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The Winter Gardens, Blackpool

Description: The Winter Gardens

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 10 October 1973
English Heritage Building ID: 183662

OS Grid Reference: SD3089236162
OS Grid Coordinates: 330892, 436162
Latitude/Longitude: 53.8171, -3.0511

Location: 24 Coronation Street, Blackpool FY1 4PB FY1 4NP

Locality: Blackpool
County: Blackpool
Country: England
Postcode: FY1 4NP

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Listing Text


10-October-1973 The Winter Gardens


Includes: The Winter Gardens, Church Street
Includes: The Winter Gardens, Leopold Grove
Includes: The Winter Gardens, Adelphi Street
Includes: The Winter Gardens, Carter Street
Includes: The Winter Gardens, Coronation Street

A Winter Gardens seaside entertainment complex built 1875-8 to a design by Thomas Mitchell with later alterations and additions by Mangnall & Littlewood and J M Boekbinder in 1894, Wylson & Long in 1897, J C Derham and Andrew Mazzei in 1930-1, and Charles McKeith in 1939. It is of two, three and four storeys with an extensive basement beneath. The entire Winter Gardens complex is included in this designation except the car park on Leopold Grove.

MATERIALS: Predominantly brick with faience to the principal elevations and an abundant use of iron and glass in some roofs.

EXTERIOR: The building is bounded by Church Street to the north, Leopold Grove to the east, Adelaide Street to the south and Coronation Street, Carter Street and Adelphi Street to the west. Its principle elevation fronts Church Street and consists of the main entrances to the Opera House and Winter Gardens complex to the right, together with the main elevation of the Empress Buildings to the left.

It is of four storeys with the Opera House and Winter Gardens' frontage being constructed in Classical style and executed in faience, with five unequal bays defined by use of Roman Ionic columns to the second and third floors. The left two bays are a 1939 extension to the earlier 1911-built Opera House frontage and have been executed in a matching style. The ground floor is given over to entrances and a retail outlet beneath a projecting canopy. The bay above the Winter Gardens' entrance projects forward slightly and is edged with pilasters topped by blind oculi that are surrounded by moulded faience topped with lions' heads. An advertising board is affixed to the wall at first floor level and above this a balcony with iron railings runs the full width of the Opera House and Floral Hall elevation at second floor level. The illuminated words 'WINTER GARDENS' are affixed to the railings above the Floral Hall entrance. At second floor level there is a tripartite window with a moulded surround beneath a moulded cornice that is interrupted by a centrally placed cherub with shield in relief. The third floor has a tripartite segmental-headed window with a moulded surround and scroll-moulded keystone. Above this a plain frieze and dentilled cornice running the width of the façade. The bay is topped by a pediment containing a dentilled tympanum decorated with a centrally-placed shield and crown in relief, held by cherubs with trailing detailing. The façade is topped by a balustrade that runs the full width to either side of the pediment. Crowning this elevation, but set back somewhat and only seen from a distance, is a glazed dome. The remaining bays on the façade have rectangular matching windows with moulded surrounds; those on the first floor have four over two panes with a keystone above, those on the second floor have four over four panes with a keystone and open pediment above, while those on the top floor have four over two panes.

The Empress Buildings were constructed in 1894 and are of four bays set either side of a wide central bay which formerly contained an arched entrance giving access to Italian gardens and the Empress Ballroom. It is constructed of brick and decorated with cream terracotta and is of four storeys beneath a flat roof. The ground floor is given over to modern retail outlets whilst above all windows are modern insertions. Above the ground floor pilasters flank the upper part of the former arch and continue to the full height of the elevation, where they are elaborated to terminate in a half-hexagonal cross section with terracotta decorations. Terracotta banding runs the full width of the elevation between the floors and above the upper floor. A modern four storey addition to the left end of the elevation is not of architectural or historic importance.

The Winter Gardens' Leopold Grove elevation consists of a brick wall of single-storey height, above which is a situated a modern flat-roofed single storey extension to the Empress Ballroom of little architectural or historic interest. Behind this the brick-built east façade of the ballroom rises to display hipped-roofed and flat-roofed corner towers flanking a Dutch gable that has horizontal banding and an infilled oculus on its upper part. At the corner of Leopold Grove and Adelaide Street there is a flat-roofed single-storey former entrance to the complex executed in faience.

The Adelaide Street elevation consists of a brick wall with faience dressings and window surrounds. There is a central goods entrance. At the corner of Adelaide Street and Coronation Street there is an elaborate former entrance façade re-faced in 1930 in faience that gaves access into Olympia, two bays of which are carried around the corner into Adelaide Street. The entrance is topped with a circular tower which is now missing its original dome.

The Coronation Street elevation was completed in white faience in 1930 and continues the elaborate treatment given to the Adelaide Street/Coronation Street entrance. It is of two storeys with twelve bays separated by pilasters. The ground floor has been given over largely to retails outlets, some of which are now boarded up. The fourth and eighth bays have a goods entrance and a former entrance respectively, with a semi-circular canopy and fanlight above each. Pairs of columns flank these entrances to first floor level and are continued above as pilasters with decorative lions' heads either side of the canopy and decorative shields above. The elevation above these entrances ends in a semi-circular pediment containing decorated blind oculi. The bays are of two different widths. The narrower bays contain rectangular windows with oculi beneath a decorative drip moulding above, whilst the wider bays contain either three rectangular windows - the central one beneath a pediment - or a single round-headed window with a moulded keystone and drip moulding. The elevation above the round-headed windows terminates in a moulded pediment that contains a plaque displaying a seashell and other decorative detailing in relief. The principle architectural feature of this elevation is the horseshoe-shaped re-fronted Victoria Street entrance of 1930 executed in white faience with the words 'WINTER GARDENS' picked out in blue faience. The decorative execution of the Coronation Street façade is carried around the corner into Carter Street for one bay, after which the remainder of the Carter Street and Adelphi Street facades are of a relatively utilitarian design undertaken in brick.

INTERIOR: The Winter Gardens complex contains numerous entertainment buildings of differing dates. These include the Vestibule, Floral Hall, Ambulatory, Pavilion, Empress Ballroom, the former Indian Lounge which later became the Arena and now functions as an overspill area for the Empress Ballroom, the Empress Buildings, the Opera House, Olympia, the Spanish Hall, Baronial Hall, Galleon Bar, Windsor Bar and Renaissance Restaurant, together with a host of smaller ancillary rooms throughout the complex.

The Vestibule dates from 1875-8 and forms part of the original construction of the Winter Gardens. It was given a partly-glazed faience retro-fit in 1931 and it contains some plaster statues which possibly originally came from the Corporation Street entrance at the same time. The vestibule is circular in plan and is brick built beneath a glass and iron dome. At ground floor level there are six piers with paired Corinthian pilasters that support twelve arches, some of which are blind others of which contain windows. The glass dome has a series of parabolic steel arches but the original cupola has been removed.

The Floral Hall dates from 1875-8 and forms part of the original construction of the Winter Gardens. It is a rectangular hall of 21 bays covered with a glazed roof supported by arched steel braces on decorated girders. The east wall of the Floral Hall adjacent to the Opera House has pilasters and panels in blue and ochre faience with mirrors and brass shop fronts. The west side contains an open colonnade giving onto an aisle that has a pitched glass roof supported by arched steel braces containing spandrels decorated with embossed foliage.

The Ambulatory dates from 1875-8 and forms part of the original construction of the Winter Gardens. It encircles the Pavilion and was constructed as the promenade linking the Pavilion with the rest of the Winter Gardens complex. The Ambulatory is U-shaped with a roof constructed in a similar style as the Floral Hall but glazed only on the outer side. The inner wall is composed of hexagonal cast iron Corinthian columns and opens out into the Pavilion via timber screens. The outer wall has brick pilasters decorated with terracotta panels and the north wall has a series of sculptured plaster relief panels.

The Pavilion, also known as the Pavilion Theatre or the Grand Pavilion, was built in 1878 as a promenade pavilion and forms part of the early construction of the Winter Gardens. It was converted into a theatre by T Mitchell in 1889 and the auditorium was reconstructed by Wylson & Long in 1897. It consists of an apsidal-ended auditorium with two U-shaped balconies supported on slender iron columns running around three sides. The sides of the Pavilion curve round to meet double-tiered boxes positioned either side of the stage that are framed between giant enriched composite columns, surmounted by segmental pediments containing reclining female figures. There is a squared proscenium opening beneath a wide elliptical arch. There is a richly decorated ceiling of deeply coved panels, some with round skylights, over the whole space with Atlantes rising through the perimeter cove to support the centre. The whole pavilion exhibits a comprehensively gilded and painted rococo décor. The former rear stage of the Pavilion has now been separated off and converted into a modern bistro accessed from the Ambulatory and Floral Hall. Stairs formerly giving access to the balconies have been removed.

The Empress Ballroom was built in 1896 to a design by Mangnell & Littlewood of Manchester with moulded and enriched plaster decoration by J M Boekbinder of London. The ballroom is accessed from the Floral Hall via the ballroom foyer. Its lower levels are clad in Royal Doulton faience tiles and there is a parquet floor by Oppenheimer. The ballroom consists of a large rectangular hall constructed of iron fluted columns which rise from faience tiled pedestals to support a steel roof of semi-circular arched steel braces and longitudinal beams. It is divided into eleven bays in its length and five in its width. The ceiling is divided into 77 squared and relief patterned panels from which are suspended 15 crystal chandeliers. The stage is set in the centre of the south side and it takes the form of a semi-domed recess, originally framed by an elaborate proscenium with four `frisky' caryatid supporters and a crowning cartouche. Much of this proscenium has been concealed to form a modern projecting stage. Columns form a continuous colonnade to a surrounding promenade that extends all around the room, including behind the stage. Apart from the stage all sides of the ballroom have a continuous balcony at the mid-point of the columns, with the double-curved front in each bay forming an undulating sequence around the hall. At each end of the ballroom the entablature holds an upper balcony. There is a clerestory of semi-circular former windows in each bay on both sides of the ballroom. These windows originally continued at both ends but they have now been blocked. At each end of the ballroom large hatched medallions flanked by seated figurines fill the tympanums.

The former Indian Lounge filled the area between the Empress Ballroom and the Ambulatory and was constructed at the same time as the ballroom. It was given exotic oriental decoration. This area later became the Arena, with the bar adjacent becoming the Alpine Bar, and the two have now been modernised to form an overspill area for the ballroom. Columns on pedestals line either side of the room and support the ceiling. It is understood that some original oriental tiles and the ceiling associated with the Indian Lounge, together with some features associated with the Alpine Bar refurbishment, still remain in situ behind the latest fitting out.

The Theatre Bar, located on the ground floor to the west of the Floral Hall, is thought to date from an 1896 remodelling. It is fitted out with high quality mahogany fittings including a richly decorated carved bar front, bevelled back bar and highly embossed and bevelled wall panelling with semi-circular integral seating. The wall panelling and seating is a set piece with the bar and includes a richly decorated entablature, broken pediments and bevelled mirrors. The coffered and embossed ceiling with strapwork appears similar to the work of J M Boekbinder in the Empress Ballroom.

Adjacent to the Theatre Bar, and accessed from the Floral Hall, is a large room now utilised as an amusement arcade. This room forms the site of Dr Cocker's former Bank Hey House and at one time functioned as the Winter Gardens' billiard room. It has been modernised throughout.

The Empress Buildings were built in 1896 at the same time as the Empress Ballroom. The buildings are of four storeys. They have been modernised throughout in recent years and now contain retail outlets on the ground floor and office space on the three floors above.

Olympia was built in 1929-30 to designs by J C Derham, with internal stalls and attractions themed by Andrew Mazzei. None of these stalls or attractions now survive. It consists of a large hall or exhibition area beneath a partially glazed arched steel roof. The area is currently largely unused and a temporary fabric inner ceiling has been suspended at half height. The western side of Olympia is of two storeys with access to both the upper and lower storey via a faience-lined staircase. The upper storey is relatively plain with wall pilasters and a segmental-arched ceiling.

The Coronation Street entrance (also known as Victoria Street entrance) was redesigned in 1930 at the time of the opening of Olympia and the current ceiling dates to this period. It is entered up a low flight of steps that lead through modern doors into a spacious but predominantly empty hall from where there is access to Olympia, the Ambulatory and Floral Hall, or other adjacent facilities on the ground floor.

The Spanish Hall, Baronial Hall, Renaissance Restaurant, Windsor Bar and Galleon Bar were built on two floors to the west of the Floral Hall in 1930-1 to designs by J C Derham with plasterwork by Andrew Mazzei.

The Galleon Bar is the only one of these rooms occupying the ground floor. It is an ingenious conversion of a low rectangular space below a staircase into a replica of the Officers' Quarters and lower deck of a C16th Spanish Galleon, complete with beams and carvings.
The Windsor Bar is a rectangular room finished with a coffered ceiling and wall panelling. It has a protruding wooden bar with a central pitched pediment to one side of the room.

From the Windsor Bar there is access next door into the Spanish Hall, a large vaulted rectangular hall with glazed skylight panels along each side of the ceiling. Across all four corners of the hall there are segmental battlemented balconies containing three-dimensional representations of clustered Spanish villages, continuing along the sides of the hall as murals depicting an extensive landscape beneath a blue sky with white clouds. The east end of the hall has a balustraded balcony and above it a large applied relief arcade with barleysugar columns, the apertures revealing a Spanish landscape mural. The west end has three Moorish arches with balconies all set within a large semi-circular, elaborately decorated mounting. From the Spanish Hall there is access into the Baronial Hall, a rectangular dining room created to imitate a Jacobean Hall. It has an imposing carved stone fireplace and chimney breast at one end, with heraldic fittings, doorcases and elaborately carved heavy oak wall panelling throughout. The ceiling is a plaster replica of a hammerbeam roof with imitation carved beams. From the Baronial Hall there is access into the Renaissance Restaurant, a room created in period-style with grandeur and glamour in mind to rival the Savoy Grill in London. The restaurant has a series of round-arched recesses along the walls each containing doors, windows or mirrors separated by pilasters. The arch heads and pilasters contain period decoration in relief painted in white and gold on a light blue background. The ceiling contains a large lay-light. Access between the floors here is via staircases; that to the Renaissance Restaurant is relatively plain but that to the Windsor Bar has a corridor and landing flanked by mirrors and round columns beneath a coffered ceiling.

The Opera House was built in 1939 by Charles McKeith and includes the foyer of Mangnall & Littlewood's earlier Opera House of 1911. It was constructed according to current trends in theatre design at that time and is provided with almost 3,000 seats, the largest theatre capacity outside London. It consists of an auditorium containing stalls, a circle and balcony at the north end and a stage and proscenium arch at the south end. The auditorium displays an exuberant 1930s cine-design with a series of sinuous arches exaggerated by concealed lighting, bridging the gap along walls and ceiling between the stage and circle, to create an illusion of the auditorium appearing more intimate than it actually is. Surface ornament and decoration is largely restricted to the proscenium arch which is enlivened by broad bands of relief in Deco style. Elsewhere the circle and balcony are plain fronted. Access to the Opera House from Church Street leads into a ground floor entrance foyer that contains its original terrazzo flooring depicting clouds and sunbursts in pastel colours. A short flight of stairs leads to the entrance to the stalls from where other stairs lead up to the circle, rear circle, balcony and rear balcony levels. There is additional access to the Opera House from the Floral Hall. At the rear of each level there are circulation corridors off which are an assortment of bars and lounges. The staircases, doors and circulation areas are finished in polished wood veneers and many original or early light fittings including saucer lights set within concentric coved domes remain in situ. Of particular note is the surviving original foyer of Mangnall & Littlewood's Opera House of 1911. Although altered somewhat at the time of its 1939 conversion, the foyer retains its original double height space with its ceiling cornice supported by Corinthian columns rising from hexagonal bases. The upper floor has a metal curving balustrade with decorated cornice above. Also of particular interest and distinctive quality is the first floor lounge or crush room, a splendid example of the Moderne style. It is fitted out with integral seating and veneered wall panelling together with marquetry panels depicting stylised figures.

HISTORY: With the rise in visitor numbers to Blackpool during the latter half of the C19, there came a need for the provision of an indoor entertainment complex large enough to provide a mixture of amusements and promenading. In 1875 the Blackpool Winter Gardens Company was registered and purchased the Bank Hey Estate, a six acre site in the centre of town, from Dr. W H Cocker who stipulated that his former house, Bank Hey, should remain in situ. A competition to design the new Winter Gardens was won by the architect Thomas Mitchell whose entry included a covered promenade curving around a pavilion with a Floral Hall designed on a central axis to allow for future development and expansion onto adjoining land owned by Dr. Cocker. A 36.5m high dome was placed as a visual landmark for visitors travelling from nearby Talbot Road railway station. The first completed sections, including an open air skating rink and gardens, opened in 1876 with the main entrance at that time being from Leopold Grove. By the end of that year many of the foundations and basements of the future main buildings had been completed and there were both indoor and outdoor skating rinks. The porch of Bank Hey House had been removed and in front of it a building described as `a grand vestibule' was being constructed. This became the Victoria Street entrance (actually on Coronation Street beyond the east end of Victoria Street). The Grand Pavilion, Vestibule, Floral Hall and Ambulatory were completed in 1878 and the official opening of the Winter Gardens took place on 11 July that year. Initially the Winter Gardens struggled to survive financially and by the mid-1880s the Company was almost bankrupt. In 1887 William Holland, a London theatre entrepreneur, was appointed general manager. Holland reorganised the entertainment and catering to serve the working class market in a luxury setting and in 1889 the 2,500 seat Her Majesty's Opera House designed by the famous theatre architect, Frank Matcham, was opened. Modification to improve poor acoustics in the Pavilion were also carried out in the same year by Thomas Mitchell and complemented improvements that had seen a new proscenium and private boxes added to the Pavilion four years earlier.

In response to the opening of the nearby Blackpool Tower entertainment complex in 1894 the sumptuously detailed Empress Ballroom, designed by Mangnall & Littlewood with plasterwork by J M Boekbinder, was opened in 1896. The main entrance to the ballroom was through an arched hallway in the Empress Buildings on Church Street erected at the same time. This led to a path to the ballroom across newly created Italian gardens. The ballroom itself was designed with a floor area of 12,000 sq. ft. making it one of the largest in the world. Adjacent to the ballroom an Indian Lounge with exotic oriental decoration was constructed at the same time. This same year also saw the erection of a giant Ferris wheel known as the Great Wheel, capable of accommodating 900 passengers on the site of a bowling green and garden area near to the corner of Coronation Street and Adelaide Street. Further enhancement work continued during 1897 when the Pavilion was reconstructed to plans by the architects Wylson & Long and the Victoria Street entrance was redesigned in a style similar to that employed at the Crystal Palace. Here a large glass and steel arched structure formed a lofty palm house with a large illuminated transparent sign displaying the words `WINTER GARDENS' in white opal against a ruby red backdrop. Additional features included a Victorian Dining Room and Bar and a Billiard Room created within the remaining walls of Dr Cocker's Bank Hey House.

In 1901 an iron and glass canopy was added to the Church Street entrances of the Winter Gardens and Opera House. The following year a circular switchback railway was opened in the Italian Gardens between the Empress Buildings and Ballroom. In 1910 the Opera House was closed for rebuilding. Architects Mangnall & Littlewood designed the new structure which opened the following year. The opportunity was also taken to rebuild the Church Street façade of the Winter Gardens and it was clad in white faience in a Renaissance style. Behind it was the new Opera House's Grand Foyer. At street level the 1901 veranda was retained. Restoration work after World War I saw original chandeliers being replaced in the Empress Ballroom by 13 new chandeliers.

After a transfer of ownership to the Blackpool Tower Company in 1928, the Giant Wheel was removed the following year and a series of extensive improvement works began. Talking films were installed in the Grand Pavilion and roller shutters to the Pavilion were built up with tile facings. In 1930 Olympia opened with its interior comprising stalls and attractions themed in the form of a Moorish village by Andrew Mazzei, whose career as an Art Director in the film industry began in the 1920s and would go on to span four decades. The Olympia's white faience exterior was continued in the next part of the scheme as far as Carter Street with shops being inserted on the ground floor. A mezzanine floor was inserted in the iron and glass Victoria Street entrance in what had been the Palm House and Victorian Dining Rooms, in order to allow the creation of a series of upper rooms that became the Spanish Hall and Baronial Hall with elaborate plasterwork by Mazzei reminiscent of something from a Hollywood film set. A number of new areas opened in 1931 including Ye Galleon - a replica of the Officers' Quarters on a Spanish galleon of the Armada period, the Renaissance Restaurant with an Art Deco cocktail bar designed by the architect J C Derham, the Windsor Bar, and a refurbished Floral Hall and Rotunda by Matania. In 1934/5 the Empress ballroom was re-floored and the stage rebuilt to incorporate Art Deco motifs along with the original florid decoration.

In 1938 the Opera House was demolished and a new 3,000 seat replacement was erected to a design in the Modernist style by the architect Charles McKeith. The new Opera House possessed the largest stage in the country and was designed with a sweepingly curved proscenium. Elegant foyers and bars completed the ensemble. Some areas of the second Opera House were retained; the Church Street elevation was extended in a matching style to the second Opera House while the Grand Foyer of the 1911 Opera House was retained and incorporated within the new design.
During World War II the Winter Gardens was used by the RAF for training purposes during the day and for entertainment in the evenings, before reverting back to its customary usage at the end of the war.

The first Royal Variety Performance to be conducted outside London took place in the Opera House in 1955 and a period style Royal Box, now removed, was added to the theatre for the occasion, somewhat spoiling the modernist lines of the auditorium. By the early 1960s social tastes and entertainment expectations were changing and in response the Winter Gardens management began a series of alterations in order to offer entertainments more in keeping with developing social mores. The first casualty was the Indian Lounge, which was partly removed in 1964 and replaced by the Planet Room, a large lounge bar with a cabaret stage. In 1967 the management itself changed with EMI taking over. A retail unit fronting onto Leopold Grove with a car park over was constructed, whilst about the same time a first floor extension to the rear of the ballroom was added.

In 1973 the architectural heritage of the Winter Gardens was recognised when it was listed at grade II. Later in the 1970s further attempts at modernising the entertainment experience took place when the Empress Ballroom was turned into a nightclub called The Stardust Garden. The ballroom's size was effectively reduced by temporary carpeting, seating and the introduction of much trellis work. In 1983 First Leisure took over the Winter Gardens and in conjunction with Blackpool Borough Council made plans for a £4m refurbishment. During this same year the listing of the Winter Gardens complex was upgraded to II*. Refurbishment work took place during the latter half of the 1980s and saw significant changes. The Pavilion Theatre was converted into a conference room by levelling the floor, removing stairs to the upper levels and reintroducing shutters thus offering the opportunity of opening it up again into the surrounding Ambulatory. The backstage area became the new Palm Court Restaurant. Other work included conversion of the old Palm Café into the Foyer Room for the Empress Ballroom in a style influenced by C R Mackintosh, the Planet Room was refurbished in a Roman style to become the Arena during the day and the Caesar's Palace Cabaret at night, and Victorian statuary, albeit plaster reproductions, were reintroduced into the area under the dome.

During the 1990s many of the floor surfaces were replaced and since 1998 when the current owners took control, a general upgrading of the buildings has been taking place with an emphasis on improving conference facilities. The original Pavilion has resumed occasional use as a theatre, albeit without the balcony seating to which there is now no access due to the removal of the stairs, whilst the Palm Court Restaurant has now been converted into a bistro. The site of the former Bank Hey House, which later functioned as a Billiard Room, has been vastly modified and is now an arcade housing amusement machines. The Arena has been changed from its former function as Caesar's Palace and now serves as a lounge area with bar to the Empress Ballroom which itself has had all traces of its former use as a nightclub removed.

Lynn F Pearson: The People's Palaces, Britain's Seaside Pleasure Buildings. Barracuda Books Ltd. 1991.
Winter Gardens Blackpool: 125 Years Souvenir History.
Winter Garden Blackpool: Conservation Plan. 2002.

Blackpool Winter Gardens is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* It is the earliest, most ambitious and most complete surviving Winter Gardens complex in the country
* The complex contains many well-preserved original features together with numerous high quality late-Victorian and C20 additions
* The Winter Gardens complex has been at the forefront of tourist development in Blackpool for over 130 years and has assisted greatly in making the town England's premier seaside resort

Listing NGR: SD3089236162

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.