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 (risk rating: 3, star rating: 2, community rating: 3)
Architect
Archibald Hurley Robinson
Date of Construction
1937-8 – opened 19 December 1938
Listing
Not listed
Capacity
Originally 1,752

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 The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd for five years. The lease contains key milestones linked to break clauses to enable all parties to monitor progress on the building. 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 Plans were subsequently withdrawn.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

There are now four years left on the lease for the group to fundraise, progress works on a feasibility study and ultimately reopen the theatre to the public. It is a tight programme and Theatres Trust has raised concerns that the five year limitation on the lease may adversely affect funding. The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd has recently requested that the council extend the terms of its lease so that there will be at least 20 years remaining once restoration is complete, which is to be considered by the Council. In the meantime, Theatres Trust has provided advice on the capital works project and continues to provide support to the group.

In December 2017 news was received that Dudley College was interested in the Dudley Hippodrome site and had held informal discussions with council officers over its future. These talks with the Council further undermine the work of The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd.

In February 2018 Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council’s cabinet opted for the early termination of the five year lease granted to the volunteers trying to save the Hippodrome. The council’s Scrutiny Committee upheld the cabinet decision, leaving the Hippodrome empty once again and without any agreement for its future. It is feared that the council will reinstate a previous planning application for the building’s demolition.

On 20 February we released a statement saying we were disappointed at the termination of the Dudley Hippodrome lease.

Update December 2018

On 6 December Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council voted in favour of turining the site into a control centre for driverless vehicles. RThey have been given 12 months to develop the proposals and prove viability of their scheme.

This decision is hugely disappointing for everyone who has been working to bring Dudley Hippodrome back into use for the community, but some hope still remains.

While it is frustrating the council did not give the campaign group the same opportunity to prove their business plan, this 12-month period does give them the time to strengthen their campaign and continue to build support for Dudley Hippodrome, should the driverless vehicle proposal prove unviable. 

The theatre is situated in a prominent part of Dudley that has been highlighted for regeneration – a revitalised Dudley Hippodrome could make a significant social and economic contribution to the local area

Campaign video (from 2016)

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

Image: Dudley Hippodrome, Theatres Trust