Brighton Hippodrome

As a former actor whose love and ultimate work satisfaction came from live theatre, the Brighton Hippodrome in Middle Street has always fascinated me.  

In the years since I have lived here its outward appearance has saddened me to say the least as it has lain supposedly abandoned. The building was originally built in 1897, by Ellis and Humphrey Brammell, as an ice rink but as the business declined the building was redesigned by theatre architect Frank Matcham, reopening in 1901 as the Brighton Hippodrome.

Starting as a circus and music hall venue becoming a fixture on the circuit played by all the variety artists of day. Among them Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, W C Fields, Gracie Fields, Max Miller, the Crazy Gang, Laurence Olivier, Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock, Max Bygraves. Its brightly decorated interior was a great escape for Brighton’s audiences and one of the most popular and most famous theatres in the country. 

Just before the Second World War, Moss Empires appointed its youngest ever musical director, Sydney Sharp, to run the Hippodrome Orchestra; he stayed for 25 years, into the era when pop music filled the bill. Artists on the bill included The Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers. The reported greatest number of people to witness one performance has been over 4,500.  But late in 1964 the end of variety shows was in sight and on 22 November 1964, the Hippodrome closed.

It was a bingo hall from 1967 to 2006 when it went dark for the last time. However the venue hasn’t been forgotten, despite being neglected by varying owners, a passionate group of campaigners, ‘Save Our Hippodrome’, are determined to save this Grade II listed historic jewel. In 2020, a new owner, Matsim Properties made considerable efforts to repair and protect the building. 

In April this year, much to the delighted cheers from SOH, local councilors granted planning permission for a £20 million restoration, restore, renovate and refurbish the building. The plans are for a “multi-format performance space” backed up with an aparthotel, members club and bar.

David Streeter from Save Our Hippodrome said, “We think the plans are the right thing to do. It’s going to be a nice diverse performance space for all sorts of theatre and music. The aparthotel doesn’t bother us. The essential thing is the theatre is developed”.

Words by Kairen Kemp

Steven Graham
Author: Steven Graham

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