The Bristol Hippodrome, the city’s very own West End theatre, opened its doors on the 16th December 1912 when the curtain rose for the first time on what was generally agreed to be Oswald Stoll’s most magnificent provincial theatre.
It is a superb example of the grand architecture of the late Victorian era and is one of the masterpieces of design by Frank Matcham, the most eminent theatre architect of his time.
One of Matcham’s spectacular features included the provision of a huge water tank constructed in front of the stage, which could be filled within one minute by 100,000 gallons of water, allowing the theatre to combine three forms of entertainment – stage, circus and aquatic. To protect the orchestra and those sitting in the front Stalls from the heavy spray which resulted from some of those effects, an enormous glass screen could be raised by the single movement of a lever.
A unique feature within the theatre, which unlike the water tank still survives today, is the dome in the roof above the stalls, which can be opened to reveal the sky above. Now that the auditorium is air-cooled the dome is rarely used, but many audiences have marvelled at this event during intervals and still request its opening, which to our knowledge is the only operating dome still functioning this way in the UK
Towards the beginning of the century, the theatre staged a variety of acts as a Music Hall. Since then, and due to the fact that it has one of the largest theatre stages in Britain, The Bristol Hippodrome has established itself on the touring circuit for all major musical productions, thus becoming known as Bristol’s West End Theatre.