The most important unused theatre in the UK
Our Brighton Hippodrome


What Hippodrome?

Hippodrome auditorium 1902

In the heart of Brighton's Old Town, in the middle of Middle Street, is a building of national importance. You may never have noticed the Hippodrome. It's been dark since 2006 after 39 years as a bingo hall. But before that, from 1902 to 1964 it was the most important variety theatre on the Sussex coast, with a national reputation and recognition.

The picture above shows the Hippodrome auditorium in 1902, when it was remodelled by the great Frank Matcham. The one on the right shows the proscenium arch in 2013. The interior is still intact and mostly in excellent condition. Many more pictures in the Gallery.

Sources: company annual reports, Land Registries (Jersey, Dublin).

A timeline of the Hippodrome history.

Some basic facts: ownership

Hippodrome proscenium 2013

The Hippodrome and Hippodrome House were Grade II* listed by English Heritage on 20 December 1985.
      In 2007 the Rank Organisation, parent of Mecca Bingo, sold the Hippodrome to Derwent London. The value of Dukes Lane and the Hippodrome site at 31 January 2007 was £13.1m.
      On 16 February 2007 Academy Music Group (AMG) took out a 30-year lease. AMG currently operates 26 music venues around the country, branded as O2 Academy. Its principal shareholder is the American-owned concert promoter LiveNation.
      In October 2007 Derwent sold Duke's Lane and the Hippodrome site to Cheval Properties for £20.0m. The properties totalling 5,950m2 were then producing an annual return of £0.9m.
      Cheval apparently immediately transferred ownership to a Jersey-registered company called Kuig Property Investments No 6 Ltd. This was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kuig Property Investments Ltd, also registered in Jersey, which in turn was a wholly-owned subsidary of The Fifth Belfry Property Investments (UK) plc, which is registered in Ireland. The Fifth Belfry was set up to attract private client investors of Allied Irish Banks. Its portfolio of mainly retail properties is managed by Cheval Properties. However, because its debts far exceed its asset value, Fifth Belfry was required by its lenders to conduct an orderly disposal of its assets with a view to winding up the company.
      In April 2015 Kuig sold the Hippodrome, Hippodrome House and 20-21 Ship Street, which is the essential access yard at the rear of the Hippodrome site, to the former leaseholder, Academy Music Group (AGM).
      Kuig also sold the adjacent Duke's Lane to a property company.
      Late in 2016,just as we started to negotiate with AMG for acquisition, a consortium appeared out of nowhere and in January 2017 arranged a six-month exclusivity agreement, which shut us out for the time being. As soon as that ended, we contacted AMG and were told there had been no deal. Next day our development partner called AMG only to be told there was another exclusivity period.
      This ended in the current ownership by Hippodrome Investments Limited.

A future for the Hippodrome

Hippodrome auditorium 1902

The Brighton Hippodrome has been out of use since 2006. It had been a leading variety theatre from 1901 until 1965 and was then a bingo hall for 40 years. First live entertainment changed and variety shows went out of fashion, then bingo lost much of its market. These things happen.
      But change is relentless and sometimes cyclical. Theatre has moved on and now we find there are major shows, such as the National Theatre and RSC productions and big West End musicals, that tour the country, attracting huge audiences. In other towns and cities—but not in Brighton and Hove. There is no theatre big enough and with the right facilities to receive them.
      The Hippodrome could. It was built for exactly that purpose.

Something has to happen to the building and soon. The developers who proposed converting it into an eight-screen cinema said their scheme was the last chance, the only option to save the building.
      Well, it wasn't. They would say that, wouldn't they, even though they knew they were going to sell on the site as soon as planning approval was in place. And now there is no plan other than OBH's.

The last thing we at Our Brighton Hippodrome want is for the building to continue in its current state. We want to breathe real life back into it as soon as possible.
      Yet we have been accused of wanting to condemn it to a lingering death. We are said to be living in the past. We have been accused of drowning in nostalgia. It has even been said (by a normally better informed journalist) that we have 'pipe dream plans drawn up on the back of a beermat'.
      We do have plans—real plans. They are operational plans, architects' plans, financial plans. Plans for a future that will create an asset for the city, the region and the nation. A future to be proud of.

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Facebook Twitter Image: The ceiling of the main Hippodrome auditorium

Page updated 30 March 2015