A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ROUNDHOUSE
The Roundhouse is the famous Victorian steam engine shed
that became a legendary venue in the 1960s and 70s. This
Grade II* listed building is one of English Heritage’s
Most Important Buildings at Risk. Always ground-breaking,
this is where punk and glam rock started, where the Doors
played their only British gig, where theatre took on a new
and accessible identity.
1846 - Designed by Robert Dockray and built
by George Stephenson (of 'Rocket' fame), the Roundhouse is
built as a railway engine shed for the London and North Western
Railway. The building is justly celebrated as a marvellous
feat of civil engineering.
1856 - New, longer locomotives make the
1869 - W S Gilbey of Gilbey's Gin takes
the lease on the Roundhouse and it becomes a liquor warehouse.
Fifty years later, the lease expires and is not renewed.
The building becomes redundant again.
1964 - Louis Mintz gives the remaining
16 years lease to Centre 42, an arts forum with ties to the
TUC. Under the artistic direction of Arnold Wesker, Centre
42 asserts that art should be made available “beyond
the commercial world of entertainment and should be subsidised
and not forced to pay for itself.”
1965 - The Round House Trust is formed
to facilitate the artistic vision of Centre 42. Robert Maxwell
becomes treasurer. Various fundraising drives are initiated,
but the responses are uniformly disappointing.
1967 - Mary Wilson hosts a tea party at
10 Downing Street to raise funds. More successful is the
rental of the Roundhouse. The building becomes an exciting
venue for pop concerts, parties and other events. As a base
for Centre 42, however, financial problems continue to dominate.
1968 - Peter Brook premieres his celebrated
version of The Tempest. Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson
Airplane and The Doors play to
1969 - Tony Richardson's famous Hamlet with
Nicol Williamson. Stephen Berkoff's Metamorphoses and The
Penal Colony. Pink Floyd, Family and Fairport
Convention play a benefit concert. The Roundhouse
continues to feature a cutting-edge programme of theatre,
opera, pop and classical concerts.
1970 - Kenneth Tynan's celebrated Oh Calcutta!.
Jean Louis Barrault's production of Rabelais. Other
successes include Godspell and Catch My Soul,
the rock opera version of Othello by Braham Murray
and Jack Good.
1972 - Arnold Wesker resigns amid ongoing
pressure to compromise his artistic vision in order to raise
revenue. George Hoskins continues to feature wild and exciting
performances, amongst them Julien Beck's Living Theater and
Ariane Mnouchkine's famous Théâtre du Soleil
1977 - Thelma Holt becomes Artistic Director
of the Roundhouse. Burdened by ever-increasing debt and the
Roundhouse's growing reputation as a centre for the drug
culture, she prioritises the building's use as a theatre,
and launches a programme to solve its many problems, including
acoustics and seating. To finance this conversion, Holt holds
many benefit concerts and brings in the best of provincial
theatre. Productions include Helen Mirren and Bob Hoskins
in The Duchess of Malfi, Vanessa Redgrave in The
Lady for the Sea and Max Wall in Waiting for Godot.
1981 - Thelma Holt persuades the Greater
London Council to subsidise the Roundhouse for £120,000
annually. This is not as much as she needs and economies
have to be made.
1983 - The Roundhouse closes due to insufficient
funding and the Round House Trust is wound up. Camden Council
and the GLC buy the freehold. The building is set to house
a Black Arts Centre with a permanent Black Theatre Company.
The project finally collapses in 1990, however, amid recriminations
from all sides.
1992 - A formal tender is offered by Camden
Council but none of the proposals reaches the bidding target
set by Camden. One problem is that the car park next to the
building is no longer included with the building’s
freehold. In the end the building is sold to Keatway who
plan to convert it into a multi-functional arts centre.
1995 - The conversion by Keatway fails
to materialise and the Royal Institute of British Architects
make a successful bid for the building. The Roundhouse is
not considered an 'ideal place' to house RIBA's permanent
collection, however, and the Department of National Heritage
turn down their funding application.
1996 - The Roundhouse is bought by the
Norman Trust, a private charitable trust. Performances by Elvis
Costello, Suede and the Bluetones confirm
its place in London’s music scene.
1998 - A new Roundhouse Trust is established.
The National Theatre’s Oh What a Lovely War,
STOMP! and The Michael Clark Dance Company revitalise the
Roundhouse as a seminal venue.
1999-2000 - The extraordinary
Argentinean company De La Guarda complete
the longest run in Roundhouse history.
2000 - The Roundhouse Trust takes on management
of the building and a bid for National Lottery funding is
launched to help establish an International Performing Arts
Venue and Creative Centre for Young People. Work with young
2001 - Bounce!, The Ballet Boyz and
Artangel’s Because I Sing complete short sell-out seasons. The
Undercroft establishes itself as a fantastic venue for exhibitions
and small shows including Pompeii, Imaginary Light and Fevered
2002 - Royal Shakespeare Company performs The
Winter’s Tale, The Tempest and Pericles;
San Francisco's ground-breaking Antenna Theater stage Euphor!um London
International Festival of Theatre present Australian
company acrobat as part of Child Proof season;
and Michael Moore presents Michael
Moore Live! The Roundhouse’s Creative Projects
work with young people – laying the foundations for
the new Roundhouse Studios – continues with young
people from across London participating in a wide range
of artistic projects.
2004 Construction begins
2006 1 June – Roundhouse opens to
the public with ‘Fuerzabruta’ in the Main Space
and ‘The Foolish Young Man’ in the Studio 42