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The London Hippodrome, Hippodrome Corner, Cranbourn Street, City of Westminster

Later - The Talk Of The Town - Stringfellow's - Hippodrome Casino

Index to all the articles on this site about the London Hippodrome

Other Leicester Square Theatres and Cinemas

The London Hippodrome in its heyday - From a Programme for the Theatre in 1907

Above - The London Hippodrome in its heyday - From a Programme for the Theatre in 1907

 

London Hippodrome seating plan - Click to Enlarge.See London's West End TheatresSee Theatreland MapsThe London Hippodrome in London's Leicester Square was designed for Edward Moss by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham and opened on the 15th of January 1900 with a Circus and Variety Show. The Theatre was due to open some months earlier but owing to the highly complicated machinery and stage effects that the Theatre was designed to perform, extended rehearsals meant that the original opening was postponed.

However, the press and other interested parties were invited to a private viewing of the new Theatre on the 29th of September 1899. A Daily News reporter who attended the viewing seemed completely entranced by the building and his report, which was published in the paper the next day in some detail, was headed 'The London Hippodrome, a remarkable building - Postponement of the opening.' The article went on to say: 'Compared with the London Hippodrome, the established theatres are mere affairs of the stage and auditoriums, walls and ceiling, with conventional accessories. The London Hippodrome only resembles itself. Mr. H. E. Moss must surely have drawn his inspiration from a dream. But that is not admitted.

The auditorium of the London Hippodrome in its guise as a conventional Theatre - From a programme for May 2nd 1910 - Click to see a special feature on this programme.The official testimony is that, about two years ago, the founder of high class variety halls in the provinces "determined to invade London with a new form of entertainment, combining circus, hippodrome, and stage performances." He is about to do so. Merely as a building, and quite apart from the entertainments that may be given there, the London Hippodrome is likely to to rank with Madame Tussaud's and Westminster Abbey among the sights of London.

Left - The auditorium of the London Hippodrome in its guise as a conventional Theatre - From a programme for May 2nd 1910 - Click to see a special feature on this programme.

Last night a throng of privileged persons attended a "private view." They walked about the new building astonished, puzzled, and delighted, like Alice in Wonderland. Every now and then they had almost to pinch themselves to make sure they were awake. Some persons came in evening dress, believing the "private view" had reference to the entertainment advertised for Monday. Happily, they were mistaken. To see the building was enough sensation for one evening. The abnormal confronted them almost on the threshold. It was a small point, but the very attendants were dressed as naval officers. The next blow came in the discovery that the grand saloon is a ship's saloon, with the familiar skylight and brass fittings, and with portholes - the thing seems ridiculous, but such was the illusion - with portholes commanding a view of the sea. Why - the reader may ask - these queer caprices. Well, presumably, it all happened that way in the dream.

 

A programme for the London Hippodrome from July the 30th 1900 - Click for a special feature on this programme.A postcard sent in 1906 showing the London Hippodrome at night.You would have to look a long time to find any pit at the Hippodrome. Standing in one of the layers of private boxes, one sees the stalls, then "a large round space" let that description momentarily suffice, and beyond, a large stage.

Right - A programme for the London Hippodrome from July the 30th 1900 - Click for a special feature on this programme.

It is a beautiful house, characterised by flowing lines, unfamiliar formation, rich upholstery, Italian marble, and French Renaissance decoration. People gazed with wondering eyes as the large round space, where carpenters still worked on the wooden floor.

Left - A postcard sent in 1906 showing the London Hippodrome at night.

Presently they cleared it of themselves and their shavings. Then slowly the floor went down, revealing the glazed-brick wall of a pit 230ft. in girth. Through the eight little slits that had been opened in the floor one caught the sparkle of water, and soon these openings were penetrated by brass tubes that shot powerful jets of water nearly to the roof. Limelight was shed on the fountains, and then the band played. But this was rather by way of experiment than show. The whole business remained a mystery until the eye was assisted by the ear. Mr. Frank Matcham, the architect, and representatives of Messrs. Whitford and Co., Messrs. James Stoit and Co., Messrs. Halliday and Greenwood and other firms concerned, were ready with explanations.

 

The auditorium of the London Hippodrome set up for a water spectacular - From a programme for May 2nd 1910 - Click to see a special feature on this programme.The large round hole has a water capacity of 100,000 gallons, and is constructed of steel boiler-plates. In the sides and bottom of the tank are glazed holes through which light can be projected into the water.

Left - The auditorium of the London Hippodrome set up for a water spectacular - From a programme for May 2nd 1910 - Click to see a special feature on this programme.

On either side of the proscenium is an entrance arena, and when it is full of water these can be flooded to a depth sufficiently to allow of the coming and going of boats. When the floor is raised above the water - and hydraulic rams achieve the change in about a minute - the floor of the stage can be lowered to its level, giving a huge continuous area. So that the large round stage is at once a circus with surrounding wall, at another a tank, and at another an extension of the stage. A button is pressed, and behold! there arises around the circle a high grille, or railing, capable of withstanding the strength of Tons. With mighty mechanism yielding all these possibilities, what entertainments we may expect!

 

An article from 'The Sphere' of January 1904 shows how Elephants were led up ramps from the Elephant Run below the stage and then slid down a slide into the Hippodrome's vast water tank - Click to see the article enlarged.The orchestra, of course, is in the grand circle. We venture to say "of course" because it is elsewhere in other theatres. M. Georges Jacobi and his forty performers have, in the locality indicated, a "minstrels' Gallery" to themselves, "with a large shell cover for throwing forward the music." Equally, of course, the roof slides on and off, that not being the habit of roofs. Persons craning their necks last night sighted a square gallery under the moveable dome. "Well," was the amazing answer, "we shall work snowstorms from up there. Then, again it will be a good place for a high dive into the tank."

Right - An article from 'The Sphere' of January 1904 shows how Elephants were led up ramps from the Elephant Run below the stage and then slid down a slide into the Hippodrome's vast water tank - Click to see the article enlarged.

As the roof is usually the place where foul air escapes from a building, no one will be surprised to learn that, at the London Hippodrome, fresh air enters there. The description of the heating and ventilation arrangements reads like a page out of a Jules Verne. Drawn in from above the roof, the air passes through an apparatus wherein "dust particles, micro-organisms, and foggy vapour" are removed. If necessary, it seems, "the air can also be disinfected." Having passed an enormous chamber between the girders of the roof, it is forced down into the auditorium by means of a powerful fan. So, "washed, filtered, and humidified" the air enters the London Hippodrome, of which, by the way, the commemoration stone was laid last night by Mr. Alfred de Rothschild, to the tune of some millions of cubic feet per hour.

But a penalty has had to be paid for all this wonderful elaboration. We received an official information last night that the public opening is "unavoidably postponed till January 6th, at 8 p.m., owing to the mechanical stage and arena requiring protracted rehearsals.' - The Daily News, 30th, September 1899.

The opening night programme for the London Hippodrome on the 15th of January 1900, printed on silk - From a programme for the opening of the Talk of the Town in 1958.The London Hippodrome's opening was delayed for several months in the end but the Theatre eventually opened on the 15th of January 1900 with a Circus and Variety Show. There are a great many articles and features about the London Hippodrome on this site and a full index to them can be found here. In the mean time the following historical details about the Hippodrome can be found below and are courtesy the Theatre's Trust.

Right -The opening night programme for the London Hippodrome on the 15th of January 1900, printed on silk - From a programme for the opening of the Talk of the Town in 1958.

 

The London Hippodrome's wonderful Frank Matcham auditorium long before the 1958 devastation caused by the Theatre's conversion into the 'Talk of The Town.' London Metropolitan Archives.'The London Hippodrome was originally built for Edward Moss as a Hippodrome for circuses, it had a vast tank for water spectacles. The sight lines were adjusted to suit both circus arena and proscenium action.

Left - The London Hippodrome's wonderful Frank Matcham auditorium long before the 1958 devastation caused by the Theatre's conversion into the 'Talk of The Town.' - London Metropolitan Archives.

Special Feature on this London Hippodrome Programme from 1909The 1909 works enlarged the stage and advanced the proscenium to suit the theatre for variety rather than circus and, from 1912, revue.

The Hippodrome occupies an island site with principal elevations to Charing Cross Road and Cranbourn Street, and contains, in addition to the theatre, ground-floor shops on the main frontages, with Cranbourn Mansions in the upper storeys.

 

Special Feature on this London Hippodrome Programme from 19101902 article on the London Hippodrome from The Illustrated London News.Elevations in red sandstone, red brick and terracotta in a free classical style, the bays divided by giant Ionic pilasters supported on elongated brackets which occupy the full height of the first floor, the pilasters rising through the second and third floors to carry a weakly accented fourth-floor attic storey and a crowning balustrade.

Left - Click for this 1902 article on the London Hippodrome from The Illustrated London News.

There were formerly giant figures of Roman soldiers above. Most bays have canted windows rising from terms and linked by a balustrade at second-floor level.

The corner bay is framed by giant Ionic engaged columns carrying entablature blocks and an open pediment, above which rises a short but floridly detailed tower with a skeletal iron dome crowned by a lively sculptured group of a chariot with rearing horses...

 

A gilded George I mirror, formerly in the Hippodrome Theatre - Courtesy Adam Pollock - Click for details and enlargements.

Above - A gilded George I mirror, formerly in the Hippodrome Theatre, London, perhaps from the star dressing room, has recently come to light via the estate of the widow of Albert Warner, former props master at the Hippodrome. It is covered with incised signatures of (mainly) theatre luminaries, some with dates from 1926 to 1936 after their names - Courtesy Adam Pollock - Click for details and enlargements.

 

London Hippodromes Staff Photographs from the early 1900s.Click for a Special Feature on the London Hippodrome - From the Playgoer of 1902 ...There are Giant letters with the name of the theatre on the Little Newport Street front. In 1959, the old iron and glass entrance canopy was replaced by one of no distinction...

Right - Click to see some of the London Hippodromes Staff Photographs from the early 1900s.

Left - Click for a Special Feature on the London Hippodrome - From the Playgoer of 1902 which includes details of the building, the turns, and the grand Finale 'The Bandits,' with many images of the building and the acts.

 

The London Hippodrome featuring Charlie Gracie in a 1950s Variety Season - - Courtesy Gerry Atkins-

Above - The London Hippodrome featuring Charlie Gracie in a 1957 Variety Season - Courtesy Gerry Atkins - This was the final season for the Theatre in this guise before its conversion to the Talk of the Town (See Below.)

The auditorium of the London Hippodrome in 1949 - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

Above - The auditorium of the London Hippodrome in 1949 - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949

The Talk of the Town Period

The Talk of The Town at the London Hippodrome in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

Above - The Talk of The Town at the London Hippodrome in 1958 - Courtesy Gerry Atkins

 

Special Feature on The Theatre's Conversion to the 'Talk of the Town'Special Feature on The hidden Theatre lurking above the present Night Club...Matcham's gorgeous auditorium was utterly ravished in the 1958 conversion works but some traces of its original character could still be seen in the upper reaches above the suspended ceiling.

Cabaret use (as 'The Talk of the Town') seemed preferable to total loss in the 1950s, but it is a great pity that consent was ever given to the present use, in which live music and acting (other than miming to a sound track) are not significant elements.

There is a list of productions and artistes performing at the Talk of the Town from 1958 to 1982 on Richard Mills' interesting Website, click the Talk of the Town Link from the Homepage...

 

A postcard for the Talk of the Town

Above - A postcard for the Talk of the Town - Back of card reads: THE TALK OF THE TOWN - Hippodrome Corner, London W.C.2. Tel. REGent 5051 - THE WORLD'S MOST EXCITING THEATRE RESTAURANT - presenting nightly dinner-dancing to two top bands - A spectacular 10 o'clock revue and international' star cabaret at 11.30 p.m.

The Talk Of The Town, from a brochure in 1968

Above - The Talk Of The Town, from a brochure in 1968

There is a great deal more information on the Talk of Town period at the London Hippodrome on this site here.

The London Hippodrome shrouded in scaffolding during renovation work to the exterior of the building in September 2008, and advertising 'La Clique.' Photo M.L....This may even now be regarded as a recoverable theatre. Not quite as big as it looks, but a theatre potentially suitable for grand musical productions in this position, at the very heart of Theatreland, is an obvious candidate for reawakening. John Earl.'

The above text in quotes is reproduced with the kind permission of The Theatres Trust from their indispensable book - 'The Theatres Trust Guide to British Theatres 1750-1950' John Earl & Michael Sell. Available from the publishers, A&C Black (tel 01480 212666).

Left - The London Hippodrome shrouded in scaffolding during renovation work to the exterior of the building in September 2008, and advertising 'La Clique.' Photo M.L.

 

The London Hippodrome in 2009, during the run of 'La Clique.' Photo M.L.Sadly John Earl's last words on the building went unheeded, but the Theatre did have its final swan song. After years of neglect and abuse, in 2008 the London Hippodrome was host to the international burlesque cabaret 'La Clique' which opened at the Theatre on the 10th of October 2008 and was phenomenally successful.

Right - The London Hippodrome in 2009, during the run of 'La Clique.' Photo M.L.

The production took the Theatre back to its roots as a Circus venue and proved that the building was still perfectly viable as one of London's top Theatrical attractions.

However, in March 2009 a successful application for the granting of a gaming license at the London Hippodrome meant that the production would have to close so that the building could be converted into a Casino.

'La Clique' closed on the 27th of June 2009 and was the last time the London Hippodrome was used as a Theatre.

 

 

Above - A video from London TV on the international sensation 'La Clique' at the London Hippodrome in 2009
(You will need to have the Macromedia Flash Player plug-in installed to be able to view this Video)

The rear of the London Hippodrome during the run of 'La Clique' which was to be the last theatrical production at the Theatre before its conversion into a casino.

Above - The rear of the London Hippodrome during the run of 'La Clique' which was to be the last theatrical production at the Theatre before its conversion into a casino.

 

The Hippodrome Casino

The London Hippodrome in its new guise as the Hippodrome Casino in its opening week, July 2012 - Photo M.L.

Above - The London Hippodrome in its new guise as the Hippodrome Casino in its opening week, July 2012

Detail of some of the refurbished plasterwork at the Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell.In the Autumn of 2009 work began on turning the building into a Casino. The first stage was the removing of the earlier 'Talk of the Town' false ceiling and all the subsequent works that Peter Stringfellow and others had added to the building over the years. The refurbishment, which included restoration of the exterior and major internal restoration, took 3 years and cost £40 million and was completed for its reopening in July 2012 by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who unveiled a plaque and said 'This huge project has not only restored and retained the glorious fabric of this historic building but also created hundreds of new jobs for the capital and provided a major boost for local business.'

Right - Detail of some of the refurbished plasterwork at the Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell.

Although it's a shame not to see this wonderful Frank Matcham Theatre back in full time theatrical use it is gratifying to see the building has been so lovingly refurbished and that its future is finally secure.

Although the Theatre is now in use as a casino it does still have a theatrical life as a small 180 seat cabaret space has been installed in the first circle level of the former stage house. The well known singer and actor, Tony Christie, had the honour of being the first performer on the Hippodrome's new stage on the 9th of July 2012, and a plethora of well known artistes are booked to entertain the Hippodrome's punters for the coming months.

You may like to visit the Hippodrome Casino's own website here.

 

Some Photographs of the newly opened Hippodrome Casino

The proscenium and new stage at the Hippodrome Casino with the fire curtain down in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The proscenium and new stage at the Hippodrome Casino with the fire curtain down in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

The former Minstrels Gallery at Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The former Minstrels Gallery at Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

Above - The Hippodrome Casino in July 2012 - Courtesy Terry Powell

You may also like to see Ian Grundy's photographs of the Hippodrome on his Flickr set here.

If you would like to see the Theatre before its refurbishment click here

 

The London Hippodrome during Refurbishment

The auditorium and stage of the London Hippodrome are finally revealed after works to remove the 1958 Talk of the Town false ceiling and subsequent alterations are completed in November 2009 - Photo M.L. November 2009

Above - The auditorium and stage of the London Hippodrome are finally revealed after works to remove the 1958 Talk of the Town false ceiling and subsequent alterations are completed in November 2009 - Photo M.L.

The auditorium of the London Hippodrome is finally revealed after works to remove the 1958 Talk of the Town false ceiling and subsequent alterations are completed in November 2009 - Photo M.L. November 2009

Above - The auditorium of the London Hippodrome is finally revealed after works to remove the 1958 Talk of the Town false ceiling and subsequent alterations are completed in November 2009 - Photo M.L.

Revealed during renovation works in the substage of the London Hippodrome, a painting on a wall by Rolf Harris thanking the staff of the Theatre for their help with his 'Jake the Peg' routine - Photo M.L. November 2009

Above - Revealed during renovation works in the substage of the London Hippodrome, a painting on a wall by Rolf Harris thanking the staff of the Theatre for their help with his 'Jake the Peg' routine - Photo M.L. November 2009

If you are interested in reading more on the history of the London Hippodrome an index to all the pages about the Theatre on this site can be found here. There is also an Index to other Theatres and Cinemas in London's Leicester Square here.

 

A Notice from the 'Music hall & Theatre Review' 1911 for the Arthur Lloyd Trio performing at the London Hippodrome.

Above - A Notice from the 'Music hall & Theatre Review' 1911 for the Arthur Lloyd Trio performing at the London Hippodrome.

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