Book Review: Winter Gardens Blackpool

She may be from Morecambe but Professor Vanessa Toulmin has taken our fair town of Blackpool to her heart; cut her open and it’s probably running straight through her like the proverbial stick of rock. Professor Vanessa is the perfect person to take on the role of writing a book about our iconic Winter Gardens – and what a great job she does of it too!

This has got to be one of the prettiest books around. With a rich blue cover, reminiscent of old style theatre programmes, and its large size, it’s an ideal candidate for a prime spot on the coffee table. It is lavishly illustrated with period drawings, posters and photographs, paired with gorgeous colour shots of the present day building by Paul White and Sean Conboy.

The cover describes the Winter Gardens as ‘the most magnificent palace of amusement in the World’, and by idly browsing through the pages, you can see what prompted such a highfalutin claim. From the Empress Ballroom to the Spanish Hall, the Opera House to Olympia, every part was sumptuously created and lovingly decorated.Blackpool_Winter_Gardens

We may think we’ve seen it all these days, but imagine what the Winter Gardens must have looked like to hard-working Victorian folk who came, gape-mouthed, through its portals on their annual holiday when it opened to the public in the latter part of the 19th century. My last visit to the complex was for the annual Showzam! Festival and to see the place filled with laughing people of all ages gave me a tiny glimpse of what it must have been like back then.

My own favourite sections of the book are those which show posters advertising jolly entertainment for fun-starved holidaymakers and I was awe-struck to learn that the likes of Sammy Davis Junior, Mae West, Danny Kaye, Dusty Springfield, Bob Hope and George Formby have graced its stages.

That we still have the place today is thanks to the vision of the late Steve Weaver, former chief executive of Blackpool Council, who was instrumental in bringing the Winter Gardens back into public ownership. He also commissioned Professor Vanessa to write this book, and it stands as a fitting tribute to the man, and to the treasure he helped to restore to all its glory.

Winter Gardens Blackpool by Professor Vanessa Toulmin is published by Bobo Publishing and can be purchased at the Winter Gardens, from Charabanc (on Coronation Street) or from the Grundy Art Gallery.


Featured image by Jill Reidy of Two Old Birds Photography.

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