The Floral Hall and Rotunda date from 1875 -78 and form part of the imaginative construction of the Winter Gardens by Thoma Mitchell, the architect who won the competition to design the building. Winter Gardens were built in may resorts; they were spaces to promenade, listen to concerts and take refreshments and Mitchell’s design for Blackpool promised the finest of them all. The final cost of the Winter Gardens project was nearly double the estimate of £50,000, but there was a general approval of the quality of the scheme, in particular the Floral Hall with its curved glass roof., 176ft long, 44ft wide and 25ft high. This imaginative structure, constructed of glass and steel, appears to have been influenced by the Crystal Palace style of architecture prevalent from the 1850s, in particular the cathedral-like interior of the Rotunda dome, which survives, although it is currently partially masked by a wheel of blue and yellow sash silks [Edit: The Rotunda has now been refurbished and is fully open]. This 120ft by 42ft glass dome was built to provide a landmark for people arriving from the train station and signalled the start of their holiday. Visitors entered turnstiles through the Rotunda, with its elegant gold and bronze fountain decorated with plants and flowers. The original Church Street entrance is now concealed behind the 1911 faience-clad Mangall and Littlewood exterior.
Much of the original design for the Floral Hall is still apparent in today’s Winter Gardens, with its 21 bays and a glazed roof supported by arched steel braces on decorated girders. Visitors in the Nineteenth century would have enterred a landscape of exotic palms, tree ferns and showy flowering plants. Statuary was evident throughout the flora, including a prominent statue of Richard II and the nine relief panels of the ‘singing choir’ on the walls of the Grand Promenade – the only remaining examples of the large amount of Dominico Brucciani’s statuary supplied in 1878. The Winter Gardens management was attempting to create a refined environment which would appeal to the more middle class visitor, who would enjoy a relaxing promenade along the 170ft long hall. Musical entertainment could be found in the Fernery, which ran off the Floral Hall to the north of the Grand Vestibule, and circus and musical entertainment in the Pavilion. Later, refreshments were made available in the Grill Room and Palm Cafe.
The Winter Gardens came under the control of the Tower Company in 1928, and in 1931 remodelling was undertaken by JC Derham. Shaws Glazed Brick Company of Darwen provided faience for the walls of the Floral Hall, which were clad in tiling of cream and rose pink, with blue and white decorative panels and octagonal mirrors. Four bronze display kiosks, with Art Deco glass, were added on the west side and columned entrance led to the Galleon Bar, which replaced the old Fernery. Alongside it the Art Deco Floral Hall Lounge Bar was created, where formerly there had been a dining room. The Rotunda was similarly treated, and in 1939 the side entrance to the Opera House in the Floral Hall also resulted in more cream faience.
Today’s Floral Hall retains much of the elements of the 1870s design and the 1931 refit, but the statues and fountains are long gone. However, it still provides a pace for elegance and ambience for the people of Blackpool to promenade, albeit without the profusion of palms and ferns that once adorned this glass and steel masterpiece of Victorian construction. *
* The text above was taken from ‘Winter Gardens Blackpool – The Most Magnificent Palace of Amusement in the World’ by Prof Vanessa Toulmin, Director of the National Fairground Archive at University of Sheffield and a leading authority on Victorian entertainment and early film. Copies of the book are available to purchase through the Winter Gardens Trust – please contact us.
For a full listing of events at the Winter Gardens Blackpool or to enquire about hiring facilities please visit the venue’s website www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk