Winter Gardens history

Winter Gardens from the air 1920

Winter Gardens from the air 1920

The new Museum will be housed in the Pavilion and Horseshoe at the heart of Blackpool’s Grade II* listed Winter Gardens entertainment complex.

The Pavilion is one of the oldest parts of the Winter Gardens and is the oldest surviving building associated with popular entertainment in Blackpool. It first opened in 1878 as an impressive glazed concert hall for music and entertainment. Surrounding it is an open glazed ambulatory where visitors could walk – known today as the Horseshoe. It designed by architect Thomas Mitchell of Oldham and decorated by Brucciani and Company of Covent Garden.

In the 1880s and 1890s the Winter Gardens was enlarged to include the first Opera House and the Empress Ballroom, while the Pavilion was converted into a theatre with an audience capacity of 2500. In 1897 it was extensively altered by architects Wylson and Long who lowered and raked the floor and created the proscenium arch and private boxes. The beautiful decorative plasterwork in the Pavilion was added by 1904 by James M. Boekbinder who also designed the plasterwork for the Empress Ballroom. Then in the 1920s new cinema style seating was installed reducing the capacity of the Pavilion to 2000 people. Such was the demand for entertainment in the seaside resort that later expansion and development of the Winter Gardens resulted in the site having twelve different venues renowned for its impressive facade and lavish interiors.

Since opening the Pavilion has been used for concerts, ballet, plays, music hall and variety shows, and as a cinema. From 1949 until 1979 it was also used for twice nightly summer season shows which ran from June to September. These included variety shows, plays and stage versions of popular television shows. During this time household names such as Morecambe & Wise, Bob Monkhouse, Hylda Baker and Tommy Cooper all performed there.

In the 1980s the demand for live shows in Blackpool reduced leading to significant changes in the operations of the Winter Gardens. In 1986 the architects MacKeith, Dickinson and Partners redesigned the Pavilion to enable it to become a multipurpose space for conferences, exhibitions and events. The stall raking and seating were removed and the backstage area converted into a restaurant, resulting in the proscenium arch on the stage being bricked up. Despite this the Pavilion continued to be used for a range of events and shows including Palladium Nights starring Danny La Rue in 2000.

Image left: Adelaide Street entrance for proposed Museum. Image top right: Adelaide Street view 2017. Image bottom right: Adelaide Street view 1905.

Recent history

In 2009 the Winter Gardens complex was listed by the Theatre Trust as at risk, requiring urgent action to secure its future. In 2010 Blackpool Council purchased the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower from Leisure Parcs Limited bringing both sites into public ownership for the first time. The Winter Gardens entertainment complex is now operated by the Blackpool Entertainment Company Limited on behalf of Council as an arms-length operating company.

The Winter Gardens has undergone significant repair, restoration and investment since 2010 and Blackpool Council has exciting plans for its future including a new conference centre on the site and the creation of a Museum within the Pavilion.

The site of the Museum, within the Pavilion was chosen in 2013 as part of a feasibility study which looked at a number of sites in the Town recognising its historical significance to Blackpool and popular entertainment and also as a heritage building at risk. In 2014 the Theatres Trust recognised this fact by listing the Pavilion on their 2014 risk register siting their concerns over the rapid deterioration of the metalwork and decorative plasterwork.

In May 2014 Blackpool Council was awarded a Round One pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the plans for the Museum. The Round Two application was submitted in March 2017. In January 2017 Blackpool Council was awarded £25 million from Central Government towards the development of the new Winter Gardens conference centre as part of Lancashire’s Growth Deal. The conference centre is due to open in 2019, while the Museum is due to open in 2020.