Winter Gardens

A landmark building, architecturally striking and a rare survivor of its type, a minstrel’s hall, 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 a 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.

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, 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. The upper balcony areas remain in poor condition and are 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 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 it has been closed as a performance venue for much of 2020 due to Covid-restrictions. The venue was able to reopen for tours and light refreshments and despite restriction between July and October over 6,120 people visited the building.

The continued use of this building would assist with urban renewal.

Current situation

The last few 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 our 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 allowing the group to re-mortgage the building and to part finance essential repair works, and in grant applications to both the Architectural Heritage Fund and to the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage for grant support during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other fundraising successes include:

  • Government’s Coastal Communities Fund grant awarded 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 works – to fully survey and ascertain the condition of the ceiling has now completed with maintenance and repair works continuing in 2021.
  • 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.

Moving forward, MWGPT is looking to 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.

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. The council also included the Winter Gardens within its, sadly unsuccessful, bid to the Government Future High Streets fund.

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 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.

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