London Hippodrome

Theatre in/near Leicester Square, existing between the 1900s and now

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Theatre · Leicester Square · WC2H ·
JUNE
10
2018

The Hippodrome is a building on the corner of Cranbourn Street and Charing Cross Road.

London Hippodrome in 2017
Credit: Ethan Doyle White
The name was one used for many different theatres and music halls, of which the London Hippodrome is one of only a few survivors. Hippodrome is an old word referring to places of entertainment where horse races were staged.

The London Hippodrome was first opened in 1900 as a venue for circus and variety performances. The first show ever given was a music hall revue entitled "Giddy Ostend" with Little Tich and (in one of his first roles) Charlie Chaplin. Entry to the venue was through a bar, dressed as a ship’s saloon and the performance space featured both a proscenium stage and an arena that sank into a 230 ft, 100,000 gallon water tank (400 ton, when full) for aquatic spectacles. Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats would dive from a Minstrel Gallery above a sliding roof, in the centre of the proscenium arch. The auditorium featured cantilevered galleries, removing the columns that often obstructed views in London theatres, the whole was covered by a painted glass retractable roof, that could be illuminated at night.

In 1909, it was reconstructed as a music-hall and variety theatre with 1340 seats in stalls, mezzanine, gallery, and upper gallery levels. It was here that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake received its English première by the Ballets Russes in 1910. The Albert de Courville revues were performed here from December 1912.

In 1919, the Hippodrome hosted the first official jazz gig in the United Kingdom, by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

Its reputation was for revue and musical comedy, among them The Five O’Clock Girl, the West End production of Vincent Youmans’ hit Broadway musical Hit The Deck (1928) and also Mr. Cinders, both in 1929; Ivor Novello’s Perchance to Dream in 1945 with Margaret Rutherford; and the revue High Spirits in 1953 with Cyril Ritchard and Diana Churchill. Julie Andrews made her stage debut here at the age of 12.

In 1958, the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into the nightclub, "The Talk of the Town" by Bernard Delfont, featuring many of the popular artistes of the time - Diana Ross & The Supremes, Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. all appeared here. This form of entertainment, in its turn fell out of public favour and the venue closed in 1982.

Renovated yet again, the building was reopened as a nightclub/restaurant called "The London Hippodrome" by nightclub tycoon Peter Stringfellow in 1983. Some years later, Stringfellow sold it to a chain company called European Leisure.

In April 2004 the Hippodrome was transformed into "Cirque at the Hippodrome". It was revealed in October 2005 that the club had lost its public drinks licence and would no longer be able to serve alcohol. In December 2005, the club was eventually forced to close.

In January 2006 entrepreneur Charmaine Haig took over the lease of the Hippodrome building on a short term before a casino licence application could be secured for future use.

In 2008 Haig and her business partner acquired a theatre licence for the venue and subsequently turned the venue back into a theatre.

In 2009, the lease on the Hippodrome was acquired by Jimmy and Simon Thomas, who began an extensive restoration programme taking the Hippodrome back to Matcham’s original designs for use as a casino and entertainment venue. The Hippodrome Casino was opened on 13 July 2012 by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

xxx

London Hippodrome in 2017
Ethan Doyle White

Main source

Citations and sources

Gillian Bebbington's 1972 work on street name derivations
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VIEW THE LEICESTER SQUARE AREA IN THE 1750s
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Leicester Square

Leicester Square, while indeed a square, is also the name for a tube station.

Leicester Square tube station, on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, is located on Charing Cross Road, a short distance to the east of Leicester Square itself.

On early Tube plans, the station was listed as Cranbourn Street, but the present name was used when the station was first opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway on 15 December 1906. Offices above the red terracotta station building on the east side of Charing Cross Road - designed by Leslie Green - was in its early years also occupied by the publishers of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and an image of cricket stumps appears above a doorway. On all four platforms, film sprockets are painted down the entire length and on the top and bottom of the display area (blue on the Piccadilly line platforms, and black on the Northern line platforms), due to the four premiere cinemas in Leicester Square. The station is featured briefly during the introductory video sequence of the sixth Harry Potter film.
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