Category Archives: Winter Gardens

Blackpool to welcome Cold Feet actor John Thomson in Hairspray musical theatre debut

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

Comedy actor John Thomson has been cast as Wilbur Turnblad, and will feature when the tour hits Blackpool Winter Gardens in December

 

John Thomson
John Thomson (Image: ITV)

Cold Feet actor John Thomson has joined the cast of Hairspray.

The Salford-born actor, who has also appeared in TV favourites including The Fast Show and Coronation Street, will join the UK tour as Wilbur Turnblad.

The show will head to Blackpool Winter Gardens from a three-week stint on December 13.

This is the 52-year-old’s first musical theatre stage role and he joins TV presenter Brenda Edwards who plays Motormouth Maybelle and West End stalwart Alex Bourne as Edna Turnblad in the star-studded cast.

John, who is also a stand-up comedian and voiceover artist, most recently featured in ITV’s The Masked Singer and will take over as Wilbur from Norman Pace, who first played the role in 2017.

John Thomson(right) is not a complete Stanger to the stage, as he starred in Aladdin at Manchester Opera House with (right) with Sherrie Hewson and Ben Adams in 2016
John Thomson (right) is not a complete Stanger to the stage, as he starred in Aladdin at Manchester Opera House with (right) with Sherrie Hewson and Ben Adams in 2016 (Image: Mirrorpix)

Set in Baltimore in 1862, the musical’s story follows big-haired Tracy Turnblad, who is on a mission to follow her dreams and dance her way onto national television. It is based on the original film, which was realised in 1988 and starred Divine and Ricki Lake.

The show features show-stopping numbers such as You Can’t Stop the Beat, I Know Where I’ve Been and Big, Blonde and Beautiful.

 

 

Former Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens owner Trevor Hemmings passes away at the age of 86

Home | Blackpool Gazette

Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings has died at the age of 86, it was announced on Monday night.

 

Trevor Hemmings

Trevor Hemmings

Hemmings owned North End outright from the summer of 2010 but his involvement at Deepdale went back to the early 1970s when he joined the board of directors.

A statement released by PNE read: “Preston North End Football Club can sadly confirm the devastating news that its owner Trevor Hemmings CVO has passed away this evening 11th October 2021.

“A further statement will be made in the coming days but in the meantime his family would ask that their privacy be respected at this difficult time.”

Tributes paid to Preston North End owner Trevor Hemmings

Over the years he made regular cash injections into North End to keep the club financially stable, clearing outstanding debt to outside parties.

Since buying the club, share issues – his favoured way of investing – has totalled around £37m.

He was a major figure on the horse racing circuit, owning three Grand National winners – Hedgehunter in 2005, Ballabriggs in 2011 and Many Clouds in 2015.

Born in Woolwich, London, Hemmings moved to Lancashire as a youngster with his family and settled in the Leyland area.

Hemmings made his fortune in the building trade and twice owned holiday camp chain Pontin’s.

His business empire included housing and the hospitality sector. For a time he was owner of Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens.

In recent years Hemmings had been based in the Isle of Man, controlling his business interests from there.

He attended most of North End’s home games until the pandemic and over the last few months had re-started his regular visits to PNE’s training ground at Euxton.

According to the latest Sunday Times Rich List published in May this year, Hemmings was worth £1.115 billion – a gain of £90 million compared to 2020.

Hemmings was heavily involved in charitable organisations.

A project close to his heart was Rainbow House, a conductive education centre in Mawdsley, near Chorley, which supports children with disabilities.

 

 

Blackpool’s Winter Gardens Wonderland with Christmas markets and Santa’s grotto

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

There’s be a Santa’s grotto and Bavarian-style Christmas markets at the Winter Gardens

 

Winter Gardens Blackpool
Winter Gardens Blackpool (Image: Submitted)

Family event Winter Gardens Wonderland is set to sleigh ride into Blackpool for the festive season.

The wintry treat will have a Santa’s grotto and magical live entertainment, while visitors can browse the wooden chalets at the Bavarian-style Christmas markets.

The festivities will take place indoors and outdoors from November 26 to January 2.

The grotto, which will also have live reindeer, is already open for bookings, with each child requiring their own time slot.

Each visit includes a meeting Father Christmas, a gift and free photograph and frame with the man himself as part of the £15 entry fee.

To add to the winter fun in the seaside town Tower Headland will be home to a free ice skating rink, where you’ll also find simulated snowfalls, cosy log cabins, a magical forest, festive light projection shows and special Santa tram rides in the shadow of the magnificent Blackpool Tower.

“Renowned for its unique location, the Blackpool Winter Gardens is the perfect venue for a traditional Bavarian-style Christmas Market,” event organisers say.

“Complete with wooden chalets and a bustling atmosphere, Indoor & outdoor traders, prepare to be amazed as we present a fun filled event for the whole family this festive period. Featuring incredible live entertainment, amazing food and a magical Santa’s Grotto, Winter Gardens Wonderland is a MUST this festive period.”

To book a timeslot with Santa, click here.

 

 

Blackpool’s Winter Gardens Wonderland with Christmas markets and Santa’s grotto

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

There’s be a Santa’s grotto and Bavarian-style Christmas markets at the Winter Gardens

 

Winter Gardens Blackpool
Winter Gardens Blackpool (Image: Submitted)

Family event Winter Gardens Wonderland is set to sleigh ride into Blackpool for the festive season.

The wintry treat will have a Santa’s grotto and magical live entertainment, while visitors can browse the wooden chalets at the Bavarian-style Christmas markets.

The festivities will take place indoors and outdoors from November 26 to January 2.

The grotto, which will also have live reindeer, is already open for bookings, with each child requiring their own time slot.

Each visit includes a meeting Father Christmas, a gift and free photograph and frame with the man himself as part of the £15 entry fee.

To add to the winter fun in the seaside town Tower Headland will be home to a free ice skating rink, where you’ll also find simulated snowfalls, cosy log cabins, a magical forest, festive light projection shows and special Santa tram rides in the shadow of the magnificent Blackpool Tower.

“Renowned for its unique location, the Blackpool Winter Gardens is the perfect venue for a traditional Bavarian-style Christmas Market,” event organisers say.

“Complete with wooden chalets and a bustling atmosphere, Indoor & outdoor traders, prepare to be amazed as we present a fun filled event for the whole family this festive period. Featuring incredible live entertainment, amazing food and a magical Santa’s Grotto, Winter Gardens Wonderland is a MUST this festive period.”

To book a timeslot with Santa, click here.

 

New shop fronts approved at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens

Home | Blackpool Gazette

Work to upgrade the historic front of the Grade II* listed Winter Gardens is set to proceed after being backed by heritage chiefs and council planners.

 

The scheme will see shop units in the Empress Buildings overlooking St John’s Square restored to as close as possible to their original state.

A council planning report said the investment seeks “to unify the existing ground floor frontage which at present is made up of a row of shop fronts which differ in design and appearance and do not relate well to the upper floors of the buildings.”

It is proposed to install new shopfronts using hardwood timber, with large windows and awnings “to achieve an active and open frontage”.

The Empress Buildings

The Empress Buildings

The planning application, which was approved using delegated powers, was supported by the Blackpool Civic Trust, the Theatres Trust and the council’s own built heritage manager.

A statement from the Theatres Trust said : “The plans seek to revert the shopfronts which form part of the Winter Gardens complex back to a traditional style with hardwood timber frames which would unify them, as they are currently of contrasting and insensitive styles which detracts from the significance of the complex and the wider setting.

“The proposals do not impact on the operation and function of the theatre and performance spaces within the Winter Gardens and would enhance the buildings’ appearance and contribute towards efforts to revitalise the wider area.”

Funding for the work has come from the council’s £7.84m Quality Corridors project which is funded through the Growth Deal.

That includes the £2.3m Property Improvement Scheme which has helped upgrade the external appearance of more than 20 properties on Topping Street, Church Street, Talbot Road, Cedar Square, Deansgate and Edward Street.

The Empress Buildings were constructed in 1894 as four bays set either side of a wide central bay which formerly contained an arched entrance to the Empress Ballroom.

Iconic scenes from Dirty Dancing re-enacted around Blackpool

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

The cast of ‘Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage’ at the Winter Gardens Opera House have been delighting crowds with performances in the streets

 

People in Blackpool have been having “the time of their lives” this week after discovering some impromptu performances from iconic scenes in Dirty Dancing around the town.

The cast of ‘Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage’ have been in town from August 14 – August 28 for dates at the Winter Gardens’ Opera House.

Following two blockbuster West End runs and four-hit UK tours, the production has been seen by millions across the globe.

The stage show tells the classic story of Baby and Johnny, two fiercely independent young spirits from different worlds, who come together in what will be the most challenging and triumphant summer of their lives.

The production features some of its most famous hit songs including Hungry Eyes, Hey! Baby, Do You Love Me? and (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life.

The Dirty Dancing "flash mob" in Blackpool

The Dirty Dancing “flash mob” in Blackpool

On Sunday (August 15) actors Kira Malou and Michael O’Reilly, who play the leading roles of Frances Baby and Johnny Castle, gave “hungry eyes” a treat in St John’s Square when they performed the iconic dance routine from the finale scene at Kellerman’s resort.

Yesterday, (August 17) Sandcastle Waterpark at South Beach was used to recreate the iconic “lift” scene in the water from when Johnny and Baby are preparing for their performance at the Sheldrake Hotel.

Cast members from 'Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage' Re-enact the iconic "lift" scene from film yesterday (August 16)

Cast members from ‘Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage’ re-enact the iconic “lift” scene (Image: Dave Nelson, Winter Gardens)

We’re excited too see what other popular locations in Blackpool will be used to re-create some of Dirty Dancing’s most well-loved scenes.

To find out more, please visit the Winter Gardens website here.

Plans revealed to restore front of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens

Home | Blackpool Gazette

Plans have been unveiled to upgrade a key part of the Winter Gardens as part of a multi million pound scheme to improve town centre streets in Blackpool.

 

If it gets the go ahead, the scheme will see the Empress Buildings restored close to their original state with the installation of new shopfronts on the ground floor.

Resort-based architect Joseph Boniface has drawn up the proposals which aim to unify the appearance of the landmark which overlooks St John’s Square.

Documents submitted with a planning application for the project say: “The application seeks to unify the existing ground level facade of the Grade II* listed building fronting onto St John’s Square.

The Empress BuildingsThe Empress Buildings

“Currently, there are a number of different styles erected during the last few decades across the frontage resulting in an untidy appearance.

“The new shopfronts will be hardwood timber framed and designed and constructed in a traditional style relevant to the period.”

The new shopfronts will feature stained glass windows and a retractable awning, and have been designed in consultation with the council and the current occupiers of each unit.

Timber work will be finished in exterior wood rosewood stain to match the recently refurbished finish of the woodwork to the adjacent Olympia Building.

The Empress Buildings were constructed in 1894 as four bays set either side of a wide central bay which formerly contained an arched entrance to the Empress Ballroom.

Funding for the work has come from the council’s £7.84m Quality Corridors project which is funded through the Growth Deal.

The plans will now be considered by the council at a future date.

Blackpool Winter Gardens: Iconic venue hits 143 years of amazing memories

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

The entertainment complex has an amazing history from playing it part in two world wars to rioting Rolling Stones fans

 

Winter Gardens Blackpool
Winter Gardens Blackpool (Image: Submitted)

One of Europe’s biggest entertainment complexes opened its doors 143 years ago this week.

Blackpool’s Winter Gardens has not only put the town on the map in terms of performances but its iconic building has a long and interesting history.

The complex first opened its doors on July 11, 1878 in a grand ceremony which included not only the Lord Mayor of London but the Mayors and Mayoresses from 68 English towns.

The Winter Gardens Company originally bought the site in 1875 for £28,000 and the construction project, which involved building on the six-acre Bank Hey Estate, was one of the largest projects Blackpool had ever seen.

Contractors Thomas Mitchell were tasked with the construction and the plan was to “place on the land a concert room, promenades, conservatories and other accessories calculated to convert the estate into a pleasant lounge, especially desirous during inclement days.”

The entertainment venue was to have it all and the 1870s saw the exotic glass roofed Floral Hal roofed built along with the Vestibule, Ambulatory, Indoor and outdoor skating rink and Pavilion Theatre for special event.

In 1888 Frank Matcham, the famous theatre architect who designed the Tower Ballroom and Circus in Blackpool, was making plans for the first Opera House.

The first known image of Blackpool Winter Gardens in 1890
The first known image of Blackpool Winter Gardens in 1890 (Image: Blackpool Winter Gardens)

The project lived up to Matcham’s grand reputation and on June 10 1889 ‘Her Majesty’s Opera House’ opened with Gilbert & Sullivan’s new opera ‘Yeomen of the Guard’.

At the time, the 2,500 seat opera house cost £9,098.

The Winter Gardens were set to become even more grandiose however with introduction of the Empress Ballroom, which was built in 1896, and the Indian Lounge which is now the Arena.

One of the largest ballrooms in the world, the Empress had a floor space of 12,500 sq. ft and was built by more infamous architects, Mangnall & Littlewood, who also designed Blackpool’s New Wing Imperial Hotel.

Two children play innocently in the shadow of the big wheel, Blackpool
Two children play innocently in the shadow of the big wheel on the sandy beach by Blackpool pier, Lancashire, July 2007. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images) (Image: Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)

The pair also created the 220ft. gigantic Wheel on the site of the bowling green and garden area in front of the Pavilion Horseshoe.

The massive structure could hold 30 people in as many carriages.

On August 22 in 1896 the 1000 tonne wheel turned for the first time and the ride was seen as an impressive feat of Victorian engineering.

The architects were then tasked with rebuilding the Opera House in 1910 as well as the Church Street facade of the Winter Gardens which was clad in white faience in true Renaissance style.

The Winter Gardens interior.

In 1918 the Empress Ballroom was to play its part in history after the Admiralty, the military department in command of the Royal Navy requisitioned the hall to assemble gas envelopes for the .33 airship.

The following year the ballroom was handed back and some restoration work was done so it could resume back to its usual function.

Beginning the town’s love affair with the ballroom dancing, the first ever Blackpool Dance Festival took place during Easter Weekend in 1920 in the Empress Ballroom.

Rock n Roll session on the pier a Blackpool, Lancashire. 18th July 1957.

The Tower Company then purchased the Winter Gardens in 1928 who immediately dismantled the grounds’ big wheel.

It was thought that the structure was an inferior attraction to the infamous Blackpool Tower, the tallest manmade structure in the British Empire.

Construction of the Olympia Exhibition Hall also began this year and took less than eight months to complete.

Opening in June 1930, its interior comprised of stalls and attractions themed by Andrew Mazzei in the form of a Moorish village, The famous white villages that line Andalusia in Spain’s coastline.

The onslaught of the second World War saw the Winter Gardens repurposed once again when the UK government requisitioned it and it was used for RAF training purposes by day and for entertainment in the evenings.

Blackpool Opera House

In 1938 the old Opera House was demolished and the third and current Opera House replaced its predecessor in 1939 with the classic Art Deco design of the times.

The biggest stage in the country, it was designed in a modernist style with a sweepingly curved proscenium, with the intention of doubling as a super cinema.

It was opened in July 1939 and has since welcomed some of the biggest names in Showbusiness and beloved musicals.

The 1930s also saw the addition of the first Galleon Bar, Spanish Hall and Baronial Hall.

Prime Minster Sir Winston Churchill was also to visit in 1954 for the 74th annual Conservative Party Conference which ended in one the historical figure’s infamous closing speeches.

More high profile figures were also to pay a visit when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived the following year for the first Royal Variety Performance outside of London.

The 1960s saw one of the most bizarre moments of the Winter Garden’s history when Rolling Stones’ singer Mick Jagger and his band members were banned from the town by Blackpool Council.

The band arrived to perform in July 1964 however were hindered by audience members spitting according to eye witnesses.

Guitarist Keith Richards became involved in an altercation with one gig goer at the front and some of the 7,000 strong crowd stormed the stage.

A riot ensued and the musicians were warned not to return. The council’s ban on the Rolling Stones was only lifted in 2008.

An aerial view of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool during the 1960s.
An aerial view of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool during the 1960s.

In 1970 the Empress Ballroom was turned into a nightclub for four years and was renamed The Stardust Garden. This was around the same time the Winter Gardens unique architectural heritage received a Grade II listing.

The Ballroom has seen many other lives too during the decades from serving as a conference venue for all three major political parties to hosting major acts such as The Beatles, Queen, Oasis and Radiohead.

The White Stripes even used the stunning setting for their DVD and concert aptly named ‘Under Blackpool Lights.’

The Beatles before playing the Opera House Blackpool 16 August 1964. Left to right: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon.

A pivotal moment in the Winter Garden’s history was when the complex came into public ownership in 2010.

In a historic purchase, Blackpool Council bought both the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower from Trevor Hemmings’ Crown Leisure Company and an ambitious restoration project began to revamp its areas most in need.

This meant it was able to play its part as an international theatrical destination when the blockbuster musical Mama Mia returned to Blackpool in 2014.

Most recently the Winter Gardens was once again play a significant role in hard times when it became a Covid vaccination centre this year and it hit an amazing milestone of 50,000 vaccinations last month.

The legacy of the venue is set to continue into the future with its new Blackpool Conference and Exhibition Centre promising to be one of the largest venues of its kind in the north of England.

People outside a Vaccination centre at Winter Gardens in Blackpool
People outside a Vaccination centre at Winter Gardens in Blackpool (Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

The brand-new, purpose-built events venue will feature state of the art amenities necessary for hosting modern conferences and exhibitions.

The centre will incorporate the latest audio and visual technology proving once again that the historic venue will continue to adapt to the times.

 

Blackpool Winter Gardens: Iconic venue hits 143 years of amazing memories

LancsLive - Latest news, sport, business and more from Lancashire

Council bosses have the green light for the new eatery on Queen Street in Blackpool

 

A new cafe is set to open in Blackpool town centre
A new cafe is set to open in Blackpool town centre

A former betting shop in Blackpool is set to be converted into a cafe after being given the green light by council bosses.

The premises at 37 Queen Street was last used as a William Hill bookies but has remained vacant for some time.

Chris Walker of Old Bank Lane in Blackburn has submitted plans to change the use of the premises to open a cafe which have now been approved by Blackpool Council.

The new cafe will include a bar area, bar servery, kitchen, entrance into the yard behind and accessible toilet. In the basement there will be a store, ladies and gents toilets and a cleaning store.

Three full-time and one part-time jobs will be created by the new business.

The cafe will serve cold, pre-prepared food and opening hours will be from 9am until late each night.

In the decision notice, the planning officer stated: “The previous use of the unit was as a betting office and the neighbouring ground floor units are in use as a shop and a public house.

“There is a public house next door and many more bars and nightclubs on the street, therefore there is little reason to assume that the change of use to a café bar would generate any more noise disturbance than what already exists assuming that appropriate safeguards are put in place.”

Work on the premises must start within three years.

 

First look at Blackpool’s new £28m Winter Gardens conference centre

Home | Blackpool Gazette

The countdown is on towards the completion of Blackpool’s £28m new conference and exhibition centre which is due to be handed over to the council in November.

 

Workers are now on the final stretch of the contract to deliver state-of-the art facilities designed to put the Grade II* listed Winter Gardens back on the conferencing map.

Contractors McLaughlin & Harvey have around 106 people working on site as the deadline for completion approaches.

Pictured is Michael WilliamsPictured is Michael Williams

While it is still a construction site, the scale and detail of what will be delivered to delegates across two main floors plus mezzanine areas is clear.

Visitors arriving through a dedicated entrance on Leopold Grove will be swept upstairs on escalators to vast spaces which can be divided into different sized meeting or exhibition areas.

But an exposed brick wall reminds visitors they are just a step away from the rest of the Victorian Winter Gardens complex.Work is ongoing at the siteWork is ongoing at the site

And it is this aspect of the building – combining Blackpool’s heritage with its desire for progress – that will offer delegates a unique experience and hopefully put the conferencing offer ahead of rivals around the country.

Architects have designed the centre to seamlessly connect with its older neighbour, with access on a single level right through from Leopold Grove to the Empress Ballroom and the Floral Hall, as well as connections to the Opera House.

There will be ground floor capacity for around 430 delegates and first floor capacity for 1,200, bringing the total for the whole Winter Gardens complex to 7,000.

The main meeting space on the first floor can be split into four rooms using fully acoustic sliding walls boasting sound block boards to prevent noise slippage between partitions.

Worker on the siteWorker on the site

But pull back the walls, bring out the tables and chairs stored in rooms behind, and the same space can be transformed for a gala dinner with on-site kitchens.

A smaller convention area on the ground floor can be similairly divided, while break-out rooms offer a glazed outlook for when delegates need to switch-off.

But just as vital as space, is technology and engineers are busy fitting out reams of cable into the specialist IT room where there will also be a control centre for broadcasters.

Broadband fibre connections will be the best available along with state-of-the-art audio visual equipment.

The conference centre at Blackpool's Winter GardensThe conference centre at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens

Behind the scenes, a heavy duty air conditioning system has been installed, while toilets, cloakrooms, kitchens and staff quarters are also taking shape.

An undercover loading bay has been built with capacity for two articulated trucks to enable exhibits and scenery to be unloaded straight into the conference centre or onto the back of the Opera House stage.

Meanwhile a vehicle lift can carry a four tonne fully loaded transit van to the upper floors to unload.

Michael Williams, managing director of the Winter Gardens, says the investment is already attracting conference organisers back to Blackpool.

He said: “We’re on track for November and the finishing trades are now in fitting out things like the cabling.

“It’s an exciting part of the development seeing all the equipment starting to arrive right down to the big ovens and chillers for the kitchen. We’ve also just ordered the 1,700 chairs which will be needed.

“Connectivity with the rest of the Winter Gardens has been key throughout the design and building process.

“That’s why we have left in a feature brick wall to the Empress Ballroom balcony, which has been restored and repointed.

“The idea is people can relate to where they are, to the Empress Ballroom and to that 120-year tradition which is just behind the wall.

“That will be part of the unique selling point for our conference centre.

“We are going to have a 21st century conference centre with all the modern facilities and technology available, but people can walk through to the Empress Ballroom or the other rooms in the Winter Gardens and see the link to that heritage as well.”

Building work began in 2018 and has been disrupted by the Covid pandemic, although lockdown meant gatherings were off limits anyway.

A fresh appetite for conferences, as people have missed meeting, up is expected but lessons have also been learned from the restrictions put in place.

Mr Williams said: “We will be set up to hold hybrid conferences so some delegates could attend remotely from anywhere in the world.

“One thing Covid has taught us is that we have to be able to do things differently.

“If some international guests cannot travel, they can still attend the conference due to the technology we have put in.”

Proposals are also already in place for more investment which could further enhance the setting of the conference centre.

Planning permission was granted in June for a five storey, 160 bedroom hotel on Leopold Grove including an enclosed bridge linking the second floor of the hotel with the new development.

Meanwhile Blackpool Council’s £20m bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund includes new convention space with retail within the Olympia area of the Winter Gardens.

The Conservative Party will host its Spring Forum in the conference centre in 2022, which will be one of the first big events and will be the first time the Conservative Party has hosted a major conference in Blackpool since 2007.

Funding has included £15m from the government’s Growth Deal, £7m from Blackpool Council, and £2.9m from the Coastal Communities Fund (also government funding).