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Theatres and Halls in Blackpool, Lancashire

Winter Gardens Complex - Tower Complex - Alhambra / Palace Complex - Pier Theatres - Other Theatres

Also see this Article on Blackpool Theatres by Donald Auty

A Panoramic View of Blackpool's Seafront - Photo M. L. August 2012

Above - A Panoramic View of Blackpool's Seafront - Photo M. L. August 2012

 

 

The Winter Gardens Complex

The Opera House - The Pavilion / Winter Gardens Theatre / Pavllion Theatre - The Floral Hall - The Olympia Hall - The Empress Ballroom - The Baronial Hall - The Galleon Bar and Renaissance Restaurant - The Spanish Courtyard / Hall - The Indian Lounge / Arena

An early postcard showing the Winter Gardens, Her Majesty's Opera House, and the Giant Ferris Wheel, Blackpool - Courtesy William Neale.

Above - An early postcard showing the Winter Gardens, Her Majesty's Opera House, and the Giant Ferris Wheel, Blackpool - Courtesy William Neale.

The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Blackpool Winter Gardens - From a 1912 postcard.The Blackpool Winter Gardens Complex first opened on the 27th of July 1875 and was built on the site of a house and gardens called the Bank Hey Estate, the house itself is still just discernible within the maze of buildings which grew out of it. The original architect for the complex was Thomas Mitchell of Oldham and the first parts of the complex to open were the Winter Garden itself and an open air roller skating rink. Later other parts were added and the official opening of the Winter Gardens Complex was on the 11th of July 1878. In 1888 building work began on Frank Matcham's Opera House which opened as Her Majesty's Opera House on the 10th of June 1889. The Empress Ballroom was added in 1896, along with the arched Empress Buildings in Church Street which crossed the Italian Gardens. Next to the Ballroom the Indian Lounge was constructed, and outside the complex a giant Ferris wheel was put up at the same time.

Right - The Giant Ferris Wheel at the Blackpool Winter Gardens - From a 1912 postcard. The wheel was 220 feet high with 30 carriages which could each accommodate 30 people.

In 1895 the ERA carried an interesting report on the Winter Gardens in their 14th of December edition saying: -'Mr. Wm. Holland, manager of the Blackpool Winter Gardens, and Mr John Harling, one of the directors of that important place of entertainment, arrived home on Wednesday from their trip to America, where Mr Holland had gone in search of "ideas" for the extensions now being made to the Winter Gardens. They appear to have been enjoying themselves a little at the expense of the Yankee journalist, for upon the occasion of their visit to the Niagara Falls the Cataract placed on record in its columns that "Mr Holland is a millionaire, and controls the largest theatrical and amusement place in Great Britain, known as Her Majesty's Opera House and Winter Gardens, situated at Blackpool, of which he is owner and general manager. This famous house and gardens are the handsomest and most costly of their kind in the world, and cost millions of dollars.

 

You can now walk inside the Blackpool Winter Gardens Courtesy Google StreetView - Click to begin.The ceiling in the billiard hall is worthy of note. It is of solid gold, and cost :£100,000, or 500,000 dollars. The promenade hall around the pavilion holds 10,000 persons. The buffet is divided into first and second classes. 'The ferneries are said to he something wonderful. The Opera House will seat about 3,000. Mr Holland is constructing a Ferris Wheel at Blackpool to outdo the Eiffel Tower. When finished it will cost one and a-half millions.

Left -You can now walk inside the Blackpool Winter Gardens Courtesy Google StreetView - Click to begin.

At this place of amusement a number of different performances are produced at the same time, such as opera, circus, variety, &c. These gentlemen are the guests of Mr David Isaacs, and arrived in the city yesterday afternoon, en route for England, from India. While in India Mr Holland purchased a herd of fifty elephants to be shipped to Blackpool, and also engaged a number of Indian jugglers, performers, and features for his gardens. He will remain here for a few days, viewing Niagara's beauty. After this record we shall not hesitate to credit the People's Caterer with being a past master of the game of "spoof." - The ERA, 14th December 1895.

 

Inside the Coronation Street entrance to the Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.1897, saw the erection of a large steel and glass arched structure at the Victoria Street entrance to the complex which was used as a Palm House. At the same time the Pavilion was altered with a new proscenium, boxes, and a raked stalls floor. In 1901 an Iron and glass canopy was added to the Church Street end of the Winter Gardens.

Right - Inside the Coronation Street entrance to the Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.

In 1928, when the Winter Gardens Company was taken over by the Tower Company, the huge Ferris wheel was taken down and a temporary circus was erected in its place, this space would eventually be used for the construction of the Olympia Hall in 1929, which opened in June 1930.

This period also saw the adding of the Spanish Hall, the Baronial Hall, the Ye Galleon bar, the Renaissance Restaurant, and the Windsor Bar, all completed in May 1931. The Floral Hall was also refurbished at the same time and had a lounge bar added. The Opera House was demolished in 1938 and a new one erected in its place, with, at the time, the biggest stage in the Country.

 

The whole of the Winter Gardens Complex as seen from the top of the Blackpool Tower - Photo M.L. August 2012

Above - The whole of the Winter Gardens Complex as seen from the top of the Blackpool Tower - Photo M.L. August 2012

A Plaque celebrating the work of Frank Matcham and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Courtesy Philip Paine.In 1973 the Winter Gardens was granted a Grade II Star Listed status and this was opportune as the complex had become quite run down by this time and its future looked uncertain. However, it is still here today, and is now owned by the Blackpool Council who purchased it in 2010 and set about a major restoration programme, much of which is in evidence today.

Today the Winter Gardens has three main theatrical spaces, the Opera House, the Pavilion Theatre, and the Empress Ballroom, but also includes the Olympia Hall and the Spanish Hall, which can host theatrical performances too.

Right - A Plaque celebrating the work of Frank Matcham and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool - Courtesy Philip Paine.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool in October 1879.

You may like to visit the Blackpool Winter Gardens' own website here.

 

The Coronation Street entrance to the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.

Above - The Coronation Street entrance to the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.

The Church Street end of the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.

Above - The Church Street entrance to the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool - Photo M.L. August 2012.

For details of the individual parts of the Winter Gardens, past and present, click the links below.

The Opera House - The Pavilion / Winter Gardens Theatre / Pavilion Theatre - The Floral Hall - The Olympia Hall - The Empress Ballroom - The Baronial Hall - The Galleon Bar and Renaissance Restaurant - The Spanish Courtyard / Hall - The Indian Lounge / Arena

 

The Blackpool Tower Complex

Blackpool Tower - Tower Circus - Tower Ballroom

The Blackpool Tower complex during renovation works to the tower in August 2012 - Photo M.L.

Above - The Blackpool Tower complex during renovation works to the tower in August 2012 - Photo M.L.

The Blackpool Tower, and entrance to the Tower Dungeons, formerly the Aquarium, during renovation works to the Tower in August 2012 - Photo M.L.The Blackpool Tower Complex was first opened on the 14th of May 1894 and is said to have been inspired by the Paris Eiffel Tower. The Tower itself is just over 158 metres high and was designed by James Maxwell and Charles Tuke from an original idea by Blackpool's then Mayor, John Bickerstaff, who invested £2,000 of his own money into the project. Construction began in 1891 after the architects had laid the foundation stone on September the 29th, and in total the complex would cost £290,000 to construct and would see both its architects pass away before it was completed.

The Tower Complex comprises of the Tower itself, the Tower Ballroom, and the Tower Circus, and when it first opened it also housed an Aquarium, which had actually been on the site before the complex was built and didn't finally disappear until 2010 when an attraction called the Blackpool Tower Dungeons was established in the space it once occupied.

There was also originally an Aviary and a Menagerie which displayed a selection of wild animals such as Lions, Tigers and Polar Bears. Both of these were removed when the Blackpool Zoo was established in 1973.

Right - The Blackpool Tower, and entrance to the Tower Dungeons, formerly the Aquarium, during renovation works to the Tower in August 2012 - Photo M.L.

You may like to visit the Blackpool Tower's own website here.

 

For full details of the individual parts of the Blackpool Tower Complex, click the links below.

The Blackpool Tower - The Tower Circus - The Tower Ballroom

 

The Palace Complex

Formerly - The Prince of Wales Theatres and Baths - The Alhambra Complex

The Palace Picture Pavilion - The Palace Theatre - The Palace Ballroom

An early postcard depicting the Palace Complex, Blackpool with Harry Lauder on the Bill at the Palace Theatre

Above - An early postcard depicting the Palace Complex, Blackpool with Harry Lauder on the Bill at the Palace Theatre

The Blackpool Palace Complex opened in July 1904 and was a restructuring of the building originally called the Alhambra which had first opened in 1899 in direct competition with the Tower Complex next door. The Alhambra itself was built on the site of a former Theatre called the Prince of Wales Theatre, which had first opened in 1864 and was later rebuilt in 1877, and a swimming Baths, called the Hall of Aquatic Variety Entertainment, which had opened a little later. The Alhambra Complex was designed by the well known Theatre Architects Wylson & Long, and cost £382,000 to construct, housing a Theatre, Circus, and Ballroom, along with a restaurant and cafe, all linked by a magnificent entrance Hall in the centre of the building.

The foundation stone for the Alhambra was laid on Saturday the 4th of December 1897 and the ERA were there to cover the event and reported on it in their 11th of December 1897 edition saying: -'The public-spirited inhabitants of what used to be termed the "Brighton of the North" have now established their claim to be considered, in point of amusements, the leading watering place in the world. With its magnificent 'Winter Gardens, Empress Ballroom, Tower and Circus, Empire, theatres, piers, and promenades, Blackpool stands absolutely unparalleled as a place of recreation. The latest development is the Alhambra, the foundation-stone of which was laid in becoming fashion last Saturday by Mr G. R. Sims. This huge building will front the promenade, on the site of the old Prince of Wales's Theatre and baths. The nominal capital of the company is some £350,000, and the pile will include a magnificent theatre, the pit of which will hold 500 and the stalls 300, a circus, one level of which will accommodate 1,200 sightseers, a ballroom to hold 3,500, a magnificent grotto, lounges, refreshment saloons, bars, &c.

An early postcard depicting the Palace Complex, Blackpool posted in 1907 - Courtesy David Pitcher

Above - An early postcard depicting the Palace Complex, Blackpool posted in 1907 - Courtesy David Pitcher

At 12.30 Mr. Sims put in an appearance and forthwith proceeded to "well and truly lay" the stone. Mr Alderman Meakin, J. P., introduced Mr Sims with brief and pointed remarks to the effect that the directors intended to supply Blackpool and its visitors with sound, healthy amusement.

Mr Sims said it had afforded him great gratification to take part in the initial stage of another of those gigantic enterprises for which their wonderful Blackpool was famous. They had palaces by the sea already, palaces of delight, which were hardly dreamed of years ago, and which some of those in the south hardly realised now. But it was a very great thing, and to him a very wonderful thing, to think that here in the north they had already created for all England "a wonderland by the waves." He looked upon Blackpool as a specimen of northern energy, and it was gratifying to him as a southerner to have their invitation to participate in what he felt sure was going to be a great undertaking. In concluding Mr Sims wished unlimited success to the last specimen of northern enterprise the Blackpool Alhambra.

Messrs Wylson and Long, the architects, then presented the directors, through Mr Sims, with gold medals as souvenirs of the occasion. An adjournment was then made to where mine host of the County and Lane Ends Hotel had prepared a most excellent repast, to which about 100 persons sat down...' - The ERA, 11th December 1897. The ERA went on in the same vein for a while and seemed very pleased with the proposed venture all in all.

Building work on the Alhambra took two years, as it was such a massive project, but the Complex finally opened on Monday the 3rd of July 1899, and consisted of a magnificent Entrance Hall in the centre of the building, with a Grand Staircase, with two 'massive flights of solid Carrara marble steps, covered with velvet pile carpets, and flanked with white marble balustrades', which led up to a Restaurant on the first floor which had a mosaic marble floor and marble walls interspersed with mirrors. Above this was a cafe, and above this were the lounges, which adjoined the dance floor and gallery of the Ballroom. To the left of the Main Entrance was the Alhambra Circus which was oval in shape and built on three tiers. The floor of the Circus was removable and it had stables beneath for housing the animals. The Circus could accommodate some 1,200 people. To the right of the Main Entrance was the Alhambra Theatre, this was built on four levels, stalls and three tiers, with a circular domed ceiling over the auditorium which was decorated in terra cotta, green, and gold, and had a square recessed proscenium, flanked by boxes at Dress and Upper circle levels, and could accommodate some 3,000 people. Above the Circus was the Grand Ballroom which was much like the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens Complex nearby, with bow fronted box balconies surrounding the main space, and a sprung parquet dance floor, but with a small stage at the end of the Hall instead of the middle. At the opposite end was a large balcony box over the entrance staircase. The interior of the Alhambra was in the Italian Renaissance Style, and as lavish as the Tower and Winter Gardens Complexes, with Italian marble and Venetian mosaic floors, walls lined with marble from Italy and Belgium, glittering mirrors, allegorical paintings, and ornate plasterwork. The Theatres Trust says of the Alhambra 'The whole complex can be rated as one of the culminating achievements of its architects, Wylson & Long, and a fine example of the work of the decorators, Boekbinder.'

Sadly, despite the work of Wylson & Long in creating such a magnificent building, and the owners of the building working so hard to provide another amazing complex for Blackpool's visitors to enjoy, the complex quickly began hemorrhaging money. The cost of the construction had been so great, £382,000, and the competition, especially from the Tower Complex next door, took such a heavy toll on its owners, that in two years they had gone Bankrupt and were forced to sell the building, in July 1903, to the Blackpool Tower Company, their arch rivals.

The Palace Complex, Tower Complex, and the Winter Gardens Giant Wheel, all in one period postcard.

Above - The Palace Complex, Tower Complex, and the Winter Gardens Giant Wheel, all in one period postcard.

The Tower Company then set about restructuring the building and brought in the renowned Theatre Architect, Frank Matcham to redesign the interiors. The Circus was removed as it was not deemed necessary to have two circuses next door to each other. The Ballroom and the Theatre however, were retained, redesigned, and renamed the Palace Ballroom and Palace Theatre, and the new Palace Complex opened a year later in July 1904, proudly incorporating into the building one of the first moving staircases in the world. A new venue, the Palace Picture Theatre, was later constructed inside the building for showing films and this opened in 1911, and an underground passage linking the Tower Complex and the Palace Complex was added in 1914.

A Google Streetview image of the site of the Palace Complex today - Click to Interact. The new Palace Complex opened in July 1904 and was much more successful, its main venue, the Palace Theatre presented top twice nightly variety shows 52 weeks a year and was very popular with the locals. New price structuring eventually meant that one could pay for a ticket for the Palace Theatre or the Palace Picture Theatre, and then go to the Palace Ballroom afterwards with the same ticket, making for a very special and reasonably priced evening's entertainment.

Right - A Google Streetview image of the site of the Palace Complex today - Click to Interact.

Sadly the Palace complex was the first of Blackpool's major theatrical venues to go and it was completely demolished in 1958 to make way for a new Lewis's store, later to become a Woolworth's. Full details of all the venues within the Palace Complex, and the former Prince of Wales Theatre can be found on their own pages on this site by following the Links below.

The Prince of Wales Theatre and Baths - The Palace Picture Pavilion - The Palace Theatre - The Palace Ballroom

 

The Three Piers and Their Theatres

South Pier and Pier Head and Regal Theatres - Victoria Pier - Central Pier and Pierhead Theatre - North Pier and Theatre - Blackpool Pier

The Three Piers of Blackpool can just about all be seen in this panoramic view from the top of the Blackpool Tower in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Above - The Three Piers of Blackpool can just about all be seen in this panoramic view from the top of the Blackpool Tower in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Blackpool has more Piers than most seaside towns in the UK, three in all, namely the South, Central, and North Piers, all of which have had Theatres constructed on them at various times. The earliest Pier in Blackpool is the North Pier, opened in 1863. The Central Pier was next, in 1868, and then the youngest of the three, the South Pier, originally the Victoria Pier, opened in 1893. All three Piers have their own pages on this site detailing their history, just follow the Links below for more information.

South Pier and Pier Head and Regal Theatres - Victoria Pier - Central Pier and Pierhead Theatre - North Pier and Theatre - Blackpool Pier

 

Other Theatres and Halls in Blackpool, Past and Present

The Grand Theatre - The Borough Theatre - Feldman's Theatre / Queen's Theatre - Funny Girls / Odeon Cinema - Empire Theatre and Opera House / Hippodrome Theatre / ABC Cinema - Royal Pavilion Theatre - The Theatre Royal / Assembly Rooms and Arcade / Tivoli Cinema - Palladium Super Cinema - Central Beach Cinema / Trocadero / Ritz - Prince of Wales Theatre - Princess Cinema - Regent Picture House

Article on Blackpool Theatres by Donald Auty

 A photograph of Funny Girls, Blackpool, formerly the Odeon Theatre, in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Above - A photograph of Funny Girls, Blackpool, formerly the Odeon Theatre, in August 2012 - Photo M. L.

Apart from the Winter Gardens Complex, the Tower Complex, the Palace Complex, and the Three Piers, with all their individual Theatres, Blackpool has had a number of other stand alone Theatres and Music Halls over the years, some of them still in theatrical use, or otherwise engaged, and some of them long ago demolished. Details for all these Theatres and Halls can be found on their own pages on this site by following the Links below. You may also be interested in this article on Blackpool's Theatres by Donald Auty, and this Article on the Blackpool Opera House by Barry Band.

The Grand Theatre - The Borough Theatre - Feldman's Theatre / Queen's Theatre - Funny Girls / Odeon Cinema - Empire Theatre and Opera House / Hippodrome Theatre / ABC Cinema - Prince of Wales Theatre - Royal Pavilion Theatre - The Theatre Royal / Assembly Rooms and Arcade / Tivoli Cinema - Palladium Super Cinema - Central Beach Cinema / Trocadero / Ritz - Princess Cinema - Regent Picture House

Article on Blackpool Theatres by Donald Auty

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.