The Hippodrome

Hippodrome, Bo'ness
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Hippodrome, Bo'ness

Arguably the earliest purpose-built cinema in Scotland, and certainly the oldest still in regular use since its restoration of 2007-8, the A-listed Hippodrome is located on Hope Street in Bo'ness. It was constructed in 1911-12 as a collaboration between two local men: architect Matthew Steel and amateur film-maker Louis Dickson. Opened by Bo'ness Provost, Richard Grant, on 11th March 1912, at the time this venture was not without risk and the original scheme comprised little more than the circular auditorium, with a small stage, three dressing rooms - so the building could be used for music hall, presumably if cinema proved less popular than envisaged - and a small orchestra pit. The plans suggested toilets were "to be built later". The auditorium was modified in the 1920s, with the original leaking flat roof being replaced by a shallow dome, which also improved the poor acoustics. In the late 1920s a concrete fire-proof projection room was inserted, which was enlarged in 1947. Around 1936 the angular block containing a manager's office, ticket office and toilets was added to the front of the building. The building became a bingo hall in the 1970s and lay unused from the late 1980s, with the old cinema projectors still in place and the fabric slowly decaying. It was gifted to the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust in 1996, who have undertaken the restoration in conjunction with Bo'ness Townscape Heritage Initiative at a cost of £1.7 million. The pre-Art Deco decorative scheme, dating from the 1920s, is being reconstructed and original fittings, including seats, signage and sanitary-ware in the toilets are being refurbished and re-used. Strangely the auditorium was designed with windows, now blocked by light and sound-proof shutters.

The building re-opened in 2008 under the management of Falkirk Council, serving as a cinema in the evenings while providing exhibition and community space during the day. The capacity is 400 patrons, rather less than the 725 for which the cinema was originally designed.

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