Winter Gardens - Morecambe
Feature from 2009
Originally called the Victoria Pavilion and Oriental Ballroom, the Winter Gardens music hall was opened to the public in 1897.
In its heyday
At this time one of its main features was a 118 foot roof span which was considered the largest in the world for a place of entertainment. It was not just the roof span that could boast a claim; the stage was larger than any of its London contemporaries.
In 1898 it was rebuilt internally at a cost of £100,000 adding an upper circle and bringing the total seating capacity to 2200.
After a slump that saw the owners go into liquidation, the building was eventually purchase by WH Broadhead and Sons’ Variety Circuit, owners of many Northern theatres at the time. More building and renovation work saw the addition of a further balcony in 1909.
Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, the Victoria Pavilion and Oriental ballroom were renamed the Kings Pavilion and Empress Ballroom and remained under Broadhead’s control until 1933 when it was purchase by a group of business men for £24,000.
After large scale renovations it reopened in 1934 and slowly grew to be one of the most important theatres in the country. Many acts were to be seen there even before they appeared in London.
The 30’s and 40’s were it’s boom years with celebrities including George Formby and Laurel and Hardy treading the boards. Max Wall, Beryl Reid and Frankie Howerd all performed there as did Morecambe & Wise and many other variety acts.
In 1953 the Moss Empire took controlling interest, and again renovation work was carried out on the already impressive interior.
After Moss leased the theatre to Entam, the entertainment division of Trust House Forte in 1968, the ballroom was converted into Dixieland Palace Show bar and The Coral Reef Bar. The theatre remained intact operating regular shows up until 1977 when its operating license expired.
For years before there had been little maintenance to both inside and outside of the building, and a damming report was the final nail in the coffin.
Trust House Forte did not renew their license and could not afford to pay for the renovation that was badly needed. Instead they proposed to demolish the building to make way for a nightclub and entertainment complex.
In response the Winter Gardens Action Group was formed and managed to get the buildings listed by English Heritage. Later the Ballroom was demolished but the theatre remained in place despite its new owners not being able to afford the needed renovation work.
In 1986 The Friends Of The Winter Gardens charity was formed and in 2006 bought the theatre and formed The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust company.
Through fund raising and donations they hope to be able to rebuild this glorious theatre and once again see the curtains rise.
For more details and information on how you can help, please go to The Winter Gardens Morecambe
Recently this wonderful theatre has appeared on television in Most Haunted where a team of ghost hunters spent a very scary evening roaming through its rooms and galleries.
If you ever find yourself in Morecambe and the Winter Gardens is open to visitors, why not pop in and take a look around.
© morecambeandwise.com 2009