Former Circus Building The Manchester Hippodrome

The Hippodrome, Manchester

The Manchester Hippodrome Theatre was situated in the heart of Manchester at the block within what are now Oxford Street, Great Bridgewater Street and Isabelle Street at the back. It was built and designed by Frank Matcham for Oswald Stoll in 1904. The circus theatre hosted its first performance “Tally Ho” on Boxing Day the 26th of December 1904. Tally Ho was a variety show with water spectacle from the London Hippodrome which put to use the water tank that was installed beneath the ring which measured 42 feet (approx. 12,8 meters). For the opening night the following acts were announced: the Marvellous Noisets, Manning’s Entertainers, a Bioscope presentation, Max Gruber with a Horse and Elephant from the London Hippodrome, Winter & Banks, the McConnell Trio, Rafayette’s Dogs, and Post Mason.

The building had some great features. The green ringmat of 42ft wide and 50 ft long could be taken in and out electrically, speeding things up and reducing manual labour. The circus ring wasn’t placed entirely in front of the proscenium but “only” just over half of the ring was in front of it. This meant the stage curtains could be lowered and scenery changed whilst acts were performing in the front. A novum for a circus, especially in those days.

An hydraulic ram could be used to lower and raise the arena floor. A special device enabled varying the depths of water from 30 centimeter to nearly 2 meter. The 70,000 gallons of water would have been heated to 70 degrees. Several fountains enabled fountain displays with colored electric lighting. Eight fountains were telescopic allowing them to raise their nozzles just above the water.

The stage could be hydraulically raised at the back. The front could be run under and over the water tank electrically.

It was a grand building with loads of red velvet and shining copper. Nevertheless, less than 30 years after its opening it closed on the 2nd of March 1935. The building had been taken over by Bernstein Cinemas. They demolished to construct an Art Deco cinema, only parts of the old Hippodrome were used. Before its completion the project was taken over and finished as planned by Gaumont British Theatres.

The new cinema opened on the 21st of October 1935 and it closed on the 25th of January 1974. It remained closed and boarded up until it was converted for nightclub use as ‘Rotters Nightclub’ using the ground floor and basement levels.The original auditorium remained unused. After the closing of the nightclub in the 1990 it building was demolished completely. Nowadays a multi-storey car park occupies the site.

About the owner: Sir Oswald Stoll

Sir Oswald Stoll was born in Melbourne, Australia on the 20th of January 1866. After coming to the UK he leased several theaters and music halls varieties successfully. He became a partner of H.E. Moss of the Moss and Thornton Circuit (owning a large group of theatre throughout the UK). In 1905 the Moss-Thornton-Stoll Circuit owned and managed 37 variety theatres. His greatest achievement was the construction of the London Coliseum.
In 1912 Still put on the very first Royal Command Performance with its proceeds going to the Fund for artistes. Nowadays known as the Royal Variety Performance. He was knighted in 1919.

About the architect: Frank Matcham

Matcham is still well know, if not renowned, for his circus and theatre buildings such as The London Hippodrome, the London Coliseum, the interiors of the Blackpool Tower Circus, the Brighton Hippodrome and the Hackney Empire.