Winter Gardens

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

Dp234040 detail
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 Limited
Operator
Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust Limited
Architect
Mangnall & Littlewood
Date of Construction
1897
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
2,150

Significance

Morecambe Winter Gardens is a Grade II* listed building of a rare type, that is, a big concert party or minstrels’ hall. It is now thought to be unique of its kind. It was built in 1897 to the designs of Mangnall & Littlewood, with noted theatre architect Frank Matcham as consultant. 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 lead to an impressive auditorium. This wide and elaborately decorated hall is oversailed by a spectacular tunnel vaulted ceiling. A flavour of Matcham is detectable in a building quite unlike any of his surviving works.

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 Limited (MWGPT), which along with the Friends of the Winter Gardens, is slowly restoring the theatre and bringing it back into use. The theatre is open to the public and currently shows a mixed programme of entertainment, operating from the ground floor and stalls only. The upper balcony areas are in poor condition and not currently accessible to the public. While the circle level is open for public tours it is not available as audience seating. 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.

Morecambe Winter GardensTheatre potential

This is a landmark building at the very heart of Morecambe, which has seen a great amount of support from the local community over many years. The building is in currently in use as a performance venue, hosting a broad programme of entertainment and this year has seen visitor numbers of over 20,000. The continued use of this building would assist with urban renewal.

Current situation

While restoration work is slow, much progress has been made: the front bar has been reopened as have offices at the front of the building, the raked parquet floor and timber panelling to the stalls have been painstakingly renovated, and dressing rooms refitted. In the meantime, the upper levels of the building are closed to the public, heating remains a problem, particularly over the winter months, and a proportion of audience toilets are temporarily located in portakabins.

Theatres Trust has been providing support to MWGPT regarding operational set up after a difficult 18 months which has seen the passing of the group’s founder member, Evelyn Archer. We have been working with MWGPT and the current acting chair, Professor Vanessa Toulmin, to review current fundraising needs. There has also been much partnership activity this year with Historic England and Lancaster Council both working to support the theatre. 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.

In March 2019 Morecambe Winter Gardens was awarded a grant through the Government's Coastal Communities Fund, to replace its heating system. The works are also being supported by the council through project management advice. Once complete this will make a significant difference to the visitor experience in the theatre.

With help from the Theatres Trust this last year has also seen the original seats at Morecambe Winter Gardens rescued from a Masonic Lodge which is due to be demolished. The seats, which were bought with funds raised by the Friends of Morecambe Winter Gardens, have returned home and currently await installation.

Theatres Trust was also able to help link MWGPT with the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society. With help from its members, it has now been determined that the ornate tiles and decorative work within the foyers at the Winter Gardens is Burmantoft, manufacturers of some of the finest Victorian ceramics.

In May MWGPT was successful in its bid to the Theatres Trust Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme with a grant awarded for a governance and training review and to provide short-term business plan advice. Together these works are aimed at providing clear and strong governance, and financial stability for the Winter Gardens – key works in enabling the theatre to secure partnerships with local businesses, organisations and professional bodies. Local chartered accountant Waters & Atkinson has been commissioned to carry out the business plan, with Lower Eaton Consulting commissioned in October to undertake governance and training works.

In November it was announced that Morecambe Winter Gardens had been awarded a grant from Historic England towards the maintenance and repair of its historic fibrous plaster ceiling. The grant of £123,312 will be used for project management, structural surveys, and repair of the missing and damaged fibrous plaster tiles at the back of the upper gallery. MWGPT is currently fundraising for the remaining costs.

MWGPT is also working with Lancaster Council on the successful Future High Streets bid, which involves the rear of the theatre. It is hoped that the works will be able to support a new toilet block to be built and make improvements to the back of house streetscape. MWGPT is also in discussion with the council over a possible loan to part finance the ceiling works and to allow the group to re-mortgage the building. Discussions are ongoing.

Additional funding is sought for a feasibility study and long-term business plan for the building, which will unite all the above elements of work into one vision.

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.

While progress is certainly very positive there is still some way to go before the future of this spectacular theatre is fully secured.

Along with theatres around the country the Morecambe Winter Gardens closed in mid-May due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following government advice, the Friends of the Morecambe Winter Gardens were able to reopen the building for tours and to restart service in the bar and cafe in mid-July. However, they have said the theatre will not host events until spring 2021. 

In August Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £25,000 to bridge the funding shortfall for the heating and restoration works taking place in the autumn. The Architectural Heritage Fund announced it will match fund the crowdfunding campaign up to £25,000.

Morecambe Winter Gardens received a grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage on 9 October. The £20,800 grant will cover essential running costs for the coming months. 

In late October the theatre hit its £25,000 Crowdfunder target, securing its Architectural Heritage Fund match funding; it also received additional support from Historic England. This will allow the Winter Gardens to focus on works to repair and restore the building and see this fantastic venue ready for reopening to audiences.

Images, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Historic England Archive