Confusingly there were two Hippodromes situated in Ipswich at the same time, this article details the history of the Hippodrome Theatre on St. Nicholas Street which opened in 1905. The earlier 1904 Ipswich Hippodrome was situated on Woodbridge Road.
The St. Nicholas Street Hippodrome Theatre was designed by the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham, and opened on Monday the 27th of March 1905 as a Variety Theatre, with an auditorium consisting of Stalls and one circle, with no boxes. The stage was 40 foot deep by 50 foot wide with a proscenium opening of 30 foot, and was designed to be able to stage equestrian and circus acts as well as variety, much like the earlier Brighton Hippodrome, also by Matcham. The Theatre could accommodate 1,850 people but the artistes must have been pretty cramped as there were only five dressing rooms.
By the early 1910s the Theatre had been taken over by the Bostock Circuit who were Headquartered in Glasgow, and who would later take over the Lyceum Theatre in the Town too.
In 1929 the Theatre was taken over by ABC and it was turned over to full time Cinema use with the occasional live show put on its stage for good measure. The Theatre then ran mostly as a Cinema up until April 1957 when it was closed after a short return to live theatre.
The Theatre was then modernised under new ownership, which included levelling the stalls and altering the exterior. The Theatre reopened in June 1959 as the Savoy Ballroom.
Later the Theatre became a Bingo Hall operated by Top Rank who removed the last vestiges of Matcham’s auditorium apart from its ceiling.
Bingo ended at the Hippodrome in the early 1980s and, as the Stage Newspaper of May the 24th 1984 reported, its future was about to end – ‘Another Notable theatrical landmark will disappear to make way in the march of progress – for a car park!
The Ipswich Hippodrome opened in March 1905 to the designs of Frank Matcham, was an example of the now almost defunct music hall circus. Unusually built with only one circle and no slips or boxes, the theatre had a stage 50 feet wide and almost 40 feet deep and with the ability to stage equestrian and other circus acts for a capacity audience of 1,850. For a short time in the thirties the Hippodrome turned over to showing films but had reverted to live theatre before it closed in 1950. A new lease from 1959-64 as a ballroom preceded its use as a bingo hall until the doors finally closed in December 1982.
During these various changes the plasterwork had largely been obliterated or destroyed and the building’s glory had departed. The superb Liverpool Olympia, and the Brighton Hippodrome remain as the only examples of the specialised circus/music hall theatres.’
The above text in quotes was first published in the Stage Newspaper, May 24th 1984.
The Theatre was eventually demolished in 1985 for the construction of an Office Building called Cardinal House on the site.
46 St Nicholas St
Ipswich IP1 1TT
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