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.

Dudley Hippodrome in 1995 in bingo use.
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 until 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, for which planning permission has been approved, 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.

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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 is 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). The move was meant to provide opportunity for BCHL to realise its ambitions to restore and reopen the building as a theatre. However, the project was met by challenging lease conditions and a lack of real support within Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, the extent of which was fully indicated when the council submitted its own plans for demolition for the building during this time. The project was doomed to failure and the council eventually terminated BCHL’s lease – a move criticised by Theatres Trust.

BCHL has since disbanded, however, other campaign groups have taken its place. Current group Dudley Hippodrome Friends and Community Group continues to campaign for the building alongside affiliated group Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust.

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. Despite the council providing officer support to the consortium to develop its proposals and an extension of time to realise these (support that had not been offered to BCHL) the scheme has since fallen by the wayside.

The Hippodrome has since been announced as a key site in Dudley Town Centre bid to the government’s Towns Fund initiative. This will see the theatre demolished and replaced with an education centre. The proposals, which are part of a wider £1bn masterplan for the regeneration of Dudley, were approved by the council on 23 September 2020.

In July 2021 it was announced that Dudley was successful in its bid to the government’s Towns Fund initiative, awarded £25m towards the estimated £36m build cost of the proposed higher education complex, bringing the threat of the Hippodrome’s demolition ever closer. Read our full statement.

In November 2021, the planning application for the new higher education centre was taken to Committee - a proposal that Theatres Trust strongly objected to. Theatres Trust spoke at Committee to object to the proposals, however, Dudley Council voted to demolish Dudley Hippodrome. Read our full statement.

Despite representation from Theatres Trust, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities chose not to call-in the planning application for demolition of the Hippodrome. A decision notice formalising the granting of planning permission for the proposed college development was subsequently issued.

Throughout this time the Hippodrome has remained vacant and deteriorating, presenting an increased challenge to restore. Theatres Trust has written to and had various meetings with 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. It is now understood that the council’s plans for a multi-purpose venue may have changed to that of a pop-up arena project. There appears to have been no further progression with regards a feasibility study or any indication of the Hippodrome being considered for this purpose.

There has been little willingness by the council to consult or engage with Theatres Trust about the Hippodrome. This has included 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 and our known interest in the Hippodrome.

The last real hope for the Hippodrome was with a decision on an application for the building to be statutory listed. The submission by the Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust in December 2021 follows the discovery of fabric and features that were believed to have been removed when the Hippodrome was previously unsuccessfully assessed for statutory listing around ten years ago.

On 17 January 2022 we were informed that the new application by the community group to have the building listed had been unsuccessful. Without this protection, it now looks inevitable that the Hippodrome will be demolished, which will see the people of Dudley deprived of the town’s only remaining purpose-built lyric theatre.

Theatres Trust has ensured that the planning permission for the demolition and redevelopment of the Hippodrome site includes a condition for the full historical recording of the theatre so that the history of the theatre and its architecture will remain for future generations to learn about. However, this is small consolation

Update May 2022

The Dudley Hippodrome Friends and Community Group is conducting a survey looking at the level of interest in a fully refurbished Dudley Hippodrome and thoughts on live entertainment provision in the area. Complete the Save Dudley Hippodrome Survey.

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