As we prepare to re-open our doors at last, we reflect on the many roles the Winter Gardens has played throughout its illustrious history.
Described by Historic England as “the earliest, most ambitious and most complete surviving Winter Gardens complex in the country," our beloved building has been the backdrop for some of the most significant moments in UK history.
Since its formal opening by the Lord Mayor of London in 1878, The Winter Gardens Blackpool has firmly established itself as a stalwart of Great British estates.
Our complex has played many vital roles - from a venue for Royal Variety Performances and political conferences, to an emergency space for wartime RAF training and now a vaccination centre during the pandemic.
Little did Oldham architect Thomas Mitchell know when he won the right to design an entertainment centre in the resort, that his exotic, glass-roofed creation would provide the foundations for a myriad of additions and transformations.
What began as the Floral Hall for promenading and outdoor skating, accompanied by the Pavilion Hall for special events, has flourished into a spectacular development, housing the biggest stage in Europe and 2400 square metre Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre.
Here we look back over 143 years of star-studded performances and historical events, as we emerge from more than a year of lockdown to prove - the show must go on!
The Winter Gardens complex was originally designed for leisure, with fun at the forefront of planning, and the wonderful wheels of entertainment began turning in 1986 with the erection of the 220ft Gigantic Wheel in front of the Pavilion Horseshoe.
In 1930, the Olympia exhibition opened, housing stalls and attractions, with a Moorish village design by Andrew Mazzei.
Then in 1983 the funfair theme hit new heights when a giant adventure playground costing £250,000 was opened in the Olympia Exhibition Hall by the late magician Paul Daniels.
To this day, the mere mention of Professor Peabody’s Playplace reignites gleeful conversations about afternoons spent amongst the climbing nets, ropes, tunnels, ball pits – and braving the legendary Monster Slide.
The Winter Gardens is always ready to transform itself to stay on-trend. When 70s disco fever hit the UK, a makeover was carried out to reduce over-capacity in the Empress Ballroom, using temporary carpeting, seating and white trellis to create the nightclub setting of The Stardust Garden.
Disco lovers strutted their stuff there until 1973 when the complex received a Grade II listing for its unique architectural heritage, and this stunning room re-emerged in all its glory as the world's biggest ballroom.
It was on this magnificent room's floor that the first Blackpool Dance Festival was held in 1920. Dedicated to competitions to discover new Sequence Dances in three tempos – the Waltz, Two Step and Foxtrot - the event has gained unrivalled global recognition over the decades, and is now billed as the "World's First and Foremost Festival of Dancing."
It's not just dancers who've swirled beneath its exquisite chandeliers. This breathtaking room echoes with the memories of RAF soldiers, politicians and rock icons. The ballroom was requisitioned for training during WWI and WWII, and has played host to political party conferences and the world's most celebrated musical artists.
Today it remains the setting for an eclectic range of spectacular events, such as Light Odyssey
- an explosion of classical music and spectacular 3D animations featuring the BBC Philharmonic.
The Winter Gardens also scores top marks when it comes to world-class sporting events such as the Betfred World Matchplay and WWE Championships. Our venue's superb location and ability to cater to huge crowds hits the target perfectly.
Its range of spaces lends itself to the widest range of niche music events and exhibitions, from the annual punk festival Rebellion to the Pigeon Show.
Our complex is such a successful fusion of function and splendour, it has proved a popular venue for TV shows like Britain's Got Talent, and was the film set for a scene featuring Jennifer Lopez in the 2004 romantic comedy Shall We Dance
The romantic setting is not just for the movies. The Winter Gardens holds a special place in the hearts of many couples who've met and got married here.
The twice-weekly dances of the 50s in particular sparked countless romances and marriages. Gordon and Sylvia Stamper
fell in love and set off on a lifetime of happiness together after their eyes met across the crowded Empress Ballroom floor.
For Harry and Nancy Shaw
, a celebration in the beautiful Spanish Hall marked the beginning of 55 years of devotion and wedded bliss.
Today, the Winter Gardens is approved for wedding ceremonies too, so the bride and groom can tie the knot in a choice of breath-taking venues, including the stunning Jacobean style Baronial Hall.
Another role for which the Winter Gardens is famed is a location for refreshments in the most decorous of surroundings. Once upon a time, guests frequented lavish dinners in our sumptuous rooms, attending extravagant events such as tea dances in the Spanish Hall.
Our guests are still spoilt for choice - they can dine in the Theatre Bar and Gourmet Burger Restaurant and Empress Grill Room, drop into the Galleon Bar for a drink, or take afternoon tea in the art deco Mazzei Cafe
, named after the French film set designer Andrew Mazzei.
When it comes to famous faces, the Winter Gardens has a stellar history, as illustrated on its Roll of Honour
We are proud to say that some of the biggest names in showbusiness, including national treasures and international legends, have trodden the boards of our world-famous Opera House
, from Judy Garland
to Frank Sinatra
Boasting one of the UK’s largest auditoriums, and one of the widest proscenium arches in the world, the Opera House has been chosen to launch the tours of West End shows such as CATS the Musical and Summer Holiday.
From cult musicals such as The Rocky Horror Show to comedians, family shows and drama, the Winter Gardens has seen it all, including some of the most famous concerts in history. The Rolling Stones were famously banned after causing a riot in 1964, and The Stone Roses' iconic 1989 concert is notorious for being their first massive gig.
In 1931 the Winter Gardens Cinema opened, using the Opera House as a super theatre and super cinema, equipped to screen CinemaScope films. The cinema returned to the Opera House in 2014, offering the latest in cinematic technology, with 4k digital projectors and 3D.
In 1955 the Winter Gardens was the first venue outside of London to host the Royal Variety Performance, welcoming the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh.
The Royal Variety Performance returned in 2009, with stars including Bette Middler and Lady Gaga.
Then in 2020 the Winter Gardens hosted a third Royal Variety performance that will be etched in our memories as an especially poignant event. Hosted by Jason Manford, the show featured appearances from Michael Ball, Gary Barlow, Sheridan Smith, Samantha Barks and the NHS Voices of Care Choir. The line-up also included the late, inspirational Captain Sir Thomas Moore, who captured the nation’s hearts with his fundraising efforts during the pandemic.
The virus has had a devastating effect on our industry, and whilst we are indescribably sad to have had to close our doors for so long, we are extremely proud to have been able to support the NHS during this challenging time.
We are excited to finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Check out our What's On and join us as we prepare to declare those much anticipated words - curtain up!