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Former Hippodrome Theatre, Bishop Auckland

Description: Former Hippodrome Theatre

Grade: II
Date Listed: 23 April 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1400076

OS Grid Reference: NZ2102929348
OS Grid Coordinates: 421029, 529348
Latitude/Longitude: 54.6588, -1.6755

Locality: Bishop Auckland
County: Durham
Country: England
Postcode: DL14 7LR

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Listing Text


A cine-variety theatre of 1909, by J. J Taylor under the supervision of George F Ward for Signor Rino Pepi. It was used as a cinema from the outset, and converted to a bingo hall in 1960.

Reason for Listing

The former Hippodrome Theatre of 1909 by J. J. Taylor under the supervision of George F. Ward for Signor Rino Pepi is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Completeness of design: a cine-variety theatre with complete spatial and decorative integrity including an auditorium retaining all key features, front of house spaces, both fly galleries and projection and light rooms;
* Architectural quality: while modest compared to the lavish and ornate ‘boom’ theatres, this ‘second tier’ theatre is well executed and displays external and internal architectural detailing characteristic of its type;
* Rarity: a rare example of the transitional cine-variety theatre and also a rare example of a provincial, working class variety theatre of which fewer than twenty survive;
* Historic interest: a good example of an Edwardian ‘second tier’ variety theatre providing a vehicle for the spread of popular culture to the masses;
* Social interest: the transitional form of this building equipped to present both stage variety shows and silent film is a reflection of major changes that affected the social habits of society and sits on a watershed moment in the history of entertainment.


The Hippodrome Theatre was built in 1909 by J. J. Taylor under the supervision of George F Ward for Signor Rino Pepi. The architectural practice of Owen and Ward was a successful Birmingham practice that built many theatres, although this example and the Grade II listed Darlington Civic Theatre are their only surviving auditoria. Signor Pepe was a theatre impresario who created a chain of music halls across northern England and who developed the ‘pepiscope’ for showing films, as part of his variety routine. When it opened, the Hippodrome Theatre was the biggest auditorium in the town seating 1800, and top of the bill on its opening night was the well-known and popular comedian Lil Hawthorne. Originally, both live entertainment and films were shown indicating that the building was of the cine-variety form of theatre, but by 1914, the building was already mainly used as a cinema and was renamed The Hippodrome Picture House. It was converted to accommodate ‘talkies’ in the 1930s. The cinema was closed in 1960 and converted to a bingo hall leading to some internal alterations and additions


PLAN: the theatre occupies a corner site on Railway Street and Union Street in north east Bishop Auckland. It has a central auditorium with entrance and stalls foyers to the front; staircases from the entrance foyer, lead either side of the auditorium to the first floor balcony foyer and balcony. The upper balcony is reached via stairs direct from side entrances at street level.

MATERIALS: constructed of red brick with cast-stone dressings painted cream.

EXTERIOR: the main (Railway Street) elevation has three bays and two storeys, each storey separated by a moulded stone string course, with a moulded stone cornice and a parapet, which is stepped down over the central bay. The ground floor of the central bay has a recessed main entrance with C20 renewed double doors and a modern neon sign above. Truncated fixings for a former canopy, present on a 1960s photograph of the building, are visible above the entrance. The second floor has a large central round-headed window; this comprises a small-paned lunette with an eight light window below, all of which contain original stained glass with roundel and swag motifs. Immediately below this is an apron with the word ‘HIPPODROME’. This is flanked by smaller windows of simpler but similar form. The ground floor of each end bay has a small window and an entrance, the latter to the right side has been blocked, and above this are paired six-light stair windows. The first floors have windows similar to those of the central bay and the right end bay has five neon signs forming the word ‘BINGO’. The parapet has a central broken pediment formerly bearing the date ‘1909’ but now reading ‘190’. To each side of this there is a keyed oculus. Side elevations have scattered fenestration lighting the internal stairs, original fire exits, stage doors and street entrances to the balcony; the only ornamentation being keyed oculi and brick pilasters.

INTERIOR: the main entrance opens into a rectangular foyer with a suspended ceiling, through which rise pilasters carrying the original ceiling above. The original ticket desk probably lay to the left and there is an inserted small room to the Right. Replacement double doors open into a small stalls foyer with a suspended ceiling, and to either side of this, round-arched openings lead to plain staircases giving access to the balcony. The auditorium remains a single space complete with stage, proscenium arch, boxes either side of the stage, a balcony and an upper balcony. Dressing rooms/offices remain back stage. Overall, the stalls are plainly decorated but the square-framed proscenium and ante-proscenium walls are enriched with ornate plasterwork. The balcony front has panels with decorative plaster consoles and the boxes have similar panels and decorative arched cornice-hoods. All seating has been removed from the stalls and this space is occupied by modern fixed tables and chairs. The former stage, which has been lowered in height, is also fitted with fixed tables, chairs, and a bingo caller’s podium and an inserted stair leads to one of the boxes. A suspended ceiling has been inserted at upper balcony level but the original auditorium plaster ceiling with plaster panels of geometric designs and a central ornate plaster dome, remain visible above this, as do the upper walls of the auditorium and decorative ante-proscenium walls. Similarly, a full set of original upper balcony seating remains above this ceiling. The balcony is entered via the paired staircases (both with metal handrails) through a first floor rectangular foyer with original double wooden doors, cornicing and architraves. With the exception of the back row of seats, which retain their side panels, all seating has been removed and replaced with bingo playing equipment. The balcony foyer also gives concealed access to stairs leading up to the projection and light rooms. Other original features within the theatre include some original doors, architraves and cornicing. It is understood that the fly galleries, fly floor and grid remain in situ within the fly tower and that stair access from the street to the upper balcony remain, although these were not inspected.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.