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Brighton Hippodrome

41

A magical conversion of an 1897 ice rink. Long, low and restrained Italianate stuccoed frontage to Middle Street. Central entrance flanked by square Italianate towers with pyramid tiled roofs. The reticent exterior is scant preparation for the huge, opulently decorated, near-circular auditorium. Originally a dual purpose circus/variety theatre, the arena was soon given over to permanent seating facing the proscenium. Architecturally, historically and as a performance venue, it is a highly significant heritage asset. It is nationally important for two distinctive reasons: as it is the most intact and finest example of a free standing circus (without a water feature) illustrating a tent-like form following the design of travelling circuses; and it is also the only surviving statutory listed example of a building originally designed as an ice skating rink. Narrow entrance lobby with high quality mahogany panelling and bevelled glass entrance doors leads to a small foyer and a row of boxes. Box fronts with reeded columns and Ionic capitals supporting decorative painted arches. The most spectacular feature of the auditorium is the vast ceiling in the form of a panelled tent which covers the whole space and is richly decorated with boldly modelled Baroque plasterwork. It is an impressive volume, with plasterwork featuring female figures, sea creatures, comedy and tragedy masks, instruments, urns, cartouches, festoons and lion masks. At the centre is a balustraded gallery, reminiscent of (but not the same as) the one at the London Hippodrome. There is only one balcony (with seven rows) curving with the walls to meet the single, large onion-domed boxes which flank each side of the wide, low proscenium. The ‘Palm Court’, with its false bridge has undergone some alteration, not entirely to its architectural advantage, but it is an impressive room with paintings which appear to date from the original ‘art decorations’. The body of the theatre is intact, with only superficial alterations (the levelling of the auditorium, for example, which ‘submerges’ part of the lower boxes). It could be readily restored to use. However, owing to the great size of the auditorium it would be most suitable for spectacular dance productions, opera and possibly orchestral concerts. The circus sightlines would permit the use of the former arena as an additional in the round performance area. The rear vehicle access is essential for a return to live performance.

Built / Converted
1900
Dates of use
  • 1901 - 1902: Circus
  • 1901 - 1965: Theatre
  • 1965 - 1967: Film and TV studio
  • 1967 - 2006: Bingo
Current state
Extant
Current use
Disused (currently at risk)
Address
Middle Street, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1AL, England
Further details
Other names
Real Ice Skating Rink
Events
  • 1897 Design/Construction: As an ice rink
    Lewis Karslake
    - Architect
  • 1901 Alteration: Converted to circus/theatre
    Frank Matcham
    - Architect
  • 1901 - 1902 Use: Circus
  • 1901 - 1965 Use: Theatre
  • 1902 Owner/Management: Barrasford & Smith
  • 1902 Design/Construction: Converted to variety theatre
  • 1910 Owner/Management: Variety Theatres Controlling Company
  • 1915 Alteration: Auditorium
    J Emblin Walker
    - Architect
  • 1933 Owner/Management: Part of Moss Empires
  • 1946 Owner/Management: General Theatre Corporation Ltd
  • 1965 - 1967 Use: Film and TV studio
  • 1967 - 2006 Use: Bingo
  • 1967 - 2006 Owner/Management: Mecca, lessee
  • 2003 - 2007 Owner/Management: London Merchant Securities (later Derwent London) / Urbanfirst
  • 2007 Owner/Management: Academy Music Group, leaseholder
  • 2007 - 2015 Owner/Management: Kuig Property Investments Ltd, freeholder
  • 2015 Owner/Management: Academy Music Group, freeholder
Capacities
  • Capacity
    Later
    Description
    1946: 1822
  • Capacity
    Current
    Description
    est. 1400
Listings
  • Listing
    II*
Stage type
Raked
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Depth: 11.58m (38ft)
Proscenium width: 11.88m (39ft)
Height to grid: 15.23m (50ft)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: Original 20