Our Hippodrome

The Dudley Hippodrome is an Iconic Lyric Theatre

It has many Art Deco features and has been a part of Dudley History and Heritage for the last 82 years. However, it has stood empty and neglected for almost 10 years. Not a penny has been spent on it since it was purchased by Dudley Council (DMBC).

It is in a prime location, Castle Hill, on what is known as The Gateway to Dudley Town. Sadly, it has been vandalised inside, and there is graffiti on the fly tower. It does not give a good impression to visitors and tourists to the local area.

The sad state of the Dudley Hippodrome today. Help us restore this fine building for the benefit of the whole community. © Tim Clarke Photography.

The sad state of the Dudley Hippodrome today. © Tim Clarke Photography.

Dudley Town Today.

Dudley has become a tourist destination, with over 350,000 visitors to the nearby Black Country Living Museum last year. Other major attractions in the area include the Zoo and Castle, the Canal Portal and Dudley Canal Tunnel, Wren’s Nest Archaeology Nature Reserve, the Museum and Archives, plus many more around the area.

There is almost £1 billion pounds of Investment coming to Dudley in the next few years, the Metro Tram system, a new Bus Station and Interchange, two more New Colleges, and a Very Light Rail Innovation Centre, as well as a brand new Leisure Centre. Dudley has plans to gain University Status, and also has had a major investment to its Market area.

All this is to encourage more people to live in the town, and to help with regeneration.

Unfortunately, all this investment fails to support the Arts and Culture aspect in Town. There is little night time economy at present, just a few pubs, with occasional live music. All the town offers for entertainment is sporadic appearances of stand up comics or singers in Dudley Town Hall. This is just a glorified Dance Hall, with NO atmosphere or ambience, having to sit on school chairs on a flat floor, which means limited viewing. This is not suitable for a Town with big ambitions.

Dudley Hippodrome for the future.

Dudley Hippodrome could quite easily become a much needed Multi-Purpose Entertainment Venue and Community Hub, with tiered seating, providing full viewing of the stage. It already has three bars, a very long foyer, a separate large basement, plus many side rooms of varying sizes.

During the day, the foyer and side rooms could be used as meeting places for all the many diverse Community Groups, for Dance and Drama rehearsals, and many other uses, which would encourage Social Inclusion and Well Being for all.

The large Basement could be used as a completely separate area for various uses. In fact, it was a live music venue (Jinxs’s) a few years ago. The main auditorium could once again hold stage shows, including Big Name Artists, Bands, Sporting Events (such as Snooker, Darts, Boxing, Wrestling etc) and, of course, Pantomimes. Such a golden opportunity for Dudley to become a vibrant and exciting place to visit.

Dudley is the Capital of the Black Country, but has NO real entertainment venue or theatre. People have to travel out the area to see top names and shows.

We need to Save Dudley Hippodrome.

Control Centre and Test Track for Autonomous Vehicles.

What has been planned for the site, if ever the Hippodrome gets demolished, is a Control Centre and Test Track for Autonomous Vehicles. This is not needed, and will be of no benefit to the people of Dudley. In addition, it will look totally out of place in a Conservation Area and will do nothing to enhance the appearance of this Gateway site.

The Control Centre for Autonomous Vehicles planned for the Dudley Hippodrome site.

Is this what we really want to see on the main approach to Dudley?

The consortium behind this were given 12 months by DMBC to provide a viability and funding appraisal. This ran from January 2019 to January 2020. They did not achieve this, and were given an extra 9 months to September 2020, but it still seems highly unlikely it will get any further. This gives us fresh hope in our quest to get more support and help to restore, renovate, modernise, regenerate and, above all, reopen Dudley Hippodrome. The Theatres Trust are very supportive, and wrote a stern letter to DMBC about their decision to give the consortium the extra 9 months.

Dudley Hippodrome Friends and Community Group.

We are known as Dudley Hippodrome Friends and Community Group. We are very passionate about saving the building for future generations and hold various fund-raising events along with monthly meetings.

As expected, when trying to save an iconic Local Landmark Building from demolition, there are cynics, doom and gloom doubters, “experts”, etc. But, we need to preserve our Town’s History and Heritage for future generations to see for themselves the skills and craftsmanship of older buildings, even when modernised, to keep the architecture intact, and a place that draws attention. It is not all about shiny new buildings. Yes, these are important too – even if they are all glass and concrete without the character of yesteryear.

Once lost, though, our historic buildings can never be replaced. This is being proven in other towns across the country, such as the Plaza at Stockport, Burnley Empire, Bradford Palace, Wimborne Tivoli and so many others. Their Local Authorities have the foresight and vision to see the benefits of restoring their historic entrainment venues and theatres.

Artist's impression of the refurbished Dudley Hippodrome with new glass extension.

Artist’s impression of the refurbished Dudley Hippodrome with new glass extension.

There is no valid reason to demolish the Dudley Hippodrome. It is in the perfect position, close to nearby attractions. It is not in the way of any of the planned new investment. It can and should be saved. With the political will and help, it could easily be done. Any professional help is always welcome in whatever field appropriate to the cause. Sadly, we have been let down by others who, as it turned out, were self-interested and had a different agenda. This has caused a lot of problems and set us back a bit, but hopefully we can now proceed with renewed hope, vision and enthusiasm.

Please share this with all your friends and associates.

Please sign the petition to Save the Hippodrome and Castle Grill.

Save our Hippodrome. Save and restore our Heritage.Castle Hill is the Gateway to Dudley. This area has so much history and prestige which could all be lost due to council plans to build yet another educational facility in Dudley.

Imagine saving the Hippodrome from the bulldozers and refurbishing it to become a community hub day and night. Working with The Castle Hill Suite, Dudley, it could become the place to go again.

Click here to sign now!


Protesters against the demolition plans gather outside Dudley Council House.


Dudley Council Approves Plans to Demolish Dudley Hippodrome.

The Dudley Hippodrome Group are extremely disappointed with the short-sighted decision by Dudley Council to approve plans to demolish our wonderful theatre. This is despite the fact that there are no concrete plans for the site! We still have the full support of the Theatres’ Trust and we will continue campaigning to save this historic venue for our local community and future generations.

Click here for the Theatres’ Trust response to the decision by Dudley Council regarding the Hippodrome.


Theatres’ Trust responds to Dudley Hippodrome Decision of 7 January.

Click here for the Theatres’ Trust response to the decision by Dudley Council regarding the Hippodrome.


A Brief History

Dudley Hippodrome (right) with the adjacent Plaza Cinema in their heyday.

Dudley Hippodrome (right) with the adjacent Plaza Cinema in their heyday.

Prominently situated at the gateway to the town, Dudley Hippodrome is an Art Deco lyric theatre designed by Archibald Hurley Robinson and built in 1938. It replaced the earlier Dudley Opera House on the same site, which was destroyed by fire the previous year. Seating 1,752, it saw regular use as a variety theatre until 1964, when it became a Caesar’s Palace – a Night Club and wrestling venue amongst other things.

In 1973 it was taken over by Ladbrokes with bingo by day, and live shows late evening. The Hippodrome has played host to such stars as Tommy Steele, Ken Dodd, Des O’Connor, Bob Monkhouse and many more. The last star to perform on this stage was Roy Orbison on 16 August 1974. After this time, it became a full time Gala Bingo Club, finally shutting its doors on 19 September 2009. The closure was the result of the increase in Bingo Tax combined with the effects of the smoking ban. Along with many others closed at the same time, it was passed to Raphael Properties for disposal, but subsequently failed to reach its reserve at auction. The freehold of the Dudley Hippodrome was subsequently purchased by The Borough Council of Dudley on 3 February 2011.

Plans for the Future

The Dudley Hippodrome Community Group was formed to ensure that this building is retained, restored and put back into operation as the West Midlands’ premier multi-purpose entertainment venue. It is not just a theatre. There are over 20 rooms of different sizes that can be used for a variety of purposes. These can include meetings, rehearsals and education for the benefit of the local community. It will be a perfect venue for arts groups, with studios for dance and drama, with plenty of workshop space. It will be perfectly suited for exhibitions, hosting shows, concerts and live music in the main auditorium. The Hippodrome will also be an ideal venue for conferences big and small.

We are desperately trying to save our beautiful Art Deco Theatre, the Dudley Hippodrome. It has seen some amazing stars appear there in the past. Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Bassey, George Formby, Tommy Cooper, Harry Secombe, Bob Hope, Morecambe and Wise, Beryl Reid and many more. It needs saving for its cultural history and its amazing Architecture. Our Council have told us they are going to demolish it. We need a fool proof Business Plan and Viability Study before they will consider our proposals. We cannot get funding because it is owned by the Council.

We are a group of people who are just passionate about saving our historic building and bringing it back for the town. Not just as a theatre, but also as a Community Hub for the benefit of everyone. We desperately want more volunteers to get involved, including those with skills to help us push forward with a Business Plan. If you want to join in, then please let us know either via our contact page or through our Facebook Group.

Being a purpose-built entertainment venue, it has fantastic acoustics and ambience, in contrast to other multi-purpose venues. Audiences can enjoy performances in the luxurious interior as patrons would have done when it was first built.

It will be the second largest theatre in the Midlands. In London, only seven theatres are larger than the Dudley Hippodrome! We are restoring this wonderful building to be a world class entertainment venue for the Black Country.

Location

Its prominent location at the gateway to Dudley means that it will be a major asset to the town. It is in close proximity to such local attractions as Dudley Zoo and Castle, the Black Country Living Museum, Canal Portal and Tunnels, the Archives and Castle Gate. The world-famous Wrens Nest Nature Reserve is also close by.


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