Our Heritage

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11 July 1878

Winter Gardens officially opens

On the 11 July 1878, the Winter Gardens is formally opened by the Lord Mayor of London. The Winter
Gardens boasts an exotic, glass roofed Floral Hall for promenading, Indoor and outdoor skating rinks and the Pavilion Hall for special events.

Contractors Thomas Mitchell were tasked with the construction which at that point had been one of the largest projects that Blackpool had seen.

10 June 1889

First Opera House Opened

In 1888, plans for the first Opera House were being prepared by Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect. The contract was let on 19th October 1888 and the 2,500 seat “Her Majesty’s Opera House”,  costing £9,098, opened with Gilbert & Sullivan’s new opera “Yeomen of the Guard” on 10 June 1889.

In November 1910, the Opera House closed for rebuilding. Its larger replacement, by architects Mangnall
& Littlewood, was formally opened in August 1911. The opportunity was also taken to rebuild the Church
Street façade of the Winter Gardens. It was clad in white faience in a Renaissance style.

July 1896

Gigantic Wheel Opened 

1896 saw the erection of a 220ft. Gigantic Wheel with 30 carriages, each carrying 30 people, on the site of a bowling green and garden area in front of the Pavilion Horseshoe.

August 1896

Empress Ballroom and Indian Lounge Opened

The Empress Ballroom, built by architects Mangnall & Littlewood, with plasterwork by J. M. Boekbinder, with a floor area of 12,500 sq. ft., made it one of the largest ballrooms in the world.

1918

WW1 Sees the requisition of the Ballroom

Early in 1918, the Admiralty had requisitioned the Empress Ballroom to assemble gas envelopes for the .33 airship.The building was handed back a year later and some restoration was undertaken.

Easter 1920

Blackpool Dance Festival Incorporated 

The first Blackpool Dance Festival was held during Easter week in 1920 in the magnificent Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens.

June 1930

Olympia Exhibition Hall added

Following the purchase of the Winter Gardens by the Tower Company in 1928, the Big Wheel was almost
immediately dismantled.Construction of the Olympia exhibition hall began, taking less than 8 months to complete.

When it opened in June 1930, its interior comprised of stalls and attractions themed by Andrew Mazzei in
the form of a Moorish village

1939

UK Government requisitions the Winter Gardens again 

During the Second World War, the Winter Gardens was used for RAF training purposes by day and for entertainment in the evenings.

July 1939

Third Opera House Opens. An Art Deco Masterpiece.

Following a significant refit in 1911, in October 1938 the old Opera House was demolished and the third and current Opera House replaced its predecessor in 1939, with a classic Art Deco design.

The theatre erected in its place boasted 3,000 seats, possessed the biggest stage in the country, it was designed in a modernist style with a sweepingly curved proscenium, with the intention of doubling as a super cinema.

Its elegant foyers, wood-panelled lounges and bars completed the effect. Derham’s successor, Charles McKeith was the architect.

The Opera House was opened on 14th July 1939 by Jessie Matthews and her husband Sonnie Hale, being followed by the revue Turned out Nice Again with George Formby.

Over the years the Opera House would welcome some of the biggest names in Showbusiness, beloved musicals and, of course, Blackpool's very own Summer Season spectaculars!

October 1954

Winston Churchill Addresses Conference

October 1954 saw the 74th annual Conservative Party Conference take place at the Winter Gardens  Blackpool, the event climaxed in a closing speech by then Prime Minster Sir Winston Churchill whose was made a freeman of the borough in 1946.

April 1955

Royal Variety Performance

On 13th April 1955 a Royal Variety Performance, the first outside London, was given for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. A period-style Royal box was constructed for the occasion. It remained for many years, detracting from the modernist lines of the auditorium.

July 1964

Rolling Stones cause a riot!

The notorious events which unfolded, led to Blackpool Council imposing a ban on Jagger and the boys performing in the town – a ban which was only lifted in 2008.

The concert ended in a riot – some of the 7,000 strong crowd stormed the stage, after guitarist Keith Richards was involved in an altercation with an audience member at the front of the stage.

According to witnesses, the violence erupted because the crowd had been spitting at the band.

1970's

The Stardust Lounge

In 1970, to reduce over-capacity in the Empress Ballroom, its size was effectively reduced by temporary carpeting, seating and much white trellis work. It was renamed The Stardust Garden and was intended to function as a nightclub. It lasted four years. By this time, however, the unique architectural heritage afforded by the complex was being realised and in 1973 the Winter Gardens received a Grade Two Star listing.

2010

The Winter Gardens Blackpool comes into public ownership

In an historic purchase, Blackpool Council purchased both the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower from Trevor Hemmings’ Crown Leisure Company, bringing the building into public ownership for the first time in its history.

An ambitious restoration project begins in earnest to restore the most at risk areas of the complex.

June 2014

Summer Season's Return

Blackpool's traditional Summer Season show returned to the Winter Gardens in 2014 with blockbuster musical, Mamma Mia! Part of a co-ordinated campaign across the resort, Blackpool experienced a bumper 2014 season, and showcased Blackpool as an international theatrical destination.

2019

Blackpool Conference & Exhibition Centre

The Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre will be a brand-new, purpose-built events venue. It is the first major building development to happen on the Winter Gardens complex since the construction of the Opera House in 1939.

The venue will feature state of the art amenities necessary for hosting modern conferences and exhibitions, including the latest audio and visual technology.

The Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre is one of the largest venues of its kind in the north of England. It is split over two floors, with an exhibition space on first floor and a conference space with a capacity of 2000 on the second floor. With a total 6000 square feet of dedicated space, the venue can easily host large events. It is also possible to utilise the space in conjunction with the other venues throughout the Winter Gardens complex, giving a total event capacity of 7000.

Elsewhere in the complex work continues to restore the most at risk parts of the building. In conjunction with Blackpool Council, the replacement of the Spanish Hall glass roof is underway with a projected completion in 2018, as well as an announcement to redevelop the Pavilion Theatre into a Creative Hub.