Brighton Hippodrome

The UK’s most architecturally significant circus theatre – the finest surviving example of its type in the country.

200708 mp brightonhippodrome 039 detail
Address
Middle Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1AL
Risk Rating
9 (Community Value: 3. Star Rating: 3. Risk Factor: 3.)
Owner
Private Owner
Architect
Frank Matcham
Date of Construction
1901
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
1,400 -1,500 (estimated)

Significance

Brighton Hippodrome is the UK’s most architecturally significant circus theatre – the finest surviving example of its type in the country. It is listed Grade II*. The Hippodrome originally opened as an ice skating rink in 1897, designed by Lewis Karslake. In 1901 eminent theatre architect Frank Matcham converted it into a circus. Further adaptations in 1902 by yet another distinguished theatre architect of the time, Bertie Crewe, saw it modified into a variety theatre. The most spectacular feature is the circular auditorium with its richly decorated ceiling in the form of a panelled tent. The relationship between the stage house, auditorium and circle, as well as the ancillary areas, is significant as a unique example of our past cultural and recreational pursuits.

Why is this theatre at risk?

In 2014 Brighton and Hove City Council (BHCC) approved planning applications to convert the Hippodrome into a multiplex cinema. This would have seen the auditorium subdivided, the fly tower demolished and the rear access to the theatre built upon, preventing the building from ever being used as a theatre again. However, in 2015, the proposed cinema operator pulled out. The planning consent has subsequently expired. A stakeholder group including Theatres Trust commissioned a viability study, which concluded the Hippodrome does have a viable future as a large-scale theatre, if the challenge of raising funds can be met.

Current situation

Brighton Hippodrome Community Interest Company (CIC) has been leading the project to restore the Hippodrome and in 2016 secured grants to complete a valuation, structural surveys and initial designs for the building. The proposals include residential and retail development on site to support the restoration of the auditorium and stage house. Importantly, the CIC’s proposals are sensitive to the needs of a performance venue and will retain both the flytower and access to the get-in and back of house areas, meaning the Hippodrome can ultimately be reopened as a large-scale theatre.

In November 2017, the Hippodrome was sold by Academy Music Group to a private investor. While the new owner’s plans for the building are not yet public, the Theatres Trust is clear that any development of the theatre and its surrounding site must be sensitive to the possible future reinstatement of the theatre and has been lobbying BHCC, Historic England and other key organisations to this cause.

In November 2018 the Council published its Old Town Conservation Area Management Plan, based on a Character Statement funded by the CIC on behalf of BHCC through Coastal Revival Funding. The plan lists the heritage importance of the Hippodrome within the area and its significance for stimulating regeneration of the conservation area.

In the meantime, Brighton Hippodrome CIC has commissioned an economic impact study to assess the effect of a restored and reopened Hippodrome on Brighton. The group has also commissioned external validation of its business plan and has been working on a fundraising strategy. Theatres Trust has been supporting the group in this work.

On 25 Janaury 2019 the owner of Brighton Hippodrome revealed initial plans, and has said they will be holding public consultation events in mid-February, where full details of the plans will be revealed. 

We will be interested to see the full plans when they are released and will be responding to the planning application in our role as statutory consultee in due course. It is critical that any development of the site includes a fully funded restoration of the theatre which will preserve its capacity to function as a large scale venue for performance. 

Campaign video (from 2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K39YocGrlW8

Image: Brighton Hippodrome, Theatres Trust