One of the strangest, but most hauntingly beautiful groups of room in the Winter Gardens, is the Spanish Hall complex. Built on two floors from the end of 1930, and opened on 28 May 1931, they were part of the transformation by JC Derham, the resident architect for the Tower Company. A mezzanine floor was inserted in the iron and glass Victoria Street entrance in what had been the Palm House, to allow the creation of the Spanish Hall. The adjacent upper rooms became the Baronial Hall, the Windsor Suite and the Renaissance Restaurant, with an Art Deco cocktail bar. The work continued below in the Floral Hall area with Ye Galleon and the Floral Hall Lounge Bar.
The most striking of these rooms, the Spanish, Baronial and Galleon, contain plasterwork and interior decor by Andrew Mazzei, the British art director, and are reminiscent of Hollywood sets. This style of interior decor is known as ‘atmospheric design’, where decorative and architectural elements convey an impression of an exotic setting or time. It was an escape from the often economically difficult times of the 1930s into a type of fantasy world and was used in American movie theatres of the Depression era.
The Baronial Hall is based on a Jacobean banqueting suite and Ye Galleon is a replica of the officers’ quarters on a Spanish galleon of the Armada period. The Spanish Hall in particular, with all four corners of the room containing segmental battlemented balconies with three-dimensional plaster beams and struts and plastered wood panels painted to represent clouds in the sky, is perhaps the finest example of Mazzei’s work in the Gardens. All three are very rare examples of atmospheric design in a public place in the United Kingdom and reflect the wide range of historical materials with which Mazzei was synonymous in his set designs. Not as familiar to the public because of limited access, the rooms are often utilised for conferences and have hosted anything from pigeon competitions, party political debates or magic lectures.
The rooms were originally designed for fine dining, dancing and afternoon tea and provided a more intimate space than the Ballroom and Pavilion venues. In 1937, the Grand Coronation Gala Dinner Dance was held in the Spanish and Baronial Halls, with the ticket price higher than other events at the Tower and Empress Ballrooms.
Although the Windsor and Renaissance Rooms are not as elaborately decorated as the Baronial or Spanish Rooms, the Renaissance in particular was created in period style, with grandeur amd glamour in mind to rival the Savoy Grill in London. Both were designed by Derham as part of the original 1931 remodelling and access is via staircases leading down to the Galleon Bar. The stairwell to the Renaissance Restaurant is relatively plain, but that to the Windsor Bar has a corridor and landing flanked by mirrors and round columns beneath a coffered ceiling. The Galleon Bar is perhaps the best known of the Mazzei interiors due to its location off the Floral Hall, but very few visitors realise that what appears to be old wood panelling and beams is in reality plasterwork. The majority of the interiors remain practically unchanged from the original 1931 scheme. Exceptions are the small cocktail bar, which w as revamped in the Modernist style in 1936 – an interior destroyed 40 years later – and the Art Deco Floral Hall Lounge Bar, for some time an amusement hall, now refurbished and open as the appropriately named Mazzei Cafe. *
* 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