UK – Blackpool – Winter Gardens Theatre

Dates: 1878 – present

Official website: https://www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk

History (from the official website)

On the 11 July 1878, the Winter Gardens is formally opened by the Lord Mayor of London. The Winter
Gardens boasts an exotic, glass roofed Floral Hall for promenading, Indoor and outdoor skating rinks and the Pavilion Hall for special events.
Contractors Thomas Mitchell were tasked with the construction which at that point had been one of the largest projects that Blackpool had seen.

In 1888, plans for the first Opera House were being prepared by Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect. The contract was let on 19th October 1888 and the 2,500 seat “Her Majesty’s Opera House”,  costing £9,098, opened with Gilbert & Sullivan’s new opera “Yeomen of the Guard” on 10 June 1889.
In November 1910, the Opera House closed for rebuilding. Its larger replacement, by architects Hangnail & Littlewood, was formally opened in August 1911. The opportunity was also taken to rebuild the Church Street façade of the Winter Gardens. It was clad in white faience in a Renaissance style.

1896 saw the erection of a 220ft. Gigantic Wheel with 30 carriages, each carrying 30 people, on the site of a bowling green and garden area in front of the Pavilion Horseshoe.

The Empress Ballroom, built by architects Mangnall & Littlewood, with plasterwork by J. M. Boekbinder, with a floor area of 12,500 sq. ft., made it one of the largest ballrooms in the world.

Early in 1918, the Admiralty had requisitioned the Empress Ballroom to assemble gas envelopes for the .33 airship.The building was handed back a year later and some restoration was undertaken.

The first Blackpool Dance Festival was held during Easter week in 1920 in the magnificent Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens.

Following the purchase of the Winter Gardens by the Tower Company in 1928, the Big Wheel was almost
immediately dismantled.Construction of the Olympia exhibition hall began, taking less than 8 months to complete.
When it opened in June 1930, its interior comprised of stalls and attractions themed by Andrew Mazzei in the form of a Moorish village

During the Second World War, the Winter Gardens was used for RAF training purposes by day and for entertainment in the evenings.

Following a significant refit in 1911, in October 1938 the old Opera House was demolished and the third and current Opera House replaced its predecessor in 1939, with a classic Art Deco design.
The theatre erected in its place boasted 3,000 seats, possessed the biggest stage in the country, it was designed in a modernist style with a sweepingly curved proscenium, with the intention of doubling as a super cinema.
Its elegant foyers, wood-panelled lounges and bars completed the effect. Derham’s successor, Charles McKeith was the architect.
The Opera House was opened on 14th July 1939 by Jessie Matthews and her husband Sonnie Hale, being followed by the revue Turned out Nice Again with George Forby.
Over the years the Opera House would welcome some of the biggest names in Showbusiness, beloved musicals and, of course, Blackpool’s very own Summer Season spectaculars!

On 13th April 1955 a Royal Variety Performance, the first outside London, was given for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. A period-style Royal box was constructed for the occasion. It remained for many years, detracting from the modernist lines of the auditorium.

In 1970, to reduce over-capacity in the Empress Ballroom, its size was effectively reduced by temporary carpeting, seating and much white trellis work. It was renamed The Stardust Garden and was intended to function as a nightclub. It lasted four years. By this time, however, the unique architectural heritage afforded by the complex was being realised and in 1973 the Winter Gardens received a Grade Two Star listing.

2010: In an historic purchase, Blackpool Council purchased both the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower from Trevor Hemmings’ Crown Leisure Company, bringing the building into public ownership for the first time in its history.
An ambitious restoration project begins in earnest to restore the most at risk areas of the complex.

 

Links to information about equipment at Winter Gardens Theatre, Blackpool over the years

  • Electronic Control for Thyratron (Strand)
  • Location


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