Coffee, cakes and Carl Carrington

Trust members attended a coffee morning in the Mazzei Cafe during March and after enjoying the refreshments were brought up to date on the refurbishment projects at the Winter Gardens by our secretary Carl Carrington.

Carl opened his talk with some background on the purchase of the Winter Gardens (and Blackpool Tower) by Blackpool Council in 2010. Planned investment into the Winter Gardens for projects such as the Floral Hall, Mazzei Café, Church Street dome and Opera House Foyer Bar had been completed and helped in the venue’s recent success. Trading figures were now showing a healthy return on investment.

The next major projects would be the Coronation Street frontage which was already being prepared and the roof of the Spanish Hall.

The cost to refurbish the latter was estimated at £1.4m and Historic England had agreed a contribution of £500k, around half of their annual total budget for the North West. The remainder would be raised by the Council through a mix of prudential borrowing and other sources. It was estimated the restored roof would have a life span of up to 60 years.

The frontage onto Coronation Street was the longest faience façade in the UK when originally constructed but was now showing signs of deterioration caused by water penetration at parapet level resulting in corrosion and expansion of the of the steel frame. A survey would be undertaken, including breaking out parts of the structure to understand the different methods of construction and how best to repair the damage. Work would begin in July or August and take approximately a year.

During the restoration it was hoped that there would be some access to the working areas so the public could view the projects. It has also been suggested that at the next Heritage Open Day some of the craftsmen involved would be invited to attend and demonstrate their skills.

Carl ended his talk by saying how the Winter Gardens Trust would play a valuable role in the venue’s future. While the restoration projects would be funded and overseen by the Council and the operators, the Trust could look to add value with specific aspects like sourcing and funding the return or original artefacts and heritage assets.

There was a short question and answer session before Elaine Smith and David Owen thanked Carl for his time and continued efforts on behalf of the Trust before the morning ended with the raffle draw.

A very enjoyable and informative morning for all concerned and one that we hope to repeat in the future as the projects continue.

Donation to the Trust from DM Thomas Foundation for Young People

£1000 has been donated to the Winter Gardens Trust on behalf of the DM Thomas Foundation for Young People, to help raise awareness of the historic building’s significance and preservation. 

DM Thomas Foundation for Young People supports a wide range of youth projects across the UK. Since 2000 the Foundation has worked closely with Hilton to raise funds and deliver a wide range of programmes.  

donation-to-winter-gardens-trust-from-dm-thomas-foundation-for-young-peopleThrough its grants programme, the Foundation invests in transforming the lives of young people. Each year staff at the Hilton Blackpool organise two charity events for the Foundation at the Winter Gardens Blackpool which help raise funds for disadvantaged children within the community.

The two events include a children’s celebration of music and a celebration of dance which sees more than 1300 local children performing at the venue.

Karen Oldroyd on behalf of the DM Thomas Foundation comments “We are delighted to be able to donate £1000 to the Winter Gardens Trust; the building is a vital asset to our community. Thousands of children in our community can use the building for performing arts, musical theatre and education visits. The fundraising events we do with DM Thomas foundation are about children, for children and is not only about fundraising, but bringing our community together – hopefully for generations to come. We are delighted to be able to support the Winter Gardens Trust to raise awareness of such an historic building.”

Chairman Cllr David Owen, Comments ‘The kind donation from the DM Thomas Foundation is a great boost and gratefully received allowing us to continue our vital work in ensuring the Winter Gardens Blackpool remains as a key asset for the entire community now and for many years to come.’

For more information about DM Thomas Foundation for Young People please visit

Special offer for Trust members to see The Phantom of the Opera (1925) at the Winter Gardens Film Festival

In partnership with Blackpool based arts group Aunty Social, the Trust is delighted to present The Winter Gardens Film Festival 2017.

The festival is now well established and this year runs from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th February with a programme of screenings, presentations, social events and new for this year a competition for the best short film. The theme of the festival is black & white but otherwise it’s an eclectic mix of dramas, musicals, comedies, horror, documentary and more. You can read more on the Winter Gardens Film Festival website with news updates also posted on the Facebook pages for the Festival and The Trust.

The classic 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera will be screened during the Winter Gardens Film Festival and Trust members can enjoy a special offer.

One of the screenings is the classic 1925 horror The Phantom of the Opera on Saturday 4th February at 4pm. Accompanying the film and performing in the Opera House will be the Minima who have been providing live scores to silent films for 10 years. It promises to be quite a night and Trust members can enjoy these special offers.

Tickets are only £7.50 for Trust members (full price is £10)
Free children places are also available for under 16’s (1 per adult booking)
* The content may not be suitable for younger children


Download this form the-phantom-of-the-opera-booking-form-trust-members-only
Complete the information and e-mail to

Book on-line at
You will need to include the booking code WGTP17

We will verify your membership and be in touch if there are any problems.

For enquiries telephone 07535 143855 and leave a message, we will reply as soon as possible.

Discover the power of music therapy at the Garden of Memories

A charity event at the Winter Gardens will help raise awareness of dementia and funds for local charities. Garden of Memories is being held on Thursday 8th December from 11am to 3pm and offers a mix of heritage and live entertainment for a good cause.

Included in the admission is a guided tour of some of the venue’s main rooms, a reminiscence therapy session, music from two acts, Pineapple Jack and Bill Barrow, and festive refreshments; a tea or coffee with mince pie. Tickets are £5 with £4 donated to local charities the Blackpool Carers Centre and the Winter Gardens Trust.


Reminiscence therapy stimulates the memory of people suffering from dementia and this event will include music and discussion about some of the artists that have appeared at the iconic venue. Musicians Bill Barrow and his colleague Chris Walton have performed across the County and the UK, both have personal experience of the effects of dementia seeing the condition affect members of their own families. Bill explained, “I learned the power that music has to evoke memories and unlock parts of the brain that were closing. We use the history of venues like the Winter Gardens and Blackpool in general by playing archive recordings, live music and talking about the stars. It’s amazing to see somebody respond and recall happy times in their lives.”

pineapple-jack-webMichael Williams, managing director of the Winter Gardens said, “We are delighted to host this event for such good causes and it’s wonderful that the history of the venue can be used so positively to help sufferers of dementia.”

While the event is being staged in Blackpool it is supported by volunteers and staff from groups across the County. Healthier Fleetwood is a new initiative bringing together the health sector and public to co-ordinate a programme of events and projects. The Lancashire Wellbeing Service offers practical short term support for residents with health, mild mental health and associated issues.

Tickets for the event are on sale now from the Winter Gardens Box Office, Church Street, Blackpool and further information is available at

Further information on music therapy and the groups involved is available at:

When Blackpool Gave Freedom of the Borough to Winston Churchill

A little over years ago, on the 4th October 1946, Winston Spencer Churchill was given the Freedom of the Borough of Blackpool. Winter Gardens archivist, Ann Lightbown, has written an account of the event and provided some fascinating documents from the day.

Planning for the event had begun bywinston-churchill-freedom-of-blackpool-ceremony-programme-oct-1946 the Council in March 1946 and the event coincided with the Conservative Party Conference at the Winter Gardens, its first visit to Blackpool since 1932. The ceremony, to be held in the Opera House, would be non-political and would be ticketed. When asked on what basis the freedom ceremony tickets would be distributed, the Mayor, Ald. Frank I. Nickson, mentioned the interests of school children, youth, ex-Service men and women, various organisations and businesses, and representations of neighbouring authorities, adding that the press, BBC and foreign journalists have all been recognised. In addition he had allocated each councillor 25 tickets and each alderman 10 tickets, for distribution around the 14 wards of the town. Even the size of the New Opera House was thought to be limited for such an occasion, so there were still bound to be some disappointed people, but the Mayor said the scheme of distribution had been designed to be as fair as possible.

Many people wanted to see the event and some offered 5 guineas to obtain a ticket. There were even standing only tickets issued, to get as many as they could into the Opera House.

Winston Churchill and his daughter Mary where driven to the Gardens from Lytham, where they had been staying at the Clifton Arms. Mrs. Churchill was recovering from an accident and so could not attend. A lunch preceded the ceremony in the Spanish Hall, attended by approximately 350 guests of the Council. Then it was to a packed Opera House for the ceremony.

Recorded excepts of Churchill’s wartime speeches were played before the Mayor and the guest of honour entered the stage. A newspaper report of the event below describes what followed:

“The Freedom presentation was a trwinston-churchill-freedom-of-blackpool-menu-oct-1946iumph of stage management from the minute when the golden mace was cradled on its stand to the last fall of the curtain on a scene glittering with flags, a tapestry of crimson and gold. But it will be the unrehearsed incidents which will live in memory.

“On to the stage, shoulders stooping, but a restless virility still in every movement, strode the man they had all been awaiting. A high backed chair had been set for him. Past it he walked, past the Mayor’s chair of red velvet, on the other side of the table where in a big armchair reclined Blackpool’s only other living freeman, the Earl of Derby. Down he bent to him and shook his hand. That was not in the programme. Nor was it expected that when the silver casket was given to him the new freeman would open it, take the scroll, unroll the parchment and solemnly peer at it, big horn-rimmed glasses lifted to his eyes.

“Equally spontaneous was his action when his speech ended, he moved the casket again, he took out the parchment again and flourishing it on high declared amid laughter, “This shall hang on my walls that my descendants may know that there was a time when I was well spoken of in Blackpool.” That is what they will remember – the privileged 3,000.

“They will remember, too, how after he left the stage as they chanted “For he’s a jolly good fellow”, left it in mid verse as if embarrassed at such adulation, he crept into the wings to stand, erect as a guardsman, while the band of the Loyal Regiment played ‘God Save the King’. Curiously dwarfed and humbled he seemed half on stage, visible to only a few.”

The ceremony was being recorded on disc and also relayed to people gathered outside the Town Hall. The crowds were still there when the party arrived for tea; they were waving their handkerchiefs and hats and shouting “Good Old Winnie”

Churchill spent Friday night privately and on Saturday he came to Blackpool to lunch at the Clifton Hotel with leading members of the Conservative Party. He made a brief appearance on the balcony before going on to address the mass meeting of thousands in the Empress Ballroom. This was the last day of the Conservative Party Conference.

A Screening of Stormy Weather & Dancing

For one night only, Blackpool Winter Gardens will be transformed into the Grand Foyer Club, where cocktails and zoot suits are the order of the day! Jive the night away to the swinging sound of our live band the Billionaires.

Stormy Weather at Winter Gardens Blackpool

The Winter Gardens Trust and Aunty Social present the classic 1943 movie Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne and a cast of amazing performers of the time as part of the British Film Institute’s ‘BlackStar’ season. With a cocktail on arrival, the screening and live music to dance to until late all within our 1940’s themed-for-the-night club with staff in period costume so dress to impress!





Ticket prices start at £15pp includes

  • Entry to the Art Deco cocktail bar with its 1940’s staff and patrons
  • Complimentary cocktail
  • Cabaret-style table seating at the screening
  • Party until late with live swing band and dancing

VIP tickets – Now ‘sold out’ (as of 11th November)

So put your glad rags on and get ready to feel film come to life!

Book tickets now at
or from Charabanc, Coronation St, Blackpool
(11am – 5pm Saturday & 11am – 4pm Sunday only)

Tickets for Winter Gardens Trust members: Tickets can also be booked direct by Members only. E-mail us at with your name, how many and we will be in touch with the details. Please let us know if your plans change so we can manage the expected numbers. Any questions, please e-mail.

Tea Time Treat at Raffles!

Raffles Tea Rooms Blackpool

Smashing afternoon at the Raffles Tea Room on Hornby Road as around 40 Winter Gardens Trust members and friends enjoyed some good food to go with the good company!

Big thank you to Betty Bradford and Elaine Smith for organising, everyone who attended and supported the prize raffle, and to our host Jay Kullar for providing the wonderful spread.




If you’d like to know more about dining at the Raffles Tea Rooms contact Jay on

We can highly recommend it!

Look out for details of similar events for Winter Gardens Trust members.


Stunning New Tribute To Morecambe And Wise Now Unveiled

The first ever statue celebrating the nation’s favourite comedy double act Morecambe and Wise has been unveiled at Blackpool’s world famous Winter Gardens. Renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson has completed work on the stunning 8ft tall bronzed statue which has been commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of Eric and Ernie first appearing on stage together in 1941.


Its permanent home will be the spectacular domed entrance to the Winter Gardens in the heart of Blackpool – dubbed Morecambe and Wise’s “spiritual home” by those closest to the legendary double act. Eric and Ernie performed in Blackpool more than 1,000 times in their illustrious career.

This wonderful new statue was unveiled on Friday 14th October by Eric’s widow Joan, alongside eldest son Gary and daughter Gail together with a representative from Ernie’s family. They were joined on the day by many friends and fans of Morecambe and Wise.



Eric Morecambe’s widow Joan said, on behalf of herself and Doreen Wise (Ernie’s widow): “This is a day which Doreen and I never expected to happen. It was so exciting when the statue of Eric was unveiled in his home town of Morecambe in 1999 and I know Doreen was equally delighted when the statue of Ernie was unveiled in Morley, West Yorkshire, in 2010. We never dreamt of seeing a statue unveiled to both Eric and Ernie in Blackpool, a town that we have so many happy memories of from all the many shows the boys performed there over the years.  It will be a day that will live with us forever.”

The new statue of the double act, which cost £75,000 and has been funded through donations, has been gifted to Blackpool Winter Gardens.

Graham Ibbeson, who previously sculpted the now famous statue of Eric in the comedian’s hometown of Morecambe in 1999, said: “I am delighted to have brought the boys back together so the nation can see them as they should be – Eric and Ernie alongside one another.

“Morecambe and Wise are the greatest double act to have ever graced British TV screens and both Eric and Ernie’s families agree their spiritual home is Blackpool.

“Eric and Ernie’s families have been involved right through the process and they love the statue which means an awful lot. I feel sure it will become a hugely popular and much-loved attraction in Blackpool for generations to come.”morecambe-wise-statue-at-winter-gardens-blackpool-dawn-mander

Eric and Ernie entertained hundreds of thousands of people during their many years in Blackpool, playing at seven theatres, six summer seasons and a starring role in the 1955 Royal Variety Performance at the Winter Gardens.  Michael Williams, Winter Gardens Managing Director, said: “The statue is wonderful and we cannot wait to see it unveiled at the entrance of the Winter Gardens where Morecambe and Wise performed so many times in their career.

“This will be a permanent tribute to the nation’s favourite comedy double act which I am sure fans from around the world will want to come and see. Graham has done a wonderful job and we cannot thank him enough for all his hard work together with the families of Eric and Ernie who decided Blackpool – the boys’ spiritual home – was the fitting location for this long overdue tribute to these two comedy greats.”

You can see coverage of the official unveiling of the statue on the BBC website 

Steve Tovey

Steve Tovey

Such sad news this week as we hear that Mr Steve Tovey has passed away.

Steve led the projects to restore the Opera House and Empress Ballroom wurlitzers with his colleagues from the Cannock Chase Organ Club and while he would say it was a team effort, it was his enthusiasm that drove the projects to be so successful. The concerts and dance events in the future and the music people will enjoy as a result will be a great tribute to his passion and dedication.

He was a great champion for the Winter Gardens and its heritage, respected and loved among the organ community of the UK and by those that knew him.

Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time.

Arrangements for Steve’s funeral have been posted on the Cannock Chase Facebook page.

The Empress Ballroom, 120 Years and Counting by Ann & Ted Lightbown

When in 1894 Blackpool Tower opened its Pavilion for dancing, it was not the lavish ballroom of today, but a rather plain affair.  Yet it boasted an orchestra made up of players from the Halle Orchestra.  Its main rival, the Winter Gardens, which had opened in 1878, then felt it needed to go one better, so its manager William Holland promoted the idea of putting a ballroom on the site of the skating rink. The Empress Ballroom, with the adjoining Indian Lounge and Empress Buildings, went up in 1896 and, although incomplete, opened briefly during the season that year, advertising that its orchestra of 50 performers under conductor Clarence Collinwood Corri had been specially selected from Covent Garden and other Theatres.

The Ballroom was designed by architects Mangnall and Littlewood with a barrel shaped ceiling and plaster work by J.M. Boekbinder. It was advertised as having 20,000 coiled springs under the parquet dance floor and was lit by three enormous chandeliers. Doulton tiles adorned the walls, with Art Nouveau designs by the artist W.J. Neatby, a theme continued in the Ballroom’s Church Street entrance through the Empress Buildings. Ample notice to the public for its formal opening at Whitsuntide (June) 1897 was given and its summer season ran from July until October.   By 1898 Mr Ralph Harwood had become the conductor of the orchestra, which now numbered only 25.  The first mention of a Master of Ceremonies in the Ballroom came in 1899, around which time a notice in programmes informed patrons that “Gentlemen could only dance with a Lady”.

Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool c1905

Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool c1905

Ralph Harwood was the conductor there until the end of September 1900. His successor J.H. Greenhalgh was not only a conductor but also composed music for the dances that the Empress M.C.s would invent and teach patrons.  Dancing usually took place afternoons and evenings, and occasionally just in the evening.  Intervals were often filled with an act given by one of the performers engaged elsewhere in the Gardens.  Greenhalgh, who went on to conduct the orchestra of the Opera House in 1917, was succeeded in the Empress by Harry Wood from the Isle of Man. 


The decade had seen the introduction of new dances like the one step, the two step and the tango and Harry Wood took the ballroom into the Jazz-age. However, in 1918 the Empress Ballroom was commandeered by the Admiralty for making gas envelopes for the R33 airship and the three large chandeliers were taken down.   In the meantime dancing took place in the adjoining Indian Lounge. Following the war, the Company received compensation from the Admiralty to refurbish the Ballroom, and the 12 chandeliers that we see today were put in place.

Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool c1936

Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool c1936

In 1920 Harry Wood was one of the parties involved in the launch of an annual dance festival, the forerunner of the now internationally known Blackpool Dance Festival.  In 1927, Wood, by then Musical Director of the Winter Gardens, left Blackpool for his native Isle of Man and most of the orchestra members went with him. Their place was taken by Herman Darewski and his Orchestra.  Darewski said that he was not a lover of American jazz in the Ballroom, so out would be going the wailing saxophone and screeching trombones, and melody would be returning to the ballroom.

1928 saw big changes at the Winter Gardens after the Tower Company had got a majority share in the Company.  Parts of the Winter Gardens were given a makeover and in 1934 the Empress Ballroom had a new floor laid, with modifications to the stage and a Wurlitzer organ the following year. This wasn’t the first time an organ had been installed in the Ballroom.  The late David Clegg had built one that filled the whole of the east balcony on which he had given Sunday Concerts up to his death in 1923. The Tower Company would change over the Empress and Tower bands during winter seasons.  Larry Brennan had been brought in to lead the new Empress Band in 1931.

During WW2 the Empress was often bursting at the seams with dancing couples. Blackpool being the RAF’s main station for basic training, and later with a large American air base nearby, the local girls would not be short of a dance partner or two.  Parts of the Winter Gardens were used by the military during the day, including P.T. in the Ballroom, but it was business as usual in the evenings. During the war Charles Farrell took over the Empress Band and continued afterwards.

Stardust Room Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool 1970s

Stardust Room Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens Blackpool 1970s

Things were to change in the years following the war; the 1950s and ‘60s saw well-known guest bands performing and sometimes staying on the bill for two weeks or more.  The ballroom had been used for Party conferences during the autumn and for the occasional concert.  Television, the decline in the popularity of ballroom dancing and holidays abroad, inspired the Company to transform the Empress into a cabaret showplace called The Stardust Garden in 1970.  The Wurlitzer was sold on and white trellis and cat walks came in, with entertainment while drinks and meals in baskets were served.  Joe Loss and his Orchestra, along with cabaret artists, were engaged for the season. It never really worked and after 4 years it was decided to call it a day.

The Ballroom is used today as a pop concert venue, for trade conferences, awards ceremonies, televised sports competitions, and lifestyle festivals.

In August this year one event celebrates 20 years since coming to the Winter Gardens for the first time. This is the Rebellion Festival, which has been going 40 years. Happy birthday to them and, to our magnificent Empress Ballroom, happy 120th.

Ann & Ted Lightbown – August 2016
Images courtesy of Blackpool Council Historic Collections and not to be reproduced or copied without permission.