Home Page
The Music Hall and Theatre History Website

 

Home - Index - Forum - Contact

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, King Street, Wigan, Lancashire

Formerly - The New Theatre and Hippodrome

Wigan Theatres

An early photograph showing the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library.

Above - An early photograph showing the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, Wigan, was designed by Owen and Ward, who also designed the Opera House, Kidderminster, the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, the Hippodrome, Poplar, Her Majesty's Theatre, Walsall, and the Imperial Theatre, Bordesley, Birmingham. The Wigan Hippodrome opened on Monday the 7th of March 1904. The closing of the old Theatre Royal in January 1904 was followed a month later by the opening of the New Theatre and Hippodrome, and a report in the “Wigan Observer” describing this new house is quoted below:-

A Cutting from the Wigan Observer of the 29th August 1910, advertising the week's coming attractions at the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services. “The New Theatre and Hippodrome which Mr J. Worswick has erected on the vacant land in King Street just below the Shakespeare Hotel, and the old Theatre Royal (now being demolished) will be opened on Monday afternoon (7th March) and the public will then be able to gain some idea of the beautiful house of entertainment newly provided for them. It is a substantial building placed on some 1,000 or so square yards of land, fitted up in every way to meet modern requirements and claimed as being one of the most complete variety Theatres out of London...

Right - A Cutting from the Wigan Observer of the 29th August 1910, advertising the week's coming attractions at the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

...The public probably have little conception of the splendid Theatre that has been so rapidly erected. The frontage is such as to immediately attract attention. A veranda runs the whole length over the windows of the four shops that are at the front. The main outside doors in King Street lead from the beautiful entrance to the large hall. Vari-coloured leaded lights most artistically designed make this entrance highly ornamental. The floor is tessellated, and the walls covered with a dado of lincrusta work which is continued right up the staircases that lead right and left to the circle. Facing the visitor is the pay box and the entrance to the orchestra stalls, which will also be used as an early door for the “Pittites”. Proceeding through the entrance into the pit, the feature of which is a very considerable gradient, enabling all to have a very comfortable view of the stage, the seating arrangement will strike one as being novel. The seats in lengths of four feet are so constructed to turn up when not in use. This obviously means considerably more passing room. The floor is covered with “noiseless“ linoleum - a great advantage where there is the great moving about that often takes place in a music hall. In front of the pit seats are the stalls, the price of which will be 1s. 6p. these are provided with handsome tip-up plush seats, luxuriously comfortable. There is plenty of space between the four rows of seats. In addition three seats are placed on each side underneath the private boxes that rear overhead. Massive brass rails separate the orchestra from the stalls...

A Sketch depicting King Street, Wigan in 1906 - Courtesy George Richmond

Above - A Sketch depicting King Street, Wigan in 1906 - Courtesy George Richmond, who says: 'The sketch shows the Hippodrome Theatre, and the facade of the old Theatre Royal, Wigan, by this time converted into the Shakespeare Hotel, seen to the left. The Royal Court Theatre is situated further up the street on the right where the figure is standing.'

...A visit to the circle reveals splendid accommodation for those who deposit the bright shilling. No less than 364 chairs are deposited in this space, and again one cannot but help noticing the gradient of the seats. Ladies will have little fear that the matinee hat will obstruct the view of any cross member of the opposite sex – all are enabled to see in comfort. The seats are again of the tip up pattern, extremely comfortable and upholstered in “pegamoid”. Here also the floors also are covered in cork carpet and inlaid linoleum. The upper circle is approached like the pit from the south east side of the Theatre where a veranda will protect customers from the rain; and the public will ascend by means of a broad winding staircase of concrete steps. There is a great space of accommodation for the occupants of the upper–circle who will have as good and uninterrupted view of the stage as any other visitor to the Theatre.

The commodious stage is fitted with all the latest devises for dealing with scenery and a scene dock is provided of exceedingly large proportions. As a result of the original dressing rooms under the stage being objected to by the proper authorities, Mr Worswick has extended his Theatre premises right along the back of the Shakespeare Hotel, and has constructed fourteen new dressing-rooms each one of which has proper lavatory fittings. The entrance to these rooms which are on three floors is from the North West side of the building. Such are the main features of the building, and accommodation provided...

A photograph showing the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library.

Above - A photograph showing the Wigan Hippodrome - With kind permission Wigan Reference Library.

...Of the decorations it may be said that they are chased in design and excellently worked out. The dome is especially worth attention. One large ornamental circle is completed, two other uncompleted circles which sweep into the sides of the ceiling, and in the centre is displayed a device of coloured leaded lights, which when illuminated from behind, as is the intention, will give a well-produced effect that will be considered charming. The private boxes are ornate with gold and plush, overhead being a canopy on which stands a figure carrying an electric light. The front of the circle is gorgeous with gold and ornamentation. Needless to say, the whole of the Theatre is illuminated by electricity, the dome and the circle being picked out with finely displayed light, while in the main hall an expensive and handsome electrolier will throw a blaze of light on the ceiling.

Three inch steam pipes and radiators are in all parts of the building and are fed by a large boiler placed in a boiler house behind the stage. The proprietor has paid careful attention to the convenience and comfort of his patrons, lavatories for ladies and gentlemen are placed on each floor, and the cloakroom accommodation is ample.” - The Wigan Observer.

The account then goes on to discuss the fire precautions provided by the management. These include counterbalanced external iron staircases, doors fitted with”Pruce’s patent panic bolts”, hydrants placed in every part of the building and in particular the provision of a water curtain over the proscenium. “This, in conjunction with a fireproof curtain, is stated in all confidence will make the Theatre absolutely safe in the case of fire”. - The Wigan Observer.

No mention in the above account is made about the provision of bars for the refreshment of the Hippodrome patrons. This is because the local authorities of the time would grant Mr Worswick planning permission for his new Theatre, only on condition that the establishment would be “dry”; as a result no accommodation for refreshment of any kind was included in the plans.

 

The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Oklahoma' which was produced at the Hippodrome in 1954 - Courtesy George Richmond.The first week’s entertainment comprised a number of variety acts, among them; “The Bedouin Arabs”, marvellous acrobats. “The Phoenix Trio of Balancers”, who made themselves into, “A Human Windmill”. The top of the bill was ”Otto Schuman with his troupe of horses and dogs”. It was reported that, “crowded houses soon justified the building of the Theatre”.

Right - The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Oklahoma' which was produced at the Hippodrome in 1954 - Courtesy George Richmond.

Entertainment at the Hippodrome was varied in both the type and the quality of the acts performed there. Many famous music-hall artistes drew large audiences to the Theatre. Mementoes of their appearances in Wigan, in the form of signed photographs and autographs , could until 1972, be found in the “Artistes Room” of The Shakespeare Hotel, next door to the Theatre. Since the hotel's demolition these are now kept in Wigan’s small museum, among them are signed photographs of George Formby Snr, Roy Barfour, Bunny Doyle, Gracie Fields, Randolph Sutton, Florrie Ford, Hetty King, Albert Wheelan, Sid Field, George Roby, Harry Tate, and Charlie Chaplin, who in 1906, came to the Theatre with Will Murray's “Casey’s Court”.

 

The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Oklahoma' which was produced at the Hippodrome in 1954 - Courtesy George Richmond.Mr Jim Baxendale of Scholes, Wigan worked at the Hippodrome in 1919 when Gracie Fields appeared at the Theatre in the show that made her name: “Mr Tower of London”. Jim remembered doing up the hooks and eyes on one of Miss Fields' costumes for her during a quick change in the wings, and being rewarded with a “thanks luv”, before she ran back on stage to climb on to the top of a London “tram car.” Jim also remembered how fastidious the artistes were about their lighting. He remembered that if a lamp blew, that could be replaced during a performance, it had to be replaced immediately, regardless of burning hot glass and lanterns.

Left - The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Oklahoma' which was produced at the Hippodrome in 1954 - Courtesy George Richmond.

Artistes who appeared at the Hippodrome in its later years include:- Lucan And Mcshain, Jimmie Clitheroe, Dickie Valentine, David Whitfield, Frankie Vaughan, Ave Boswell, Eddie Calvert, Josef Lock, Margo Henderson, Gladys Morgan, Tommy Trinder, Tommy Hanley, Jimmy James ,and many others.

 

The Internal Reconstruction of 1935

The Theatre closed on May 11th 1935 in order that it could be made to comply with new Home Office Regulations. The decision was taken by the owners Wigan Entertainments Co. Ltd. to remodel the public areas at the same time. The extent of the work undertaken can be demonstrated in the number of trades involved; Messer’s John Johnson & Sons, builders, of Wigan, Mr F. T. Pagett Decorator, for the artistic decorations, Mr J. C. Harrison Electrician, for the modern lighting system, and Messer’s Rotch and Co., Plasterers of Southport. The work would take twelve weeks.

The entire building was also rewired and other modifications were made to meet with the new Home Office requirements, but the rebuilding that would be most obvious to Hippodrome patrons was the alteration made to the auditorium. The circle and upper circle would be left in situ, being built on the cantilever system in 1904. All the Edwardian plasterwork, with the exception of the dome which was modified, was swept away. The new plasterwork was of a restrained neo classical design. The canopies over the private boxes, one each side of the house, with the figures holding an electric light would be no more. The fronts of the circle and upper circles now carried a continuous triple chevron design on a plain background running through the centre, with a plain multi profile border above and below. The boxes were now surrounded by a pediment and entablature above, supported by fluted pilasters with Ionic capitals, between which the box front was extended forwards by means of inward curved side panels supporting a plain front panel with a multi profile border above and below. The proscenium arch was framed by the same pediment, entablature and Ionic pilasters, creating a tasteful but low key effect. The orchestra pit enclosure was now surrounded by wooden panelling rather than the “massive brass rails“, formerly used.

Another major change was the seating arrangements. A new seating plan was adopted making a capacity of 1,200. The pit was gone and modern tip up seats were to be found throughout the new stalls and circle, with a smaller none tip seat with individual seat and backrest in the upper circle. The upholstery material was a dark yellow topaz coloured plush, with leather-cloth used in the upper circle. The F.O.H. tabs were of yellow topaz velvet. The general colour scheme was of crème, beige and white with very little gilt employed. The Theatre would remain dry with no provision of bars for the Hippodrome patrons.

The External Alterations of 1935

The Entrance to the Wigan Hippodrome - From a Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Theatre in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Above - The Entrance to the Wigan Hippodrome - From a Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Theatre in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

A Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.Very little change was made externally and this was confined to the façade at ground floor level. The glass veranda was replaced by a rectangular canopy the width of the building, the face and side elevations covered with white vitrolite, a glass like material, with the name of the theatre in high relief across the front in bright metal letters and the abbreviation HIPP on the sides. The two inner shops of the original front were removed in order to create a more spacious foyer with a wide centre and two smaller principal entrance doors. The masonry surrounding the area below the canopy was covered in dark green and black vitrolite. On the left, above the canopy and supported on horizontal brackets, standing away from the building, was a vertical neon sign displaying the word HIPP on both sides, this could be seen up and down King Street.

Right - A Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Wigan Observer August 6th 1935
The Wigan Hippodrome.
Mayoral Re-Opening.

“There was a full house for the opening matinee when the Mayor, (Councillor D Rourke) from the stage, formally declared the hall re-opened. He said the people of Wigan and district would appreciate the wonderful hall to its fullest extent. He complimented The Wigan Entertainments Co. Ltd. and Mr Fred Worswick on having provided such a sumptuous place of entertainment, which there was none in the provinces to excel. He also complimented the contractors, and expressed his personal pleasure at the fact that all the work possible to be placed in Wigan had been placed here, and that local labour had been requisitioned almost entirely. Therefore this was a local hall produced by local talent, and it was a great credit to all concerned. He emphasised that in the fullest possible compliance with the Home Office Regulations, the company had adapted the Hippodrome in a manner which offered every safety to audiences and artistes alike. The mayor also appealed to all the artistes who would be appearing there for clean entertainment, and if that was provided they would find that no audience would be more appreciative than a Wigan audience”. - Wigan Observer August 6th 1935.

Cast Details from a Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

Above - Cast Details from a Programme for the musical romance 'Old Chelsea' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1943 - Courtesy Roy Cross.

The opening weeks show was a Variety bill, not unlike the one that opened the theatre in 1904 and featured:- Lucille St. John soprano, The Three Sparks Brothers “the dancing fools”, Lesley Lester, the Debonair Deceiver and Enid Winstanley’s Sixteen Movie Mites, among others.

 

A detail from a programme for the Fortescue Players production of 'Oliver Twist' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1946 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.In the years before the Second World War, the Hippodrome had a summer season of repertory, performed by the Lawrence Williamson Company. During the war and until 1954, the Frank Fortescue Repertory Company came each summer for a season lasting sixteen weeks. This company with a different play each week was very popular, and attracted regular audiences, never capacity, but the house always comfortably full.

Right - A detail from a programme for the Fortescue Players production of 'Oliver Twist' at the Wigan Hippodrome in September 1946 - With kind permission Wigan Archive Services.

The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Annie Get Your Gun' which was produced at the Hippodrome in 1955 - Courtesy George Richmond.Left - The Wigan and District Operatic Society's production of 'Annie Get Your Gun' which was produced at the Wigan Hippodrome in 1955 - Courtesy George Richmond.

Over the years, the Hippodrome fulfilled its purpose as a music hall and later a variety and repertory Theatre, and each Christmas two or three pantomimes were performed by touring companies.

As had been the practice with other Theatres in Wigan amateur companies occasionally took over the use of the building, and after the Second World War, the re-formed Wigan and District Operatic Society produced an annual performance which ran for six nights and attracted capacity audiences. The first of these post war shows was “Merry England”, done as part of the town’s celebrations for the Coronation Year.

 

Fire Damage at the Hippodrome in 1956

A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond

Above - A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond - The caption read 'To get these pictures of the burnt-out Hippodrome, Wigan, built in the 1890's, the photographer had to climb among the charred timbers of the roof, along with the firemen.

A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George RichmondOn the morning of the 21st April 1956, after the previous night's second house performance of a revue called “We Never Clothed” had finished and everyone had gone home, a fire, which was first spotted by a policeman at 1.30am, badly damaged the auditorium of the Hippodrome, although the stage and dressing rooms escaped without a blemish.

Mrs Shelia Smith, manageress of Wigan Entertainments, (the company owning the Theatre) tells how, the morning after the fire, she stood on the stage of the Theatre, which was set for the opening number of the revue to be performed that evening. When the safety curtain and front of house tabs were raised she was faced with the sight of a sagging dress-circle and a badly damaged roof. She left the Theatre heartbroken.

Right - A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond.

Due no doubt to the decline of live Theatre at that time no action was taken to restore the building, and in 1959 the Hippodrome was sold to a supermarket firm who altered the outside walls of the auditorium and formed the auditorium into a one story sales floor including the stage area and retaining the upper part of the stage house as first floor office accommodation.

The fourteen dressing rooms behind the Shakespeare Hotel remained unused. The original boiler room and chimney was retained to serve the store .The chimney with the word ”HIP“ in white ceramic bricks, placed down its side was retained, as if in tribute to the lost Theatre and its entertainers and audiences.

 

A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond A photograph which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond

Above - Photographs which appeared in the Evening Chronical on the 21st of April 1956 shows the fire damage to the Wigan Hippodrome - Courtesy George Richmond - The Caption read 'Charlie Chaplin appeared at the Hippodrome as an unknown member of a troup of strolling Lancashire comics. The late George Formby first coined his famous Wigan pier joke there, and his son, George also appeared on many occasions. Gracie Fields began her career there in the review "Mr. Tower of London." Here blackened and burned-out, is the Wigan Hippodrome, destroyed by fire to-day.' The second photo caption read 'One of the boxes remains undamaged, except by water, while a great pile of debris fills the auditorium of the theatre where all the great music hall stars of the last half-century have appeared.'

 

The site of the Hippodrome Theatre, Wigan, in March 2012 - Courtesy George Richmond.In 2012 every last vestige of the Wigan Hippodrome is gone and Mr Worswick’s 1,000 square yards of land on which his Theatre stood is now a car park.

Right - The site of the Hippodrome Theatre, Wigan, in March 2012 - Courtesy George Richmond.

This article on the Hippodrome Theatre, Wigan was first written in 1974 by George Richmond and has now been updated by him in 2012 and kindly sent in for inclusion on this site. The article is © copyright George Richmond 1974 - 2012.

Images were kindly sent in by George Richmond unless credited to the Wigan Archive Services, WLCT, and should not be further reproduced without their permission.

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