Hippodrome trust appeals to Government to save historic building

Campaigners trying to save Dudley Hippodrome have written to culture secretary Nadine Dorries to ask her to review the rejection of its application for listed building status.

Dudley Hippodrome Development Trust (DHDT) says 'vital evidence' was overlooked by Historic England in its decision to dismiss the bid, paving the way for Dudley Council to make plans to demolish it.

The trust confirmed a Review Request, which can be used to challenge such decisions, has now been submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in an attempt to get it overturned.

The council is aiming to bulldoze the Hippodrome, which dates back to the 1930s, to make way for a new education campus specialising in healthcare and nursing, run in partnership with the University of Worcester.

But supporters of the Hippodrome have being trying to save it by getting it recognised by Historic England as a listed building, which typically prevents structures of architectural and historic interest being demolished and places restrictions on modifications that can be made.

The listing of Dudley Hippodrome was first rejected after a site visit in 2011, but at the time many of the original features had been concealed by alterations made by Gala Bingo, which last used the theatre as a bingo hall until its closure in 2009.

Justifying its reasons for rejecting the listed status application, Historic England heavily cited the lack of original decor and materials in the building.

But the trust says that, when it was allowed access to the building in 2016, many original features assumed to have been lost were discovered intact behind the modifications that Gala Bingo had made.

The trust also says Historic England has made errors in its reasoning.

It says the building's original tiles are still present on the Hippodrome's exterior, yet the lack of this was cited as a reason for rejecting the original application.

It's also challenging the report's description of the decor, which was dismissed as "simply moulded plasterwork" - the trust argues the decor was meant to be modest and was the work of George Legg, resident artist of renowned Birmingham company Bryan's Adamanta - thought to be the only example of his work remaining in such a building.

In its appeal, DHDT says the mouldings and decorations "are by nature simple, as is the design of the building which is modernist with Art Deco touches. Overly fancy decorative work would clearly not have been in keeping with the overall design of the building".

The trust dismissed the report's comment that the exterior was "restrained and unsophisticated", countering that "simple and understated was the trend in the late 1930s".

It has also accused Historic England of making mistakes in relation to the presence of the building's original windows and the extent of original materials in the building's dressing rooms, while the report also stated that the Hippodrome was "typical of this genre of cinema building" - yet the Hippodrome has never operated as a cinema.

A building is more likely to be awarded listed status by Historic England if it is a rare design.

But the trust claims that confusing it as a cinema misunderstands the rarity of the Hippodrome, as it is the only theatre designed by major provincial architect Archibald Hurley Robinson, who mainly specialised in cinema design - and several examples of his buildings remain today.

Campaigners say that, as the Hippodrome is the only one that is a theatre, this should make it an exception and they do not feel this has been taken into account.

Historic England said the "degree to which it has been altered" was another reason for rejecting the application, but DHDT says none of the alternations are permanent or significant - and are "easily reversible".

It also points out that a large number of buildings and features along Castle Hill enjoy listed status, including the former Odeon Cinema (Kingdom Hall) building and the kiosks and entrance gateway at Dudley Zoo.

The Government will now consider the request along with dozens of other documents submitted as supporting evidence by the trust, as it tries to save the Hippodrome at the last minute.

If the bid fails, it could be the final curtain for the building, which famously hosted American comedy duo Laurel and Hardy in 1947, with the council aiming to have the new university campus up and running on the site in as little as two years' time.


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