A music hall with a spectacular auditorium with gilded Rococo plasterwork and a Floral Hall, an Edwardian atrium and waiting area for theatre patrons. An iconic building of social, historical, and architectural significance; currently in poor repair.
- Warwick Street, Hulme, Manchester, M15 5EU
- Risk Rating
- 8 (Community Value: 2, Star Rating: 3, Risk Factor: 3)
- Local Authority
- Manchester City Council
- Local Group
- Save Hulme Hippodrome
- HHM20 Ltd (to be confirmed)
- Joseph John Alley
- Date of Construction
- Grade II / Asset of Community Value
- Estimated at 2,000
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
Hulme Hippodrome is a splendid Grade II listed music hall. It was constructed for the Broadhead Circuit which operated 17 venues in the north-west of England, mostly now lost, but which made a significant contribution to working-class entertainment. It was the headquarters for this circuit. The Hippodrome was built alongside the Hulme Playhouse (1902) and designed by the same architect, Joseph John Alley, and was the Broadhead Circuit offices. The two theatres together represent an unusual twin theatre arrangement with strong group value and great significance.
The magnificent auditorium at the Hippodrome remains largely unaltered and is decorated in a spectacular riot of gilded Rococo plasterwork. The auditorium design incorporates straight rows of seats to the balconies; a characteristic of theatres designed by Alley for the Broadhead Circuit but unlike any contemporary theatre or music hall. It is an iconic building of social, historical, and architectural significance.
Why is this theatre at risk?
Hulme Hippodrome has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2006 when we started the list.
The Hippodrome was predominately used as a variety theatre, with a period as a repertory theatre during World War II. It was last used for theatre in the 1960s; and was in bingo use from 1962 until its closure in 1986. The Floral Hall, adjacent to the main theatre and by then with added floors and ceilings, was used as a snooker hall. In 2003, evangelist group Gilbert Deya Ministries purchased the building and was operating from the ground floor of the Floral Hall, leaving the auditorium vacant and in a very poor state of repair. In 2017, Manchester City Council served the owner with a Dangerous Buildings Notice and closed the building.
The building was subsequently occupied by squatters, who were removed from the premises in April 2018. The building has been vacant ever since.
In January 2021, the Hippodrome was advertised for auction with an unrealistic guide price of £950k and misleading information that stated the building had the potential for conversion to residential accommodation. It was removed from the auction at the request of campaigners, Theatres Trust, and the council.
It has subsequently emerged that the Hippodrome had allegedly been sold twice in quick succession prior to the attempted auction, with an initial sale to a private individual for £450k and a further (same day) sale, at an increased value, to newly formed company HHM20 Ltd. Land Registry has yet to register the changes in ownership, believed due to irregularities with the initial sale and a question over the increase in sale value. Indeed, this and the further attempt to sell the property at auction at a further increase in price sparks concern that the building is being bought for speculative development and with little thought to the building’s historic significance.
The building remains vacant and in an ever-worsening state of repair. Two drone surveys (2021 and 2022) carried out by Save Hulme Hippodrome indicate the increasing scale of holes in the roof rendering the historic fibrous plaster extremely vulnerable to water damage. There is a need for urgent intervention to halt decay before irreparable damage is caused and the building is lost.
The area surrounding the theatre has been substantially redeveloped, starting in the early 1960s in wide-area clearances, and with a further wave of urban regeneration in the 1990s. The theatre could find a use as part of the local community, not least being one of few surviving community buildings from the pre1960s. Manchester City Council is also keen to find a historic-led, sustainable, and long-term use for the Hippodrome.
Following rumours in 2020 of redevelopment of the building to residential units, a new group Save Hulme Hippodrome formed with the ambition to save, restore and reopen the building. Its vision is to restore it as a community, music and arts hub. This would include increased and enhanced arts provision, and a social enterprise hub providing workshops, offices and retail spaces. All of these proposed uses would be sympathetic to the building’s heritage significance and each has the sensitive restoration of the historic fabric of the theatre at its heart. Theatres Trust is working with the group to support this ambition.
In response to the failed auction, Save Hulme Hippodrome launched a public campaign to stop such sales and bring the building back to its community, inviting the people of Hulme to play a part in the next stage of the theatre’s story. In February 2021, it started a one-month Crowdfunder to support its campaign. It reached its target within five days and went on to raise over £17,000 from 563 supporters to help develop its proposals for the building.
The group is also continuing to raise the profile of the building within the local community, with key stakeholders and funders, and within Manchester City Council. It has held and continues to hold, various community events, including a street party celebrating the 120th anniversary of Hulme Hippodrome in October 2021. It has also started an oral history project with those in the community who remember working / visiting the theatre as children in the 1950s.
Early conversations with Manchester City Council indicate that the council would, in principle, be supportive of the campaign group’s suggested reuse of the Hippodrome. However, the major challenge is the building’s ownership.
The building is considered extremely vulnerable and in urgent need of intervention to prevent ongoing deterioration.
Manchester City Council’s planning department has been proactive in its attempts to engage with the Hippodrome’s owners. Past actions include offering to work with them to bring forward a proposal to secure the long-term future of the building and aiding them in the removal of squatters. It had also sought repair works to the building through a Section 215 notice.
In February 2022, Manchester City Council served a Section 215 notice of disamenity to all possible owners of the Hippodrome. The notice detailed 11 areas that required attention and timescales for these works to be completed. This included repair work to damaged windows, roof tiles, and rainwater goods, and removal of vegetation growth and graffiti. HHM20 Ltd, (the owner from the second, as yet unregistered, building sale), appealed against the Section 215. The appeal was heard at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court in July 2022 and new timescales were agreed upon for HHM20 Ltd to carry out survey and investigation work, with a further hearing set for January 2023. The second court hearing for the Section 215 notice was held on 12 January 2023. The appeal was dismissed, and the original notice was upheld although with minor variations. It is understood that the variations included omitting the repair works to the roof, however, other items relating to disamenity such as the removal of vegetation and fixing broken windows, etc remain. HHM20 Ltd was also ordered to pay the council’s legal costs.
HHM20 Ltd successfully appealed against Save Hulme Hippodrome’s application to have the Hippodrome listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). This would have protected the building for the next five years from any sudden sales by the current owner and given the campaign group the legal right to a six-month pause in any sale to raise the funds required to purchase the building.
Throughout 2022, Save Hulme Hippodrome has been attempting to unravel the question regarding ownership of the building, seeking responses from Land Registry and the Charity Commission (who appointed interim managers to Gilbert Deya Ministries in March 2021). Despite irregularities with the first sale, it is the Charity Commission’s view that the Gilbert Deya Ministries is no longer the building’s owner. The commission has since registered a Section 69 Order with Land Registry to transfer the title from the Gilbert Deya Ministries to the private individual of that first sale. Land Registry has yet to complete the transfer - it is understood that additional information is still required in order for this to be concluded.
Save Hulme Hippodrome has been undertaking further research about the Hippodrome, in particular uncovering more about the period 1950-56 when it was rented by the BBC to make radio programmes. On Sundays, two variety programmes were rehearsed in the afternoon and then both were recorded in the evening in front of an invited audience. A sound engineer’s control box was built into the circle to accommodate this. This period was the peak of Northern Variety with its distinctive working-class humour such as Variety Fanfare being broadcast nationally from the venue. Twenty different variety programme titles were made at the Hippodrome, including Morecambe and Wise’s first programme series of their own. In late 1955, the BBC purchased the smaller Playhouse theatre next door and fitted it out as a full-time studio for radio and TV productions, thus no longer needing to rent the Hippodrome on Sundays.
In December 2022, Theatres Trust was alerted to police attendance at the Hippodrome, believed due to concerns about illegal activity taking place within. There has been no official confirmation of the incident. Manchester City Council is aware of this incident and has re-secured the building’s entrances.
Theatres Trust continues to advise and support the campaign group in its work to save the Hippodrome and to ensure the preservation of this important theatre.
Photos, Hulme Hippodrome, Ian Grundy