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Firms: Owen & Ward
Previous Names: Empire Palace of Varieties
The Empire Palace of Varieties opened on 5th December 1898 and was designed in a bizarre Moorish style by the architectural firm Owen & Ward. At opening it had a seating capacity of almost 2,000. As in most variety theatres, films soon became an ‘act’ on the bill; and in the Summer of 1910 films were shown every afternoon using the name ‘Cinematinees’.
In the early-January 1921 it closed briefly when alterations were carried out by theatre architect Bertie Crewe. It re-opened on 21st February 1921 as the Hippodrome Theatre. From March 1928 it was taken over by the General Theatre Corporation(GTC) who were themselves taken over by Gaumont British Theatres in May 1928.
Live shows continued until 28th September 1931 when cinema use began. It was to be used as a ‘stand-in cinema’ for Gaumont while they demolished their Agricultural Hall Cinema and build the Gaumont Palace Theatre. The first film programme at the Hippodrome Theatre was George Bancroft in "Derelict" and Lupino Lane in "No Lady". Almost a year later the Hippodrome played its final film Lew Ayers in "Impatient Maiden" on 27th August 1932.
The Hippodrome Theatre re-opened as a live theatre again on 5th September 1932, the same day as the brand new Gaumont Palace Theatre opened. Over the years many famous artists appeared, including a visit by Louis Armstrong. From November 1946 it became a theatre within the mighty Moss Empires Theatre chain. It was last operated by the Fred Butterworth chain. Sadly, the Hippodrome Theatre was destroyed by fire on 19th February 1956. The remains stood as an ‘eyesore’ until 1958 when what was left was demolished and the site redeveloped, with a furnishing store being built on the land.
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