Earlsdon Clock  
Earlsdon Online Coventry's longest running community website

The Imperial Cinema (later La Continentale)

La Continentale

Towards the end of the first decade of the 1900s Mr Augustus Pell, builder of several cinmeas in Coventry, saw the opportunity of bringing this new popular form of entertainment into fast developing Earlsdon. He bought a prime site near the bottom of Earlsdon Street, got an architect, James Gilbert, to design him a handsome building and contracted a local builder, Frank Turner of Moor Street to build it. As the building took shape the local people looked on with mixed feelings, the younger element with excitement, many of the older ones with trepidation at what they saw as an intrusion by a newfangled fad.

The 'Electric' as it was first called opened on 5 December 1911. Because of its size, shape and comparitive bareness inside and its draughtiness it was christened by locals 'The Barn' and as such it was affectionately known throughout its fifty two years of life, although officially its name was soon changed to the 'Imperial'.

The Imperial
The 'Electric' after it had been renamed the 'Imperial'

Showing only silent films of course with the audience seated on benches (2d at the front and 3d at the back), it nevertheless became extremely popular; so much so that in 1926 it was closed for major refurbishment and extension, with the addition of a tiny balcony and with smart tip up seats. The Barn could now seat 432 people in comparative comfort. The back row of seats was always tacitly left for the use of corting couples and were always well used.

On 1 April 1930, through the magic of more sophisticated equipment, the Earlsdon audiences were able to see, and now hear the newly developed 'talkies'. What an improvement that was, although by the time the films had reached the Imperial they were well used and well worn. Breakdowns were inevitable, accompanied by groans, boos and slow hand claps, from the audience.

La Continentale
The 'Imperial' becomes the 'Continental'

Unfortunately in the 1940 blitz a bomb put the cimema out of action. The right side wall was too badly damaged to be just patched up; it was possible that films might not be shown in the Barn again. But in 1947 Bill Edkins, born and bred in Earlsdon and working at the time as a projectionist at the Astoria, came to the rescue. With some help he was able to buy it, have it repaired, modernised and improved; within a few weeks it reopened. After an initial run of success however audiences gradually declined, as Bill put it "the box in the corner began to take over". Something different was needed.


In 1951, after some further modernisation and changes in decor inside and out, the cimema reopened as 'La Continentale', showing only films from France, Italy, Spain and South American countries. It was a bold move and at the opening the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Harry Weston, wished "success to a bold venture of cimematic art". It was a success, at least for a few years, but by the 1960s audiences were again declining. Bill tried the experiment of running a private cinema club, but even that failed to improve attendances. By 1963 he found it impossible to keep going.

In 1965 the Barn was closed and demolished and was replaced by a row of modern shops and offices (now the site of the Universal Discount Store).

Bill Edkins
Bill Edkins

Click here to return to the 'Millennium Heritage Trail'

© EOL 2011 | In association with Fireside Media

Visitors  visitors