Winter Gardens Pavilion

An opulent Victorian theatre within the Blackpool Winter Gardens complex with splendid plasterwork decoration in need of repair and restoration.

200708mp wintergdns pavilion03 detail
Address
97 Church Street, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY1 1HU
Risk Rating
7 (Community Value: 2, Star Rating: 3, Risk Factor: 2)
Local Authority
Blackpool Council
Operator
Blackpool Entertainment Company Ltd / Selladoor Worldwide
Architect
Thomas Mitchell, with auditorium later altered by Wylson & Long
Date of Construction
1878
Listing
Grade II*
Capacity
Estimated at 1,200

Significance

The Winter Gardens is a vast entertainment complex containing a number of individual entertainment venues constructed between 1875 and 1939. The Pavilion was one of the first of these to be built and was converted to a theatre by Thomas Mitchell in 1889. The present auditorium of 1896-97 is by Wylson & Long. The proscenium stage was blocked off in the 1980s and converted into a restaurant, but the auditorium is still an impressive space. It has a splendidly opulent music hall interior, with two balconies running around three sides and a richly decorated ceiling.

Very little of Wylson & Long’s work has survived to the present day and Blackpool Winter Gardens Pavilion survives as their most important monument. In 2017 Blackpool Council commissioned a Statement of Significance for the Pavilion and this has shown that it is in fact one of the only remaining auditorium examples in the United Kingdom that exemplifies and spans the period of the end of music hall and the development of variety theatre. As such, it is of significant importance.

Why is this theatre at risk?

The Winter Gardens Pavilion has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2014. The Winter Gardens Complex is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

Since 2013 parts of the building have been progressively deteriorating. The roof is leaking and the decorative plasterwork is falling away with immediate repair works estimated at around £2m.

It has been hoped that Blackpool Council’s successful 2014 bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund development grant to transform the Pavilion and Horseshoe into a museum would provide the necessary repair works to the theatre. Theatres Trust was involved in the design consultation. However, in July 2017 it was announced that the council was not going to proceed with the project. 

Preventative measures have since been put in place to make the roof of the Pavilion weather tight, and the work carried out by the museum team has been useful in carrying out necessary surveys of the building’s condition and further investigation into the historic significance of the Pavilion. However, further repair and restoration works are still needed, in particular to the historic plasterwork.

Blackpool Winter Gardens Pavilion

Theatre potential

The Pavilion is an integral part of the Blackpool Winter Gardens complex, which is owned by Blackpool Council. Although the stage house has been part converted to a restaurant, the auditorium remains substantially intact, and the flat-floored stalls area provides the required flexibility for staging live performance.

In July 2018 Selladoor Worldwide and Blackpool Entertainment Company formed a short-term partnership to bring theatre back to the venue for a limited period. This has since ceased but is seen as a step towards potential live performance reuse for the venue.

Current situation

While the Pavilion is still in some use as part of the larger, operational Winter Gardens complex it is still considered vulnerable. Restoration works are still required and there has been little progress on this while the council has needed to focus resource on other more urgent repair works within the Complex.

Theatres Trust looks to continue its contact with the council over the requirement for the necessary repair work for the Pavilion to ensure that this historically important theatre is protected and revitalised, and will continue to support and advise on this.

Interior image Winter Gardens Pavilion, Theatres Trust; exterior image by Ian Grundy.