A stunning art nouveau feature of the Winter Gardens – dating back to 1896 – has been uncovered as part of work to reopen a bar within the complex.
The Theatre Bar, formerly known as Bar Red, has been closed for five years as part of the extensive refurbishment work taking place to the Winter Gardens building. It re-opened last weekend.
And, as part of the work to open up that area of the historic complex, nine ornate panels which date back to just before the turn of the 20th century have been revealed.
The tiled panels feature a range of ladies in exotic costumes set in groups of two separated by a mirror and are situated in an area of the Empress Buildings which was originally the vaulted entrance hall to the Empress Ballroom from Church Street.
The 15 known names of the panels – part of a set of 28 – were those of semi-precious stones, birds or butterflies and were created by Doulton’s (now Royal Doulton) on commission with design by their leading artist W. J. Neatby.
Surrounding the panels were multi-coloured tiles and the vaulted ceiling was said to have featured “varied designs in rich and harmonious colours, with mermaids and conventional treatment of seaweed and fishes”.
The increased footfall of the present Opera House, built in 1938/39, necessitated the removal of panels at the rear of the hall.
Then the vaulted ceiling was removed to create offices on the first floor.
Only 12 of the panels survive. For many years, 11 of them could be seen in Brown & Mallalieu’s car showroom, but they were carefully covered over in 1972 when the premises became a shoe shop.
In 2010, when Blackpool Council bought the Winter Gardens, the tiles were discovered and have now been renovated and incorporated into the refurbishment of the room.
The restoration of the bar and the panels are part of the wider work to put back many of the Winter Gardens’ original features which was set in motion after the building was brought back into public ownership.
It has since played host to an incredible array of acts, including Bob Dylan and a full summer season of the incredible Mamma Mia! which smashed all box office records with ticket sales topping £3.3m. Coun Christine Wright, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for culture and heritage, said: “Safeguarding the heritage and history of the Winter Gardens was our primary aim when we purchased the complex back in 2010.
“Painstaking, detailed work has been done since then to restore and safeguard many aspects of the building and this is another example of that.
“The tiles look truly stunning and I must credit all involved for saving a piece of Blackpool’s heritage.”
And Coun Graham Cain, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for tourism and leisure, said: “We always refer to the Winter Gardens as one of the jewels in Blackpool’s crown and this is just another example of why.
“The incredible architectural quality and detail that was incorporated into the original design is a part of the fabric of what makes the building so special.
“We absolutely had to safeguard that and we’re incredibly proud of having been able to do so.
“We hope residents and visitors will recognise and enjoy these fabulous features and really take in the stunning detail of the Winter Gardens building which we’re working so hard to protect.”