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Situated at the junction of Henry Street and Howard Street. Built in 1908 as a variety theatre to the designs of the Leeds architects Chadwick & Watson who were responsible for several Yorkshire theatres including the Alhambra in Bradford.
Remarkably, the Hippodrome Theatre was constructed in only four months considering its ornate detail both inside and outside and a tribute to its builders J. Parkinson & Sons of Blackpool.
The brick and stone construction had an imposing frontage incorporating two octagonal towers topped by large domes with flagpoles. The façade was described as Italian Renaissance in character.
Between the towers was the grand entrance ascended by several wide terrazzo mosaic steps. At first floor level were three tall round-topped windows with the Hippodrome name in stone spanning their width above.
The large entrance hall had a marble mosaic floor and polished walnut woodwork. At each side was a staircase of terrazzo marble treads and Sicilian marble risers with a bronzed ornate wrought iron balustrade leading to the mezzanine and thence to the circle foyer. There were separate entrances to the pit (stalls) and the gallery.
The auditorium was spacious and richly ornate with much colour. Lighting was provided by a myriad of around 1,400 lights in elaborate electroliers (chandeliers). Gas secondary lighting was also installed. The plush tip-up seats accommodated 2,500 people with good sight lines. The building was ventilated by electric fans and the stage and auditorium were separated by a fireproof safety curtain and fireproof doors.
The Hippodrome opened as a variety theatre on Monday 3rd August 1908 with Thomas Edgar Fox as lessee and Claude Shyler as resident manager. Shyler was later to become manager of the Premier Picture House.
The opening was performed by the Mayor of Rotherham, Dr Lodge, accompanied by the Town Clerk and members of Rotherham Corporation.
Over the years many famous faces have trod its boards including Gracie Fields, George Formby and local comedian Sandy Powell. Rather oddly (for a variety theatre) William Booth addressed one of his Salvation Army rallies held there in 1911. George E. Smith was now managing director with Arthur Roberts Holland as his resident manager.
The Hippodrome closed as a theatre on Saturday 2nd July 1932.
Conversion a Cinema
Now under the ownership of Rotherham Hippodrome Ltd still with George E. Smith as its managing director and Charles A. Danton as manager. George E. Smith had previously been involved with the Premier Picture Palace in Kimberworth Road. The Hippodrome building was converted into a cinema with a reduced capacity of 1,800 seats.
The auditorium was richly decorated by Frieze Green of Sheffield and the proscenium opening of 32 feet accommodated a rather novel screen in the form of an opening fan which must have been fairly unique.
A new projection room was constructed and fitted with Kalee projectors from Kershaw's of Leeds along with the British Thompson Houston (BTH) sound system.
The all new 'talkie' Hippodrome Cinema opened on Monday 17th October 1932 with . . .
"Playboy of Paris" - 1930 USA B/W 79 mins.
Starring Maurice Chevalier, Frances Dee and O.P Heggie.
"No Limit" - 1931 USA B/W 72 mins.
Starring Clara Bow, Norman Foster and Dixie Lee.
Thereafter it was continuous performances each evening with matinées on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Typical prices were 3d to 1/-d and significantly cheaper than the nearby Empire.
By 1950 and under the same ownership it was listed as having 1,200 seats and with W.C Harte as resident manager. Prices had now risen to 9d to 2/3d for its continuous daily performances.
A new wide screen with motorised adjustable masking for CinemaScope was installed in the late autumn of 1955 and opened with . . .
"Valley of Fury" - 1955 USA Technicolor 86 mins.
Starring Victor Mature, Suzan Ball and John Lund.
Closure and Demolition
The Rotherham Council purchased the building with a view creating a new Civic Centre on the site. The Hippodrome then closed on Saturday 19th December 1959 with the final films . . .
"When the Devil Came" - 1957 Germany B/W 105 mins.
(aka "Nachts, wenn der Teufel Kam" in Germany.)
Starring Claus Holm, Annemarie Duringer and Mario Adorf.
"Runaway Daughters" - 1956 USA B/W 92 mins.
Starring Marla English, Gloria Castillo and Mary Ellen Kay.
The former theatre and cinema building was subsequently demolished in 1960.
Copyright ©1983/2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.
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