Arthur Lloyd.co.uk
The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

Theatres in Dudley, West Midlands

Hippodrome / Opera House - Coloseum Theatre - Plaza Cinema / Colosseum Picture Palace / Gem Cinema / John Bull Cinema / Scala Cinema - Odeon Cinema - Criterion Cinema

See also in this area - Wolverhamton Theatres - Birmingham Theatres - Walsall Theatres

The Hippodrome Theatre, Castle Hill (Formerly Birmingham Road), Dudley

Formerly - The Opera House / Opera House Picture Palace and Electric Theatre - Later - The Hippodrome Casino Club / Cesar's Palace / Gala Bingo

A Google StreetView Image of the Dudley Hippodrome - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Dudley Hippodrome - Click to Interact

The Dudley Hippodrome was designed by Archibald Hurley Robinson and opened in 1938 primarily as a 'Twice Nightly' variety Theatre. The Theatre is situated on Castle Street, almost opposite the slightly earlier Odeon Cinema of 1936, and next door to the former Plaza Cinema also of 1936. The Dudley Hippodrome actually replaced the much early Opera House, which first opened on Monday the 4th of September 1899 with a production of the 'Mikado', but was destroyed by fire in 1936. More information on the former Opera House follows, and is followed by details on the Hippodrome below.

An early Postcard showing the Opera House, Dudley in 1905.In 1899 a new Theatre was constructed for Dudley on Castle Hill, designed by the Dudley Architect A. Ramsell, with accommodation for some 2,000 people.

Right - An early Postcard showing the Opera House, Dudley in 1905.

The ERA reported on the new Theatre in their 9th of September 1899 edition saying:- 'This elegant addition to our provincial theatres opened its doors on Monday, under the patronage of the Earl and Countess of Dudley, the mayor, and members of the Town Council, when a large and fashionable audience tested its holding capacity.

The new theatre, which has been erected by the enterprise of Mr J. Maurice Clement, is a handsome building, occupying a commanding position, with a frontage to the Birmingham-road, and is situated within a stone's throw of two railway stations and the termini of four tramway systems. The style of architecture is Italian, of the Renaissance period, and the material of the elevation is red brick, with terra-cotta dressings. In the oval panels occupying a prominent position in the centre of each wing of the façade are inscribed in gilt Shakespearian quotations, whilst two memorial stones in the foundation record the fact that they were laid by the Mayor of Dudley and Mr Clement. There is a frontage of 150ft, in breadth and 66ft. in height from the ground floor to the figure on the apex of the façade. Four double pairs of swing-doors lead to an entrance-hall, other and similar doors to the right and left being provided for exits.

The floor of the entrance-hall is tesselated, and the walls have an encaustic-tiled dado and richly-embossed cornice. A door from the entrance-hall opens directly into the pit, and a broad open staircase with encaustic-tiled dado leads to the dress-circle foyer, which overlooks the main road. The height of the interior of the theatre from the floor to the dome is 41ft., and the arrangement of the auditorium, which is capable of seating 2,000 people, consists of orchestral stalls, pit, dress-circle, amphitheatre, and gallery, whilst in the immediate vicinity of the stage are six private boxes, three on each side. The line of sight from all parts of the house is excellent, occupants of the back row of the gallery having a full view of the proscenium.

The decorations of the interior are on an elaborate scale. The dome is supported by eight panelled buttresses with ivory-white mouldings, and the large central space of the ceiling, which is richly moulded, bears a chaste design of birds and foliage, the prevailing tint of the decorations being a shaded blue, relieved by gilt and sprays of pink flowers. The plastic decorations of the front of the dress-circle and private boxes have been picked out in delicate shades of pink, cream, and other soft tints, the embellishment of the front of the amphitheatre being of a lighter design in garlanded flowers. The walls of the body of the building are coloured in shades of Pompeian red, with dados of darker hues.

The stage will allow of the most elaborate scenic effects, the width being 72ft. 6in., the depth 36ft., and height from the floor line to the gridiron 50ft., whilst the proscenium opening is 26ft. wide. The flies are about 20ft. above the floor level, and are large and substantial. The act-drop has been executed by Mr W. Telbin, the well-known scenic artist.

The dressing-rooms are situated on the three floors of one side of the theatre, and are commodious and comfortable. There are separate refreshment bars. The building is fitted with the most modern heating apparatus, and ample fire extinguishing appliances have been provided in all parts. Emergency doors are numerous, the stairs are easy of ascent and descent, and the doors have been provided with "panic-bolts."

The building will be illuminated by electricity, which will be generated upon the premises, and in addition there is a complete gas installation. The handsome plastic adornments are by Messrs Dean and Co., Birmingham. The new theatre will take the place of the old Coloseum in the Trindle-road, which for over ten years has been the home of the drama in Dudley. The Colosseum was originally constructed for a circus, but was acquired in 1888 and converted into a theatre by Mr Clement, who intends to allow its dramatic licence to lapse and to utilise it for concert parties and entertainments.

The architect is Mr A. Ramsell, of Dudley. Mr R. D'Oyly Carte's principal repertoire company gave as the initial performance in the New Opera House the ever-popular Mikado. This company is one of the best that has ever visited Dudley, as will readily be understood on looking at the cast. Mr E. A. White was most successful in the title-role, and Mr Leon Graham showed to advantage as Nanki-Poo. Koko, in the hands of Mr C. H. Workman, was admirably rendered, and the Poo-Bah of Mr Fred Billington was a treat, his dry, sarcastic humour and facial expression being highly amusing. Mr Albert Kavanagh did full justice to the character of Pish-Tush, and Katisha, in the hands of Miss Kate Forster, was a powerful representation. Miss Lina Carr was a charming YumYum, her acting being particularly winning and her singing excellent, and the Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo of Miss Gaston Murray and Miss Lucy Cane respectively were charmingly quaint and pleasing. The singing throughout was good, and the choruses were strongly rendered, many of the numbers being repeatedly encored by the delighted audience.

The popular and enterprising proprietor, Mr Clement, came before the curtain between the acts and met with an enthusiastic reception. The staging and scenic arrangements were excellent, and reflected the highest credit on the management of Mr Richard Weathersby. The Yeomen of the Guard was produced on Tuesday night with equal success, and the remaining operas in the repertory were Patience, The Gondoliers, Princess Ida, and Iolanthe. Dudley has always been famous for its orchestra, which is now permanently augmented. Under the baton of Mr P. W. Halton, its capabilities were fully demonstrated.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 9th of September 1899.

The Dudley Opera House opened on the 4th of September 1899 with a production of D'Oyly' Carte's 'Mikado'. A few years after the Theatre opened the Stage Yearbook of 1909 stated that Dudley had a population of 48,733 by then, so there were plenty of people hoping for a bit of entertainment in the Town, which had previously only been able to visit the old Coloseum Theatre of 1888, but by 1909 also had the Opera House too.

The Stage Yearbook of 1909 also listed the Opera House itself saying:- 'Opera House - Proprietor and Manager, Mr. J. Maurice Clement; Acting Manager, Mr. J. W. Tilley; Musical Director, Mr. Arthur Greaves, Scenic Artist, Mr. Ernest Williams. Full Licence. Holding capacity: Number of persons, 2,000. Proscenium opening, 26ft.; rail to rail, 30ft.; stage to grid, 50ft. Gas and electric light. Matinee day, Bank Holidays only. Time of band rehearsal, 1 p.m. Season August until Whitsuntide.'

The Opera House continued in business throughout the early 1900s with mostly variety productions, and then later, by 1910, with afternoon films too, as the now renamed Opera House Picture Palace and Electric Theatre, but sadly in November 1936 the Theatre was destroyed by fire, and that was the end for this fine 1899 building.

Undeterred however, its then Manager Benjamin Kennedy, who was also operating the Plaza Cinema next door at the time, soon had the Theatre rebuilt, this time to the plans of Archibald Hurley Robinson, who had also built the Plaza Theatre for him in 1936.

An early photograph of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.

Above - An early photograph of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.

The new Theatre, which arose on the site of the burnt out Opera House, was a very different kind of building to the former Opera House, now designed in the Art Deco Style, with a huge proscenium opening of 45 feet, and seating for 1,621 people in Stalls and one steeply raked Circle. The Hippodrome Theatre opened on Monday the 19th of December 1938 with a variety show accompanied by Jack Hylton and his band.

An early photograph of the auditorium of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.The Stage Newspaper reported on the new Hippodrome Theatre in their December the 15th 1938 edition saying:- 'Dudley's new theatre, to be known as the Hippodrome, erected on the site of the old Opera House, which was destroyed by fire on November 1, 1936, will be opened on Monday.

Right - An early photograph of the auditorium of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.

The new house has seating accommodation in stalls and circle for 1,750. It has been constructed entirely on modern lines. It is an imposing building, at the main entrance to the town, constructed of red brick, with a dignified forecourt and entrance.

An early photograph of the auditorium of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.Separate entrances with independent foyers are provided, and each part of the house will have its own refreshment bar.

Left - An early photograph of the auditorium of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.

Heating is controlled thermostatically, ensuring even temperature throughout. A special plant provides for complete change of air every fifteen minutes. The latest devices to enable patrons to hear and see have been adapted, and the stage lighting is thoroughly up to date.

The proprietor, Benjamin Kennedy, who is assisted in the business by his sons, Robert Kennedy and Maurice Kennedy - has been connected with entertainments for more than fifty years. In the nineties he was responsible for the direction of the Dalston, N. Kennedy's Comics toured the country from 1903 to 1910.

An early photograph of the auditorium, stage, and orchestra of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.Mr. Kennedy built the Smethwick theatre in 1910, and the Coliseum, Bearwood, Birmingham, in 1911. He purchased the Gaiety, Birmingham, in 1912, and the Dudley Opera House, in 1920. An adjoining theatre, the Plaza, is his property. He also controls the Royal, West Bromwich. In building the Hippodrome he has realized his ambition to erect a thoroughly modern first-class theatre.

Right - An early photograph of the auditorium, stage, and orchestra of the Dudley Hippodrome - Courtesy the RF Collection.

Mr. Dudley Joel, M.P., will perform the opening ceremony. Jack Hylton's band will head the first bill. The following two weeks will be occupied by Walter Paskin and Elkan Simons's "Jack and the Beanstalk".'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, December 15th 1938.

A Poster for the Dudley Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy Kenny Cantor and the late Maurice Poole.The Dudley Hippodrome was designed as a 'Twice Nightly' variety Theatre, and although also equipped to show Films it rarely did so in its early years. Instead it became home to variety, pantomime, and touring productions from around the Country. This went on until 1958 when it was closed for a while, having been taken over by new operators. They put on the occasional concert and pantomime but the Theatre was poorly run and often closed. In the 1950's and early 60s it was being billed as and the 'Continental Theatre of the Midlands' showing so called 'Girly' shows (see posters shown here) but it closed completely in 1964.

Right - A Poster for the Dudley Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy Kenny Cantor and the late Maurice Poole.

A Poster for the Dudley Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy Kenny Cantor and the late Maurice Poole.The Theatre was then taken over by Vic Kendrick who reopened it as the Hippodrome Casino Club, which involved daytime Bingo use, and nightclub use in the evenings. Later taken over by Ladbrokes it was renamed Cesar's Palace in October 1973 when Tommy Steele first appeared on its stage. Bingo was still running throughout the day however, and then various artistes would perform on stage later in the evening at 10pm. However, this all came to an end pretty quickly and Roy Orbinson would become the last person to perform on the Hippodrome' stage on the 16th of August 1974.

Left - A Poster for the Dudley Hippodrome in the 1950s - Courtesy Kenny Cantor and the late Maurice Poole.

The Theatre was then turned over to full time Bingo use as Gala Bingo which would stay in business there for many years until it also closed in September 2009. Plans to demolish the Theatre in 2014 were avoided and a group set up to restore the Theatre back to live use, the Black Country Hippodrome Ltd., took a five year lease on it in 2016 but are said to have failed to meet key objectives and were forced to hand the Theatre back to the Council in 2018, the fight to save the building is still ongoing at the time of writing in June 2018.

A short film showing the get in, rehearsals, and opening night of 'Aladdin' at the Dudley Hippodrome in 1949 is well worth a look here.

Some of the later information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website, and the Website of the Theatres Trust.

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

The Coloseum Theatre, Trindle Road, Dudley

The Coloseum Theatre was situated on Trindle Road, in Dudley, and was originally constructed as a Circus building, but by 1889 it had been converted by its then owner Maurice Clement, who would later also build the nearby Opera House in 1899. Clement had the Coloseum building converted and put to use as a Theatre for Drama around 1889, but after his Opera House opened in 1899 he is said to have intended to let the Coloseum's drama licence lapse and use the building for concert parties and other entertainments. At the time of writing I have been unable to find out what happened to the Coloseum building after this, perhaps you know.

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

The Odeon Cinema, Castle Hill, Dudley

A Google StreetView Image of the Odeon Cinema, Dudley - Click to Interact

Above - A Google StreetView Image of the Odeon Cinema, Dudley - Click to Interact.

The Odeon Cinema is situated on Castle Hill, Dudley, almost opposite the Hippodrome Theatre, and was designed in the Art Deco Style by Harry W. Weedon, who was assisted by Budge Reid. The Theatre opened on the 28th of July 1937 with the film 'Beloved Enemy.

The Cinema could accommodate 1,234 people, all seated in some comfort, on two levels, Stalls and one Balcony, and ran as a Cinema until it was eventually closed by its then owners, the Rank Organisation, on the 22nd of February 1975.

The building was then sold to the International Bible Students Association and by 1977 was in use as a Church. The Jehovah's Witnesses later took over the building, and carried out some major refurbishment, and today operated by them as an Assembly Hall.

The former Odeon Cinema is today a Grade II Listed building.

Some of the information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.

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

The Plaza Cinema, Castle Hill, Dudley

Formerly - The Colosseum Picture Palace / Gem Cinema / John Bull Cinema / Scala Cinema

The Plaza Cinema was situated on Castle Hill, Dudley, next door to the former Opera House and later Hippodrome Theatre, and almost opposite the later Odeon Cinema. The Plaza was built on the site of the former 500 seat Colosseum Picture Palace which had first opened in December 1910. This was renamed the Gem Cinema in 1913, the John Bull Cinema in 1916, the Scala Cinema in 1918, and finally the Plaza Cinema in 1928. A photograph of the original 1910 building can be seen here. The building was finally demolished in 1935 and then rebuilt by its then owner Benjamin Kennedy, and reopened as the Plaza Cinema again on the 28th of May 1936.

The 1936 Plaza Cinema was designed by Archibald Hurley Robinson, who would also design the next door Hippodrome Theatre for Benjamin Kennedy a couple of years later in 1938. The 1936 Plaza auditorium was originally constructed on two levels, Stalls and one Circle, but in 1973 the Theatre was twinned, becoming a 551 seat Cinema in the former stalls, and a 199 seat Cinema in the former balcony.

The Plaza was closed completely in October 1990 and the building was then reconstructed as a Lazer Games centre, but the whole building was eventually demolished in 1997. A photograph showing the Plaza Cinema, and the next door Hippodrome Theatre together in 1995 can be seen here.

Some of the information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.

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

The Criterion Cinema, High Street, Dudley

Formerly - The Criterion Electric Cinema

The Criterion Cinema began life as a Public House which had a small 253 seat Music Hall situated to the rear of the building. This became the Criterion Electric Cinema in February 1911, which was enlarged in 1913, with seating for 570 people. The Cinema was run by Benjamin Kennedy until 1915, who would later go on to build the Plaza and Hippodrome Theatres in Dudley in the late 1930s.

In 1923 the Cinema's auditorium was rebuilt and enlarged to the designs of Joseph Lawden. It reopened as the now two level 1,200 seat Criterion Cinema on the 17th of November the same year. A cafe was also added at the same time.

Several changes of ownership followed but the Cinema was finally closed in September 1956 by its then owners, the Rank Organisation, who sold it on to an electrical retailer called Broadmead's. They used the foyer as a shop, and successive owners used the auditorium for storage, but it was eventually demolished in the early 1980s. Several images of the Criterion Cinema can be seen here.

Some of the information for this Theatre was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures Website.

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

Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in by B.F.

Other Pages that may be of Interest