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The suggestion that this building is on the site of an 1880s theatre rebuilt by Frank Matcham after a fire in 1889 cannot at present be confirmed, although he is known to have worked on theatres in Colchester. Built in 1905 by local architect J W Start, possibly with Ben Kirk and with Paul Hoffman as consultant.

Despite later alterations as a cinema, a mixed-use leisure centre and, in 1995, a startling redecoration as a discotheque, including much intrusive lighting, the building survives as an exceptionally fine example of a medium sized Edwardian theatre. A fire damaged the stage area in 1972, ending cinema use. This area behind the proscenium now houses a bar, with restaurant above and, behind, kitchens.

The intimate auditorium has two well curved balconies of nine and ten rows each, partly supported on slender cast iron columns. Each balcony terminates in two bow-fronted boxes on either side. The boxes are divided by squat columns linked by arches - ogee at the lower level and elliptical above. The rectangular proscenium has a moulded frame richly decorated with foliated plasterwork. Over the top of the proscenium is a big cartouche supported by reclining female figures. This forms the focal point of the remarkable ceiling which is in the shape of a huge shell, its ribs radiating outwards and upwards from the catouche.

The busy Edwardian Baroque façade makes a pleasing contribution to the varied frontages of the fine High Street. It is in red brick with ample stone dressings and of an oddly asymmetrical design - three main bays and three storeys, with a centrepiece surmounted by a curved pediment with the name ‘Grand Theatre’ in the tympanum, above three blind oeil-de-boeuf openings. Three windows to each of the first and second floors, divided by pilasters. But the bays flanking this centre, although of broadly similar design, are of unequal width - the bay to the right being a squashed-up version of that to the left.

Although a repertory theatre (the Mercury) has been built in Colchester, the Hippodrome is, nevertheless, still capable of restoration, and could well house medium scale touring productions, concerts, amateur groups, etc.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1920 - 1929: s-late
Current state
Current use
Licensed premises (Discotheque)
131 High Street, Colchester, Essex, CO1 1SP, England
Further details
Other names
Grand Palace of Varieties , Grand Theatre of Varieties
  • 1905 Design/Construction:
    P Hoffman
    - Consultant
    theatre consultant
  • 1905 Owner/Management: Lang Sims
  • 1905 Design/Construction: possibly with Ben Kirk
    J W Start
    - Architect
  • 1908 Owner/Management: Messrs Frederick Mouillot and Walter de Frece
  • 1912 Owner/Management: Co-operative Varieties Ltd, lessees
  • 1920 - 1929 Use: s-late
  • 1951 Owner/Management: by Circuits Management Association (as cinema)
  • 1979 Owner/Management: Top Rank Bingo
  • 1987 Alteration: converted to leisure centre/retail
    Stanley Bragg Partnership
    - Architect
  • 1988 Alteration: new entrance canopy
    Stanley Bragg Partnership
    - Architect
  • 1995 Design/Construction:
    Upson & Co
    - Consultant
    internal decoration
  • Capacity
  • Capacity
    1912: c.1500
  • Capacity
    est. 900
  • Listing
Stage type
Building dimensions: 22.85m x 48.75m deep (75ft x 160ft)
Stage dimensions: Depth: 12.19m (40ft) Width: 15.23m (50ft)
Proscenium width: 7.77m (25ft 6in)
Height to grid: 15.23m (50ft)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -