February 2019 Hilights
Accounts by Dave Davis who used to work at the theatre.
There is a story from the 80’s about a crew member taking a short cut to work up the fire exit (Outside – down the left hand alley) and being confronted by a black mass when he went onto the fly floor. The black mass stayed and he had to go out the way he had come.
There is a white boudoir grand piano on the scene dock, that belonged to Russ Conway that supposedly used to play itself. The only thing that I’ve ever got to support this is that two or three times I’ve recorded a very high pitched piano note, repeating, faintly. Not audible by ear …..only on tape.
The crew room used to originally be under the stage and people walking on the stage above could be heard when no one was in the building. We’re talking 80’s/90’s still with this one. The only time I’ve ever experienced this was when I was giving a health and safety talk at the beginning of an investigation, they were sat in the first 3 rows of the stalls and I had my back to the stage, leant against the orchestra pit. All of a sudden, the sound of someone running onto the stage and across it (to the middle) interrupted me. The safety curtain was out, so I jumped onto the stage and ran about a bit – but there was no one else in the building.
Another time members from another group were in the rehearsal room, setting up equipment, and footsteps thundered up to them. Really unnerved them.
Another time, on stage, on the scene dock – they were filming for “Art Of The Ghosthunter” and it sounded as if someone threw a bucket of rocks at them, really loud and unexplained. I was there, it was a good one.
Another tale from the early 90’s involved the manager’s office (by the bar.) Mr.Ebdy was leaving the office, shut the door, locked it ……………realised he’d forgotten something ….. re-opened it, went back in and the room was trashed. Within a few seconds, everything had been thrown everywhere. No windows open. This was a one off, I’ve not heard or experienced anything similar happening since.
There used to be reported the sound of chains or keys moving around the theatre. I have not heard this myself.
The other stuff I have, is to do with sudden loud noises – one time when investigating the Grand Terrace, there was just three of us, and the sound of someone thundering through the lighting box gave us quite a start!! Couldn’t explain that one. Similarly the door at the bottom of the stairs (the ones that go all the way to the top) opened infront of me, as if someone was coming through, carrying a load of stuff. There was no one there! Foxed me that one! Have a look, those doors are mega heavy, and I was 2 feet in front of them when they opened.
The Royal Hippodrome Theatre opened on Thursday 2 August 1883. At the time Eastbourne was emerging as a highly fashionable destination, encouraged by regular visits from 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.
Its original name “Theatre Royal and Opera House” survived for about 20 years but from around 1904 it became The Royal Hippodrome Theatre. The reason for the name change is unclear, but it seems to mirror a change in style and use.
In the early days plays and light opera (including the touring company of the D’Oyly Carte) were presented but gradually these gave way to music hall and variety shows. Vesta Tilley appeared on a bill here in May 1903 and the theatre attracted the star names throughout the music hall era: Harry Houdini, Albert Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Flanagen & Allen, and of course, Max Miller all worked this popular venue.
Although the foyer was substantially remodelled during the 1930s, the auditorium remains much as it was in 1883.
The theatre closed for part of the Second World War. The streets to the east became known as “Hellfire Corner” as they were heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe. The theatre itself escaped a direct hit, almost miraculously since the Lion pub and Caffyn’s motor garage only yards away were obliterated; however blast damage caused much of the theatre’s original ornate plaster work to be damaged beyond repair, and later this had to be removed.
The theatre continued in private ownership until 1958 when, with declining audience numbers, the company was forced to look for a buyer. Around that time Southern TV were interested in purchasing the building for a TV studio but negotiations fell through and the building was bought by Eastbourne Borough Council..