Dudley Hippodrome

A late-1930s purpose-built variety theatre, by prolific cinema architect Archibald Hurley Robinson who designed over 30 cinemas in the West Midlands.

1995 dudley hippodrome 12 iangrundy detail
Address
Castle Hill, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 4QF
Risk Rating
8 (Community Value: 3, Star rating: 2, Risk Factor: 3)
Architect
Archibald Hurley Robinson
Date of Construction
1937 / 38 – opened 19 December 1938
Listing
Not listed
Capacity
1,752 (originally)

Significance

The Hippodrome is Dudley’s only remaining lyric theatre. Its external styling is of a 1930s super cinema in buff brick. It was well-maintained while in bingo use, and the interior still has a theatrical feel. Later alterations within the auditorium are fully reversible and it would be possible to return the theatre to use for live performance.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Dudley Hippodrome has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2010.

The Hippodrome had been in bingo use up to as recently as 2009 and during this period it was well-maintained. However, the building has been vacant since bingo closed and considered under threat of demolition since its purchase by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council in November 2010 who wished to redevelop the site as a new entrance for Dudley Zoo. The site is no longer required for this purpose and the council has been seeking alternative uses ever since. This has included various proposals of its own, which would all involve demolition of the theatre, as well as inviting expressions of interest in the building. The current proposal is for a new university centre on the site, part of a larger Towns Fund bid by the council, which would result in the demolition of the Hippodrome.

In the meantime, the building is vacant and deteriorating. There has also been a build-up of waste in the building’s vicinity detracting from its amenity value.

Dudley Hippodrome

Theatre potential

The theatre is situated in a prominent part of Dudley that has been highlighted for regeneration, and a revitalised Dudley Hippodrome could make a significant social and economic contribution to the local area. It is also known that the council are currently considering plans for a large multi-purpose entertainment venue within Dudley, a role that could be fulfilled by the Hippodrome.

Current situation

There had been some positive news for the Hippodrome when in December 2016 the council took the decision to lease the building to community group The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd (BCHL). However, the five-year lease agreed was feared challenging for project fundraising. BCHL appointed an architect to draw up proposals for its vision of a restored Hippodrome reopened as a cultural hub for the community. The concept design included a large extension on the right side of the building next to Trindle Road to house a new entrance, café and box office, as well as a first-floor bar and restaurant hub.

Unfortunately, the project lacked real support within Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and was doomed to failure. At the same time as BCHL took the keys to the Hippodrome, the council submitted its own plans for the demolition of the building. While the plans were withdrawn after strong objections by Theatres Trust, it served to undermine the campaign group’s aspirations for the theatre. Onerous key milestones linked to break clauses in the lease agreement, and discovery of asbestos in the building led to further difficulties. The council eventually terminated the lease early leaving the Hippodrome empty once again and without any agreement on its future – a move criticized by Theatres Trust.

While the BCHL has since disbanded, other campaign groups have taken its place. The Friends of Dudley Hippodrome is continuing to campaign for the building.

In 2018, and after a further Expression of Interest on the site, the council decided to take forward a bid from the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium to turn the Hippodrome site into a driverless vehicle test centre. The consortium was granted an initial 12-months and a further nine-months extension to work up its business plan and fundraising strategy plus officer support for developing the proposals, support that had not been offered to the campaign group in 2016.

The Hippodrome has since been announced as a key site in Dudley Town Centre bid to the government’s Towns Fund initiative. In September 2020 the council announced its plans to demolish the theatre and replace it with an education centre as a part of this bid. The proposals to regenerate the site were approved by the council on 23 September. Theatres Trust wrote to the council to express our extreme disappointment at this decision.

The education centre is to be delivered with Dudley College and in partnership with the University of Worcester. It has been granted initial capacity funding of £173,029 by the government to assist with the development of proposals, and to develop the bid to Stage 1 submission level. A council Cabinet meeting in December 2020 further cemented these latest proposals, recommending that approval be given for the council to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Dudley College for the project.

Throughout this time the Hippodrome has remained vacant and deteriorating, presenting an increased challenge to restore. Theatres Trust has written to the council to request that it addresses this matter, and to reconsider the future of the Hippodrome as a performance venue. This is particularly pertinent due to the council’s ambition for a new multi-purpose venue to focus on music, sports, theatre, comedy, exhibitions, conferences, and corporate events. Theatres Trust has strongly recommended that the council does not rule out the viability of the Hippodrome for this purpose and that it looks at the reuse of the building as one of the options in its feasibility study. While the council has provided some engagement with the Theatres Trust over the proposed new venue it has not indicated any willingness to consult or engage with the Trust with regards the Hippodrome. This includes not consulting the Theatres Trust on a planning submission for an Environmental Impact Assessment Screening Opinion for the redevelopment of the Hippodrome and adjacent Martial Arts Centre site for the higher education facility lodged in November 2020 despite Theatres Trust’s role as a statutory consultee in planning. The future for the building looks increasingly bleak.

 

Main photo by Ian Grundy. Concept illustration for The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd.