Winter Gardens

A landmark building, architecturally striking and a rare survivor of its type and situated in the heart of Morecambe.

Auditorium of Morecambe Winter Gardens set up with circular tables with chairs around them.
Address
209 Marine Road Central, Morecambe, Lancashire, LA4 4BU
Risk Rating
8 (Community Rating: 3, Star Rating: 3, Risk Rating: 2)
Local Authority
Lancaster City Council
Owner
Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust
Operator
Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust
Architect
Mangnall & Littlewood
Date of Construction
1897
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
current capacity (ground floor only) 975. Full restoration capacity will be c.2300

Significance

Morecambe Winter Gardens is a Grade II* listed building of a rare type – that is, a big concert party hall. It is now thought to be one of a kind. It was built in 1897 to the designs of Mangnall & Littlewood. Prominently sited on the seafront, the main elevation is an ornate, symmetrical composition in brick and terracotta. The foyer and stair hall are richly decorated with the original mosaic, faience tiling and fine joinery. Beyond, a curving promenade with timber and glazed screens leads to an impressive auditorium. This wide and elaborately decorated hall is oversailed by a spectacular tunnel vaulted ceiling.

Why is this theatre at risk?

Morecambe Winter Gardens has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2006 when we started the list.

The building is operated by Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust Ltd (MWGPT), which, alongside invaluable help from local volunteers, has been slowly restoring the theatre and bringing it back into use. The work achieved to date has allowed the theatre to open to the public for a mixed programme of entertainment, operating from the ground floor and stalls only. While the circle level and upper levels are open for public tours, they are currently undergoing restoration. MWGPT continues to progress the restoration through its loyal volunteer groups, however, both the scale of the work and the costs involved are substantial. Significant funding is required to allow the Winter Gardens to be fully restored and reopened, and to allow it to operate to its full potential.

The red brick and terracotta exterior of Morecambe Winter Gardens, with a symmetrical composition with a big central gable flanked by projecting square towers with shaped gablesTheatre potential

This is a landmark building at the very heart of Morecambe that has seen a great amount of support from the local community over many years. The building is in use as a performance venue hosting a broad programme of entertainment, although closed as a performance venue for much of 2020 / 21 due to Covid-restrictions. The venue was able to reopen for tours and light refreshments and despite restrictions between July and October 2020 over 6,120 people visited the building. In 2021 the venue had over 11,000 visitors in the period April to October. More recently, the Levellers rock band played at the venue to an audience of 970 people. Audience data from the show has indicated that it attracted visitors from Cumbria, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Northumberland as well as other parts of the UK, helping evidence that the venue can draw audiences from a wide area.

The continued use of this building would assist with urban renewal and is listed as a cultural asset on the Lancashire Cultural Strategy through Creative Lancashire.

Current situation

The last three years have seen successes in fundraising and some great strides made towards both restoration of the building and stability of the organisation.

In May 2019 MWGPT was successful in its bid to Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme with a grant awarded for a governance and training review and to provide short-term business planning advice. The works, aimed at providing clear and strong governance and financial stability, have proven key in enabling MWGPT to secure partnerships with stakeholders. This has included aiding in discussions with Lancaster City Council for a loan to allow the group to re-mortgage the building and to part-finance essential repair works, and in grant applications to the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage for grant support during the pandemic.

Other fundraising successes include:

  • Government’s Coastal Communities Fund grant in March 2019 to replace the temporary heating system. The works, which are also being supported by the council through project management advice, commenced in winter 2020. Once complete this will make a significant difference to the visitor experience in the theatre.
  • Historic England grant in November 2019 towards the maintenance and repair of the historic fibrous plaster ceiling. MWGPT has been fundraising for the remaining costs. The first part of the work – to fully survey and ascertain the condition of the ceiling has been completed while maintenance and repair works continue.
  • Additional Historic England emergency grant of £350,000 was awarded in January 2021 which will allow MWGPT to complete these essential ceiling works.
  • Crowdfunder campaign in 2020 met its £25,000 target and attracted £5,000 from the Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation.
  • Architectural Heritage Fund Crowdfunding Challenge grant to provide up to £25,000 to match fund the Crowdfunder campaign. The money raised is being used to help bridge the shortfall for the heating and restoration works.
  • Marketing Lancaster grant enabling MWGPT to install provision for online tours and live recordings of the restoration works, with recordings commencing early 2021.
  • Culture Recovery Fund round two award of £10,400 to help with recovery and reopening. 
  • Architectural Heritage Fund Project Viability Grant to review the front-of-house areas of the building.
  • Historic England funding from the second round of the Heritage Stimulus Fund, part of the Culture Recovery Fund, which will fund the further restoration of the fibrous plasterwork in the main auditorium including a new replacement box front, urgent repairs to the roof and essential building work to the steel trusses in the upper levels of the Gods.

Moving forward, MWGPT will carry out a feasibility study and long-term business plan for the building, which will unite all the above elements of work into one vision. It has secured £5,000 from Morecambe Town Council, a further £10k from Lancaster City Council towards the project, and £10,000 from the University of Sheffield Policy Fund. It is hoped that the study will be completed this spring.

During this last year, MWGPT also commissioned a report on the spectacular tiles within the entrance hall, stairwells, and first floor at the Winter Gardens. The report concluded the Winter Gardens had an ‘extraordinary and unique interior tile scheme’. The tiles are believed to be Burmantoft with ceramic modelling attributed to Spruce - one of the finest ceramic modellers of the late Victorian period.

Alongside all of the positive activity and progress at the Winter Gardens sits wider Morecambe plans and discussions around the Eden of the North, which, if progressed, will be located on the seafront opposite the Winter Gardens. Planning permission was granted on 31 January 2022. Eden of the North is seen as a transformational project for Morecambe that will help promote all-year-round visitor activity and subsequently greater demand for performance and entertainment linked to the night-time economy of which the Winter Gardens will form an important part.

Theatres Trust continues to provide advice and support to MWGPT, working closely with MWGPT and its chair Professor Vanessa Toulmin to help prioritise the needs of both the building and its operation. Historic England and the council are also providing essential stakeholder support. Together with Theatres Trust all parties are aiming to help MWGPT grow in strength and capacity and to determine a route to allow this magnificent Grade II* listed building to be fully restored and reopened.

Campaign video (2021)

https://youtu.be/_cYXl6vtvHs

Images, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Historic England Archive, 2019.