Her Majesty’s Opera House was originally built on the Church Street access to the Winter Gardens and opened on 10 June 1889. Commissioned by the Winter Gardens Company on the advice of their new manager William Holland, it was designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham, arguably the finest of all theatre designers, and it was the first of his many commissions in Blackpool.
Matcham’s Opera House was greeted with critical delight, with the Blackpool Gazette stating that “for elegance and detail and effectiveness of arrangement it can not be improved upon.” Ironically, later management of the Gardens disagreed, and from 1902 onwards John Huddelstone, who replaced William Holland after his death in 1895, planned ways to enhance the building.
In 1910 Huddlestone commissioned a new improved Opera House and selected Mangall and Littlewood, the firm who designed the Empress Ballroom. Magnall and Littlewood’s Opera House opened in June 1911, with new exteriors including much of the Church Street faience facade, behind which was the balconied double story Grand Foyer. The capacity of the theatre was increased to 2,500. The main headliner in the new improved Opera House was Anna Pavlova in September 1912 – the first time professional ballet had been seen in Blackpool.
In 1938 the Opera House was demolished and a new 3,000 seat replacement, which opened on 14 July 1939, was erected, to a design by the architect Charles MacKeith. The new Opera House possessed the largest stage in Europe. The auditorium was designed with a sweepingly curved proscenium and displayed the Moderne style at its very best, with plaster decoration and hidden lighting reflecting the latest trends in both America and Germany. Elegant foyers and bars completed the ensemble. The Church Street elevation was extended and the Grand Foyer behind the 1911 facade retained.
The third Opera House was constructed according to the current trends in theatre design and reflected Odeon influence, with the incorporation of a projection box for cinema use. Its technical capabilities were staggering, with a stage measuring 100 ft wide, with a depth of 52ft, a proscenium opening of 45ft, with 93 cloths, 55 of counterweight gearing, able to be suspended from the flies. The original colour throughout the interior, including the 6,000 yards of carpet, was described as peach and russet in harmony with the general decorations of copper, gold and bronze. The seating is a bright plum shade, also to harmonise with the carpet. The use of Art Deco-inspired detail was continued in the foyer, with its dove grey marble contrasting beautifully with the original terazzo flooring depicting clouds and sunbursts in pastel colours.
Described at the time as a confident essay in 1930s geometric cine-theatre design, today the Opera House retains many, if not all, of its original features from over 70 years ago, some of which are rarely seen. With a capacity increased to just under 3,000, the expectation of the Blackpool audience was to see the World’s leading performers and the Winter Gardens management did not disappoint. The opening show was Jack Taylor’s summer season review ‘Turned Out Nice Again’, starring George Formby. Since that day the Opera House has played host to International stars such as Mae West, Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland and has been synonymous with the Tiller Girls. It remains the ideal stage for large musical theatrical productions from the West End. *
* 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 Opera House and the Winter Gardens Blackpool or to enquire about hiring facilities please visit the venue’s website www.wintergardensblackpool.co.uk