Dudley Hippodrome

A late-1930s purpose-built variety theatre, recently leased to a local group looking to restore and reopen the building as a theatre.

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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
1937/8 – 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. The building stands in a prominent part of town, in an area highlighted for regeneration and development. 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?

The Hippodrome was purchased by Dudley Council on 30 November 2010 with intentions to demolish it and create a new entrance for Dudley Zoo. However, the site is no longer required for this purpose. In August 2013 the council published alternative plans to demolish the building and replace it with open public space.

In 2016 local elections resulted in a political shift within the council which in turn saw positive progress for the Hippodrome. The council agreed to lease the building to community group, The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd, for five years – the relatively short timescale for which was always feared problematic with regards fundraising. The keys to the building were officially handed to the group on 19 December 2016.

At the same time the council submitted further plans for demolition of the building and replacement with a new scheme for public space. Theatres Trust objected to these plans both through its statutory role in the planning process and through its links with the council leader over the future of the Hippodrome, on the grounds that this was contrary to the leasing of the building to The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd and would adversely affect any funding bids. Plans were subsequently withdrawn.

Current situation

The lease between The Black Country Hippodrome and the council contained onerous key milestones for the group linked to break clauses. In February 2018 the volunteer group suffered a blow when the council took the decision for early termination of the lease, leaving the Hippodrome empty once again and without any agreement for its future. Following the decision, the campaign group Black Country Hippodrome Ltd disbanded. However, a new group – Dudley Hippodrome Community Group (DHCG) – has since formed and is continuing to campaign for the building.

Meanwhile, the council extended an invitation for further expressions of interest on the building receiving two proposals, including one from DHCG for the refurbishment of the theatre. Sadly, in December 2018 it was announced that the Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium was the council’s preferred bidder. The project, backed by the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Transport for the West Midlands group, proposes an autonomous route between Dudley Zoo, Living Museum and Canal and Tunnels Trust as well as a link to Dudley College Town Centre Campus. It is believed that the scheme would seek to demolish the Hippodrome. The council has granted the Consortium an additional 12 months to work up their business plan and fundraising strategy plus officer support for developing the proposals – an opportunity not given to DHCG.  While frustrating, this 12-month period does provide DHCG additional time and opportunity to strengthen their campaign and continue to build support for Dudley Hippodrome.

Theatres Trust will continue to work with the group to campaign against the loss of the Hippodrome and to provide advice on their business plan and viability of proposals.

Campaign video (from 2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ3mytMri6g&feature=youtu.be

Image: Dudley Hippodrome, Theatres Trust