Birmingham Hippodrome

Birmingham Hippodrome

Built by my ancestors

Gerald Draysey (MGS 1947-49) has been investigating some of his family's connections to Birmingham and Moseley.

Gerald believes that his surname originated in 10th century France as D'Racey, although his family settled in the West Country in Elizabethan times and had spread to London, Wales and Gloucester by the 18th C. In 1806 a John Draisey, was a cordwainer or bootmaker in Gloucester.

Two of John's grandsons, James and Henry, came to Birmingham in the 1850s and were apprenticed to a carriage lamp-maker, Beesley and Hyde in Severn Street, and lived in the Gas Street area of the city. But their father George Draisey, had by then become an alcoholic and abandoned his family, while their elder brother, George, had spent time in gaol for theft. Around the mid-Victorian period, and possibly because of the family history around that time, the family surname changed to Draysey.

As well as learning to be lamp makers, John and Henry Draysey, used to take the workers' bets to commission agents or bookies. They soon realised that they were taking more money in than paying money out, and in 1865 they set up their own bookies business in Holloway Head, where they became more and more successful. They decided to invest some of their money in building as Birmingham was expanding so much because of the Industrial Revolution and migration into the City from the countryside.

The two Draysey brothers built terraced houses notably those around Ombersley Road between Moseley Road and Ladypool Road, which became known as 'mugs row'. They later moved on to build the City Assembly Rooms in Hurst Street, on land leased from the City Council.

In 1899 the Draysey brothers built the Tower of Variety and Circus' behind the Assembly Rooms which opened in October of that year. But that was not successful and closed after just five weeks, and reopened in 1900 as the Tivoli Theatre, becoming the Hippodrome in 1903. That was also one of the first Bioscope Theatres in England before cinemas appeared in 1914.

Many will remember the Tower on the roof of the Hippodrome which is long gone, as the venue has undergone much remodelling over the decades until it is now one of the foremost theatres outside London staging musicals, ballet and opera as well as the annual pantomime.

Henry Draysey built his own house in Moseley, Oak Tree House, on the corner of Edgbaston Road and Russell Road overlooking Cannon Hill Park. Henry died in 1907 and the site of his house has been redeveloped, although the house name remains. Meanwhile James Draysey lived in a property called St. Huberts, in Edgbaston Road. He died in 1903.

The family had property as well along Bristol Road. Gerald's grandfather, William Edward became an estate agent living in Ombersley Road, and he and his cousin, James Junior, were directors of the Hippodrome and James also managed the Assembly Rooms next door.  James lived in Oakfield Road in Moseley.

The Hippodrome closed in 1914 at the outbreak of World War 1, probably because so many men had gone off to fight, but reopened to the public in 1917. The Hippodrome was then sold in 1919 to Moss Empires.

Several members of the Draysey family served during WW1 but not in the Birmingham Pals. James's son, Sidney, was in the Worcestershire Yeomanry from 1911-1916 when he transferred to the Yorkshire Regiment until 1918. Gerald's uncle, Harry, joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1918 but was discharged from what then became the RAF.

The combined estates of James and Henry Draysey were wound up in 1924, when their youngest offspring reached maturity.