A late-1930s purpose-built variety theatre by prolific cinema architect Archibald Hurley Robinson who designed over 30 cinemas in the West Midlands.
- Castle Hill, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 4QF
- Risk Rating
- 8 (Community Value: 3, Star rating: 2, Risk Factor: 3)
- Local Authority
- Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
- Archibald Hurley Robinson
- Date of Construction
- 1937 / 38 – opened 19 December 1938
- Not listed
- 1,752 (originally)
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
The Hippodrome is the only remaining lyric theatre in the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley. 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. At the time the council wished to redevelop the site as a new entrance for Dudley Zoo, however, the site was not required for this purpose. The council has been exploring alternative uses ever since including various proposals of its own, all of which would involve the demolition of the theatre The various schemes include the following:
- 2013: the Friends of Dudley Hippodrome presented a business case to save the building to Dudley Council. Having commissioned an independent study of the business plan, the council announced that the theatre was not financially viable and that the building would be demolished, subject to planning consent. The council then published alternative plans to demolish the building and replace it with open public space.
- 2014: in January entertainment company Events that Rok expressed an interest in purchasing the Hippodrome to refurbish and reopen it as a venue. Unfortunately, negotiations with the council were not successful and the company withdrew its offer.
- 2015: in July the council invited expressions of interest in the building.
- 2016: the council leased the building to community group The Black Country Hippodrome Ltd (BCHL) which wanted to restore and reopen the building as a theatre. However, there were challenging lease conditions and a lack of real support within the council, and at the end of the year the council submitted its own plans for the demolition of the building.
- 2017: in December news was received that Dudley College was interested in the theatre site and had held informal discussions with council officers over its future; a move further undermining BCHL’s position. The council subsequently terminated BCHL’s lease – a move we criticised. BCHL disbanded, however, other community campaign groups have since taken its place.
- 2018: following invitations for expressions of interest on the site, the council took forward a bid from Dudley Driverless Vehicles Consortium to turn the 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 them (support that had not been offered to BCHL) the scheme fell by the wayside.
In 2020, Dudley Hippodrome was announced as a key site in a Dudley Town Centre bid to the government’s Towns Fund initiative with the theatre demolished and replaced with an education centre. The proposals, part of a wider multi-million-pound masterplan for the regeneration of Dudley, were approved by the council on 23 September 2020.
Throughout this time the building has been vacant and deteriorating and with this presenting an ever-increasing challenge to restore. Theatres Trust has repeatedly requested that the council address this matter and reconsider the future of the Hippodrome as a performance venue. The requests have not been taken up and the council remains intent on demolishing the building.
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 had been considering plans for a large multi-purpose entertainment venue within Dudley, a role that could be fulfilled by the Hippodrome.
In July 2022, Midlands-based Oakham Research published the results of a survey commissioned by Dudley Hippodrome Restoration Trust to determine the public interest in live entertainment provision in the town and the support for a refurbished Hippodrome. The survey had over 1,000 responses. Of these 89% said they would like to see the Hippodrome reopened to the public and 94% showed support for live performance.
Recently a group of architecture students at Birmingham City University took the 'Repurposing of Dudley Hippodrome' as the theme for their dissertation. Their visions for a sensitive and adaptive approach to the reuse of this much-loved historic building were presented to Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust.
There has been little willingness by the council to consult or engage with Theatres Trust about Dudley Hippodrome. This includes not consulting us 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.
We were made aware of the council’s ambition for a new multi-purpose venue to focus on music, sports, theatre, comedy, exhibitions, conferences, and corporate events in spring 2021. We strongly recommended that the council not rule out the viability of the Hippodrome for this purpose and that the reuse of the building be considered as one of the options during feasibility stage. Unfortunately, there was no further progression with a feasibility study or any indication of the Hippodrome being considered for this purpose.
In July 2021, it was announced that Dudley was successful in its bid to the government’s Towns Fund initiative for £25m towards the estimated £36m build cost of the proposed higher education complex on the site of the Hippodrome, bringing the threat of demolition ever closer.
The associated planning application was taken to Dudley Council Planning Committee in November of the same year - a proposal that Theatres Trust strongly objected to. Theatres Trust spoke at the committee meeting to object to the proposals, however, despite our strong objections as our national remit to protect theatres, and a large turnout from the Friends of Dudley Hippodrome and other local supporters the council voted to demolish Dudley Hippodrome. Theatres Trust was disappointed in this outcome.
Despite our request to appeal the decision, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities chose not to call-in the planning application for demolition of the Hippodrome and a decision notice formalising the granting of planning permission for the proposed college development was subsequently issued.
Theatres Trust has ensured that 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. We have furthermore ensured that a theatre specialist will be involved in these works. However, this is small consolation.
In December 2021, following the discovery of fabric and features that had previously been thought lost, Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust submitted an application for the Hippodrome to be statutorily listed. Sadly, in January 2022 we were informed that the application had been unsuccessful.
The council has now appointed a contractor to undertake enabling works and the asbestos strip-out is underway. The heritage recording work is also due to begin. Under planning conditions, demolition cannot commence until this work is complete and has been approved by the council, Historic England and Theatres Trust.
In the meantime, there is some question as to whether inflation and spiralling construction costs may impact the viability of the new build project. The council has reiterated its intent to demolish the Hippodrome, however, there is some local speculation about its ability to complete the new building for the university.
Update August 2023
We are hugely disappointed to learn that demolition has commenced at Dudley Hippodrome. Read our full statement.