“Frank Matcham, Brunel of the Stage”*

Image: (speel.me.uk)”London Hippodrome: the main feature, and that which the viewer notices from close by, are the first floor terra cotta Caryatids between the windows at first floor…Some of these are in the form of a winged, armless half figure of a girl, wearing light drapes across the stomach, caught up under the breasts, and with a fold of drapery at the base of the stomach where the carved body ends and becomes the architectural shape, thus avoiding an awkward change…The figures vary in the detail, in their hair, wings, drapes and for the girls, their necklaces.”

From Wikipedia:

“The Hippodrome is a building on the corner of Cranbourn Street and Charing Cross Road in the City of Westminster, London. The name was used for many different theatres and music halls, of which the London Hippodrome is one of only a few survivors. Hippodrome is an archaic word referring to places that host horse races and other forms of equestrian entertainment.

The London Hippodrome was opened in 1900. It was designed by Frank Matcham for Moss Empires chaired by Edward Moss and built for £250,000 as a hippodrome for circus and variety performances. The venue gave its first show on 15 January 1900, a music hall revue entitled “Giddy Ostend” with Little Tich. The conductor was Georges Jacobi.

In 2009, the lease on the Hippodrome was acquired by Leicester-born father and son entrepreneurs Jimmy and Simon Thomas, who began an extensive restoration programme taking the Hippodrome back to Matcham’s original designs for use as a casino and entertainment venue. During the planning stage, the adjacent Cranbourn Mansions building became available and plans were redrafted to incorporate this former gentlemen’s apartment block into the design, doubling the eventual floorspace and linked using a new structure sited within the existing light well between the two buildings.
The restoration and construction of the casino was followed on the blog of LBC presenter Steve Allen.”

*Article by Dea Birkett in the Engineering and Technology Magazine of June 2021:

“…In the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, the engineer and architect (Frank Matcham) built over 100 theatres and redesigned and refurbished a further 80, including the London Hippodrome, Liverpool Olympia, and the ballroom at Blackpool Tower…

…”Matcham was a master of sightlines – a technical challenge for theatre designers even to this day” says Claire Appleby, architecture adviser at Theatres Trust…


…”He gave particular attention to ventilation systems to allow the expulsion of the fumes from the gas lights, and hot and uncomfortable air from packed auditoria, to aid audience comfort,” explains Appleby…

…Matcham “was not designing for the elite of the architectural press or the academy: he was designing for a commercial industrialised leisure industry that wanted opulence, grandeur and excess”, says Professor Toulmin of Sheffield University, an expert in the history of popular entertainment…


…Appleby believes they can still meet the desires of a 21st-century audience. “That’s not to say that some enhancement isn’t required,” she says. “But Matcham theatres have a great relationship and connectivity between actor and audience, which is vital.” And although they are often vast auditoria, there’s a “remarkable intimacy”, she says…

…Appleby cites flexibility and adaptability as key to modern theatre design. “The commercial picture is different,” she says. “Many theatres require a broader income stream, for example to be able to adjust an auditorium to hold different events, have the ability to change seating and stage arrangements etc.”…

…Now the threat to the living legacy of (Matcham’s) work, bringing engineering innovation to theatres, is closure due to COVID measures and an uncertain future. #SaveOurTheatres has been launched. Alan Short, professor of architecture at the University of Cambridge, says Matcham’s work is still crucial: “We must look to the past to design theatre buildings of the future.”…”


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