scala cinema in Kings Cross. The Imperial, standing at the very southern end of Holloway Road, was a grand affair with a frontage of striking red brick and white marble and on either side of the entrance there was room for two large posters to be pasted advertising the weekly film programme.

The foyer was oval in shape with a ticket box to one side and two doors directly in front of the entrance leading into the large auditorium built to accommodate almost 900 people. The cinema extended over two floors with a passenger lift connecting the floors; upstairs there was a large gallery for another 540 people and should you be inclined – and afford the higher ticket price – there were also five private boxes situated on either side of the auditorium to choose from. The Imperial had it all; there was even two apartments on the top floor, one of which we presume had been built for the manager to live in.

The original proprietor of the Imperial was an entrepreneur named Richard Harris who following a career in gold mining decided to invest his savings in the film business. Harris first financed the building of the cinema and then set up the ‘Wisto Negative and Positive Stock Film Syndicate Ltd‘. The latter only lasted four years going into liquidation in 1918 but the Imperial turned out to be a much more successful venture staying open for over 47 years.

During the 1920s, George Coles, the well-know cinema architect, was involved a number of different alterations that took place in the cinema, these included converting the office on the first floor in a waiting room with refreshments and installing a small platform above the orchestra that could accommodate ‘singing turns’ between the films. The Gaumont-British Picture Corporation then took over the cinema 1928 and from September 1930 the patrons of the Imperial got to hear the movies and not just see them when R.C.A non-synchronous sound equipment was installed. In 1933 the name of the cinema changed to the Highbury Picture Theatre, then, again, in 1952, when it became simply the Picture House.

On the 11th of April 1959 the cinema showed its last two films: ‘Whirlpool’ staring French actress and singer Juliette Gréco and the bad boy epic, ‘Johnny Trouble’. Sadly this stately cinema was demolished and replaced first by a service station and then by the Majestic Wine Warehouse which stands on the site today.

Highbury Imperial Picture TheatreHighbury Imperial Picture Theatre. Digital Impression.


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  1. J.Dyer

    My father took me there regularly in the mid/late 1940′s when I attended Canonbury Road Primary School: I also attended early on Saturday mornings when a special children’s film show was put on: it was not a ” flea pit ” but a well run and popular cinema: there was a fairly local cinema known
    as The Flea Pit but I believe it is still an active cinema so I prefer not to name it and cause embarrassment to the current proprietors!

  2. James Dewen

    I went to Saturday morning pictures here in the fifties, I also saw “Reach for the sky” here and all us kids were given a cardboard model Spitfire (I believe the film was released to coincide with Battle of Britain week. Also saw The Dam Busters.

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