Blackpool Winter Gardens celebrated a big, 140 year anniversary in 2018. It’s an amazing complex of buildings and an important part of our seaside town. As it continues to grow and change, it’s story is far from over yet!
Look Around the Winter Gardens
In January each year, the Winter Gardens complex throws open its doors for a no-holds-barred open day. Incredibly popular, it’s the one day of the year when you can access all of the rooms, the backstage secrets, changing rooms and corridors in this magnificent building. On 26 January 2019 we went along to take a look – see if we caught you on any of the photos!
You might also enjoy one of the paid tours of the Winter Gardens. More details here
And there’s a great 360 online tour too! More about that below.
A Big Year in the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens
Did you know that the Winter Gardens was 140 years old in July 2018?
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Watch this next short film from Blackpool Museum Service. In the interview with Carl Carrington (Service Manager Built Heritage, Blackpool Council), hear about the architectural significance of the Winter Gardens building.
Potted History of Blackpool Winter Gardens
With a history spanning more than 140 years, there’s obviously a LOT of interesting information about the evolution of this Grade 2* listed building!
We’ve collected together some of the highlights, starting with some key dates.
The Winter Gardens Company formed in 1875, and bought the six acre Bank Hey Street site for £28,000. The buildings we know today were built between 1878 and 1939.
Their plan was “to place on the land a concert room, promenades, conservatories and other accessories calculated to convert the estate into a pleasant lounge, especially desirous during inclement days.”
To be used on ‘inclement days’.
They built an indoor promenade and pavilion, which opened with much ceremony on 11 July 1878. A lavish ceremony at the venue to mark the opening, was attended by the Lord Mayor of London. Mayors and Mayoresses were there from 68 towns throughout the country.
140 years later, a gala dinner was held in the world-famous Empress Ballroom on Friday 6 July 2018. It marked the big birthday and began a yearlong calendar of showpiece and community events.
With thanks to Visit Fylde Coast contributor Juliette Gregson for these photos of Winter Gardens past.
If you know where to look, you can still see some of the traces of the buildings history today. In summer 2020 we took a walk right around the outside of the complex, to take a look at some of this hidden history –
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Famous Faces at the Winter Gardens
Since opening in 1878 the venue has welcomed millions of visitors across its collection of theatres, ballrooms, exhibition halls and public spaces.
Have you looked at the board in the Church Street entrance? It lists the big name artists through the years.
Playing host to the biggest names in show business including Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Bob Hope, and more recently, the likes of Little Mix, Bob Dylan, Peter Kay and One Direction have performed to sell-out audiences here.
Not forgetting world politics welcoming party conferences for many years hosting the likes of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher through to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
Key Dates for Blackpool Winter Gardens
The original Blackpool Winter Gardens was built over the 6-acre site at a cost of £100,000. Relatively little today – but a LOT of money at the time.
It featured concert rooms, and promenades. They were followed with various projects through to 1939, including the Opera House, Empress Ballrooms and Spanish Suites.
The new Conference and Exhibition Centre is well on the way to completion. It’s the largest building project at the Winter Gardens Blackpool since completion of the Opera House in 1939.
Key Dates in the Winter Gardens History
- 1875 – The Winter Gardens Company formed…
- 1878 – The Pavilion Theatre opened
- 1889 – Opera House Theatre v1 opened
- 1896 – The Empress Ballroom was built
- 1896 – Visitors enjoyed the Indian Lounge when it opened (now the Arena)
- Also in 1896 – The Blackpool Ferris Wheel was built at the Winter Gardens
- 1910 – V2 of the Opera House Theatre is rebuilt
- 1928 – The Tower Company took over the Winter Gardens Company
- 1930 – Olympia Hall built
- 1931 – Galleon Bar, Spanish Hall and Baronial Hall added
- 1939 – Opera House Theatre was rebuilt – v3 is the current one. Did you know that the 3000 seater theatre is one of the largest in the country?
- 1955 – The first Royal Variety Performance outside London is held here
- 1967 – EMI took over the Winter Gardens complex
- 1983 – First Leisure bought the Winter Gardens from EMI
- 1998 – Another change of owner, when Leisure Parcs did a £74m deal that also included Blackpool Tower and the three piers.
- 2009 – The Royal Variety Performance was back again!
- 2010 – Blackpool Council bought the Winter Gardens, Tower and other sites in a £40m deal. Now operated by Blackpool Entertainment Company Ltd.
- 2016 – Statue of Morecambe & Wise was unveiled in the Floral Hall entrance vestibule.
- 2018 – Blackpool Winter gardens celebrates 140 years
In 2014, the historic, 137-year-old Pavilion Theatre is placed on the Theatre’s Trust’s ‘At Risk’ register.
It’s an indication of the vital need for investment to protect the venue’s long-term future and will help in securing grants and support.
In December 2015 it was one of 77 projects across Great Britain to receive a share of £3 million coastal revival funding. The £50,000 grant was used to restore the walls of the Pavilion Theatre.
The Pavilion is an important part of the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens. In 1878 it was built as a concert hall, and converted into a theatre in 1889. A major re-building took place in 1897, resulting in a splendidly opulent apsidal-ended music hall.
In 1904, the beautiful plasterwork, designed by J M Boekbinder, was completed. In the 1920s it became a picture palace and by the 1950s was used for summer shows. Household names such as Morecambe & Wise and Tommy Cooper performed here.
New Life for the Pavilion Theatre
Plans were unveiled revealing a partnership between global producers Selladoor Worldwide and operators Blackpool Entertainment Company, to bring a fresh lease of life to the historic Pavilion Theatre. Sadly, this stunning and richly decorated building, with opulent interior designs, is no longer used as a theatre. It’s currently listed as ‘at risk’ by the Theatres Trust.
During this joint venture, Selladoor Worldwide will base it’s own Northern Powerhouse out of the theatre and lead on programing the space with both produced and received work.
Winter Gardens Blackpool will focus on the renovations to save and restore the theatre back to its full former glory for future generations to enjoy. It’s the oldest venue in the Winter Gardens complex. The venue was part of the original 1878 build and was an entertainment hub, catering to large crowds at the turn of the 20th century.
Blackpool Winter Gardens Today
Blackpool Council bought the Winter Gardens in 2010. A lot of investment and work has since gone into the ongoing restoration of the building.
Scaffolding was in place during 2014/15 at the Church Street entrance, while the exterior stonework was cleaned and repaired.
Inside, the Derham Lounge was renovated at about the same time.
The new conference centre is being built, continuing the tradition of developing this much loved entertainment complex.
Refurbished Spanish Suite
The Spanish Hall is one of the recent areas to receive a transformation. It occupies the space above the Mazzei Cafe and you access it from the staircase in the Floral Hall.
The room was in a poor state of repair. Do you remember the white muslin drapes which tented the inside of the ceiling for many years?
But an ambitious restoration programme saw the room reverted back to its original splendour. Visitors at the open day in January 2019 saw the interior scaffolded while work took place.
Visit Fylde Coast was lucky enough to get a look inside, just as the final tasks were being finished in late 2019.
In the summer of 2020 we also made a walking tour video inside the Winter Gardens. The completed Spanish Suite is one of the rooms which we visited. Watch it here –
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Look Around Blackpool Winter Gardens
The Floral Hall is mostly open for the public to enjoy (unless a big event is taking place). You can walk through and have a look at the recent restoration work and marvel at the amazing glass ceiling.
Don’t forget to say hello to Morecambe and Wise who reside in the Church Street entrance to the Floral Hall.
The Mazzei Cafe at the heart of the complex is open to the public. Here you can enjoy the sounds of live piano music while you enjoy your drink.
Did you know that the supporting walls of the Mazzei Cafe is the original part of the very first building on the site?
Now that you’ve learned more about the Winter Gardens, you can take the virtual 360 Tour! Just click on the image to take a look around –
Blackpool Winter Gardens Trust
The aim of the Winter Gardens Trust is to raise awareness of the significance of the spectacular grade II* listed Blackpool Winter Gardens and support its repair and restoration.
In particular, the Trust aims to encourage people to use the building, as a public space and a place for events. It’s about making public access easy and making information about this magnificent complex available to the public so they can understand why it’s special.
It’s not all about money, but the fundraising work of the Winter Gardens Trust is important. Some types of necessary work aren’t eligible for funding so the Trust can fill some of those gaps. They pay for smaller projects or provide funds to enable bigger grants to be accessed.
Importantly it ensures that the public have a voice in major changes to the Winter Gardens. The Trust works with Blackpool Council and the Operator to ensure changes are sensitive to the history of the building and that developments don’t undermine the significance of the many spaces and spectacular interiors that make up the complex.
What’s On at Blackpool Winter Gardens
Throughout the year, there’s all kinds of entertainment for everyone at Blackpool Winter Gardens.
There’s a full A-Z of everything that you could wish for – live bands, magic, drama, theatre, punk and pigeons! There really is something for everyone.
Explore Blackpool’s History
Has this information whetted your appetite? Why don’t you join Blackpool’s Past – the Original Facebook Group. You’ll find all kinds of amazing photos and information shared there.
Read Nick Moores history of Blackpool – it’s the most comprehensive guide of EVERYTHING to do with the history of Blackpool.
While you’re here…
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7 thoughts on “History of Blackpool Winter Gardens”
I own a very large oak over-door mantle from the Blackpool Winter Gardens. I was once told it was the over mantle to the boardroom of the BWG Co. It has also been suggested that the oak came from HMS Foudroyant but I don’t think the dates are right. The size is 4’2” by 16” and is fully and deeply carved oak. Blackpool Winter Gardens on an oak ribbon with the Borough crest also carved.
From memory, my Father trained with the RAF as an air gunner/radio operator at the winter gardens during the early part of WWII. Does anyone have any details of this period on the Winter Gardens history?
Hi di you received any replies to this question. My Son is doing a project and decided to base it on the winter gardens during WW2 . Thank you x
Why was it called the Winter Gardens?
To my knowledge it was because it’s a place that can be enjoyed all year round, and in winter.
Further to Jane’s reply, the term ‘Winter Gardens’ sums up the Victorian conservatory style architecture. Gardens are beautiful places of nurturing, growth, spectacle, landscaping and flourishing. They can have unexpected, exotic, features. All this arguably ties well to its explicit cultural and aesthetic function as theatre, concert hall, and indoor elegant promenade. Particularly popular when the weather is ‘inclement’. I’ve always adored the building for its art nouveau-esque grandeur. Ironically, a certain degree (not too much) of ‘faded’ grandeur can inspire the mystery of the imagination even more. If a Bioshock movie is ever made, it should at least partly be filmed here.
I have attended the dance festival in May every year from 1964. I have also competed in the competitions over the years.
I also attended the music festival when it was held in the Winter gardens.
Concerts too in the Pavilion.
It has so many memories for me.