The Roundhouse

The Roundhouse, London

The Roundhouse is a Grade II* listed former railway engine shed in Chalk Farm, London, England, which has been converted into a performing arts and concert venue. It was originally built in 1847 as a roundhouse (from which the venue takes its name), a circular building containing a railway turntable, but was only used for railway purposes 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 re-opened twenty-five years later, as a performing arts venue, when the playwright Arnold Wesker established the Centre 42 Theatre Company and adopted the building as a theatre.[1]

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

Greater London Council handed control of the building to Camden London Borough Council in 1983. By this 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 Broadway show Fuerzabruta opened at the New Roundhouse.[1]

Since 2006 The Roundhouse has hosted the BBC Electric Proms,[5] also award ceremonies such as the BT Digital Music Awards[6] and the Vodafone Live Music Awards.[7] In 2009 Bob Dylan performed a concert and iTunes promoted a music 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.[8]

In 2010, Roundhouse Studios set up its own in-house record label, Roundhouse Records.[9]



The Roundhouse was built in 1847 as a turntable engine shed (or roundhouse) for the London and Birmingham Railway. The original building was built by Branson & Gwytherde, using designs by architects Robert B. Dockray and Robert Stephenson. Within ten years locomotives became too large for the building to accommodate and The Roundhouse was used for a multitude of purposes. The longest period of use was as a bonded store for Gin distillers W & A Gilbey Ltd, for which the building was used over a period of fifty years from 1871.[10][11]

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 (£– as of 2011), and was supported by "well-known actors, playwrights, authors, musicians and others".[11] In 1966 the Roundhouse became a well known 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 news paper International Times. During the next decade the building became an important venue for UK Underground music events Middle Earth and Implosion. Many of these were hosted and promoted by the Jeff Dexter. Others bands who played at the Roundhouse during this period included Gass, The Rolling Stones,[12] Jeff Beck, Zoot Money's Dantalian's Chariot, David Bowie, The Sinceros, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd,[12] Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band, The Doors with Jefferson Airplane, The Clash, Elkie Brooks, and Motörhead who appeared at the Roundhouse on July 20, 1975.

The Roundhouse has also been used for theatre and has had two periods of theatrical glory, with musicals such as Catch My Soul (1969). Under the leadership of visionary producer Thelma Holt, the first phase also featured experimental theatre productions, such as the Living Theatre production of 1776 and other plays directed by Peter Brook. The lewd play Oh! Calcutta! opened in July 1970[12] and started a run of nearly four thousand performances in London.

The Greater London Council passed the building to 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 (£ as of 2011) 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 public figures such as musicians Bob Geldof and Suggs, and Monty Python writer Terry Gilliam.[13][14]

The venue opened for a two year period to raise awareness and funds for a redevelopment scheme, under the directorship of former BAC director Paul Blackman. 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[12] which ran for a year, becoming the longest ever running show at The Roundhouse, ending when the venue closed for re-development work.

The website, commenting on the redevelopment project, said:{| style="margin:auto; border-collapse:collapse; border-style:none; background-color:transparent; width:auto; " class="cquote" | width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:left;padding:10px 10px;" | “ | valign="top" style="padding:4px 10px;" | The redeveloped Roundhouse will house up to 3,300 people standing or up to 1,700 seated. It will provide a highly flexible and adaptable performance space that will give artists and audiences opportunities and experiences they cannot find elsewhere. It will accommodate a programme of work that reflects the excitement and diversity of twenty first century culture. It will include a wide range of the performing arts including, music, theatre, dance, circus and digital media.[15] | width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:right;padding:10px 10px;" | ” |-

|} The renovated Roundhouse, designed by architects John McAslan & Partners in association with engineering company Buro Happold,[12] opened once more on 1 June 2006, promoting Fuerzabruta. Since 1996, the renovations had cost £27m (£ as of 2011).[14]

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[16]. In her review for The British Theatre Guide, Anita Butler noted:{| style="margin:auto; border-collapse:collapse; border-style:none; background-color:transparent; width:auto; " class="cquote" | width="20" valign="top" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:left;padding:10px 10px;" | “ | valign="top" style="padding:4px 10px;" | I had seen the plays several times yet the final cycle became an urgency: the last time all eight might be performed; the last time for this ensemble after more than two years; the last time an audience would see these actors together on this Roundhouse stage: too many 'lasts' create an unbearable fervour, so much so that Sunday's queue for Richard III began at 3am, grew to 150.[17] | width="20" valign="bottom" style="color:#B2B7F2;font-size:35px;font-family:'Times New Roman',serif;font-weight:bold;text-align:right;padding:10px 10px;" | ” |-


On 31 March 2009, the charitable circus group No Fit State began a run of performances of Tabu,[8] utilising the open space at the Roundhouse.[18] On 26 April 2009, Bob Dylan and his band performed at the Roundhouse, whilst on a tour of UK,[19] and in July 2009 the iTunes Music Festival (supported by Apple) was held at the venue.[20]

In 2010 the Roundhouse introduced contemporary classical music to its events repertoire when it hosted the Reverb festival in January of that year,[21] 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.[22]In August the ground floor Roundhouse Cafe closed for two months for major redevelopment, reopening in October as a new bar and dining room called 'Made in Camden'. Made in Camden has its own entrance and is open to everyone throughout the year, unlike the old cafe which was often only accessible to Roundhouse audiences.

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.[14] The current Mayor of Camden, Labour Councillor Jonathan Simpson, is supporting the Roundhouse Trust as his nominated charity.

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.

Since 2006 the Trust has provided over 13 000 learning opportunities for 11-25s in live music, circus, theatre and new media. Courses take place in the Roundhouse Studios, which include a music recording suite, film production rooms, TV and radio studios and rehearsal rooms. All of which are located directly underneath the Main Space.[23]

Founded by Sir Torquil Norman the Roundhouse Trust aims to engage young people, particularly those who have been excluded, marginalised or disadvantaged by society, by providing opportunities to learn new skills and gain new experiences.


The Grade II listed Roundhouse is regarded as a notable example of mid-19th century railway architecture. The original building, 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.[24]

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.[25] The project included the addition of seven layers of soundproofing to the roof, re-instating 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][26]


The Roundhouse is situated on Chalk Farm Road to the north of Camden Town, in close proximity to Camden Market. It can be reached by several public transport services:


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