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

 

The Willesden Hippodrome, 161 - 163, High Street, Harlesdon, London

Original Proposed Name - The Willesden Empire

An early Postcard showing the Willesden Hippodrome

Above - An early Postcard showing the Willesden Hippodrome

A Programme from the Willesden Hippodrome for Monday 16th January 1939 - Courtesy Jean Woodward .The Willesden Hippodrome was situated on the High Street in Harlesdon, London, and not in Willesden itself, although it was nearby. The Theatre was built for Walter Gibbons as a Music Hall and Variety Theatre and was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect Frank Matcham, opening as the Willesden Hippodrome Theatre on Monday the 16th of September 1907. The Theatre had seating for 3,500 people when it first opened, and had a large stage with a proscenium opening of 40 feet and a depth of 30 feet, along with 8 dressing rooms.

Right - A Programme from the Willesden Hippodrome for Monday 16th January 1939 - Courtesy Jean Woodward .

The ERA reported on the new Willesden Hippodrome in their September the 21st 1907 edition saying:- 'The energetic and enterprising Mr. Walter Gibbons, who already controls close on a dozen houses devoted to variety, on Monday evening opened to the public the Willesden Hippodrome, certainly one of the finest and best equipped entertainment palaces in the suburbs, or indeed, in London.

The building, one of the hugest in the kingdom, seating an audience a some 3,500, has been designed by the well-known architect, Mr. Frank Matcham, and is an imposing structure, fitted with all modern appointments. The building boasts an extensive stall area, to which access is obtained by a passage under the pit. The pit itself is a large one, with an excellent rake, and there are also a spacious circle and a commodious gallery, an uninterrupted view of the stage being secured from all parts of the house. A much-appreciated feature will be the waiting-rooms provided for the "second-house" patrons. There is a sliding roof; and, in fact, everything possible has been accomplished for the comfort of the audience. The interior decorations are mainly in white and gold, and the handsome plush tableaux curtain, the box and other hangings are all of a rich red, set off by gold braiding and tassels. A pleasing feature of the decorations is a sky picture on the dome, executed in artistic style.

An early Postcard showing the Willesden Hippodrome.Mr. Percy H. Gallagher, Mr. Gibbons's courteous first lieutenant, was gladdened by the crowded and certainly must enthusiastic houses on Monday, and the entertainment provided gave evident delight to all. Royalty graced the bill, the Prince and Princess de Broglie being notable performers in the initial entertainment. Sullivan's "Let me dream again," and "'Tis the day" were the two excellently rendered songs of the Princess Estelle de Broglie, the possessor of a sweet and cultured voice; and in response to a demand for an encore the Princess obliged with "Annie Laurie," the Prince conducting the orchestra and sharing the enthusiastic reception accorded his charming wife.

Left - An early Postcard showing the Willesden Hippodrome.

The poetic fantasy, The Sea-Nymph, was an entertaining trifle as presented by Lennie and Hast, the lady of the duo presenting a most alluring appearance, and her partner also contributing considerably to the success of this enjoyable interlude. The wonderfully intelligent thought-reading dog, Pilu, accomplished his arithmetical tasks in the same old knowing and correct fashion, much amusement being created when he tells the ages of different members in the Audience, and answers other questions put to him by his proud possessor, Ancitotti. Certainly one of the cleverest and cutest canines that ever trod the boards, and evidently greatly attached to his trainer, who is to be congratulated on the success of a most entertaining turn. The accomplished child comedienne, little Maudie Francis, was accorded a hearty reception for her pleasing rendering of the song "Sunshine," and also for a neatly-executed dance; and the pretty "Carnival Scena" given by Haley's Juveniles also greatly appealed to the audience, especially the solo singing of Dot and Spot, programmed as the "smallest duettists before the public." "Rainbow," "My Creole Sue," and other popular numbers were included in the vocal interlude so attractively presented, and the youngsters were loudly applauded at the conclusion of their turn.

The sensational tumbling, somersaulting, piroueting, and pyramid-forming of the Abdullah Arabs excited great enthusiasm, the agile and muscular members of the troupe apparently deriving as much enjoyment from their exercises as the audience; and the comic effusion of Mr. Hal Chapter amused immensely. Mr. Herbert Rule aroused merriment by his droll rendering of "I don't know," and persuaded the majority of the audience to exercise their vocal abilities in the chorus of his second effusion, "Wait for me." Much mirth was the outcome of the comic film shown by the Bioscope; the pictures representing King Edward on board the "Dreadnought," and various incidents in connection with the huge vessel proving especially interesting. No more popular item could have been provided than The Coster's Beano, so amusingly exploited by the favourite comedian, Mr. Alec Hurley, and his excellent company. Particularly to be commended is Mr. Hurley's singing of a love ditty to his "donah" and his other songs were all admirably rendered, the comic business, of which there is such an abundance, creating much hilarity. Miss Olga Dore, a ballad singer of considerable culture, is also in the programme. The excellent orchestra is under the careful control of Mr. Horace Sheldon.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 21st September 1907.

An image of the Willesden Hippodrome a year before the Theatre actually opened and sporting its then proposed name of the Willesden Empire - From the ERA, 8th September 1906.

Above - An image of the Willesden Hippodrome a year before the Theatre actually opened and sporting its then proposed name of the Willesden Empire - From the ERA, 8th September 1906.

The Willesden Hippodrome opened on Monday the 16th of September 1907 and would run as a variety Theatre for many years. In September 1927 however, the Theatre was taken over by Granada Theatres Ltd., who altered it slightly and reopened it as a Cine Variety Theatre on the 12th of September the same year. The following year the Theatre was run as a Cinema by the Denman Gaumont Group from March but it soon went back to live Theatre use again at the beginning of the following year, January 1929.

A Google StreetView Image of Harlesden House which was built on the site of the former Willesden Hippodrome after it was demolished in 1957 - Click to Interact.In May 1930 the Theatre was taken over by ABC who ran it as for Cinema only until September 1938 when it went back to Variety use again, with films showing on Sundays only. Elsie and Doris Waters were top of the Bill for the reopening in 1938.

Right - A Google StreetView Image of Harlesden House which was built on the site of the former Willesden Hippodrome after it was demolished in 1957 - Click to Interact.

Sadly the Theatre was destroyed by bombing only a few years later, during the war in the autumn of 1940, and would then remain derelict until it was finally demolished in March 1957. A Government Office Building called Harlesden House was later constructed on the site and is still there at the time of writing in 2019.

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

Other Pages that may be of Interest