Griff Rhys Jones on why we have to save Brighton Hippodrome

Brighton Hippodrome. Photo courtesy of Theatres Trust

Brighton Hippodrome. Photo courtesy of Theatres Trust - Credit: Archant

The TV personality is backing a campaign to preserve the future of one of the Victorian Society’s top 10 most endangered buildings

Brighton Hippodrome. Photo courtesy of Theatres Trust

Brighton Hippodrome. Photo courtesy of Theatres Trust - Credit: Archant

Brighton Hippodrome is one of the neglected historic gems on the Victorian Society’s annual Top 10 Most Endangered Buildings List, announced today.

Brighton Hippodrome, designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, is the country’s finest surviving example of a circus theatre. Originally built in 1897 as an ice rink, it was converted into a theatre in 1901 which attracted star performers such as Vesta Tilley, Harry Houdini, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh before closing in 1964. The building became a bingo hall from 1968 to 2006 and since then it has stood empty.

The Hippodrome has been the subject of much local debate with local campaign groups such as Our Brighton Hippodrome joining forces with the Theatres Trust, Historic England and other groups to lobby for the building to be saved. There have been development plans in the past five years including one to turn the site into a multiplex cinema and another for a new hotel, spa and serviced apartments.

In September 2020, the Hippodrome building was sold to Brighton-based Matsim Properties, raising hopes that new life will be breathed into a building that has stood empty for many years. Actor Griff Rhys-Jones, Victorian Society President, said: “Brighton is a thriving city with a vibrant culture. If anywhere can support such a unique venue it is Brighton. In Blackpool, the restored winter gardens are being used to revive the town’s fortunes. With staycations likely to increase in popularity and Brighton’s easy access to London, surely Matsim Properties can develop a plan which makes sensitive use of this building? What is clear is that losing many more years with nothing happening risks any of the building surviving.”

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The Victorian Society’s annual Top 10 Most Endangered Buildings List highlights the most at-risk Victorian and Edwardian buildings in England and Wales. This year’s list includes a former brewery, a long-forgotten hospital and a crumbling Victorian police station. Joe O’Donnell, Victorian Society Director said: “This year we’ve all faced huge social and economic challenges that will have a lasting impact. But the long history of neglect of our Top 10 Endangered Buildings predates the Covid-19 crisis. Owners should put them on the market at a realistic price. Finding new uses for these wonderful Victorian and Edwardian buildings is important not just because of their architectural merit, but also to keep a sense of place and local identity. Looking after the buildings we already have, rather than wastefully knocking them down, should be central to a green recovery from Covid-19.”

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