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Theatres in Darlington, County Durham

The Hippodrome / Palace of Varieties / The Civic Theatre - The Theatre Royal / Odeon Luxe - Royal Astoria Theatre / Ritz / Plaza Cinema - Majestic Theatre / Odeon

The Darlington Hippodrome, Borough Road and Parkgate, Darlington

Formerly - The Hippodrome and Palace of Varieties / The Civic Theatre

The Darlinton Hippodrome in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

Above - The Darlington Hippodrome in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

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An early Postcard view of the Darlington Hippodrome - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.With a seating capacity of 2,000, the Hippodrome and Palace Theatre of Varieties opened its doors on the 2nd of September 1907 with a Music Hall bill starring Miss Marie Loftus.

Right - An early Postcard view of the Darlington Hippodrome - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

This was the third venue of the owner Signor Rino Pepi, an Italian performer, who also owned the Tivoli in Barrow in-Furness, together with the Palace in Carlisle, and the Hippodrome, Middlesbrough. He would later add the Hippodrome, Bishop Auckland and the Hippodrome, Shildon to his small circuit.

The original design for the Opera House and Empire, Darlington which was never built - Courtesy Derek Mathieson. The original design was for an 'Opera House and Empire' on the corner of Parkgate and Borough Road, which was designed by local architect George Gordon Hoskins, but he became ill and this was never built.

Left - The original design for the Opera House and Empire, Darlington which was never built - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

This was to be the town's second Theatre, as there was already a Theatre Royal in Northgate, Darlington, which upon closure became the town's ABC Regal cinema and is today an Odeon Luxe venue, the only surviving operational cinema out of the original thirteen in the town.

The Projection Box installed at the Darlington Hippodrome can be seen above the New Hippodrome Lettering in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.Films were beginning to make an impact on the Theatre, and a projection box was installed at the rear of the Hippodrome's Upper Circle, which can be seen above the 'New Hippodrome' lettering on the building.

Right - The Projection Box installed at the Darlington Hippodrome can be seen above the New Hippodrome Lettering in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The ERA reported on the opening of the Darlington Hippodrome in their 7th of September 1907 edition saying:- 'Provincial palaces of pleasure were augmented on Monday, when the new Hippodrome and Theatre of Varieties, Darlington opened on the two houses a night principle, under the management of Signor Rino Pepi. The main frontage of the building is in Parkgate, and extends 108ft. In the construction of the edifice Middlesborough pressed red bricks have been used, with terra-cotta dressings, the groupings of the various blocks and the stonework being harmoniously blended. The main entrance is surrounded by a lofty tower, 63ft. high, and an ornamental iron and glass verandah extends along the main facade to provide shelter in bad weather for the public. The interior is spacious, well ventilated, and artistically treated, the scheme of decoration being carried out in cream and gold, relieved with pale rose and turquoise blue.

The Auditorium of the Darlington Hippodrome before the 1990s refurbishment - Courtesy Derek Mathieson. The auditorium, which will accommodate about 2,000, is 60ft. from the curtain line to the back wall, and has a width of only two feet less. The proscenium and box draperies are of crimson silk plush, with old gold applique trimmings, and the "tip-up" chairs in stalls and circle are upholstered in crimson.

Left - The Auditorium of the Darlington Hippodrome before the 1990s refurbishment - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The gallery and circle are constructed on the cantilever principle, so that there is nothing to impede the view of the stage. The stage itself is a large one, and is capable of mounting any production travelling. The height to the "grid" is 46ft., enabling the scenery to fly up in one piece. The dressing rooms immediately adjoin the stage, and are moot conveniently arranged. Fire appliances have been placed in convenient positions all over the building, and a safety certain has been provided in the proscenium opening. Low pressure heating apparatus has been supplied throughout, and a full and complete installation of the electric light has been made. There are no less than eight exits, so that in case of need the building could be emptied in a very short space of time. The contractors have worked under then direction of Mr. J. F. Ward (sic), the well known theatrical architect. The general decorations and upholstery have been executed by Messrs. Dean and sons, of Birmingham, whose name is a guarantee of the perfection of the work.' - The ERA, 7th of September 1907.

The Auditorium and Stage of the Darlington Hippodrome after the 1990s Refurbishment - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.By 1932 the Theatre was struggling and the management decided that unless audiences were improved the building would go over to a cinema on a permanent basis. This never happened.

Right - The Auditorium and Stage of the Darlington Hippodrome after the 1990s Refurbishment - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The running of the Theatre was taken over by Teddy Hinge, who also ran the Grand Theatre in Byker, and a string of cinemas in the North East of England. With the closing of the town's other Theatre, the Royal Astoria, in 1951 the Hippodrome now had a monopoly in town. When Hinge died in 1961, he still owned 20 companies although they were only worth about £1,000 between them.

It was Darlington Operatic Society who primarily saved the Theatre from extinction, through their sheer determination that the town needed a live Theatre. The Council absolutely refused to buy the building saying it was a disgrace to be called a Civic Theatre. The Operatic Society obtained the lease of the building at a rent of £450 per annum. The council agreed to put a farthing on the rates to raise £1,150 per annum towards the Society's costs. With lots of enthusiasm and hard work the Society cleaned up the building and brought it back to life.

The Auditorium of the Darlington Hippodrome today - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

Above - The Auditorium of the Darlington Hippodrome today - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The first production was the Operatic Society's 'White Horse Inn' in February 1958 and when the curtain came down, they received a standing ovation, the Hippodrome had come to life once again!

The Society's lease was coming to an end and they were offered the purchase of the building for £8,000. They lobbied the council for the cash, and the council agreed to buy it for £5,500 and lease it back to the Society. However, when put to the full vote of the Council the motion was lost by 15 votes for and 16 against. The chairman of the Society went ballistic in the council chamber, especially as the Council was planning to build a new Civic Theatre at a projected cost of £100,000!

The Original Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome and Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.In the summer of 1961, the Council changed their minds, and eventually, the Darlington Operatic Society purchased the building for £8,000 using all their assets, and leased it back to the Council for £5,500. The following years provided mixed fortunes for the building and various Manager came and went, but when in 1972 Peter Todd (aged 24) the youngest theatre director in Britain took over things started to come right. And this has continued to this day.

Right - The Original Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome and Palace Theatre in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The Gallery was closed off however, and the seating capacity was reduced to 601.

The New Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.By 1989 plans were approved and alterations had taken place, including a new entrance in Borough Road, together with two bars on the ground floor and first floor. There was also a new grand staircase with a dome above it.

Left - The New Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The Gallery was to be reopened under the slogan 900 seats for the 1990's. This was financed by various grants and £750,000 from Darlington Borough Council.

The extension to the Darlington Hippodrome built in the 1980's, housing a new entrance and bars for the Theatre in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.The reopening show was compered by David Jacobs, and the star of the show was Dame Vera Lynne. Artists were now describing the Theatre 'as one of the best Theatres in the country!'

Right - The extension to the Darlington Hippodrome built in the 1980's, housing a new entrance and bars for the Theatre in a photograph taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

In March 2016 a grant of £4.2m was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund to transform and regenerate the building to its former glory.

This was part of a £13.7m project to restore the Edwardian Theatre and expand its artistic programme, and install 21st century facilities.

The Theatre closed at the end of May 2016 and would reopen in the autumn of 2017 and was now called the Darlington Hippodrome.

The Fly Tower of the Darlington Hippodrome today, the windows below the extended glass walls were originally dressing room windows - Photo Courtesy Derek Mathieson.The exterior of the building would be restored, together with the Edwardian Auditorium.

Left - The Fly Tower of the Darlington Hippodrome today, the windows below the extended glass walls were originally dressing room windows - Photo Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

A new modern entrance would be added together with two lifts providing access to all levels in the building. There would be a promenade gallery celebrating the building's heritage, together with new seating with additional legroom and room for 1,000 patrons. Improvements have also taken place backstage to accommodate touring companies, and a counterweight flying system has now been installed.

he new Stage Door and Dock Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome in a photo taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.Next door to the Theatre is the new Theatre Hullabaloo, a new flagship children's Theatre venue with a 150-seat auditorium. It is being managed through an extension of Darlington Hippodrome's operations, and is available to community arts users.

Right - The new Stage Door and Dock Entrance to the Darlington Hippodrome in a photo taken in 2021 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

You may like to visit the Darlington Hippodrome's own Website here.

The above article on the Darlington Hippodrome was written by Derek Mathieson and sent in for inclusion on the site in August 2021.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Theatre Royal, Northgate, Darlington

Later - The Regal Cinema, ABC, Cannon, MGM, Odeon, Odeon Luxe

An early Postcard view of the Theatre Royal and Bridge Hotel, Darlington.

Above - An early Postcard view of the Theatre Royal and Bridge Hotel, Darlington.

The Theatre Royal was built for George Hunter and designed by William Hodgson opening on Monday the 26th of September 1881. The Stage Newspaper reported on the opening of the Theatre in their 30th of September 1881 edition saying:- 'This magnificent theatre, erected for George Hunter, Esq., of Gateshead, from the designs of Mr. William Hodgson, architect. Darlington, was formally opened on Monday evening the 26th instant, by the Mayor of Darlington (J. Morell, Esq.); the house was crowded in every part by a most enthusiastic audience.

The main elevation fronting Northgate is 60 feet high by 38 feet wide, is very handsome, and built entirely of the best polished Dunhouse stone. The design is of the Classical style of architecture. The dimensions of the pit (the entrance to which is at the left side of the one leading to dress and upper circles, &c.) are 58 by 50 feet. The pit-stalls are divided front the pit by a panelled partition, and here great space has been allowed for the comfort of the occupants.

The orchestra is of ample size, being 43 by 6 feet, and is on a moveable principle, in case additional accommodation should be required. The staircase is of solid stone, and is carpeted throughout. On the top steps is a landing, on which stands a handsomely designed ticket-office, finished in albarine. and relieved with gold and French gray. The walls, ceiling, cornices, centre flowers, etc., are painted in neat tints, and the dado is of an exceedingly chaste design. There are polished brass handrails, and the curtains and upholstery are of a rich kind. On the right of the landing is a spacious ladies' saloon, tastefully got up; on the left is a gentlemen's retiring room. An ascent of five steps on each side of the ticket office reaches two other landings leading into a circular corridor, to the dress and side circles and private boxes. These circles are supported from the pit by cast iron columns with ornamental caps, &c., and are so constructed as to give but little sound.

The private boxes next the stage are very spacious and beautifully furnished. There is a separate stone staircase to the gallery from the left side entrance in Northgate. The acoustic properties of the building are first-class. Air shafts are inserted in the walls in various parts of the building, with regulating slides. in the ceiling are six of Watson's ventilators.

Round the auditorium the upholstering and design are of most exquisite description, finished with Rein's cement, tinted pale, and divided into a series of panels of crimson satin, green, and relieved with buttons and cord, and surrounded by a massive moulded gilt frame. In the centre of each set of panels are oval mirrors similarly finished in their surroundings as the satin. Under each of the mirrors polished brass gas brackets supporting the globes, which are of a pleasing tint and great reflective power.

The proscenium is an elegant example of art and design. Its dimensions are 21 feet by 23 feet. It is of wood, with noble pilastres, fluted pillars, etc. Its height is 20 feet, spanning over which is an arch 25 feet in extent, formed of striking mouldings; in the centre is a fine casting in plaster of the Royal coat of arms. The whole is beautifully finished in sage green and gold.

The stage arrangements have been carefully considered, the newest appliances of machinery have been obtained, and the construction is complete in every respect. The foot-lights are of the most recent improvement, with white enamelled tile reflectors. These lights are protected by a handsome brass bar. The stage is fitted up with Tollerton's patent system of instantaneous lighting from a pilot light. The general construction of the gas battens, &c., is, we understand, the "only one" at present in use. There is an excellent supply of water and all necessary appliances have been provided in case of fire. The scenery, which has been painted by the talented and well known artist, Mr. W. T. Hemslev, includes some particularly fine pieces of scenic skill. The act-drop, by the same artist, a work of particular beauty, is an Italian landscape scene in medallion on a white satin ground, surrounded with different subjects, including the Borough coat of arms, portrait of Shakespeare, and on either side a ring with the figures of Puck and Ariel. Everything has been done, both before and behind the curtain to make the house both comfortable and safe. The building will hold 2,500 persons.

At 7.30, after an appropriate address by His Worship. Mr. Hemsley stepped forward and with great dexterity sketched a faithful portrait of the Queen, the bands following with the National Anthem. The curtain then rose on the initial performance of the Lady of Lyons by the Darlington Medley Dramatic Club, the production of which was highly successful, the principal characters being several times called before the curtain. The Club had the valuable assistance of Miss Fanny Enson, Miss Carlotta Lecieroq, and Miss Stanley Thorne, who received a most hearty reception for their artistic performances. The Lady of Lyons was repeated on Tuesday, and during the remainder of the week the Amateurs will produce a new comedy-drama entitled A Life of Love.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, 30th of September 1881.

A Google StreetView Image of the Bridge Hotel and Odeon Cinema, formerly the Theatre Royal, Darlington - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Bridge Hotel and Odeon Cinema, formerly the Theatre Royal, Darlington - Click to Interact.

The Theatre Royal had opened on Monday the 26th of September 1881 as a live theatre but had soon gone over to showing films and was being run by ABC when it was closed on Saturday the 10th of October 1936 and was then demolished for the building of a new Super Cinema designed by Percy Brown, Son & Harding.

The new Cinema opened as the Regal Cinema on the 31st of January 1938 with a seating capacity of 1,620 on two levels, stalls and one circle. Renamed ABC in 1961 it then went on in this vein until it was tripled in 1977 reopening on the 15th of June that year. Canon took over the cinemas in the 1980s and it was renamed as such by them. Later it became an MGM Cinema and then reverted back to an ABC.

Today the Cinema is operated by Odeon who refurbished all three screens in 2019 and reopened it as an Odeon Luxe on the 13th of December that year.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Royal Astoria Theatre, Northgate and John Street, Darlington

Formerly - The Livingstone Hall / Ritz Cinema / Plaza Cinema - Later - The Astoria Cinema / Astoria Bingo

The building looking very shabby as Astoria Bingo in 1970s - Shown here with a Creative Commons Licence from the Cinema Treasures Website.The Royal Astoria Theatre was situated in Northgate, Darlington, at the junction with John Street. The Theatre was originally built as an Assembly Rooms and opened in 1873 as the Livingstone Hall.

The building, which had an auditorium capable of seating 1,800 people when it first opened had started showing early bioscope films by 1909.

It later went over to full time Cinema use and was renamed as the Ritz Cinema in 1937. The following year it was renamed the Plaza Cinema.

Right - The building looking very shabby as Astoria Bingo in 1970s - Shown here with a Creative Commons Licence from the Cinema Treasures Website.

In 1947 the Cinema was closed and the building was re imagined as a live Theatre, opening as the Royal Astoria Theatre the same year.

However, in 1952 the Theatre went back to full time Cinema use as the Astoria Cinema.

In 1957 Cinema use came to an end and the Theatre was converted into a restaurant, although it later was altered for Bingo Use. But even this closed in the early 1970s and the building was then demolished.

A petrol station stands on the site today.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

The Majestic Theatre, 78 to 80 Bondgate, Darlington

Formerly - The Majestic Cinema / Odeon Cinema

A Google StreetView Image of the Majestic Theatre, Darlington in 2020 - Click to Interact.

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Majestic Theatre, Darlington in 2020 - Click to Interact.

A Contemporary Opening Newspaper Advertisement for the Majestic Cinema, Darlington - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.The Original Majestic Cinema in Darlington was financed by two local families and opened on the 26th of December 1932 with a showing of the Lupino Lane film 'The Maid of the Mountains' which was seen by 4,500 patrons.

Right - A Contemporary Opening Newspaper Advertisement for the Majestic Cinema, Darlington - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

It was built at a cost of £30,000 and had a 17ft stage with a 45ft wide proscenium and five dressing rooms. It was also fitted out with a Compton 3 Manual 8 Rank Organ "with full effects" (the same as the one in Broadcasting House London) which was played for the first time by Frank Matthews. The cinema also had a café situated on the first floor outside the entrance to the balcony, and was equipped with Kalee projectors.

The Opening Programme for the Majestic Cinema, Darlington in December 1932 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.During it's time it frequently staged shows as well as films, and sixty-eight wireless programmes were broadcast from the building by the resident organist Harry Millen.

Left - The Opening Programme for the Majestic Cinema, Darlington in December 1932 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

Within two years of the opening shares were being offered for sale by the owners, and in 1935 it was announced that National Provincial Cinemas Limited, intended to purchase the building for £62,500. The deal never took place.

In May 1943 the cinema was put up for sale again and for an agreed price of £92,500 the Odeon Theatres Ltd chain took possession of the building on 16th July 1943.

The Auditorium of the Odeon, Darlington, Formerly the Majestic Cinema - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.During its life the front of the building was covered over with a modern aluminium 'Odeon' style structure, which became very dated.

Right - The Auditorium of the Odeon, Darlington, Formerly the Majestic Cinema - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The cinema closed on 24th October 1981 and I was present in the projection box filming the last reel of film being started up by Harold Alderson on the number 2 projector. (See image below left). There were 159 people in the audience that evening.

The last reel of film being screened at the Odeon, Darlington in October 1981 - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.For the next few years, it lay empty then became a pool hall for a time before being purchased in November 2013 by property developer Devlin Hunter. He planned to make the building into a dual-purpose venue.

A children's play area was established in the former stalls, and a 280-seat theatre was built in the balcony. Fortunately, much of the interior art deco decoration remained intact and could be restored.

The restoration has taken place in a very sympathetic way and has provided the town with a wonderful art deco building, which so easily could have been demolished. It is hoped the building will take over from the Arts Centre which was closed down by the local council several years ago.

The Auditorium from the Stage of the Majestic Theatre during its Restoration - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

Above - The Auditorium from the Stage of the Majestic Theatre during its Restoration - Courtesy Derek Mathieson.

The above article on the Majestic Theatre, Darlington was kindly written for this site in August 2021 by Derek Mathieson.

If you have any more information or Images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

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