Café Culture: The New Picture House and its Tearoom

On 4 July 1931, the New Picture House (NPH) announced that their ‘magnificent cinema café’ would soon ‘complete Fife’s Super Cinema’. The ‘tastefully furnished’ café was set to add ‘the finishing touch to a truly super-cinema’; the jewel in its entertaining crown. Indeed, it went on to become much more than this, serving as a community hub and multifunctional venue in its own right. Yet the café had less than auspicious beginnings. 

First mooted in the St Andrews Citizen’s preview of NPH building plans from June 1930, the café was next mentioned in the newspaper’s published report from the Chief Constable of The Works Committee in July. The report noted the need for ‘movable tables and chairs’, yet seemed to sanction the café’s construction. In November, the NPH created a position for a young lady with tearoom experience, and in December, the Citizen’s formal preview of the newly constructed NPH noted its ‘smoking lounge and café’. But, despite these appearances, the café was not accessible to the public until July 1931, a full six months after the NPH opened its doors

It seems likely that the café fell at two hurdles: scope and staircases. An article in the Citizen from December 1930 noted the ‘tremendous last minute hustle’ involved in readying the NPH. Whilst the cinema was successfully hustled into existence, with a vigour that ‘the old grey city’ of St Andrews had apparently ‘seldom, if ever, witnessed’, the café did not make it through the initial and ambitious round of construction. The retirement of the NPH manager, Mr Symon, in March 1931 likely contributed to its further delay, and licencing peculiarities for tearooms, along with health and safety concerns, were additional impediments. Only in June 1931 was the tearoom finally approved by the Inspector of Places for Public Refreshment and the Town Council, following extensive debate on the café’s staircase, which directed café goers through the main cinema foyer. As a compromise, the NPH agreed to add an emergency exit directly from the café to the street at a later date.

Having reassured the relevant regulatory bodies, the NPH pulled its café into full swing from mid-July 1931. Their advert boxes in the Citizen show that it was initially marketed as a place to ‘take tea and refreshments’ after ‘the pictures’. It offered accompanying ‘music’ and was open between 2pm and 10pm, Monday to Saturday. It is unclear whether the music was live or recorded, but it was advertised as a café feature until November 1931. Two weeks after the café’s opening, the NPH advertisements emphasised that it was ‘open to the general public as well as patrons’, and within a month its opening hours were extended, from 2pm to 11pm. Evidently, the café had proved attractive enough to public and patrons alike to justify expanded opening times before its first month was through. 

In December 1931, the NPH placed a small advert for ‘a novel xmas party’ and suggested that arrangements could be made to host a gathering at the NPH with ‘tea or supper’. This advert represents the earliest evidence of the NPH’s exploration of the café’s varied utility and potential. Throughout December 1931, other Citizen articles illustrate how the café was otherwise incorporated into the NPH’s wider programme of community activities and commercial ventures. The café was used to entertain ‘residents of the Gibson Hospital and (…) ex-Service men’s widows and children’ after their invitation to a special matinee performance of City Lights, a popular romantic comedy by Charlie Chaplin. The tea was paid for by St Andrews’ Rotary Club but hosted by the café, and it is noteworthy that the occasion marked the NPH’s ‘first anniversary’. The decision to celebrate the NPH’s anniversary indicates the ambitions of NPH management to establish the cinema as a multifunctional and community-focused enterprise. 

In late December, a letter to the Citizen’s editor decorated the NPH with praise for their provision of ‘special facilities’ for Gallipoli veterans during their reunion, and related how the café space would offer a gathering place for the ‘whole party’, including veterans’ wives, to take tea after a showing of Tell England; a drama focused on the Battle of Gallipoli. The veterans’ reunion of 1931 marks the first in a series of NPH events and interactions with past and present military personnel, and likely laid the foundations for its wartime and post-war engagements across subsequent decades.

Despite its meandering path to prominence, the NPH café established itself as an integral feature of the NPH within half a year; facilitating philanthropic efforts that recruited loyal audiences, and widening the NPH’s scope as a venue. It enjoyed a continuous evolution along these lines until at least 1950; before, during and after WWII, and throughout brought St Andrews its own, bespoke, cinema café culture. 

Audrey McBride (2020)

Works cited 

St Andrews Citizen, 12th July 1930 – 5 December 1931. (All weekly editions). 

‘New Cinema for St Andrews’, St Andrews Citizen, 28th June 1930.

‘St Andrews Town Council’, St Andrews Citizen, 12th July 1930.

‘Young ladies with tea-room experience wanted’, St Andrews Citizen, 15th November 1930.

‘St Andrews New Picture House’, St Andrews Citizen, 13th December 1930.

‘The New Picture House’, St Andrews Citizen, 20th December 1930. 

‘Tearoom Manageress wanted’, St Andrews Citizen, 14th March 1931. 

‘Tearoom at New Picture House’, St Andrews Citizen, 13th June 1931. 

‘Waitress Wanted’, St Andrews Citizen, 20th June 1931. 

‘New Picture House Café’, St Andrews Citizen, 4th July 1931. 

‘A Novel Xmas Party’, St Andrews Citizen, 5th December 1931.

‘Birthday Celebration of New Picture House’, St Andrews Citizen, 19th December 1931. 

‘New Picture House Birthday Celebration’, St Andrews Citizen, 24th December 1931.

‘Gallipoli Veterans’ Re-union (To the Editor.),’ St Andrews Citizen, 24th December 1931. 

Gallipoli Survivor’s Re-union (To the Editor.),’ St Andrews Citizen, 9th January 1932. 

Gillespie and Scott Drawings, St Andrews University Library (Bundle 2071). 

‘117 North Street, The New Picture House’, Historic Environment Scotland, Last accessed 29th March 2020. 

‘New Picture House’, Dictionary of Scottish Architects 1660-1980,  Last accessed 29thMarch 2020.