Express & Star

Hippodrome demolition marks end of 125 years of entertainment on Castle Hill

The demolition of the Dudley Hippodrome marks the end of an era for a site which has been the home to a theatre since the 19th century.

Dudley Opera House, pictured days before the fire

The building demolished this monthdates back to 1938, but its predecessor, the Dudley Opera House had stood in Castle Hill since 1898.

A view of Castle Hill, Dudley, probably taken during the late 19th century, with the Opera House to the right, and the original Station Hotel on the left

Not that this was the first theatre in Dudley, mind. That accolade went to the Colosseum, which opened just round the corner in Porter's Field, off Trindle Road, in 1889. This was more or less the site of Dudley Council's other major redevelopment programme, where the Cavendish House block recently stood.

But Maurice Clement, the ambitious concert promoter who built the Colosseum, only ever saw it as a stepping stone towards his dream of providing Dudley with a modern entertainment venue. Before founding the 'Col', Clement had worked for 23 years in the Earl of Dudley's office, and this connection would prove crucial to making it big in the entertainment world.

The Earl provided Clement with a plot of land in the shadow of Dudley Castle, and the Mayor of Dudley George Dunn laid the foundation stone on June 27, 1898. The ceremony was accompanied by some considerable pageantry, with a performance by the Colosseum band, and was followed by lavish reception at the Station Hotel across the road. The stone was inscribed with the words from Hamlet 'The play's the thing'.

Clement told his assembled guests: "I predict for you a beautiful theatre, a safe theatre, a theatre which will run on popular lines at popular prices.

"If you come in your thousands, if my fellow townsmen, and the working classes in particular, give me the support in the future that they have given me in the past, the success of the Dudley Opera House is assured."

While the Col had been a pretty modest wooden building, the Opera House would be an altogether more lavish affair. A budget of £16,000 was set aside for its construction, and architect Abraham Ramsell designed an elaborate terracotta frontage in the Italian Renaissance style. It had a capacity of 2,000, and a very large stage which lent itself to elaborate scenery.

"The domed ceiling is a work of art," reported the Dudley Herald.

"Few such buildings are decorated with better taste, and in none is there better workmanship."

Maurice Clement had promised the people of Dudley an up-to-the -minute theatre, and that is exactly what they go.

"The whole building will be lit with electric light," said the Herald. "The whole building will be lit with electric light. Even the lavatories can be recommended and are provided for every class of customer."

The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was in residence for the opening week, presenting a different Gilbert & Sullivan production on each night of the week. The Earl and Countess of Dudley, mayor George Dunn and Brooke Robinson MP were among the distinguished guests on the opening night production of The Mikado.

The Herald reported that the event was quite a spectacle: