The Roundhouse

Top 30 things in Camden: The Roundhouse

The crown jewel of Camden’s performing arts scene, this amazing venue has a divine history involving steam engines, gin, trade unions and some of the world’s most legendary performers.

Originally, the Railway's Chief Engineer Robert Stephenson was tasked with building a 'round house' for maintaining and storing railway engines. The circular building was 160 feet in diameter, topped by a broad, conical roof supported by 24 columns and cast-iron girders. It opened in 1847 and was rightly celebrated as a marvelous feat of civil engineering. Unfortunately, just over 20 years later, it was already deemed obsolete. With the unprecedented industrial and technological developments taking place in the UK at that time, the engines grew too big to fit the building.

A new purpose had to be found for the round house. In 1869, a man named Gilbey (of Gilbey’s Gin) took on its lease and began to use the venue as a warehouse for his liquor. The gin manufacturer remained for more than 90 years, during which time it continued to attract attention and numerous visits from students and admirers of architecture.

It wasn't until 1964 that it started its life as a cultural venue. Led by playwright Arnold Wesker, the Trade Unions and the Centre 42 movement, it became a cutting-edge arts venue, opening with a performance by a little known band called Pink Floyd. It continued hosing music performances through the 70s and 80s, becoming renowned for presenting radical theatre and new music. Work by Andy Warhol, Samuel Beckett, Steven Berkoff and David Hare has been shown here; Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Ben Kingsley, Bob Hoskins and Tom Courtenay have all appeared on stage, and countless groundbreaking music acts have rocked the audience, including David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, the Clash, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, Elvis Costello and many, many more.

Following a short period of closure in the 80s, The Roundhouse still continues to showcases a variety of events: from large music gigs and dance, to circus, film, comedy and exhibitions. In 2004 it underwent a £30 million refurbishment, and opened to include a state-of-the-art creative centre for 11-25 year-olds to develop skills in performing arts, music and media. Since then more than

16,000 young people have benefited from creative opportunities, and in 2008 Roundhouse Radio launched developing the careers of young radio presenters, producer and DJs.

Today The Roundhouse is a hub of inspiration, a place where artists and emerging talent create extraordinary work and young people can grow into creative individuals.

Interior Roundhouse
The Roundhouse (c) Rob Dunlop