Celebrate the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens

Celebrate the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens

It’s celebrating a big anniversary in 2018 and we’re looking for YOUR memories about the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens. It’s an amazing complex of buildings and an important part of our seaside town. Tell us what it means to you!


Did you know that the Winter Gardens is 140 years old in July 2018?

We’re really excited to be working with thes to help to uncover YOUR stories to celebrate the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens.

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It’s such a big occasion that they want to capture and keep the things that make the Winter Gardens special to all of you. Did you meet your true love there? Have you got memories of  particular event? Did you go to one of the Royal Variety performances when the Queen came to Blackpool? Which big name stars have you seen perform there? Did you love Professor Peabody’s Play Place?

If you love Blackpool you’re sure to have your own story that includes the Winter Gardens. We’ve all got one – I’ve even offered to tell my story on film, so that will be an interesting experience!

History of Blackpool
Me and my grandma in Blackpool in the 1970s

My story isn’t a particularly fascinating one. I’ve never met anyone famous there, or fallen in love. But mine is special to me. It’s a simple tale about something that I used to love doing when I came to Blackpool on holiday as a child. I would have never dared to dream that I’d end up living here all these years later. You’ll have to wait for the final version to hear my story.

How to Share your WGStories

WGStories isn’t about capturing big and bold tales of adventure. It’s about capturing the things that make your face light up with happy memories.

There’s a chance for you to be caught on camera too, as some of your stories will also be filmed. Some will appear in print in the new in-house magazine ‘Encore’, and others will appear on the Winter Gardens website.

Would you like to share your story?

  • Leave a comment on this page and then all your memories will stay together in one place
  • You can also get in touch by email (then your message won’t be overlooked).
  • Just email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk with your memories and, if you can, please include photos.
  • If you would be willing to be filmed please let us know.

A few of you have already been in touch with some really interesting tales from over the years. Please add your story and share in the celebration!

History of Blackpool Winter Gardens

We’ve started off this page about its history and we’d particularly like to add what you know about it.

  • Have you got any old family photos that you’d like to include?
  • Do you know anything different or unique or any little known facts?

Watch this short film (below) from Blackpool Museum Service. It’s an interview with Carl Carrington (Service Manager Built Heritage, Blackpool Council) about the architectural significance of the Winter Gardens building. It was filmed in June 2017.

The architecture and history of Blackpool Winter Gardens

Potted History of Blackpool Winter Gardens

We’ve started off with some key dates about when the different buildings were built, when it was bought and sold and such like.

In 1875, the Winter Gardens Company was formed and bought the six acre Bank Hey site site for £28,000. The buildings we know today were all 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.”

They built an indoor promenade and pavilion, which opened with much ceremony on 11 July 1878. The lavish ceremony that was hosted at the venue to mark its opening was attended by the Lord Mayor of London and Mayors and Mayoresses from 68 towns throughout the country.

Now, 140 years later, a gala dinner will be held in the world-famous Empress Ballroom on Friday 6 July 2018. It will mark the big birthday and begin a yearlong calendar of showpiece and community events. There’ll also be a number of exhibitions and projects celebrating the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens, which will be announced over the coming weeks.

With thanks to Visit Fylde Coast contributor Juliette Gregson for these photos of Winter Gardens past.

Photo from the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens, thanks to Juliette Gregson
Photo from the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens, thanks to Juliette Gregson

Photo from the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens, thanks to Juliette Gregson

Photo from the History of Blackpool Winter Gardens, thanks to Juliette Gregson

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.

Board of stars appearing in the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens
Board of stars appearing in the history of Blackpool Winter Gardens

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

Development of the building through time - from Blackpool's Seaside Heritage - History of Blackpool Winter Gardens
Development of the Winter Gardens through time – from Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage

Blackpool Winter Gardens was originally built over a 6-acre site at a cost of just £100,000.

The venue featured concert rooms, and promenades which were followed with various projects through to 1939 including the Opera House, Empress Ballrooms and Spanish Suites.

The largest building project at the Winter Gardens Blackpool since completion of the Opera House in 1939 is now well underway, with the new Conference and Exhibition Centre which is set to open in 2019.

  • 1875 – The Winter Gardens Company was formed…
  • 1878 – The Pavilion Theatre was opened
  • 1889 – Opera House Theatre v1 opened
  • 1896 – The Empress Ballroom was built
  • 1896 – The Indian Lounge was opened (now the Arena)
  • 1896 – The Blackpool Ferris Wheel was built at the Winter Gardens
  • 1910 – Opera House Theatre was rebuilt – v2
  • 1928 – The Tower Company took over the Winter Gardens Company
  • 1930 – Olympia Hall was built
  • 1931 – Galleon Bar, Spanish Hall and Baronial Hall were 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 was held at the Winter Gardens
  • 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. It’s now operated by Blackpool Entertainment Company Ltd.
  • 2016 – Statue of Morecambe & Wise was unveiled and stands in the entrance vestibule to the Floral Hall.
  • 2018 – Blackpool Winter gardens celebrates 140 years

Pavilion Theatre

The historic, 137-year-old Pavilion Theatre was placed on the Theatre’s Trust’s ‘At Risk’ register in 2014. 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.

The Horseshoe at Blackpool Winter Gardens, the Pavilion Theatre is behind the right hand wall
The Horseshoe at Blackpool Winter Gardens, the Pavilion Theatre is behind the right hand wall

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 granted to Blackpool Winter Gardens will be used to restore the walls of the Pavilion Theatre.

The Pavilion is an important part of the history of Blackpool Winter gardens. It was created as a concert hall in 1878 and converted to a theatre in 1889. A major re-building took place in 1897, resulting in a splendidly opulent apsidal-ended music hall.

The beautiful plasterwork, designed by J M Boekbinder, was completed in 1904. 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 there.

Blackpool Winter Gardens Today

Following the purchase of the Winter Gardens by Blackpool Council in 2010, a lot of work has been put into the ongoing restoration of the building.

The white faience stone frontage of Blackpool Winter Gardens was cleaned in 2015. History of Blackpool Winter gardens
The white faience stone frontage of Blackpool Winter Gardens was cleaned in 2015 

Now, a new conference centre is being built and continues the tradition of developing this much loved entertainment complex. It’s scheduled to open in 2019.

Floral Hall inside newly restored Winter Gardens. History of Blackpool Winter Gardens
Floral Hall inside newly restored Winter Gardens.

Look Around Blackpool Winter Gardens

The Floral Hall is open to the public (unless a big event is being held). You can walk through and have a look at the recent restoration work and marvel at the amazing glass ceiling.

Each year in January each year an access all areas open day is held. Many thousands of people stream through the doors and look everywhere around the building.

What’s On at Blackpool Winter Gardens

All kinds of entertainment is held throughout the year 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

If this information has whetted your appetite, why don’t you join Blackpool’s Past – the Original Facebook Group. All kinds of amazing photos and information is discovered there.

Read Nick Moores history of Blackpool – it’s the most comprehensive guide of EVERYTHING to do with the history of Blackpool.

Find out More

Have a look at the Live Blackpool website homepage for more of the latest updates.

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  1. 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.

    1. To my knowledge it was because it’s a place that can be enjoyed all year round, and in winter.

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