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Roundhouse (venue)

Roundhouse, London
Roundhouse main entrance
Location Chalk Farm, London, England
Public transit Chalk Farm Underground
Capacity 3,300 standing. 1,700 seated
Built 1846
Opened 1964–1983 (as Centre 42)
1996–2004 (as Roundhouse)
2006 (reopened as Roundhouse)
Renovated 2004/2005

Robert Stephenson, Robert B. Dockray (1846)

John McAslan & Partners (2006)

The Roundhouse is a performing arts and concert venue situated at the Grade II* listed former railway engine shed in Chalk Farm, London, England.

It was originally built in 1847 by the London and North Western Railway as a roundhouse, a circular building containing a railway turntable, but was only used for this purpose for about a decade. After being used as a warehouse for a number of years, the building fell into disuse just before the Second World War. It reopened twenty-five years later, in 1964, as a performing arts venue, when the playwright Arnold Wesker established the Centre 42 Theatre Company and adapted the building as a theatre.[1]

This large circular structure has hosted various promotions, such as the launch of the underground paper International Times in 1966,[2] The Doors' only UK appearance in 1968,[3] and the Greasy Truckers Party in 1972.[4]

The Greater London Council ceded control of the building to the Camden London Borough Council in 1983. By that time, Centre 42 had run out of funds and the building remained unused until a local businessman purchased the building in 1996 and performing arts shows returned. It was closed again in 2004 for a multi-million pound redevelopment. On 1 June 2006, the Argentine show Fuerzabruta opened at the new Roundhouse.[1]

Since 2006, Roundhouse has hosted the BBC Electric Proms[5] and numerous iTunes Festivals,[6] as well as award ceremonies such as the BT Digital Music Awards[7] and the Vodafone Live Music Awards.[8] In 2009, Bob Dylan performed a concert, and iTunes promoted a music iTunes Festival, at the venue. In line with the continuing legacy of avant-garde productions, No Fit State Circus performed Tabu during which the audience were encouraged to move around the performance space.[9]


  • History 1
  • The Roundhouse Trust 2
  • Architecture 3
  • Bibliography 4
  • Discography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The Great Circular Engine House, or the Luggage Engine House, c.1850.[10]

The Roundhouse was built in 1846 as a turntable engine shed (or roundhouse) for the London and Birmingham Railway, and was known as the Great Circular Engine House, or the Luggage Engine House.[11] The original building was built by Branson & Gwyther, using designs by architects Robert B. Dockray and Robert Stephenson. Within ten years locomotives became too long for the building to accommodate, and the Roundhouse was used for various other purposes. The longest period of use (50 years, beginning in 1871) was as a bonded store for Gin distillers W & A Gilbey Ltd.[12][13]

In 1964 the premises were transferred to Centre 42, which prepared a scheme to convert the building into "a permanent cultural centre with a theatre, cinema, art gallery and workshops, committee rooms for local organisations, library, youth club and restaurant dance-hall". This was estimated to cost between £300,000 and £600,000 (£5.4 million–10.9 million in 2016[14]), and was supported by "well-known actors, playwrights, authors, musicians and others".[13] In 1966 the Roundhouse became an arts venue, after the freehold was taken up by the then new Greater London Council. On 15 October 1966 Soft Machine and Pink Floyd appeared at the launch of the underground newspaper International Times (IT). During the next decade the building became a significant venue for UK Underground music events Middle Earth and Implosion. Many of these were hosted and promoted by Jeff Dexter. Other bands playing at the Roundhouse during this period included Gass, The Rolling Stones,[15] Jeff Beck, The Yardbirds, Zoot Money's Dantalian's Chariot, David Bowie, The Sinceros, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd,[15] Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band, The Doors with Jefferson Airplane, Ramones, The Clash, Elkie Brooks, and Motörhead, who appeared at the Roundhouse on 20 July 1975.

The building was used in 1996 to film the promotional video for the Manic Street Preachers' single "A Design for Life" prior to the start of redevelopment. Promotional videos for the singles "Handbags and Gladrags" by Stereophonics (2001), and "Burn Burn" by Lostprophets (2003), were also filmed there.

Patti Smith performing at Roundhouse, 17 May 2007

The Roundhouse has also been used for theatre, and has had two periods of theatrical glory, with musicals such as Living Theatre production of 1776 and other plays directed by Peter Brook. The once controversial nude revue Oh! Calcutta! opened in July 1970,[15] and started a run of nearly four thousand performances in London.

The Greater London Council passed the building to the Camden London Borough Council in 1983, and it was closed as a venue due to lack of funds. The building lay empty until it was purchased for £6m (£10.1 million in 2016[14]) in 1996 by the Norman Trust led by the philanthropist Torquil Norman. In 1998 he set up the Roundhouse Trust and led its redevelopment, with a board of trustees which included musicians Bob Geldof and Suggs, and Monty Python writer Terry Gilliam.[16][17]

The venue opened for a two-year period to raise awareness and funds for a redevelopment scheme, with former Battersea Arts Centre director Paul Blackman as its director. Shows promoted at this time included the Royal National Theatre's Oh, What a Lovely War!, dancer Michael Clark's comeback performance, percussion extravaganza Stomp, Ken Campbell's twenty-four-hour-long show The Warp and the Argentine De La Guarda's Villa Villa[15] which ran for a year, becoming the venue's longest running show, ending when the building was closed for redevelopment.

The website, commenting on the redevelopment project, said:

The renovated Roundhouse, designed by architects John McAslan & Partners in association with engineering company Buro Happold,[15] reopened on 1 June 2006, promoting Fuerzabruta. Since 1996 the renovations had cost £27m (£45 million in 2016[14]).[17]

In 2008, Michael Boyd, artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, transferred his RSC Histories Cycle to the Roundhouse, rearranging the performing space to match the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, where the cycle had first been staged.[19]

On 31 March 2009, the charitable circus group No Fit State began presenting Tabu,[9] utilising the open space at the Roundhouse.[20] On 26 April 2009, Bob Dylan and his band performed at the Roundhouse as part of his 2009 UK tour,[21] and in July 2009 the iTunes Music Festival (supported by Apple Computer) was held at the venue.[22]

In January 2010, the Roundhouse introduced contemporary classical music to its events repertoire when it hosted the Reverb festival,[23] which included performances by the London Contemporary Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, The Magnets, Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and the Britten Sinfonia.[24]

For the September 2015 Apple Music Festival, Apple announced an environmental makeover gift for the venue: "making major upgrades to the lighting, plumbing, and HVAC systems; installing recycling and composting bins… offering reusable water bottles instead of plastic ones… to reduce the Roundhouse’s annual carbon emissions by 60 tons, save 60,000 gallons of water a year, and divert more than 1,600 kilograms of waste from landfills".[25][26]

The Roundhouse Trust

Alongside its role as an arts venue, the Roundhouse is also a registered charity and runs a creative programme for 11-25s through the Roundhouse Trust.

From 2006 to 2012 the Trust taught over 13,000 11-to-25-year-olds in live music, circus, theatre and new media. Courses are held in the Roundhouse Studios, which include a music recording suite, film production rooms, TV and radio studios and rehearsal rooms, all located underneath the Main Space.[27]


The Roundhouse during renovation in 2005

The Roundhouse is Grade II* listed. It was declared a National Heritage Site in 2010, when a Transport Trust Heritage Plaque was presented by Prince Michael of Kent.[17] It is regarded as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture. The original building, 48 metres (157 ft) in diameter, is constructed in yellow brick and is distinctive for its unusual circular shape and pointed roof. The conical slate roof has a central smoke louvre (now glazed) and is supported by 24 cast-iron Doric columns (arranged around the original locomotive spaces) and a framework of curved ribs. The interior has original flooring and parts of the turntable and fragments of early railway lines.[28]

The 2006 renovation was supported with conservation advice and funding from English Heritage and with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council England.[29] The project added seven layers of soundproofing to the roof, reinstated the glazed roof-lights, and added the steel and glass New Wing which curves around the north side of the main building, to house the box office, bar and café, an art gallery foyer and offices.[1][30]


  • Bane, M., (1982) White boy singin' the blues, London: Penguin, 1982, ISBN 0-14-006045-6
  • Bob Brunning, Blues: The British Connection, Helter Skelter Publishing, London 2002, ISBN 1-900924-41-2 – First edition 1986 – Second edition 1995 Blues in Britain
  • Bob Brunning, The Fleetwood Mac Story: Rumours and Lies, Omnibus Press London, 1990 and 1998, ISBN 0-7119-6907-8
  • Martin Celmins, Peter GreenFounder of Fleetwood Mac, Sanctuary London, 1995, foreword by B.B.King, ISBN 1-86074-233-5
  • Fancourt, L., (1989) British blues on record (1957–1970), Retrack Books
  • Dick Heckstall-Smith, The safest place in the world: A personal history of British Rhythm and blues, 1989 Quartet Books Limited, ISBN 0-7043-2696-5 – Second Edition : Blowing The Blues – Fifty Years Playing The British Blues, 2004, Clear Books, ISBN 1-904555-04-7
  • Christopher Hjort, Strange brew: Eric Clapton and the British blues boom, 1965–1970, foreword by John Mayall, Jawbone 2007, ISBN 1-906002-00-2
  • Paul Myers, Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blues, Vancouver 2007, GreyStone Books, ISBN 1-55365-200-2
  • Harry Shapiro Alexis Korner: The Biography, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London 1997, Discography by Mark Troster, ISBN 0-7475-3163-3
  • Schwartz, R. F., (2007) How Britain got the blues : The transmission and reception of American blues style in the United Kingdom Ashgate, ISBN 0-7546-5580-6
  • Mike Vernon, The Blue Horizon story 1965–1970 vol.1, notes of the booklet of the Box Set (60 pages)


See also


  1. ^ a b c "The history of Roundhouse". Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "Archive 1966–1986". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Doors: The Doors Are Open – The Roundhouse, London (1968)". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  4. ^ "The Greasy Truckers Party (1972)". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  5. ^ "About Electric Proms". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "About the iTunes Festival". Retrieved 7 April 2011. 
  7. ^ Oates, Joanne (30 August 2007). "GCap strong contender for BT Digital Awards". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  8. ^ "The 2006 Vodafone Live Music Awards". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  9. ^ a b Tabu my Fear and Yours (programme). No fit State (2009). Reg charity no: 1102850. pp. 1–10. 
  10. ^ George Measom, The official illustrated guide to the North-western railway, Publ. 1859 W.H. Smith, page 20
  11. ^ Francis Whishaw, Railways of Great Britain and Ireland, p. 39, online
  12. ^ Rose, Steve (29 May 2006). "What goes around ...". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Cooke, B.W.C., ed. (October 1964). "Notes and News: Camden's round-house".  
  14. ^ a b c UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Gregory Clark (2015), "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)" MeasuringWorth.
  15. ^ a b c d e James, Anthony (1 May 2007). "A House of fun London’s Roundhouse reopened and reborn" (PDF). p. 45. Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  16. ^ Rose, Steve (29 May 2006). "What goes around ...". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  17. ^ a b c  
  18. ^ "The Roundhouse". Retrieved 23 March 2008. 
  19. ^ "RSC The Histories". Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Theatregoers’ Choice Awards. List of shows". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  21. ^ Williams, Richard (28 April 2009). "Bob Dylan at the Roundhouse". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  22. ^ Karen (7 October 2009). "iTunes Festival 24/07/09". Retrieved 3 April 2010. 
  23. ^ Silverman, Laura (4 March 2010). "How to sell classical music to the masses". London: The Times. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  24. ^ "Reverb festival". London:  
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ [2] Archived 30 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^  
  29. ^ Cannon, Jon (2006). Shared Interest. English Heritage. p. 50. Retrieved 18 April 2010.  – p. 10
  30. ^ "The Roundhouse". John McAslan & Partners. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 

External links

  • The Roundhouse official web site
  • Made in Camden's web site
  • John McAslan and Partners
  • The Round House and Open Space theatre companies records are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Department.
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