Essoldo Bishop Auckland

27 Railway Street,
Bishop Auckland, DL14 7LR

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Essoldo Bishop Auckland 1962

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Hippodrome Theatre opened in December 1909. Designed by Darlington architect J.J. Taylor, with George W. Ward of the architectural firm Owen & Ward. Inside the auditorium there were two balconies and a box on each side of the proscenium. The square proscenium was 24 feet wide, and the stage was 48 feet deep. Films were part of the variety bill from the early days.

In 1920 some alterations were carried out by architect William Stockdale and it became a full time cinema, re-named Hippodrome Picture House. By 1937, it is listed with 900 seats, the upper balcony having been closed off.

It was taken over by the Newcastle based, Essoldo group of cinemas in 1947 and re-named Essoldo. Closed as a cinema in 1966, it was converted into a Lucky Bingo Club, then Ladbokes took over and it became a Lucky 7 Bingo Club. Later operated as a Top Rank Bingo Club, it remains open as an independent Hippodrome Bingo Club. A false ceiling has now been extended across the auditorium beneath the upper circle, so the original paster ceiling and upper parts of the theatre are no longer visible.

It was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage in April 2012.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

terry on December 14, 2008 at 12:38 pm

The stage is about 30 feet deep and certainly not 48 feet.

The last film to play here in 1966 was ‘Around The World Under The Sea'starring Lloyd Bridges, Shirley Eaton and David McCallum.

terry on December 14, 2008 at 12:48 pm

It was one of the theatres commissioned by the famous entrepreneur, Signor Pepi:–

He started building a chain of theatres. After Barrow came Blackpool(acquired by ABC as the Hippodrome and rebuilt in 1963 as the ABC – ‘Europe’s most luxurious theatre’ and from where many lavish live shows were televised) and then Carlisle. Then, early in 1907, in partnership with the Birmingham theatre specialist George Ward, he began work on an “Opera House and Empire” on some recently-cleared land in Parkgate, Darlington.

Within seven months, the theatre was complete and, named the New Hippodrome and Palace Theatre of Varieties, it opened on September 2.

Even as Pepi received the opening night acclaim, building was beginning on another of his hippodromes, this one in Middlesbrough, on top of an old Quaker burial ground.

After Middlesbrough came Bishop Auckland Hippodrome in 1909 followed by Shildon in 1910.

But even as it was growing, Pepi’s empire was crumbling at its peripheries. He sold off Middlesbrough after just eight months, losing £10,000 in the process. Shildon lasted a year, its disposal coinciding with the Bishop Auckland Hippodrome being declared bankrupt in 1911.

By the outbreak of the First World War, our principal character owned just two theatres: Darlington and Barrow. To make matters worse, on December 7, 1915, his wife Mary, Countess de Rossetti, died at their modest mid-terrace home in Barrow. She was only 46.

terry on February 1, 2014 at 12:57 pm

The Essoldo had a female Chief projectionist who appears in this clip from 1966

terry on May 14, 2015 at 1:17 pm

I have uploaded a photo of the ‘double front’ of the Essoldo/Hippodrome. The main sign was (as seen) actually on the side elevation which could be seen from Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland’s main thoroughfare. The original name ‘Hippodrome’ remains in terracotta below the large arched window on the Front Of House. The exterior is looking somewhat dejected on this photograph and was spruced up a short while after it was taken.

The Essoldo Company was rather prone to leaving former names on their cinemas and other examples in the North East were at Stockton (Hippodrome/Essoldo)and Gateshead (Empire/Essoldo).

terry on February 2, 2016 at 6:34 am

Auditorium photo uploaded to the relevant section.

terry on March 7, 2016 at 7:08 am

Two more images uploaded to the photos section.

terry on March 22, 2016 at 7:13 am

The suspended ceiling above the proscenium is apparent in the first auditorium photo. When the place first went over to ‘Essoldo Bingo’ in 1966 the (now unseen) ‘Gods’, which had not been used since its Variety Theatre days, was reopened (and ‘packed to the gunnels’). Players also sat on the stage – and in the aisles! Before anyone says that this was not permissible under Fire and Licensing regulations, I was told about this dangerous practice by my Mother who caught the ‘bingo craze'at a very early stage………….

The stage area is used by bingo players now but it has been specially adapted for the purpose (unlike back in 1966). This modification, like the false ceiling, is reversible and the building could easily be returned to theatrical use. I wonder if it will ever happen? In most locations bingo has now transferred to purpose built out of town establishments so,should that ever happen in Bishop Auckland, perhaps the town could have its equivalent to Darlington Civic Theatre, a former Sister ‘Hippodrome’.

terry on March 25, 2016 at 8:15 am

First impressions of photos of the auditorium as a bingo venue are of the stage having been levelled. However,upon closer examination, it can be seen that there are three steps leading up to this area at both sides.

Given that the stalls rake will have been levelled it is probable that there are another couple of steps concealed by the new flat floor and it is therefore likely that that bingo players are on the original stage.

terry on May 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm

It is 50 years since the building became a Bingo Hall :–

terry on November 26, 2017 at 5:38 am

Fine new watercolour by local artist, Eric Thompson uploaded to the photos section. The theatre is depicted as it would have appeared in 1965, one year before closure in 1966 when the town, once with three Essoldo operated venues, was left with only the Odeon which itself would disappear in 1983……..

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