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Chalk Farm Road
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Roundhouse History

The Roundhouse was built in 1847 as a turntable engine shed for the London and Birmingham Railway at Chalk Farm (near Camden Town), in London, England. The architect was Robert B Dockray and the builder was Branson & Gwyther.

Steam locomotives of the time could not run well in reverse, and the turntable allowed engines to be turned round to point in the forward direction. The design also allowed engines to be kept under cover in a number of radial sidings within the shed.

Within 20 years locomotives became too large for the facilities to handle, and the Roundhouse underwent a number of changes of use. For years it was a liquor store for the firm of W & A Gilbey Ltd until it was converted to a theatre in the late 1960s.

The Roundhouse became a well-known arts venue, starting in 1966 when the freehold was taken up by the new Greater London Council.

On 15 October 1966 the Roundhouse hosted a concert by Pink Floyd to launch the underground paper International Times. At the time, The Roundhouse had stood unused since before World War II. Although it appeared to be a locomotive-turning shed it had never been used for that purpose. Its original purpose was to house the winding gear to pull the trains up hill from Euston Station and once steam power was strong enough, it became redundant. By 1966, it was grimy, derelict and (certainly in October at the time of the IT launch gig), very cold.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the Roundhouse became an important venue for UK Underground and music events. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Incredible String Band and The Doors (in their only UK show) played at the Roundhouse. The Roundhouse briefly hosted the UFO Club after its original venue was closed down due to police pressure and the imprisonment of founder John Hopkins. The Roundhouse was also used for experimental theatre productions by the Living Theatre and Peter Brook. Motörhead's debut performance took place here on July 20, 1975. It hosted the first UK appearance of The Ramones, in a show on July 4, 1976, that is often credited with kicking off the UK Punk Rock movement. Kraftwerk also played there in 1977 but the Roundhouse remained largely a punk venue in the latter part of the 1970s. In 1983 the GLC passed the building to Camden and it closed as a venue. With the support of the Arts Council there were plans to develop the building and the site as a centre for Black artists but after spending £2m this project folded in 1990. The building was gradually brought back into use as a semi-regular venue for art installations and events.

In 1998, the Roundhouse Trust was set up to lead its redevelopment. The Roundhouse will open on June 5, 2006 with a new show Fuerzabruta, from the makers of De La Guarda.

"The redeveloped Roundhouse will house up to 3300 people standing or up to 1700 seated. It will provide a highly flexible and adaptable performance space that will give artists and audiences opportunities and experiences they cannot find elsewhere. And it will accommodate a programme of work that reflects the excitement and diversity of 21st century culture. It will include a wide range of the performing arts including music, theatre, dance, circus and digital media and will include the Roundhouse Youth Arts.


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