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The Playhouse, Hulme

A Grade II Listed Building in Hulme, Manchester

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Latitude: 53.4642 / 53°27'51"N

Longitude: -2.2495 / 2°14'58"W

OS Eastings: 383534

OS Northings: 396417

OS Grid: SJ835964

Mapcode National: GBR DHP.M5

Mapcode Global: WHB9N.F612

Entry Name: The Playhouse, Hulme

Listing Date: 8 June 1977

Last Amended: 18 November 2013

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1293008

English Heritage Legacy ID: 388011

Location: Manchester, M15

County: Manchester

Electoral Ward/Division: Hulme

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Manchester

Traditional County: Lancashire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater Manchester

Church of England Parish: Hulme The Ascension

Church of England Diocese: Manchester

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Theatre, 1902, by JJ Alley. Red brick with white glazed-brick dressings, slate roofs. Three storeys plus basement


Theatre, 1902, by J.J. Alley. Red brick with white glazed-brick dressings, slate roofs. 3-storeys plus basement

PLAN: The Playhouse was originally surrounded by terraced housing, which has since been swept away by later re-development. The theatre has three principal elevations fronting Chichester Road, Warwick Street and Wilberforce Close. Attached to the north-west end of the building is the separately listed Hulme Hippodrome. Internally the theatre has a U-shaped auditorium aligned north-east - south-west.

EXTERIOR: South-east elevation: this wide 8-bay elevation fronting Chichester Road incorporates a series of original and later-inserted door and window openings, as well as a number of bricked-up openings. Paired white glazed-brick bands align with the window sills and lintels and are replicated to the building's other two elevations. The two bays to the far right have later tile cladding to the ground floor, which continues around the east corner and across the north-east elevation for a further 3-bays; this was formerly the theatre's east entrance and its three doorways are now covered externally by roller shutters. The first and second-floor windows contain casements (some of which have been altered) and have painted sandstone sills and lintels (the lintels incorporate a chamfered inside edge); the second-floor windows are slightly shorter in height. The roof is hidden from view by a parapet that incorporates a dentilled band that continues around and across all three elevations, and also across the north-east elevation of the adjoining Hulme Hippodrome.

North-east elevation: this 6-bay elevation, which fronts Warwick Street is similarly styled to the south-east elevation with original and later doorways to the ground floor and casement windows (a number of which have been altered) to the floors above. A flat-roofed canopy depicted in a mid-C20 photograph of the building over the east corner entrance has been removed.

South-west elevation: this elevation, which fronts Wilberforce Close incorporates a number of later inserted windows to the ground floor and a later mezzanine level, which has been inserted into the back-of-stage area. Two large, arched, ground-floor openings have also been partly bricked-up and later openings inserted within, and the first-floor windows have been bricked-up. The second-floor windows have replaced glazing.

INTERIOR: internally the theatre has been subject to alteration in places, but retains its original stairs (most with replaced tread coverings), which access the various levels and exits; some have decorative plasterwork. Doors within the building are mainly later replacements. The u-shaped auditorium, which has two galleries (circle and balcony), has some mid-C20 alterations, but retains decorative Baroque-inspired plasterwork to the gallery fronts and the ceiling incorporates diamond-patterned panelling. The plasterwork is believed to have been gilded originally, but is now largely covered by later paint. The stage has been extended into the stalls, but the original proscenium remains intact and is flanked by giant fluted Ionic engaged-columns, which support an entablature incorporating a trophy of arms. Both galleries are supported by painted cast-iron columns with stiff-leaf capitals. The circle has rows of seats to the central stage-facing section and side arms, whilst the balcony is set further back with straight rows to the centre section and slips that run along the side walls to the proscenium. The proscenium ends of the circle, which possibly held boxes originally, now house a bar area and toilets, and a later projection room is inserted to the centre of the balcony. The seating has been removed to the stalls and balcony, but that which survives to the circle is possibly original and includes double 'love seats'. A Wurlitzer organ that was installed from the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool when the BBC moved in has since been removed.

The theatre's east corner entrance contains three sets of late-1920s/1930s double-doors (covered by roller shutters externally) and a former kiosk that were probably inserted when the theatre was converted into a cinema in 1929. The original stage and the back-of-stage areas were converted into a cultural centre in the 1980s and have been altered and modernised with a steel-framed mezzanine level inserted along the south-west side. The basement contains a series of plain former dressing rooms.


The Playhouse was constructed in 1902 to the designs of J.J. Alley and was originally known as the Hulme Hippodrome. The theatre was built as part of the Broadhead Circuit, which was a chain of theatres in the north-west of England founded by William Henry Broadhead. The theatre, which had a seating capacity of 1500, originally specialised in music hall variety.

J.J. Alley had already designed the neighbouring Grand Junction Theatre and Floral Hall (separately listed at Grade II) in 1901, and the Hippodrome was added onto its south-east end. It has been suggested that the two theatres were originally linked by an arcade, but there is no visible evidence for this. J.J. Alley also designed a number of other theatres in the Manchester area, many of which have since been demolished, but survivors include the Grade II listed Tameside Hippodrome (1904, with a 1933 Art Deco interior by Drury & Gomersall).

In 1905 the two buildings swapped names, with the former Hulme Hippodrome becoming the Grand Junction Theatre, and the Grand Junction Theatre and Floral Hall becoming the Hulme Hippodrome. Numerous stars of the early-mid C20 performed at the two theatres, including Laurel and Hardy, Nina Simone, George Formby, and Frank Randle.

In 1929 the Grand Junction Theatre was converted for cinema use and re-named the Junction Picture Theatre, and in 1950 the building was acquired by the James Brennan Circuit, who had already purchased the adjoining Hulme Hippodrome in 1938; both theatres were refurbished and redecorated at this time, and the Junction Picture Theatre was returned to live theatre use and re-named The Playhouse.

The Playhouse was sold to the BBC in 1955 and used as a recording studio for television and radio shows, which included the first radio recording by the Beatles in March 1962. Inter-connection between the Playhouse and Hulme Hippodrome was blocked-up in 1955 and the BBC left in 1985. In 1988 the building became an Afro-Caribbean cultural centre known as the Nia Centre, which closed in 2000, and following years of disuse, the building has latterly been in use as a church.

Reasons for Listing

The Playhouse, Hulme, constructed in 1902 to the designs of JJ Alley, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Building type: it is a good example of a provincial theatre illustrative of the burgeoning demand for music hall and theatrical entertainment in the late-C19/early-C20;

* Level of survival: despite later alteration occurring to the rest of the building the principal space of the main auditorium remains largely unaltered and retains its highly decorative Baroque plasterwork and early seating in the circle;

* Historic interest: it was constructed for the Broadhead Circuit, one of the largest independently-managed theatre circuits in the country, and it was later the location of The Beatles first BBC radio recording in March 1962.

* Group value: it has strong group value with the adjacent Grade II listed Hulme Hippodrome (List entry 1283070, NHLE) which was also designed by JJ Alley and was constructed in 1901; the two theatres together representing an unusual twin theatre arrangement.

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