The Hippodrome

The Cambridgeshire Times   FEBRUARY 8TH 1929



Features Described

A thrill of pleasurable surprise will undoubtedly be experienced by everyone on visiting for the first time the magnificent new Hippodrome which has been erected in Dartford-road, March, and which will be opened on Tuesday next.

The building must be one of the finest of its kind in East Anglia, and it is evident that no expense has been spared in its construction or its equipment, the cost having run to something over £20,000.  The great theatre itself has been designed on the most up-to-date lines, and has been decorated lavishly but with perfect taste, presenting quite a picture to the eye.  In every other respect, too, the scheme has been carried out on generous lines, and it must be acknowledged that in its new Hippodrome March possesses an amusement house of which it has reason to be proud.                                                                                                                                                                  The enterprise reflects great credit upon the propriety company, March Amusements Ltd., the directors of which are Sir Walter West, Mr. H. Bancroft (Wisbech) and Mr. Stanley Pilgrim (March).  It also does infinite credit to the architect, Mr. Burdett Ward (Wisbech) and to the builders, Messrs. J. Eggitt & Sons (March). The Hippodrome has its frontage in Dartford road, with side entrance in Darthill-road, and over it at the corner, in large gilt letters, is to be placed the contracted word “Hippo.,” illuminated with flood lights. To adequately describe the features and beauties of the building is no easy matter, but the following account will give an idea of the scene that has been so successfully carried out.                                          


At the main entrance in Dartford-road, a most attractive frontage has been erected.  It is carried out in artificial stonework, relieved with dentils and cornices, and is surmounted by a pediment bearing the monogram of the company.  Two pairs of side swing doors give access to the foyer.  These doors are of English oak, glazed with plate glass, and above them is a large radial leaded light in ruby glass. 

The foyer is spacious, being 30ft. wide and ?6ft. long.  The floor is of red Doloment, with three steps at the approach to the auditorium, on which stand four brass-banded tubs containing growing shrubs.  The walls are plastered, with tasteful cornice  decorations, and there are ten panels, with oak mouldings which are to contain oil paintings of scenes in the town and district.  The ceiling is panelled out with beams, and each section has a moulded plaster cornice.  The walls are decorated in old gold and lemon, and the ceiling is white.  Three pretty bowls of blue parchment glass contain the electric lights, which are suspended from the middle of the ceiling, and four brackets have globes to match. Opening from the foyer on the left is the manager’s office, the front of which is tastefully executed in wood, having fluted columns and pillars, while the upper portion has leaded lights of ruby glass.

Beyond the office is the main staircase leading to the balcony and the rest of the upper floor, while at the end of the foyer are three swing doors which open into the auditorium.  The doors are of polished English oak, and they are surmounted by a panel in oak, representing Egyptian architecture. 

The staircase, in keeping with the rest of the building, is a handsome one.  It consists of three broad flights of Terazza step with an oak handrail on forged wrought iron balustrading.  Up two flights of the stairs there is a wide landing, at the end of which is a buffet, with kitchen attached, fitted with every modern convenience.  On the same level, extending over the foyer,is a lounge ? feet square, which is shut off from the rest of the premises by a partition and doors.  This will be let for private parties, while on Wednesdays and Saturdays it is intended to use it as a café for the convenience of patrons from the outlying districts.  The room has a polished oak floor, specially laid to render it suitable for dancing. Its decorative scheme and its lighting are similar to those of the foyer, while a window extends across the full frontage.  At the top of the third flight of stairs a pair of swing doors give admittance to the balcony.

Inside the theatre itself the scene which meets the eye is delightful in the extreme, the beautiful design of the building, together with its decoration and furnishing, being as near perfection as one would hope to see.  The ground floor measures 72ft. by 67ft., and has seating accommodation for 650 persons.  The floor is on the swept principle, with a wall of five feet, from back to front, and the radial seating,
of  comfortable and elegant tip-up chairs, is so arranged that the view from each chair is between the heads of persons on the row immediately in front.  Excepting in the front portion, the floor is covered with Wilton carpet of Turkey pattern and colouring, and similar carpeting extends along all the gangways.
The walls are panelled like those in the foyer, the panels being treated in tangerine, with a black line around, and the rest of the walls in old gold.  There is a dado in chocolate brown, with a vermilion line above it.  The only pillar supporting the balcony, is a five-inch solid steel column placed beneath the great compound rolled-steel joint on which the main weight of the balcony rests.  In passing, it may be of interest to know that the balcony has been tested with a weight of 2 tons 15cwt. per four square feet, a test which it stood perfectly.  The ceiling beneath the balcony has been rendered domical in shape, greatly improving its appearance.  It has a decorated plaster cornice, and there are similar enrichments around two large gilded air-grids connected with the ventilating system.
Entering by the balcony doors the view is even more striking than that presented on entering the auditorium, the beautiful features of the building and its decorations here showing to greater advantage.  One cannot but admire the graceful shape of the balcony front, terminating on either hand in two picturesque semi-circular boxes.  The balcony extends over a considerable portion of the auditorium, and it has a Bison patent concrete fire-proof floor.  There are eight terraces, each carrying a row of tip-up chairs, and the seating accommodation is for 424 persons.  The whole of the floor and the passage ways are covered with Turkey pattern carpet.
The shaped front of the balcony is charmingly executed in moulded plaster work, with enriched cornices, while the decoration is carried out in ivory and gold.  A shaped capping, in oak, 11 inches wide, surmounts the balcony front, which, on the inside, is panelled in oak. 
The two boxes on each flank of the balcony are most attractively designed.  They are roofed with imitation rock, with plaster ornamentation in front, from which hangs a pelmet in blue and gold plush.  The boxes are divided by partitions and curtains, and one of them has a private approach from a corridor.
The walls of the balcony are similarly treated, as regards the panels and decoration, to those in the auditorium, and on each side there are two segment and inverted windows.
The fine ceiling is segment in shape, with four main ribs, the latter being finished in decorative plaster work, while the ceiling itself is of Canadian gypsum rock.  Surrounding the ceiling is a moulded dentil and an “egg and tongue” cornice, relieved by the tiers which support the roof trusses.  Four gilded grids to ventilating shafts are placed in the ceiling, with enriched plasterwork surrounds.  The ceiling and the frieze above the wall decorations are painted white.  A very pretty decorative feature is provided by six large shades, of fireproof silk, in the form of lamps, which contain the powerful electric lights that are suspended from the roof, and there are numerous wall brackets
with lamps to match.
Looking towards the stage the most beautiful decoration of all is seen on the two flank walls between the boxes and the stage.  Here two very large panels have been hand-painted with very striking pictorial effect, a trellis design having been executed on a background of blue, with Wisterias hanging from the trellis work.  In the centre of these panels Pantotrope organs of original design have been built in.  These organs are electrically controlled from the orchestra pit, and they have a wonderful range of sound.
The proscenium front is in enriched plaster work, picked out in gold and Tangerene.  The curtains and pelmets are of blue plush,
with gold enrichments, and the orchestra curtain is of the same material.  The orchestra pit is at a lower level than
the auditorium, and has a hollow wood floor for considerations of sound.
There are three exits from the auditorium – that into the foyer and two others opening onto Darthill-road.  The one of the latter nearer to the stage serves as the pit entrance, having a pay-box beside it, and here also are lavatories for both sexes, with wash-basins served with hot and cold water.  From the balcony also three exits are provided, opening on to fire-proof concrete staircases, and the one
nearer the stage leads to the lavatories and to a corridor, which gives access to the private box.
The stage is a large one, measuring 46ft. by 22ft., and on each flank is a limelight platform, with full equipment for the production of beautiful lighting effects.  The stage is also well furnished with scenery, comprising picturesque exterior and interior scenes.  Suspended above the stage are three inverted trough reflectors, which can be raised and lowered as required.  Each trough contains 54 100-candle-power electric lights, and there are 32 footlights of equal power.  On the east side of the stage is the property entrance, three feet above the level of the road outside, thus facilitating unloading.  On this side of the building are also the artistes’ dressing rooms and lavatories, the latter fitted with hand-basins, supplied with hot and cold water.   
The whole space beneath the stage is allocated to a store room, on the left of which is the orchestra dressing room.
On the east side of the store room, are the boiler house and fuel store, these being of fireproof
construction, with a door of solid asbestos.  A large boiler supplies the hot water to the numerous radiators by means of which the building is effectively heated, and there is an auxiliary equipment for supplying the wash-basins when the heating system is not required. 
Ventilation has received special attention, a modern system having been installed whereby 7,000 cubic feet of air can be extracted in a minute. Above the gilded grids in the ceiling are large ducts, varying from 18 to 36 inches, all leading into a main pipe, the outlet of which is fitted with a large fan.  A touch of the electrical switch in the manager’s office speedily clears the building of foul air, and fresh air which takes its place is admitted behind the radiators, and is thus warmed before it enters the building. 
Electricity for lighting, etc., is supplied by a powerful plant which is housed in a detached building and from which no noise reaches the theatre.  The engine is a 26 h.p. Blackstone Deisel, coupled direct to a generator, and a large set of accumulators affords ample storage for electricity. 
Fire-fighting equipment has been provided in the shape of a service of pipes and hose at three points - one on the stage, one in the auditorium and one on the balcony.  Fire extinguishers and fire buckets are also placed about the premises.
The cinematographic operating room is located at the rear of the balcony , and the apertures in the wall are fitted with steel shutters which can be closed from inside or outside the box.  The only means of access is a “cat” ladder, the foot of which is in a small chamber situated in the corner of the foyer.  Both this chamber and the operating room and the re-winding room above are of fire-proof construction, having 18in. walls, and being fitted with asbestos doors.  Two of Gaumont’s latest Eclipse projectors are installed, with the necessary electrical equipment.  Both the stage and the operating box are connected by telephone with the manager’s office.