Listing a building doesn’t, of course, automatically guarantee its security. The Hippodrome Theatre, Derby is a notorious example of what can happen to a supposedly protected building.
In this case, the owner, Mr Christopher Anthony, under the pretext of making repairs, managed to remove the stage area and much of the roof. The delicacy with which this was accomplished can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS5UOSz2dBg and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YlUJUyLcMk&feature=related. This followed an earlier arson attack which, by means which are unclear, destroyed plasterwork around the dress circle and the proscenium arch.
Derby City Council, supported by such organisations as English Heritage, Derby Civic Society, the Theatres Trust and the Cinema Theatre Association, has pursued Mr Anthony through legal action, not only for the damage caused to the previously intact building but also by rejecting his application to turn the site into, of all things, a multi-storey car-park.
Why does this matter? Leaving aside the civic and legal arguments about the significance and effectiveness of listed-building legislation, the Hippodrome had, and still has, historical and architectural value. It was built in 1914, right at the end of the great late-Victorian and Edwardian boom in building variety theatres. It is the only known surviving example of the work of the Scottish architects, Charles T Marshall & William Tweedy. Though it was adapted as a cinema in 1930, it returned to theatre use from 1950 to 1959; it operated as a bingo club from 1962 until it abruptly closed in 2007.
As a result of this history it was very little altered. I took groups to visit it, by courtesy of Walkers Bingo, repeatedly during the 1980s and 1990s. The auditorium, stage-tower and grid were intact. At some time in the early 1990s the auditorium was redecorated and the seating reupholstered.
Bingo kept the roof on and the building warm for decades. There were even occasional Christmas shows on the stage. Derby is not well blessed with auditoria, and can ill afford to lose this one.
Indeed, the city is rather better provided with multi-storey car-parks.
The rallying-point for those who wish to see the Hippodrome somehow restored is the Derby Hippodrome Restoration Trust, whose website is http://www.derbyhippodrome.co.uk. The Theatres Trust website has a detailed architectural description: http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/118-hippodrome-derby.
A detailed options appraisal report from the architectural practice Lathams, with phtconsultants, examines alternative possibilities for restoration: http://derbyhippodrome.co.uk/resources/Options-Appraisal-Report-17.04.12.pdf.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces: the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.