Hippodrome Theatre

Photo:Hippodrome Theatre

Hippodrome Theatre

Photo by Tony Mould

Photo:Detail of a box at the Hippodrome

Detail of a box at the Hippodrome

Brighton and Hove City Council

Photo:Theatre auditorium

Theatre auditorium

Brighton and Hove City Council

Photo:Exterior of the Hippodrome Theatre

Exterior of the Hippodrome Theatre

Brighton and Hove City Council

Can you help with its conservation?

By Jennifer Drury

Brighton Hippodrome in Middle Street, started life as Brighton Ice-Rink in 1897. In 1901 the building was enlarged and converted into a circus by the architect Frank Matcham and renamed the Hippodrome. The following year the Hippodrome underwent another conversion, this time into a variety theatre, which opened on 22 December 1902.

An important theatrical venue
Over the years, The Hippodrome played host to many famous performers, including actors, comedians, singers and later, pop stars like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Perhaps the most popular, was the comedian Max Miller, Brighton's own 'Cheeky Chappie', who regularly performed at the Hippodrome between the 1930s and 1950s. It closed in 1965, becoming the Mecca Bingo Club in 1967, bringing to an end a wonderful era of music hall and variety theatre in Brighton.

Returning the building to its roots
Recently this fine Grade II* listed building was bought by AMG/Live Nation who wish to turn it back from a bingo hall to a live music venue. However, there is an anomaly in the building's history. The Palm Court, in the ground floor of Hippodrome House (the part of the building directly opposite the end of Boyce's Street) is decked out in the most decorative plaster. It has glorious fresco style paintings, complete with a plaster Venetian Bridge, but unfortunately they are undated.

Confusion over dates
The problem is that no one, not even the author of the Conservation Plan for the building (one the of the country's leading theatre experts), has a clue how old the features are. Dates from the Edwardian period, right up to 1960s have been thrown about in the past year or so, and we are all rather confused. Neither the Council nor the Local History Centre has any plans of this section of the building.  The date of the Palm Court decorations are very important as if they are of significant historical interest, it is imperative that it they are conserved.

Can you help?
Do you have any information regarding this area of the building? Have you got any old photos of the Hippodrome's Palm Court?  Did you visit the theatre pre WWII? Or maybe you saw one of those rock bands in the 1950s and 1960s?  Did you ever work at the Hippodrome or do you know someone who did?  Your information and memories will hopefully allow the conservationists to piece together a history of this well loved theatre.

If you email me at jennifer@mybrightonandhove.org.uk I will forward your mails to the conservation officer who is working on this project.

This page was added on 03/04/2008.
Comments about this page

Can you tell me what happened to the big car showroom that used to be next to the Hippodrome? I forget the name. I lived above it and attended Middle Street School in the late 40s, early 50s. In the photo, it looks as though everything has gone that used to be beyond the theatre. There used to be a sawmill too, just past the car showroom.

By Janet Barry (12/04/2008)

'Old Theatres' magazine will be publishing an article about Brighton Hippodrome in a forthcoming edition. Your memories and pictures are welcomed. For more information, please see our web pages www.oldtheatres.co.uk We look forward to hearing from you. E Mails should be sent to oldtheatres@googlemail.com

By Terry Kirtland (16/07/2010)

I worked at the Hippodrome between 1987 and 1996, when it was the Mecca bingo hall. I remember Palm Court well - the two bars and the mock Venetian bridge. At lunchtimes my colleagues and I would go exploring, the cellar under Palm Court (where the beer cellar was) was very intriguing. We also used to explore the cellar by the Elephant Walk where one could go under the stage and see the original stalls floor and the orchestra pit. We also visited the old changing rooms which still has the rows of mirrors with individual lights, the flies which still has some of the equipment and also the electric room which I believe is listed in its own right. I didn't take any pictures myself (you don't realise at the time you are watching a piece of history pass you by) but there were numerous pictures stashed in various places. I'm not sure what happened to them, I expect they were taken by the bingo employees who were working there when the Hippodrome closed its doors for the last time. I am still in contact with them and will check.

By James (13/05/2012)

Hi Janet, the big showroom next to the Hippodrome was Dreadnoughts. I believe it was the major Austin dealership for the area. I am researching the garages as my father's Austin Healey was sold from there in 1955. Any information or pictures of the garages would be much appreciated! Ben

By Ben (20/05/2016)

For Ben: You are right about the Dreadnoughts garage and if it is any help with your research it went on to be a showroom and workshops for Stringers (Wadham Stringers). Later it was also used as protected parking for Nationwide Building Society. I am not sure if they also occupied the office space. Both of those companies may have photos of the building and interiors on their websites.

By Bob from Brighton (21/05/2016)

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