Book your Silver Sunday over 65s free tour of notable buildings around Covent Garden this Sunday

Royal Opera House extension

This Sunday, October 3rd at 10am, enjoy a free tour of some of Westminster’s most celebrated buildings, presented by London Open House in association with Westminster Council (and participating building owners),

This fun and engaging walking tour — organised by Open House as part of Westminster City Council’s Inside Out festival — focuses on the capital’s cultural heartland in-and-around Covent Garden.

Dubbed High Notes and the High Life, High Art and the High Street, the entertaining and insightful route — led by former Royal National Theatre head of tours Alison Rae — charts the unique and often overlooked history behind Westminster’s great theatres, galleries and cultural complexes.

Revisiting these iconic locations as London re-opens its theatres and cultural delights — the tour will explore the enigmatic surroundings of Covent Garden where high art mixes with street performance, retail with relaxation and world-renowned icons such as the National Gallery and Royal Opera House rub shoulders with the informality of cultural diversions in Trafalgar Square and the Piazza.

The route charts the development of the area from a ‘convent’ garden of Westminster Abbey into residences for the gentry, and then from supplier of the nation’s fruit and veg to a key London destination. It also follows the evolution of west Strand from Royal Mews into the focal point of national celebration, and the re-purposing of Somerset House from 18th century home of Learned Societies to Arts hub housing over 100 creative and cultural enterprises. 

As well as introducing the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in its refreshed livery, there are newer attractions and hidden gems to be discovered along the way. This walking tour focuses on how the area has responded to change over the years, adapted and developed to create the vibrant mix of activity we see today.

Highlights of the tour include the Theatre Royal Drury Lane — representing four centuries of continuous theatre use from Sir Christopher Wren’s first theatre on the site to Benjamin Wyatt’s 1812 building which now houses the majority of the public foyer spaces.

This landmark building recently reopened following a major overhaul by architect Haworth Tompkins which restored its historic lobby spaces to their former grand configuration and made the 1920s auditorium more welcoming and effective for contemporary audiences.

Other highlights include the Royal Opera House which has recently been transformed by Stanton Williams Architects — opening up what had previously been a fairly constrained set of spaces to the world outside. The architect’s new Bow Street extension now presents a welcoming public face to the building while the expanded and interlinked foyer spaces breathe new energy into front-of-house areas.

Providing a safe and fun way for enthusiastic urbanists aged 65 and over to explore the city, this tour will explore the architecture and history of Westminster’s cultural heartland and is presented by Open House as part of Westminster City Council’s Inside Out festival.

Meet: 10am on the River Terrace (facing the river Waterloo Bridge end) at Somerset House WC2R 0RN. Ends at Dury Lane. Duration: 2.5 hrs approx. BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL. Participants must be over 65 and bring proof.

The tour is scheduled to last approximately two and a half hours and finish at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

You can find out more details here book tickets here (while available- as this will undoubtedly sell out!).

Online discussion – Preserving Performance: Collecting at the Harry Ransom Center

A note for your diary today! Here’s an interesting discussion with Dr Eric Colleary, Cline Curator of Theatre & Performing Arts titled Preserving Performance: Collecting at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas in Austin. Texas. It’s another great free online event courtesy of the Friends University of Bristol Collection and runs today, 30 September, from 5.30pm to 6.45pm BST.

The Center holds one of the largest collections of American, British, and Irish playwright archives including the papers of David Hare, Lillian Hellman, Adrienne Kennedy, Terrence McNally, Arthur Miller, John Osborne, J. B. Priestley, Elmer Rice, Tom Stoppard, and Tennessee Williams, along with significant collections of writers like Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Shepard, and Oscar Wilde. Visitors to the Reading and Viewing Room can access over 1,100 audio and video recordings of Stella Adler’s master classes on acting and script interpretation, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook for Richard III, Harry Houdini’s love letters to his wife Bess, and epic scene designs by artists like Boris Aronson, Norman Bel Geddes, Gordon Conway, and Eldon Elder.

There will be time for questions also.

You can register here

Sarah Siddons and Brecon’s theatre history explored in online presentation

Statue of Sarah Siddons, sculpted in 1897 by Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud, located at Paddington Green, London

At 3pm BST this Saturday, October 2nd, there’s a rare chance to learn about theatre history in Brecon, Wales, and to hear about the Brecon-born theatrical sensation that was Sarah Siddons in a free live and online event.

Jayne Gold, a Guildhall School lecturer, is progressing research on theatre in Brecon as part of her PhD. at University of Bristol, and will discuss her latest discoveries relating to Brecon’s theatre traditions. Alongside her, Catherine Hindson, Professor of Theatre History at Bristol, will discuss some of the wider contexts of 18th and 19th century provincial theatre.

The online and in-person event will be complemented by an examination of some of the items in the collection at the Brecknock Museum which are linked to the greatest actor of her day, Sarah Siddons. Attendees will also enjoy a live re-creation of some of the area’s theatrical story.

This free event is presented both live at The Muse, Glamorgan Street, Brecon, (in-person attendance sold out) and online via YouTube – you can watch here

EXTRA You can also hear Jayne Gold talk about her research in a short audio piece called Brecon Stories which you can find here

Why Do Historic Places Matter? New report explores the emotional meaning of our heritage

We all know that historic places matter, but this deep dive into the “why”s is useful and exhilarating reading.

Produced by Professor Rebecca Madgin from the Urban Studies Department at the University of Glasgow, this report on emotional attachments to urban heritage is now generally available online, and it’s a great read. The report considers emotional responses, emotional communities and how/why people form attachments to the personalities of historic places.

This report is incredibly useful for any organisation running or aiming to revive a heritage or historic building.

Highly recommended!

Find the report here

“It can’t survive another winter….” Please help TODAY to save Hulme Hippodrome

Photo via Victorian Society website

The much-neglected Hulme Hippodrome has had good news in recent days. Its recent listing as an Asset of Community Value (ACV) may just be the turning point in its beleaguered history.

The 1900-seat theatre was built in 1901, and in 1902 another theatre, the Pavilion was built right alongside, with the adjoining arcade housing the head offices of the important Broadhead circuit of theatres, who built and owned both theatres. The Hippodrome also contains another large space, the Floral Hall, as big again as the theatre. So I am sure that you can imagine this is a major combination of buildings, significant for many reasons – both architectural and historical.

Hulme Hippodrome was last used for theatre in the 1960s and then bingo from the mid-1970s until its closure in 1986, from which time it has deteriorated due to non-use and lack of regular maintenance. Hulme Hippodrome has been on the Theatres at Risk Register each year since 2006, when they started the list.

Those wanting to know the full backstory can read it at the ever-dependable Theatres Trust website here.

A religious organisation bought the Hippodrome and operated out of the foyer until the Council slapped a Dangerous Buildings notice on them, during which time the building has been slowly decaying with no upkeep apparent. After invasion by squatters caused further damage, the building was later cleared and secured.

Recently the building was subject to a number of quick attempted sales at inflated prices. However, these sales were stopped and are being investigated as having not disclosed the building being Grade II listed and misleadingly offering it for redevelopment.

The Save the Hulme Hippodrome campaign group was started at the start of 2021 in response to these attempted sales. It has raised a significant amount by Crowdfunding from supporters (including myself), and campaigned for the Hippodrome to become an Asset of Community Value (ACV), which was agreed in mid-August.

Working in partnership with the Theatres Trust, the group has created an sensible and ambitious vision, a detailed and costed Action Plan for the restoration of the building including phased community uses from the earliest safe point possible and is well-placed to further explore that, given appropriate support.

The religious group which owned the buildings before these recent attempted sales may well find the Hippodrome back in its ownership. However, in 2017 the leader of the group was indicted to Africa on charges of child trafficking.

The group is now lobbying the Charities Commission and asks for your help too.

The Group says: “We expect that senior managers at the Charity Commission will be meeting in the next few days to decide whether the building remains with the disgraced charity and is allowed to continue to rot, or whether the Charity Commission will intervene and use their legal powers to hand over the building to an organisation which will secure it and bring it back into community use.

We hope that you will be able to assist us in rescuing the building from dereliction and ensure its future as a community asset. We are encouraging all our supporters to make their feelings known today to the Charity Commission, and a template letter is available in the link below to send. Please share this far and wide.”

You can find the template letter here or find it reproduced in full for you to cut and paste below

I’ve sent my email.

Will you please send yours?

Thank You for your help in trying to bring Hulme Hippodrome back from the brink.


Dear Helen Stephenson

Hulme Hippodrome and Gilbert Deya Ministries (Charity ref# 1051722)

I am writing to request that the Commission acts promptly to intervene on or before the 30 September 2021 to facilitate the return of the Hulme Hippodrome building to the community before it becomes derelict beyond repair. It will not withstand the damages of another winter.

You will be aware that HM Land Registry (HMLR) have now issued a “warning of cancellation” and have written to the solicitors of parties in the chain, saying the pending sales will collapse on 30 September 2021 because of non-compliance with Rule 16 of the Land Registry Rules 2003 unless there is full compliance beforehand. If this happens, the default is that the building would revert to the disgraced GDM charity.

I am asking you to use your powers given by Parliament to secure Hulme Hippodrome and place it fairly with a responsible organisation which will protect the building and ensure it becomes an active community asset once again.

Save Hulme Hippodrome Ltd (SHH) is a non-profit company and has been leading the campaign to save the Hulme Hippodrome, a Grade 2 listed building and has the support of the Manchester City Council. SHH has a detailed and costed Action Plan for the restoration of the building including phased community uses from the earliest safe point possible. SHH has followed legal advice and attempted to negotiate a fair use of the building in utmost good faith with the current owner/s, but nothing at all was forthcoming.

SHH has been actively seeking to rescue the Hippodrome since January 2021 when they uncovered a complicated chain of sales of the building leading to a failed attempt to auction the Grade 2 historic theatre for development. Through their actions the building is now legally registered as an Asset of Community Value. SHH has obtained a RICS-compliant independent valuation and this has been shared with Charity Commission officers and the Interim Managers. I hope that you will be able to assist here in rescuing the building from dereliction and ensure its future as a community asset.

Yours sincerely

UPDATE 30 September

I have just received this from the Charities Commission

Dear Mr Donaldson,

Thank you for your recent email to our Chief Executive, Helen Stephenson, in relation to Floral Hall/The Hulme Hippodrome. As the Head of Investigations, your concerns were passed to me and I am responding on the CEO’s behalf.

In your email, you raised concerns about the sale of the Hulme Hippodrome building and, in particular, the upcoming deadline that HM Land Registry (HMLR) have given the buyer to provide further information. 

The Charity Commission has considered the validity of the sale and concluded that it was a valid sale (disposal of land), in accordance with the Charities Act 2011. Despite the failure by the charity to comply with some of the statutory requirements, the sale was valid. The sale was also considered by appointed Interim Managers of the charity, and they reached the same conclusion. Therefore, the current buyer/owners will remain responsible for it, and the Commission no longer have a regulatory role in the matter.  This would be subject to change should new evidence be received about the validity of the sale. We would, in that instance, take appropriate action, as necessary.  

In consideration of the HMLR’s letter to K & K Solicitors, we note the ongoing objection. Our understanding of the “Warning of cancellation” is that the HMLR will cancel the application to register title unless they receive a full reply to their requisitionsThe letter also set out what will happen if an application is cancelled.  It has been noted that it did not include the sale being considered invalid or being set aside.

We have, therefore, advised the Secretary of Save the Hulme Hippodrome to contact the HMLR about this matter.

Thank you again for writing to us to express your concerns.

Yours sincerely,
Amy Spiller
Head of Investigations
Charities Commission