ON 10 October 1901 the Grand Junction Theatre and Floral Hall opened. Four years later it merged with a neighbour building – both by architect JJ Alley - to become Hulme Hippodrome.
And what action! Hulme Hippodrome is an explosion of reds, purples and gilt Rococo extravagance, a fantastical flourish of galleries and boxes complete with a proscenium arch.
Stand on the stage and you catch echoes from the glory days of La Belle Duchess, through Laurel and Hardy and George Formby to the Beatles and Nina Simone.
The extraordinary photographs of Andrew Brooks here, shows how much remains even after a decade or more of dereliction.
When Hulme Hippodrome opened, the surrounding suburb was Manchester’s busiest with the city’s longest and brightest suburban shopping street on nearby Stretford Road. Hulme had a ready audience of music hall and variety fans. No wonder it became one of most famous entertainment centres in the North.
Performers to grace the Hippodrome stage included a member of Bert Loman’s dance troupe, Rene Mills, who went on to perform with a screen villain under the dastardly stage name Con Vince, and Ann Perrin, the youngest performing puppeteer in the world. There was also La Belle Duchess. Her act involved a show of ‘highly trained stallions, ponies and dogs’ (appropriate as ‘hippodrome’ originally means a place for equestrian entertainment).
In 1928 a new wave of stars performed at the Hippodrome. The Mancunian Film Corporation was founded, and Manchester became known as the Hollywood of the North. George Formby is the most notable household name, but there was another Wigan-born star who was more popular. This was the scurrilous Frank Randle.
Randle was, to put it mildly, a diva. He had been known to destroy his dressing room with an axe and he even once burned down a hotel when disappointed with the service. Randle was often drunk – properly drunk on stage – but people loved him. Maybe they admired his rebellious spirit. This big crowd puller wore his boots on the wrong feet, dismissed authority of any sort and would disappear on three day drinking binges whilst scheduled to be on set.
Other notable performers included Laurel and Hardy and Nina Simone. For a while in the fifties and sixties the BBC used the Hippodrome as a recording venue and it was here the first radio recording of The Beatles was made.
By the 1960s music hall was dying as television and newer forms of entertainment took over. Hulme, as a suburb, was also about to undergo huge changes and would aside, from the Hippodrome, the Zion Centre and a few pubs, be completely demolished and rebuilt twice in the next forty years.
A twilight life for the Hippodrome included a spell as a Mecca bingo hall, a snooker room, and finally as the Nia Centre, an attempt at conversion into an entertainment focus for Afro-Caribbean culture. This failed in 2000.
The Grade II listed building is presently in the hands of The Youth Village, a not-for-profit organisation.
Operations manager, Tony Wright, intends to create a community hub at the venue, and is in the process of recruiting volunteers and raising funds for the project. A large project indeed, with an estimated £20m required, but he sees it as “a baby, not a monster”, with huge potential for the young people of Hulme.
Back to that interior.
The Hippodrome epitomises the sort of eerie, almost post-apocalyptic atmosphere you find with long deserted buildings. The restaurant besides the Floral Hall, is decorated with 1960s’ floral wallpaper, and has an ice cream freezer decaying out back. The dressing rooms are littered with old toothpaste packages, drinking glasses and a wall of enormous old television sets. In the auditorium there are reels of bingo tickets and in the bathroom, beneath beautiful plasterwork finishes, is a sink full of bingo balls.
The place is enormous, imposing, opulent, and at risk. Yet it is full of stories, beauty and history. Let’s hope Tony Wright can help save the Hulme landmark.
To find out more about the project, volunteer or donate, contact Tony Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew Brooks is a photographer, a digital artist and a film maker living in Manchester - click here.
Hayley Flynn has an award-winning website about the built enviroment - click here.
15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.
I started work at Dial House in 1946, as a trainee telephonist . Did any body else work at the…Read more
I'm sure it will happen over time, the sprawling suburbs will start to creep back towards the city…Read more
To digress a little but in a similar mindset,why has nobody done anything about regenerating…Read more
I'm basically saying that 2 peters square is set to be an equivalent North tower. But at least that…Read more