Lost Empire Regained: Tameside Hippodrome Set for 2013 Reopening

Friends’ Trust set up to oversee theatre

Tameside Hippodrome, 29 March 2008: Last Night
“The Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated…” – Mark Twain. Thankfully so, in contrast to the scenes on what was Tameside Hippodrome’s last dramatic production on the 29 March 2008.

I had to check twice my calendar to see if it was April the 1st, or as to whether I’ve been on the funny fags. I am happy to report that today is the 14th June 2012 and that cigarettes on any description are an absolute no-no for me. My fellow muse wouldn’t allow them either (the poor little mutt would either be choking on Silk Cut fumes or being lulled by cannabis smoke).

I was happy to find in this week’s Tameside Reporter that Tameside Hippodrome will be operated by a friends’ group whilst Tameside MBC would retain ownership of the 108 year-old building. The theatre has been dead since the 31 March 2008 with shows which would have used the Oldham Road venue transferred to smaller venues around the borough. Though this has meant the continuation of live theatrical entertainment, none of the venues had the seating capacity nor, in some cases, suitable stages.

Three years ago, East of the M60 published The (Not So) Mysterious Death of a Provincial Theatre, a more downbeat article on the future of the theatre. The article stated optimistically that professional theatre could stay in Tameside, though it was suggested that the Theatre Royal in Hyde would have been a viable alternative. There was proposals for the incorporation of professional level theatre in the borough’s new Academies. It was assumed that the Tameside Hippodrome would have been demolished.

On the other hand, there was a slight conspiracy theory in the article that the Hippodrome would have been replaced by a car park, or an extension to the Ladysmith Shopping Centre. Three years on, bricks and mortar retailers have suffered from the double dip recession with high profile chains going into liquidation. Internet shopping instead of the shopping precinct has become the norm for most households. Plans to extend the Arcades Shopping Centre seem to have been kicked into the long grass.

Since then, Tameside Hippodrome has been given Listed Building status with its key features being the 1932 Art Deco style auditorium. This was another turning point towards its retention. Furthermore, its Listed Building status and potential threat of demolition gained national coverage on BBC One’s The One Show, where historian Ruth Goodman was seen sat in the circle.

And of course, this leads us to today’s joyous news. The Spring 2013 opening will be dependent on gaining £500,000 for new drapes, carpets, heating, seats and a computerised ticketing system. Therefore the hard work in advance of its opening starts now. The estimated figure includes internal and external repairs, also much needed, following recent gales which have affected part of the roof. More medium term plans will involve the creation of a 80 seat studio theatre, a 60 seat cafeteria, and gallery space for local artists.

On a personal level, Tameside Theatre/Hippodrome has a lot to answer for in my creative development and in my enjoyment of going to the theatre or other live productions. It is important that every child should be able to see a live play or a pantomime, not only in terms of aiding imagination, but also in gaining social skills. Social skills which are transferable when watching a Brass Band concert or a seminar. Furthermore, the production could inspire them to take up amateur dramatics – and greater stages in future years.

As a member of the audience, I was there at the last show, but the first production I went to was Cinderella in January 1986. Geoffrey Hayes of Rainbow fame appeared. I also made my ‘stage debut’ by telling this joke the following year:

‘What goes 99-clunk, 99-clunk?

‘A centipede with a wooden leg’.

Not bad for a seven year old, sharing the stage with Jim Bowen in Robinson Crusoe.

Needless to say, I have joined the Facebook group. If you’re interested, click on the link for ‘Friends of the Hippodrome‘.

S.V., 14 June 2012.

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10 thoughts on “Lost Empire Regained: Tameside Hippodrome Set for 2013 Reopening

  1. Wow, that’s brilliant! I was randomly thinking about this theatre the other day. I never saw a show there, and did not realise until I read this article that it had an art deco interior (which I love!). Yay!

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    1. Hi David,

      I too would be looking forward to see a reinvigorated Tameside Hippodrome. Your best source for the history of the Empire Hippodrome/ABC Empire/Tameside Theatre/Hippodrome is ‘Flickering Memories’ by Philip Martin Williams and David Williams (Tameside MBC, 1995). Though not solely about the Tameside Hippodrome it also covers Ashton’s other cinemas and theatres. It is a little out of date as it omits the recent closure of the Metro Cinema, and the opening of Cineworld on Ashton Moss.

      You can buy it from http://www.tameside.gov.uk/webapps/shopping/moreinfo.php3?32 for the princely sum of £3.00. Or you can pop in to the Portland Basin Heritage Centre and purchase it from their gift shop.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. Great news about the Hippodrome. Incidentally we are currently in the midst of writing a major history of the theatres of Ashton-under-Lyne – Though at present we’re only at around 1875. When the time comes for publication we also intend to re-publish an updated edition of our cinema history of Ashton ‘Flickering Memories’. Anyone with any information, anecdotes or photographs of Ashton’s theatres can contact us through our web site at hoyd.co.uk

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      2. Hiyas to Philip and David,

        My copy of ‘Flickering Memories’ sits proudly in my personal library along with my local bus books. Should your new theatre book be ready by 2013, the timing of which would be most astute. Not least the potential for sales in the Tameside Hippodrome itself for both your forthcoming and updated publications.

        As you would probably know yourselves, there hasn’t been an up-to-date history on Tameside’s – nor Ashton’s – theatres as a sole subject area. The last book which covered both theatre and cinema in the borough was David Owen’s 1985 publication ‘A History of the Theatres and Cinemas in Tameside’ (which I remember seeing later that year from Dukinfield Library). I would assume at 1875 you’ll be up to the Star Theatre and facilities at The Oddfellows’ Hall.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

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      3. Thanks a lot for that info! I STILL haven’t been to the Portland Basin museum tried to go on New Year’s bank holiday but it was closed – still, had a lovely look around the canal basin and at the Victorian baths which are sadly abandoned – what a stunning building, sooooo imposing for the size of the town!!!! Such a shame!

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      4. Hiyas to Philip and David,

        Thank you for the correct web address. I wondered why I got to a Yolasites holding page shortly after clicking your original link. On release, I may consider the idea of reviewing of your book on this blog.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

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  2. Hi David,

    I too would like to see the Victorian baths back in use, though I think restoration as an exhibition hall or concert hall may be more likely instead of its original purpose. Hugh Mason House, to give the baths its Sunday name, opened in 1870, and closed in 1975 after the opening of the present day facility on Oldham Road. It has also been a popular location for urban explorers as detailed on the 28 Days Later forum (source: http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=61632).

    It seems to be of the Italianette style, as seen around Ancoats, and the city centres of Manchester and Bradford.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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      1. Hi Andrea,

        The great Tameside public would lap up something along the lines of Rockchoir very well. Soul music has been part of the borough’s musical psyche for the last 50 years, and formed the basis of the Moon Disco in Dukinfield from 1969 to 1973-74. Furthermore, there is often a bias towards soul music – particularly Motown among Tameside Radio’s playlists and listeners’ requests. The same is also true of many wedding dos.

        I shall consider emailing Mr Reynolds around this time next year, though this depends on what the Friends of Hippodrome may wish to consider for their Grand Reopening show.

        Warmly,

        Stuart.

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