I don’t know what is worse. Watching a beautiful old building be demolished or watching one boarded up, rotting away for no good reason. Ever since I’ve lived in Brighton – that’s over the 14 years – I’ve always wanted to see inside Brighton’s Hippodrome theatre on Middle Street which has stood mysteriously shuttered, and graffiti-covered, refusing to crumble.
Every time I see her on my morning run to and from Brighton seafront, I feel a pang of sadness she could soon be lost forever. Especially knowing what flamboyant architectural features are hiding inside. Until the other day, that is, when I got a comment from a reader telling me she’s to be saved! Sure enough, on my next morning run, there she stood, in scaffolding-covered glory, a sure sign that a renovation project had begun.
I ran faster than usual home to do some Googling. Turns out that Brighton Hippodrome has been bought by a Brighton-based family-run company called Matsim Properties. They plan to restore it sensitively, keeping all the original features. Phew. Although they haven’t confirmed what the building will be used for yet, what they have said is that they plan to talk to the local community to find out what they would like it to be.
During my search, I also discovered on Instagram some incredible drone photos by a Brighton photographer, Andrew Unwin, one of the lucky people to have got a back-stage pass to take photos inside as the project begins.
The red and white colour scheme harks back to its days as a Mecca bingo hall from 1967 until it 2007 when it closed. It wasn’t always so garish though, according to these two pictures below that I found of it, presumably in earlier days, looking prettier is pastel colours. The Brighton Hippodrome is located on Middle Street not far from the seafront and has had a colourful history. It opened in 1897 as an ice-rink, before being turned into a circus venue by a famous Victorian theatre designer, Frank Matcham, well-known for the London Hippodrome and the London Palladium and countless others around the country.
It was turned into a variety theatre by Matcham’s colleague, Bertie Crew, who’s responsible for adding this incredible ornate roof and ceiling, as well as extending the stage to cover an orchestra pit, and adding seating to the auditorium.
In its variety theatre days, its seen huge names perform here, such Harry Houdini and his friends the Hilton sisters of Brighton, Violet and Daisy, The Beatles who played in 1963 and twice in 1964, the Rolling Stones, Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Bassey, The Who!
When it closed in 2007, a local campaign group was set up to protect the building, by challenging development plans that would threaten its integrity. Although it’s been saved, there’s no doubt it’s in pretty bad shape and there’s a huge task ahead, which I promise to report on during my morning run over on the Ellie & Co Instagram. Stay tuned!