Wonderful Winter Gardens

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If you right click the above and select zoom in, the boundary of the Winter gardens should just about fill the screen. The red dot is centred on the right angle on the main internal corridor, which leads west (left) internally to the Corporation Street entrance which is the arched gable wnd with Winter Gardens in large letters. From the red dot heading north (up) this leads to the entrance in Church Street.

When we visited with Professor Vanessa we went in the Church street entrance and congregated under the dome there. I was disappointed to see that the dome itself was obscured with a fabric velarium. However, it was colourful and it probably helps keep lots of heat in outside of the summer months.

We then proceeded into the Opera House, the third building named as such on this site. The original one had been designed by frank Matcham in 1889 but it was considered too small for Blackpool’s increasing popularity (even with 2,500 seats) so it was redesigned in 1910 then completely replaced in 1939.

The current building is very much Art Deco in style and rather bland. It has a massive seating capacity (nearly 3,000) but it can hardly be called intimate.

I first visited this building on an ABTT visit when Les dawson was in the Summer Show, so it must have been no later than 1992. We were shown round by the Stage Manager who bore a remarkable resemblance to Les Dawson himself. He showed us all of the public spaces, as well as backstage, understage, the projection room (which you could take a lift to get up to) and the fly tower of a former theatre elsewhere. He was somewhat disparaging of recent “improvements” and ratehr curmudgeonly but his love of the building shone through. Back then, the Opera House had a Royal Box with a decorative canopy above on the Stage Left splay wall and a matching false box stage right. (It looked real but on closer examination you realised it was 6″ deep). These boxes were not original from the opening and they were subsequently removed in a refurbishment. (You can still see traces of the cut-off RSJ girder in amongst the plasterwork if you look closely).

On Sunday, we were viewing it under cleaners lights and it didn’t look its best. The Safety Curtain was in (with an advert for the Symphonic Bat out of Hell on it) and cleaners busied themselves picking up rubbish on the two balconies. A small radio at the back of the stalls was surprisingly loud, either the accoustics are stunning, or perhaps they had more radios upstairs.

The building has streamlined lines, with dark wood dado panelling on the lower walls and gentle vertical ribbed features on the splay walls. There are also two large recessed ceiling coves for decorative lighting and a large oval fretted air duct above the proscenium was mercifully painted out. (This struck me as very intrusive when I first visited, despite being a design feature). The ceilings were generally a cream colour with the circle fronts being lighter (and looking green on the photos but not to the eye). The splay wall banding was picked out ih various shades and tints of purple whilst the proscenium arch itself was richly decorated in vibrant squiggles and zig zags.

The stalls rows are labelled by large friendly letters on the end cheeks, but confusingly the stalls are split into the odd side and the even side so that seats 1 & 2 are either side of the central row. (I’ve only ever seen that in one other theatre, but I don’t recall where now).

The theatre has a large stage and two fly floors, one on either side with the bars alternating to increase the bar density (one system made by Hall, the other Furse). There is vintage stage machinery under the stage for two large bridges and there are also the chambers there for a large Wurlitzer Organ, recently restored and now in occasional use for Concerts.

The stage door is in the central corridor of the complex and once you pass through the inner doors you find yourself immediately in the Wings and above you are four floors of dressing rooms.

I can recall being taken to the top of the dressing room block and up another stone stair which led to the stage left loading gallery. There were counterweights arranged down the stair treads as the safety Elf had decreed that it was no longer permitted to store counterweights on the loading gallery steel floor, as there was a risk of kicking them off- if you wore steel toed boots and were immune to pain.

More on the rest of the Winter Gardens another time, in the meantime here are a few photos.

Dad, does that say Water Gardens?The west entrance. We went up a side street to the north entrance.The large glass domecanopy obscuring the glass dome withinThe proscenium from the rear stallsThe proscenium from mid-stallsThe view from the front of the stalls backwardsThe stage right splay wall, home of the false boxThe stage left splay wall, home of the Royal BoxLooking up the proscenium, stage right. Assorted speakers in recessesThree abandoned playing cards on the stage apron, (Showzam! magic show the night before)You can just make out the sawn off RSJ three wide ribs to the left of the balcony front in this shotStalls seats. This is the odd numbered block, the rows go up to FF and the highest seat number downstairs is 56.An acre of seats in a theatre of dreams...