Derby Hippodrome

A large variety theatre, which could become an elegant touring house for Derby, despite its semi-demolished state.

Derby Hippodrome
Address
Green Lane, Derby, Derbyshire DE1 1ES
Risk Rating
6 (Community Rating: 2, Star Value: 1, Risk Factor: 3)
Local Authority
Derby City Council
Owner
Blake Finance
Architect
Marshall & Tweedy
Date of Construction
1914
Listing
Grade II
Capacity
1,000-1,200 (estimated)

Significance

Derby Hippodrome is a large Grade II listed variety theatre built in 1914. It is a rare survival from an early stage in the crossover period when buildings were being constructed for both live theatre and cinema. This building form proved to be the model for most cinema design from the 1930s onwards.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Derby Hippodrome has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2006 when we started the list.

Since the former theatre’s use as a bingo hall ended in 2007, there have been incidents of arson, other small fires and vandalism. Further substantial damage was caused in 2008 when the then-owner undertook essential repair works.

Disastrously these works have left the theatre partially demolished. There is now vegetation growth throughout and Japanese knotweed reported in the now-unroofed auditorium. It is believed that the current owner has plans for the redevelopment of the site that would inevitably lead to the loss of the theatre.

While the building has the potential to provide the city with an elegant lyric theatre, its fate is inextricably linked to the council’s decision on cultural provision within the city.

Theatre potential

The theatre has the potential to be rebuilt and restored to theatre use and could provide Derby with an elegant 1,000-1,200-seat theatre for the sort of commercial touring productions the city cannot currently accommodate. However, finding a solution to restoring the Hippodrome has been hindered by both the private ownership of the building and by a lack of clarity regarding the wider cultural ambition for Derby.

Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust (DHRT), formed following the partial demolition of the auditorium in 2008, has been actively campaigning to secure, restore and reopen the theatre and commissioning work to evidence the viability of this. Theatres Trust has been providing the group with advice and support throughout this time.

In 2016 DHRT secured a Heritage Lottery Start-Up grant which allowed it to demonstrate that the main structure of the theatre is sound and to obtain a valuation of the property in its present condition.

A high-level business plan and viability study for the building commissioned by DHRT in 2018 suggested a phased approach to restoring the theatre with an interim meanwhile use for the building as a community focused multi-purpose space, allowing the building to be secured and in active use while proposals are developed and funding sought for a full-scale restoration and reopening of the venue. The report also cited the regenerative and economic benefit of a reopened Hippodrome on its local area.

In 2020 Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, DHRT, Historic England, Derby University and Derby City Council formed a partnership group to determine possible ways forward to secure the future of the Hippodrome.

In May 2020 DHRT working with Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust was awarded a Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme grant of £15,000 to support a detailed study into the operational viability of the Derby Hippodrome. Arts consultancy Bonnar Keenlyside was commissioned to produce a viability report and business model assessing the long and short-term possibilities for the site. The operational viability study was published in 2021 and identified that the theatre building has a potential future as a live music venue. Read more about the findings of the report.

Current situation

The future of the Hippodrome has to be seen against the wider cultural ambition for Derby. This has been in a continual state of flux since the closure of Derby’s Assembly Rooms in March 2014 following a fire. This has left Derby without a large-scale venue, requiring residents to travel to neighbouring cities to see large-scale commercial touring theatre and other live performance. Debate continues over whether to refurbish the Assembly Rooms or to build anew on the same or a different site as well as about the type of provision to be built. Plans as of January 2020 are for a new 3,500-seat music, entertainment and conference venue to be built as a part of a new masterplan for Becketwell, a semi-derelict site adjacent to the Hippodrome. Rumours suggest that there is additional discussion regarding a 1200+ seat theatre on the site of the Assembly Rooms.

The regeneration of Becketwell is a developer-led proposal submitted in 2019. While regeneration will undoubtedly benefit the Hippodrome, the scheme as it currently stands fails to fully address the historic site and could go much further to integrate the building within the proposals.

Both Theatres Trust and DHRT continue to push the role of the Hippodrome within the regeneration of the area and the opportunities that this elegant Grade II building could offer in terms of the setting, cultural offer to complement that of the wider city, and economic and community benefit.

Main photo Derby Hippodrome, Theatres Trust