Derby Hippodrome

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

20080815 mp derbyhippodrome 012 detail
Address
Green Lane, Derby, Derbyshire DE1 1ES
Risk Rating
5 (Community Rating: 1, 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?

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 demolition 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, the preferred plans for which are now to restore and reopen the Assembly Rooms.

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 can not currently accommodate.

Current situation

Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust (DHRT) has been trying to secure and rebuild the theatre. Theatres Trust has been providing the group with advice and support throughout this time.

In 2013, the group successfully listed the site of Derby Hippodrome as an Asset of Community Value and received approval for planning and listed building applications to rebuild the front of house as a café, offices and meeting spaces on four floors and construct roofing over the auditorium and stage house.

The Assembly Rooms, Derby’s large-scale performance venue, closed in March 2014 following a fire. The venue has remained closed ever since and subject to much debate over the whether to refurbish and reopen or to build anew on a different site. In the meantime, this has deprived the people of Derby the opportunity to see large-scale commercial touring theatre in their home city. DHRT believe that the Hippodrome has the potential to fill this gap.

In January 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.

DHRT continues to drive forward its plans for the Hippodrome and in 2018 commissioned a high-level business plan and viability study for the building. The proposals suggested a phased approach to restoring the theatre, with an initial phase to secure the building, halting further decay of the historic fabric and providing a new temporary, flexible performance space within the shell of the current auditorium. The multi-purpose space would be community focussed for use by local amateur groups, schools etc.

This phased approach to building works will allow the building to be secured and in active use while proposals are developed for a larger capital works project. DHRT envision this to be a full restoration of the Hippodrome with some additions to provide a state of the art performance venue for Derby.

During this same period, Derby Civic Society supported by the University and DHRT carried out a masterplan of the adjacent, and currently semi-derelict, Duckworth Square site. The scheme proposed transforming the area into an entertainment hub for the city and included a restored and rejuvenated Hippodrome as well as amphitheatre for informal outdoor productions, a University Plaza and green pedestrian corridor as well as hotels and apartments.

However, the council has since progressed with other developer-led plans for regeneration of Duckworth Square with a hybrid planning application submitted in 2019. While regeneration of this huge and derelict site would undoubtedly benefit the Hippodrome, it 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 in the regeneration of the area and the opportunities that this elegant Grade II building could offer both in terms of setting and community benefit.

In the meantime, current plans for the Assembly Rooms are for a £24m regeneration project. However, with delays to the work any potential reopening remains several years away.

In May 2020 Derby Hippodrome Restoration 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.  

Main photo Derby Hippodrome, Theatres Trust