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Hulme Hippodrome: Remarkable Pictures, Remarkable Story

Hayley Flynn writes the words, Andrew Brooks takes the pics

Published on December 11th 2011.

Hulme Hippodrome: Remarkable Pictures, Remarkable Story

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.

Hulme HippodromeHulme HippodromeIt was a spectacular structure from the offset. This remains the case although you'd never guess it today without a visit inside. The exterior is horrible, all the action lies within.

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 tony@theyouthvillage.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.







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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Richard HJDecember 13th 2011.

Marvelous photos. Marvelous venue. Saw Aphex Twin here. Cabaret Voltaire. All sorts. If I'm not mistaken Les Dawson described Hulme Hippodrome as his favourite venue. I'm pretty sure it was his wife that told me that once. Not his mother in law.

Peter JacobsDecember 13th 2011.

It's extraordinary and very sad (and very beautiful) to see this - especially in a city not especially blessed with theatres. Controversial.

LindaDecember 17th 2011.

It reminds me of the Wilton Music Hall in London and how that has been transformed from similar neglect to an outstanding venue for all the arts. Fabulous photos by the way.

AnonymousDecember 29th 2011.

...76 Delvino Street was a boarding house run by my
parents in the 50s-60s..We took in lots of acts from the

Shirley JensenApril 18th 2012.

amazing place - shame its been left to ruin and pray they raise the funds to transform the theatre into a centre for arts and culture in hulme but keep as much of the original interior and character as possible, is there somewhere to make donations or how can you help raise money for this project???

Stuart HoyleApril 23rd 2012.

I left Delvino st when i was 15 to go & live in Blackpool where my parents bought a boarding house. moved back to Manchester at 18. Lost touch with all my old playmates, does anyone remember me?.

Stuart HoyleApril 23rd 2012.

Follow up to my last rant. I was born at 84 Delvino st or Dorset st as it was in 1948 it was my grand parents house Charles & Jane Mortimore. My parents were James & Lorna Hoyle. When i was about 9 we moved over the rd to 57 I think. I have older brother Chris & younger Terry & sister Georgina. Anyone out there remember me?.

Kat KeljikMay 5th 2012.

This is a fascinating story, and I would very much like to get involved. My Master's dissertation at the Univeristy of York focuses on adaptive reuse of theatres in this way. I am hoping to work this project into my research. However, I have tried to email Mr. Wright, but it appears the address provided is no longer in operation. Does anyone know how to contact him? Or anyone else I could contact who may be able to help?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 10th 2012.

If you are still interested in helping I could put you in touch with Tony.


Hayley FlynnJune 11th 2012.

Hi Kat, email me about this hayleyflynnfreelance@gmail.com

AnonymousJune 23rd 2012.

Hulme had a £2.5million pound arts centre in the heart of its community that catered for high quality performance, education and club nights for the party goers. It's a shame that the community closed it down within 3 years because of late night noise complaints in a residential area. It's closure was yet another tragic waste of resources allowed by short-sighted decision making. Good luck to the new people trying to breathe life into these iconic spaces, but beware the community that you seek - it may still bite you back despite your investment and effort. Maybe the council should have looked at combining the Cornerhouse and Library in a forgotten corner of Hulme and really breathed some life into the area.

1 Response: Reply To This...
DavidJune 23rd 2012.

Why the need to attack the local community?.I think you will find that any theatre venue would not be popular with local residents if it operated late hours.
The real villains are in my opinion it's near neighbours Manchester Metroplitan,Manchester University and Manchester University who have completely ignored for years Hulme and Moss Side,who prefer to build expensive new buildings rather than invest any money in a 'black' area.

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