The Hippodrome Theatre, Seaside Road, opened in 1883 as the New Theatre Royal and Opera House, having been granted a Royal Patent by the Prince of Wales.
Mr. C.J. Phipps, a London architect who designed a number of theatres, was asked to draw plans and help raise finance for the scheme. The interior of the new theatre was partly modelled on his, now famous, Savoy Theatre in London. Before the end of the century, most of the famous theatrical personalities of the time had appeared at the theatre, including Ellen Terry and Richard d’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Opera Company.
In 1904 the theatre was renamed the Eastbourne Hippodrome and began a period of twice nightly variety shows. Among those performing before WW1 were Ada Reeve, Harry Houdini (who made a well publicised escape from Eastbourne police cells), Harry Tate, Marie Lloyd, Hetty King, Robb Wilton and Fred Karno’s Famous Troupe. Between the wars the theatre adapted and put on a number of different entertainments, including plays and films. And such stars as Vic Oliver, Cyril Fletcher, and Elsie and Doris Waters, then billed as ‘Stars of Radio’, appeared.
In the late 50s and early 60s, the theatre was bought by Eastbourne Borough Council and still the variety stars kept coming, including Tommy Trinder, Vera Lynn, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Ken Dodd, Roy Hudd, and Bruce Forsythe, who was appearing at the Royal Hippodrome when he was called up to compere Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
Unfortunately, the Theatre has now seen better days and needs major investment in order to bring the building back to its former glory. But that said, the Council, in 2008 after regaining control of the theatre from a long term leaseholder, invested a great deal of money in new electrics, boiler and alarm system to ensure that it met all licensing requirements. As owners of the building, they are still responsible for the structure and have recently indicated the importance of the site as a part of Eastbourne’s tourism scene.