Morecambe Winter Gardens and Bath Company
The Morecambe Baths and Winter Gardens Company was formed in 1876 by a consortium of businessmen from Bradford. They developed an unoccupied piece of land on the sea front for the site of the new swimming baths. The seawater baths were entered from Bath Street and were surrounded by the gardens that gave the Winter Gardens its name. The total cost of the baths was £12,000 and an advert in the Lancaster Guardian dated May 18, 1877, stated that the baths were ready for the public. The facilities included three plunge baths, 24 private, and two medicated baths. Seawater for the baths and aquarium was collected in four large tanks which were situated beneath the former wooden jetty situated approximately 50m from the promenade.
In 1877 a proposal was made for three restaurants to be erected next to the Baths: A first and second class restaurant, behind these, a third class restaurant for ‘excursionists’, who would, with a payment of 2d, be able to enter without being required to buy anything. The site adjacent to Craven Terrace, was purchased from the North-Western Railway Company and consisted of 5,025 square yards at a cost of £10,551.
However, a group of dedicated people formed the Friends of the Winter Gardens and have worked together since then with one aim to reopen the building that was once at the heart of Morecambe both architecturally and as a centre for culture and entertainment. With the formation of the Preservation Trust in 2006, ownership of the Winter Gardens was transferred to the charitable body who have spent years cleaning, restoring, and fundraising to continue this aim. Now under new governance, the Preservation Trust with the help of our restoration volunteers and the Friends of the Winter Gardens are a step closer to those dreams of many decades ago to finally restoring this remarkable Grade II* building.
The People’s Palace
The Winter Gardens & Aquarium was built at a cost of £46,000 under the supervision of Messrs. John Waugh and Herbert Isitt, architects and engineers, of Bradford and opened in June 1878. The seventeen original investors all hailed from Bradford with Mr T Firth, appointed as Company Director. The architecture was in the ornamental style comprising two glass domes with a glazed arch of iron and glass and semi circular windows. It was the third Winter Gardens to open on the North West coastline, with Southport, 1874 and Blackpool 1876-78, being two earlier examples. The original complex was divided into four departments; the baths, the aquarium, the winter gardens and the restaurants, each with separate entrances from the front. The bathing areas consisted of two large swimming baths for gentlemen and one for ladies, supplied by filtered sea water with a private lounge area and slipper baths of warm water. In addition there were also three medicated baths: sulphur, hot air and electrical, which used the most perfect appliances.
As well as accommodating three restaurants with a band area, visitors could view the aquarium amply stocked with salt and freshwater fish, promenade within a hall adorned with fermeries, fountains and plants with the addition of a fine art gallery for the discerning holiday maker.
The Winter Gardens
A description from the Illustrated London News from November 1878 provides further details of the delights awaiting visitors to the establishment: The winter garden is a hall 200 ft. long, 60 ft. wide, 52 ft. high, with arched roof of iron and glass, and is adorned with various plants, and with pictures and engravings; the aquarium consists of twenty-nine tanks, the largest 30 ft. long, ranged along the west side of the hall. The writer praises the ambition of the building and concludes that Morecambe has gained this establishment a valuable addition to her natural advantages.
Bath House & Entertainments
Various problems had beset the original building from its opening in 1878 with the glass roof causing problems of frost killing the exotic foliage in the winter and overheating the patrons in the summer. In 1885 the glass roof was slated with the exception of the space necessary for lighting purposes. Early performers in the building included Arthur Lloyd who played there both in September 1879 with his two hours of continuous fun and returned in 1886. Under the new ownership of William Morgan in early 1889 a number of changes were made to the building including the removal of the fountain, enlargements to the stage and a new backdrop painted by Mr Phillips. Twelve hours of continuous entertainment ‘all for sixpence’ included dancing in the grand pavilion to M Jules Rivieries Orchestra. The famous swimmer, natanionist and performer Ada Webb appeared in the People’s Palace in April 1891. Advertised as both ‘Champion Lady Diver of the World’ and ‘Empress of the Sea’, her act consisted of diving 60 feet into the pool, striking dramatic poses in the crystal tank, smoking, drinking peeling an apple, answering questions, sewing, singing, taking snuff and writing.
Ada Webb, Champion Diver and Swimmer.
In 1896 the People’s Palace, Baths and Aquarium was sold by Mr William Morgan to Messrs T Baxter, R. H. Abbott and Joshua Wade. After many colourful years of association with the building, the former lessee and manager had transformed the People’s Palace into a place ‘where people would rather see a juggler than an uncooked lobster’. The sale of the building to the owners of the newly opened West End Pier saw greater capital and investment into the site and major adaptations and alterations.
In 1896, the ‘Morecambe Winter Gardens Company’ was floated with a capital of £45,000, to carry out construction alterations and improvements to the premises. It was proposed thoroughly to overhaul and renovate the interior, enlarge the stage and improve the dressing room accommodation. The aquarium was to be removed and a promenade erected a few feet above the floor level. The basement, originally used as a dance room was to be converted into a first class restaurant, the sea water baths were to be cleared away and a new theatre built, the new Victoria Pavilion.