The Elephant in the Room
One of the delights of our community events is to hear the various local stories and myths that have grown up around Hulme Hippodrome.
Recently in this bulletin we explored the “secret tunnel” folklore that had the artists escaping the crowds by getting back to their digs at the Junction Hotel by going underground. And, given that both buildings faced onto Preston Street at the time and that there was a large storm drain under the road with steps to both buildings, the likely truth was probably resolved, being 95% likely.
And on the 120th birthday bash on 7 October another wonderful community story was told.
We know that there are two theatres inside the building – the larger Hippodrome and the smaller Playhouse, now tenanted by the Niamos arts centre – and that the Hippodrome opened a year before the Playhouse – 1901 and 1902.
The assumption was that they were built in different years. Or were they? The story is that both might have been built in 1901, but for the first year the owners tried something different with the smaller space, and only when their experiment didn’t work did the smaller building open as a second theatre.
And remember that, up to 1905 when they swapped their names overnight, the smaller theatre was called the Hippodrome and the larger theatre was the Junction.
And what was a hippodrome, back in the day? Well, the idea was for people to be entertained by watching acts with horses, in the same way that a travelling circus with tents would include animal acts such as tigers and lions. In ancient Roman and Greek times a hippodrome was built for people to watch horse and chariot races.
Remember too, this is in 1901 before there were strict rules about animal welfare and rights, or for protecting endangered species. For example, Belle Vue in east Manchester had a zoo with animal displays until 1977. And so the story goes … the smaller Playhouse space was actually built at the same time in 1901 and for its first year it was used for animal displays until, losing money, it was changed by the owners to be a theatre space.
Tony Baldwinson, October 2021