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The Hippodrome Theatre, Aston, Birmingham

Later - The Drum Arts Centre

Birmingham Index

A Google Streetview image of the Drum Arts Centre, Aston, Birmingham, which today stands on the site of the former Aston Hippodrome - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Streetview image of the Drum Arts Centre, Aston, Birmingham, which today stands on the site of the former Aston Hippodrome - Click to Interact

Theatreshire Books  - Click to View Inventory

The auditorium and stage of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.The Drum Arts Centre in Aston, Birmingham today stands on the site of the former Aston Hippodrome which opened as a Music Hall on the 7th of December 1908 and was demolished in 1980.

The original Theatre was built by F. Brassington and designed by James and Lister Lea for Thomas Barrasford at a cost of £10,000, and had an auditorium embellished with fibrous plasterwork.

The Theatre was equipped with a stage 67 foot wide by 36 foot deep, with a proscenium opening of 30 foot wide by 32 foot high. The height to the grid was 54 foot.

Right - The auditorium and stage of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

In 1912 the Theatre, which at the time could accommodate some 2,000 people, was altered by James Lea & Sons when a new separate dressing room block was added, with 10 new dressing rooms. Previous to that, artists had had to change in rooms beneath the stage.

The Balcony of the Aston Hippodrome after the fire of 1939 - From The Birmingham Mail, February 13th 1939.In 1935 the Theatre was reconstructed with a new Art Deco auditorium and a new stage. The Stage Newspaper reported on this briefly in their 17th of October 1935 edition saying:- 'This theatre was reopened on Monday after reconstruction and renovation with an attractive vaudeville programme. The auditorium has been fitted with up-to-date seats, and the lighting equipment immensely improved.

Left - The Balcony of the Aston Hippodrome after the fire of 1939 - From The Birmingham Mail, February 13th 1939.

In the gallery, five of the original twelve rows of seats have been sacrificed, which means increased comfort for patrons. Improvements have been made behind the stage, and new scenery has been painted. Lily Morris is prominent with some new songs; and Okito, the Chinese mystic, supported by Miss Soykee and company, performs clever illusions. Fred Miller and Millie Deane are good on the comedy side, and the rest of the bill is competently filled by Teddy Williams, Alvis and Frances, Agar and Young, Cornalla, and Eddie and Lulu, the "wonder" horse.'

The Dress Circle of the Aston Hippodrome after the fire of 1939 - From The Birmingham Mail, February 13th 1939.

Above - The Dress Circle of the Aston Hippodrome after the fire of 1939 - From The Birmingham Mail, February 13th 1939.

Sadly, only a few years after its 1935 reopening, a serious fire occurred at the Theatre in February 1939, starting in the gallery, and much of the Theatre's auditorium was destroyed, see images above. However, the Theatre was again rebuilt, at a cost of £38,000, and reopened again later that year, on Monday the 11th of December 1939, with Arthur Askey and Sandy Powell in 'Hutch', see article below.

A full page spread on the reopening of the Aston Hippodrome in 1939 - From the Evening Despatch, 8th of December 1939.

Above - A full page spread on the reopening of the Aston Hippodrome in 1939 - From the Evening Despatch, 8th of December 1939.

A Signed card from Alan, Alan, and Alan, dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins During the later years of the 1930s and into the 1940s the resident percussionist at the Aston Hippodrome was Bert Hopkins, and many of the performers he played for in the band gave him cards signed by themselves in appreciation of his work. Some of these cards, kindly sent in by his son, John Hopkins, are displayed right and below.

Right - A Signed card from Alan, Alan, and Alan, dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins.

John says 'My Father was percussionist at the Aston Hippodrome for a few years around 1938/40, and was highly regarded by most of the artistes, some of the dedications on the photographs read "a real showman", "the comics friend", and "a great drummer with the best drums in England."' - John Hopkins.

 

Donald Peers Norman Evans

 

Above - Signed cards from Donald Peers and Norman Evans dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins

Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson

 

Above - A Signed card from Ken 'Snakehips' Johnson dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins

A Poster for Lionel B. Edward's production of 'Sleeping Beauty' which was staged at the Aston Hippodrome from the 24th of December 1949 - Courtesy Mike Blakemore.The Hippodrome continued with a mix of musicals and variety until it eventually closed as a live Theatre after the final performance of 'A to Z of Striptease' on the 4th of June 1960. Despite a consortium of businessmen who wanted to buy the place and reopen it as a club, it was sold to Mecca Bingo instead, who then ran Bingo there until the Theatre was demolished in 1980.

Right - A Poster for Lionel B. Edward's production of 'Sleeping Beauty' which was staged at the Aston Hippodrome from the 24th of December 1949 - Courtesy Mike Blakemore.

A Signed card from Will Haye Junior, dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins Ted Bottle, whose photographs of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days are shown on this page, says: 'This was my local twice nightly variety Theatre

Left - A Signed card from Will Haye Junior, dedicated to the 1939 / 1940 Aston Hippodrome Percussionist Bert Hopkins - Courtesy John Hopkins

As a child I thought it was beautiful until I returned in 1980 to photograph it when I realised it was very plain with what I consider quite an ugly art-deco proscenium arch. What the original looked like I don't know. There was certainly plaster work around the balcony fronts when it opened in 1908 as I have seen a picture of this. It was one of the last variety theatres to close (1960). Sandy Powell once told me that it was 'a good date'. The Mecca colour scheme does it little justice.' - Ted Bottle 2012.

The auditorium and stage of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Above - The auditorium and stage of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

The auditorium of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Right - The auditorium of the Aston Hippodrome during its Mecca Bingo days and shortly before its demolition in 1980 - Courtesy Ted Bottle.

Sadly the Aston Hippodrome was demolished in 1980 but a new Arts Centre, called the Drum, was constructed on the site and this is still there today. The Drum is marketed as the 'National Centre for Black British arts and culture' and you may like to visit the venue's own Website here.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share, please Contact me.

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