Culture / Inspiration

Hackney Empire, a trip down memory lane

Hackney Empire opened in 1901 and since then, this iconic venue has played host to an impressive range of global superstars, from Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong through to The Rolling Stones. The theatre is a North London institution, and so we felt it was only right to take a trip down memory lane and explore how far the theatre has come in its extraordinary 122-year history…

The landmark building was designed by architect Frank Matcham, who was also responsible for numerous other venues in the capital such as the London Palladium and Victoria Palace Theatre. The Grade II Listed Hackney Empire is one of the largest theatres in the city, with a capacity of over 1,600 people standing for gigs, and almost 1,300 seats.

Over the years, the building has been used as a theatre, a music hall, and even a bingo hall. In the early 1910s, Hackney Empire was famous because it was here that one of the world’s first purpose-built projection boxes was installed; people travelled from far and wide to watch some of the earliest black and white films.

The Hackney Empire was closed was in 2001 for a three-year restoration project, costing £17 million. The money was generated through public funding as well as huge individual donations from celebrities such as Lord Alan Sugar, who has a personal connection with the theatre due to his parents often taking him there as a child. The purpose of the restoration project was to preserve the original features of the building whilst installing modern facilities and equipment that is still used to this day.

Fast forward to 2023, and the theatre – now a registered charity – is entertaining people of all ages and tastes through its varied programme of classical theatre, dance and comedy (to name just a few). In addition, the venue serves as a vital community space, offering educational programs, workshops, and outreach initiatives that engage with local residents and support emerging talent.

Hackney Empire is located on Mare Street and easily accessible from Woodberry Down. Head over to Stamford Hill station, just a 19-minute walk away, where you’ll catch the train to London Fields. Hackney Empire is then a leisurely 10-minute walk from the station.

Hackney Empire, a trip down memory lane
Caption: @hackneyempire