Arthur Lloyd.co.uk
The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Hippodrome Theatre, Church Street, Blackpool

Formerly - The Empire Theatre of Varieties / Empire Theatre and Opera House - Later - The ABC Theatre / ABC Cinemas / Cannon / MGM / The Syndicate Nightclub

Blackpool Theatres Index - Blackpool Theatres Article by Donald Auty

The former Hippodrome Theatre / ABC Theatre, Blackpool in November 2013 - Photo M. L.

Above - The former Hippodrome Theatre / ABC Theatre, Blackpool in November 2013 - Photo M. L.

A Programme for David Whitfield in 'Rose Marie' at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool - Courtesy Roy Cross.The building on Church Street, Blackpool which until recently was known as The Syndicate Nightclub, but still fondly remembered as the ABC and the Hippodrome Theatre until it was demolished in 2014, had a long and involved history. It was originally constructed by Messrs Peters of Rochdale in 1895, at a cost of some £30,000, and designed as a large Ballroom and Music Hall by John Dent Harker. The Theatre opened as the Empire Theatre and Opera House on the 4th of July 1895. The Empire had a small stage and a flat auditorium floor with a gallery around three sides, and was decorated in the Italian Renaissance style.

Right - A Programme for David Whitfield in 'Rose Marie' at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool - Courtesy Roy Cross.

The ERA reported on the new Theatre in their 13th of July 1895 edition saying: - 'The new Empire Theatre of Varieties, the latest addition to Blackpool's numerous places of entertainment, was opened on the 4th inst. In response to the invitation of the management, there was a large and fashionable gathering. Madame Levanti's Bohemian ladies' orchestra played the National Anthem, Miss Florence Fish singing the solo, the audience meanwhile standing. The orchestra then played a sprightly march, appropriately named "Our Empire," after which Mr Cookson, the manager, who was enthusiastically received, stepped to the front and gracefully acknowledged the compliment the audience had paid the directorate in so handsomely responding to the invitations issued. With a passing request that any little imperfections in the performance caused by the hurried nature of the arrangements might be overlooked, "the genial Charlie " expressed the hope that the entertainment would be worthy of their appreciation, and that the place would gain a high reputation.

Scenes from a Programme for David Whitfield in 'Rose Marie' at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool - Courtesy Roy Cross.Excellent turns were contributed by Miss Maggie Duggan, whose male impersonations were very successful; Mr Quinton Gibson, one of the best female impersonators of the present day; Mr Lester Barrett, humourist; Mr John Renson and Miss Rose Waite, song and dance artists; Miss Lottie Collard, Mr Dick Geldard, Miss Marie Stuart, and soloists from the ladies orchestra. A ball followed.

Left - Scenes from a Programme for David Whitfield in 'Rose Marie' at the ABC Theatre, Blackpool - Courtesy Roy Cross.

The building occupies a commanding position at the top of Church-street, and is in the centre of the town. It has been built by Messrs Peters, of Rochdale, from the designs of Mr J. D. Harker, A. R. I. B.A., of Manchester, at a cost of about £30,000. The interior has been tastefully decorated in the Italian Renaissance style by Mr R. Bennett, of Manchester, and the elaborate decorative work of the proscenium and balconies has been executed by the London Plastic Decorative and Papier Mache Company (Limited).

The proscenium is very fine, being 32ft. wide and 25ft. high. Mr T. E. Ryan, of London, has painted a very pretty act drop, and the other scenery is by Mr H. Lemaistre, of the Manchester Theatre Royal. The stage appointments are excellent, and special provision has been made for the comfort of artists, the dressing-rooms being fitted with hot and cold water, the latter being heated by electricity, and there is an ingenious contrivance for heating curling tongs. The stage is separated from the auditorium by an asbestos fire-proof curtain, made by Messrs Tollerton, of Leeds; and Messrs Lowcock, Hill, and Co., of Manchester, have installed the electric light.

The company's original intention was to provide dancing and variety entertainments for thousands of holiday makers who go to Blackpool every summer, but the refusal of the magistrates to grant them a singing and dancing licence will cause the directors to alter their plans. Application for a dramatic licence, however, was made to the Town Council, and the Watch Committee recommended that it should he granted...'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 13th of July 1895.

The Empire Theatre opened on the 4th of July 1895 but was soon finding itself in financial difficulties, the ERA reported on this in their December 1895 edition saying: 'The directors of Prince's (Blackpool), Limited, report most discouragingly to the shareholders. They only opened their place of entertainment, which is known as the Empire Theatre of Varieties, on July 6th last, and closed it on Oct. 12th, but such have been their difficulties that they now declare a loss of £2,337 7s. 4d.

The cost of erection appears to have considerably exceeded the estimates, and the magistrates' refusal to grant a licence for public dancing also affected the company's interest. The concern had a bad start, but as the season advanced the entertainments were improved and the attendance grew in proportion. The directors remark that the late manager, Mr C. Cookson, has commenced proceedings against them for £80, alleged by him to be due for the entertainment advertised as his benefit, but the action has not yet been heard. £10,000 is required to pay off the unsecured creditors, complete the building, and provide working capital. The profit and loss account shows that up to Oct. 31st, the total expenditure was £6,067 1s. 1d., of which £2,164 16s. 8d was paid for artistes and band wages. The receipts for admission only amounted to £2,842 ls. A resolution to voluntarily wind up the company will be considered at an extraordinary meeting of the shareholders this (Saturday) afternoon.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA in December 1895.

The Empire's poor profits must have continued as it was converted into a Circus venue just 10 years later in 1900, and renamed the Hippodrome. However, ten years after this, in 1910, the venue still seems to have been struggling, as the arena was removed and the floor raked so that it could be converted into a cine/variety Theatre instead, seating 2,500, and staging variety seasons in the summer months.

In April 1929 the Theatre was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and they increased the seating capacity to 2,820. ABC later planed to rebuild the Theatre in 1939 but the outbreak of war put a stop to it.

An image of the ABC Theatre, Blackpool on its opening with Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 'Holiday Carnival'.The Hippodrome was almost completely rebuilt in 1963 to the designs of C. J. Foster, who was the chief architect for ABC at the time. The Theatre reopened as an ABC Theatre on the 31st of May 1963 with a summer season show called Holiday Carnival with Cliff Richard and the Shadows headlining.

Right - An image of the ABC Theatre, Blackpool on its opening with Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 'Holiday Carnival'.

The new ABC had an auditorium on two levels, stalls and one circle, and a capacity of 1,934 people. The stage at this time was 8.69 metres deep by 19.51 metres wide, and was fitted with its own permanent revolve. The ABC was used for stage shows in the summer seasons and films and concerts in the winter. The Theatre was also used by ABC Weekend Television who broadcast their 'Blackpool Night Out' variety shows from the Theatre during the 1960s.

A Programme for the Morecambe & Wise Show at the ABC, Blackpool in 1965 - Courtesy Jeff Barron.A Programme for Frank Ifield and Kathy Kirby at the ABC, Blackpool in 1964, - Courtesy Jeff Barron.The Theatre was later trippled in January 1981, reopening it as the ABCs 1, 2, and 3 on the 30th of April 1981, this put an end to the former Theatre's live days, although the stage, orchestra pit, 1963 proscenium, safety curtain, front stalls, and dressing rooms were all left intact behind the screens of the number 2 and 3 cinemas.

Right - A Programme for Frank Ifield and Kathy Kirby at the ABC, Blackpool in 1964, and Far Right - A Programme for the Morecambe & Wise Show at the ABC, Blackpool in 1965 - Courtesy Jeff Barron.

The Theatre was renamed Cannon in 1986 and then MGM from May 1993 but was closed as a Cinema for good in December 1998.

The building then stood empty for nearly 4 years before it was eventually converted for nightclub use in 2001 by the local business partners Mike and Sandra Nordwind. They converted the building at a cost of £4 million and reopened it as a nightclub called 'The Syndicate' in December 2002.

A Google StreetView image of the former Hippodrome Theatre - Click to InteractThe Syndicate had some bad press in 2005 when it lost its late night drinks licence after a court case involving alleged violence at the venue, the club had to close down for a month in October 2005 as a result. It then reopened in January 2006 but with a drinks licence only to 11pm. The club was then bought in May by Nexum Leisure who spent a further £2 million on the venue and reopened it in June 2007 as a Polish venue. The Syndicate closed on 10th August 2011 but later reopened as a nightclub again and staged various special events.

Left - A Google StreetView image of the former Hippodrome Theatre / ABC Cinema - Click to Interact.

In December 2012 the building was threatened with demolition by the Council who wanted to turn the site into a car park, and a great deal of local opposition to the plans took place, but in the end it was to no avail. The 2001 cladding was removed in May 2014, and for a brief time the 1960s ABC frontage was again visible, but before long the whole building had been demolished so that the site could be used for parking until a more suitable use could be found when land values recovered.

Some of the information on this Theatre's later years was gleaned from the excellent Cinema Treasures website, Wikipedia, the Syndicate's own website, and the Theatres Trust.

Donlad Auty writes on the Blackpool Hippodrome in his article on Blackpool Theatres here.

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

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.