21st Jan 2003
Your photos please!
see foot of article
The Story of Jack Darby's (The Picture House) Cinema
Jack Darby's in retirement
Further to our recent article about 'The Bump', Lower Gornal's cinema (click here),
let's walk up the hill onto the ridge that is the old turnpike road to Dudley. Around the spot where Gornal and Sedgley
meet still stands The Leopard pub and the old cinema hall that is currently County Wallpapers.
The County Wallpapers building was originally a large 19th Century public amenity known as "The Drill Hall". It was
converted into a cinema by a Mr. J. Lewis and probably showed its first movie just before, or round about
the same time as, The Bump - late 1911 or early 1912. Within a year it had been acquired by
Mr. Ernest Gilbert and Mr.Fred Elvins, and by the end of 1913 the eponymous Jack Darby had
bought the concern.
Jack, a saddler by profession, had been licensee of the Leopard next door since 1905. Along with his friends, the brothers
Clifford Fellows and Joseph Eustace Fellows he refurbished the cinema and made it as successful as
The Alexandra. A quieter generator than the one that gave 'The Bump' its nickname meant that the accompaniment of
pianist Sam Hartland was clear and memorable.
Jack retired from pub in the 1920's and the cinema in the early 30's, and his son Howard Darby took over, with the
assistance of partner Mr. Holmes. They embarked on a major update in 1936, adding a balcony and sound system to
bring the 'talkies' to the area. This was a brave move, because a mile away in Sedgley a brand new 'super cinema' was
being constructed for the Clifton chain. The new theatre opened in May 1937, but lacked the intimacy and 'good order'
of the Picture House so that for a long time Jack Darby's maintained and even increased its audience.
During the Second World War a bomb fell near to the Picture House and blew the neon sign right off (does any Yampy reader
remember this happening?). Conveniently, the
ARP station to which Howard Darby belonged was based just behind the cinema in the Tram Depot. It was around this time that
Mr. Holmes left the partnership, while Howard and his wife were to maintain his father's legacy for the rest of
its working life. Two sisters, Mrs. Britain and Mrs. Marsh kept the cosy theatre in immaculate condition,
and its reputation of being an 'orderly house' was undiminished.
Nevertheless, the constant problem of finding films that were not already 'old hat' to cinema-goers, who could choose
the Sedgley Clifton or hop on the tram to Dudley or Wolverhampton, was taking its toll, despite a commendable
£4000 capital injection in the austere 1950's to facilitate cinemascope.
The final show - The Mouse That Roared - was projected on 2nd January 1960 by Jim Harrison, a sad moment
for someone associated with Jack Darby's for almost thirty years.
Please send us your memories of the cinema; the staff, customers, memorable films, we want to know everything -
well, almost everything, depending on whether your
courtin' conquests are rated PG or X. If you have a photograph of Jack Darby's while it was still
showing films we would be very grateful.
Email us at
The information used above has been summarised, with the kind permission of the author,
from 'Cinemas of The Black Country' by
which contains further details of
Jack Darby's and many other local movie theatres. It has been out of print for many years,
but Gornal library has a copy.
was born in London in 1944, but has lived in the Black Country since 1962; twelve years in Dudley,
and ever since in Wolverhampton. Since 1969 Ned has written thirty books about different aspects of the Black Country
with some specialising on the worlds of entertainment, transport, and retailing.
He is available for talks on Black Country topics and regularly leads several WEA Local History classes in the region.