Streatham Hill Theatre
One of south London’s most lavish ‘sleeping beauties’ and the last theatre designed by W. G. R. Sprague, the architect responsible for some of the most stunning theatres in London.
- 110 Streatham Hill, London, SW2 4RD
- Risk Rating
- 7 (Community Value: 3, Star Rating: 2, Risk Factor: 2)
- Local Authority
- London Borough of Lambeth
- Local Group
- The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre
- Ruach City Church (Poll Mount Ltd to May 2022, Hold Land South East Ltd to July 2022)
- William George Robert Sprague & W. H. Barton
- Date of Construction
- Grade II / Asset of Community Value
- c. 2,800
- Database Link
- View in Theatres Database
Built in 1929, this was the last theatre designed by theatre architect William George Robert Sprague. It is possibly his largest and one of the best-equipped in London outside of the West End. The theatre has an imposing faience facade. The foyer is spacious, with tall gilded Ionic columns and arches, a terrazzo floor, and two round kiosks on each side of the grand central stairway. This sweeps up to dress circle and balcony levels, parting at the centre into two flights with iron balustrading. The auditorium is lavish and has excellent sightlines with two balconies. The foyers, auditorium, and public areas were described as being ‘in the Adam manner’ but are quite eclectic, with friezes of sphinxes, angels, and garlands in abundance. The theatre was hit by a V1 flying bomb in 1944 but was reconstructed in 1950 closely to the original Sprague designs. Original wooden stage machinery is also still in situ, together with the counterweight flying and three-part forestage orchestra lifts.
It was listed Grade II in 1994 as ‘an unusually lavish example of a theatre built in the short-lived revival of building in 1929-30; as a suburban example of this date the building may be unique’. It was registered as an Asset of Community Value in 2018.
A Statement of Historical Significance, commissioned as a part of the viability study has shown that the theatre is significant on several levels: its place in the work of the original architect, being a rare example of interwar suburban theatre buildings, its aesthetic completeness, quality and scale - and its role in the collective cultural memory of its local community.
Why is this theatre at risk?
Streatham Hill Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2018.
In November 2021, Historic England included Streatham Hill Theatre on its Heritage at Risk Register, giving it further protection and recognition. SAVE Britain’s Heritage at Risk added the building to its At Risk list in 2022.
Praesepe plc (now named Merkur Casino UK) who held a sub-lease on the building, closed its Beacon Bingo operation in the main auditorium in January 2017. It still operates a Cashino slot-machine lounge out of the rear of the stalls only.
The closure of bingo had left the future of the building uncertain and had also brought the end of local amateur community theatre use in the building. This had been operating using a pop-up theatre space in the circle foyer and had run tours and promenade performances around the building.
Both the sub-lease and the head lease (held by Mecca) on the building were due to expire in 2028 at which time the company would be liable for dilapidations.
A theatre company that Theatres Trust and local campaign group The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre were supporting had been in discussion with the building’s owner regarding purchasing the property. However, in May 2022 it was reported that the theatre had been sold to another buyer – a property development company. Despite the efforts of the campaign group to discuss options on the theatre, the building was then sold onward at a reportedly vast increase in price to church group, the Rauch City Church. The church currently has a base in neighbouring Brixton but had been seeking a new property. The organisation also owns the Grade II* listed Gaumont State, Kilburn. Rauch City Church will need to apply for planning permission for a change of use to enable use for public worship or religious instruction.
The campaign group, theatre company and Theatres Trust are all seeking discussions with the church to understand if there may be opportunity for a shared theatre and / or community use of the space.
Prior to the sale to Rauch City Church, Merkur and Mecca were released from their leasehold responsibilities, including, it is understood, dilapidation costs. We remain concerned about the condition of the building, particularly as it is vacant making it ever more vulnerable to deterioration.
There is currently a shortage of both workspace and arts / cultural facilities in the area which this building could address.
In 2020, campaign group The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre raised funds to complete a viability study and economic impact assessment to investigate the theatre’s potential for a sustainable future. Funding came from the Mayor of London’s 2020 Crowdfund London, Lambeth Council and Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme. The report published in April 2021 confirmed that restoration and phased reuse of the theatre as a leisure and entertainment venue is a viable proposal, and would generate footfall, jobs and economic growth, adding over £70m to the local economy over 30 years.
Local campaign group The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre remains very proactive and has achieved successes both in fundraising and in harnessing strong community support for the building. Theatres Trust has been supporting the group since its formation providing fundraising and viability study advice.
In July 2018, the group was successful in getting the building listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), despite an appeal by the owners. This offers the building some additional protection from development. It was a key move at a time when it was feared that the owner at that time might seek to let or develop more saleable areas of the building thereby leaving the auditorium unsustainable. As the building has until recently remained occupied by Merkur, the ACV could not prevent the building from being sold on the open market (if vacant the Friends would have been able to trigger the moratorium thereby enabling a six-month timeframe for them to raise the funding to acquire the building). The freehold of the theatre has since been bought by Hold Land South East Ltd on the 10 May 2022 for £2.76m, and then through further sale to Ruach City Church on 1 July 2022 for £4m. However, Lambeth Council’s decision to list the theatre remains important as it recognises the theatre’s cultural and social role in its community. It is also a sign of the council's support to return the theatre to an arts and performance use, continuing Streatham’s path of becoming a more attractive and exciting place for residents and visitors. The current ACV runs until 30 June 2022 and the Friends intend to campaign for its renewal.
Lambeth Council’s support is further borne out in its Investment and Growth Strategy for Streatham in June 2019 which includes a priority action to explore opportunities for the building as part of its objective of providing spaces for better and new experiences in the area. Furthermore, it states that the former Streatham Hill Theatre provides a transformative opportunity to provide a major leisure and entertainment venue with the potential for workspace for creative, digital and cultural industries.
Lambeth Council was also a key partner for the Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre’s 2020 Viability Study alongside the GLA and Theatres Trust. All parties are continuing to work together to seek a solution for the theatre. This includes seeking discussions with the new owners. The campaign group has been particularly active in this area and has provided introductions between all parties.
Theatres Trust is now seeking further discussions with the church to understand how it may use the building, its plans for necessary repair and restoration, and whether the building will be opened for use by the community. We also hope to discuss the possibility of shared use of the space so that Streatham Hill Theatre may once again be open for live performance use.
We will continue to support The Friends of Streatham Hill Theatre and work with them, the council, and other key stakeholders, to seek to progress discussions with the new owner and ensure that the building, its historic fabric, and community and live performance use are protected.
Photos, Streatham Hill Theatre, Tim Hatcher