What is now called Morecambe Winter Gardens isn’t in fact the Winter Gardens at all. It’s the Victoria Pavilion, built in 1897 alongside the original Winter Gardens and Empress Ballroom of 1878.
The original complex began as the People’s Palace, built for the Morecambe Bath & Winter Gardens Company to provide entertainment, baths and an aquarium, on the lines of the Scarborough People’s Palace & Aquarium (1875-7) and the Great Yarmouth Aquarium (1876).
The Victoria Pavilion was designed by the Manchester-based practice Mangnall & Littlewoods which had already designed the Morecambe West End Pier and Pavilion in 1895-6, and were then working on the Central Pier Pavilion and the Hotel Metropole at the same time as the Victoria Pavilion.
The Winter Gardens closed in 1977, and the adjacent Ballroom was demolished in 1982 on the specious grounds that the replacement development would finance restoration of the Pavilion.
In fact it didn’t: the Friends of the Winter Gardens were formed in 1986 and its current owners are the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust Ltd [http://www.thewintergardensmorecambe.co.uk/home], established in 2006 to take on the huge task of making the theatre fit to earn its own living once more.
It’s a magnificent building, inside and out, listed Grade II*, and one of the few remaining Victorian structures in a resort that has not stood the test of time.
The Theatres Trust identifies it as “a rare type, probably now unique” – a large-scale concert-party auditorium, very broad in relation to the width of the proscenium and the size of the stage.
It was used as a location for the Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer in 1959.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces: the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.