Today (Thursday 17 October) Historic England published their Heritage at Risk Register . Which is the annual snapshot of the health of England’s most valued historic places, and those most at risk of being lost as a result of neglect, decay or inappropriate development.
Over the last year 19 historic buildings and sites have been saved in the North West. Imaginative uses have been found for empty buildings, providing new visitor attractions and cultural venues for people to enjoy.
Communities, working with funders and local authorities, have saved valued historic places for future generations.
Where good progress is being made
Good progress: Morecambe Winter Gardens
Morecambe Winter Gardens is a flamboyantly ornate 19th-century theatre on Morecambe’s seafront.
It’s a riot of decorative detail, featuring terracotta, tiles, stained glass, and a fibrous plaster ceiling. The building was designed by Magnall and Littlewood, and opened in 1897 as a variety theatre and concert hall. Known as The Albert Hall of the North, Elgar performed there. The building’s coastal location is echoed in the seashells and sea-serpents incorporated in the tiles and plasterwork.
The theatre is on both Historic England and the Theatres Trust’s Heritage at Risk Registers. An action group formed to save the Winter Gardens when the adjoining Oriental Ballroom was demolished in 1982. Both buildings had sadly closed five years earlier. Water ingress, lead theft, and even seagulls’ eggs blocking gutters are amongst the maintenance challenges.
Stronger together, working in partnership
Historic England, the Theatres Trust and Lancaster City Council are working in partnership to support the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust. In turn, the Trust, Friends and Volunteers are working tirelessly to repair and make the theatre viable.
Work to make governance more resilient has recently started, thanks to a Theatres Trust grant. A consultant will be working to support the Acting Chair, Trustees and Advisory Board.
We are supporting the Trust’s application for a Historic England repair grant to enable survey and repair of the fibrous plaster ceiling.
The ceiling spans a huge 36 meters. Its advanced design means that the stage is fully visible from all parts of the auditorium, unlike many other historic theatres which have obscured views.
The project aims to engage a plaster specialist and structural engineer to fully survey the ceiling, and enable specialist repair. Fibrous plaster ceilings (common in 19th and 20th century theatres and grand public buildings) are suspended by hessian ties, known as wadding, sometimes reinforced with wire. These will be carefully re-tied, ensuring that the ceiling is safely secured. Access for future maintenance will be provided.
The need for action on ceilings of this age became shockingly apparent in 2013, when the ceiling at the Apollo Theatre in London collapsed, injuring 67 theatregoers. It has since become a requirement for all suspended plaster ceilings in theatres and places of entertainment to be fully surveyed.
The Winter Gardens Preservation Trust has been awarded Coastal Communities funding to install a much-needed new heating system. This will be sensitively designed to ensure that the decorative interior isn’t harmed, and that the system can cope with future levels of use. Once completed, the ceiling conservation and heating project will extend the use of the Winter Gardens, allowing visitors to enjoy it deep in to the winter months.
The Winter Gardens looks set to be Morecambe’s next heritage success story, joining the restored 1930s Midland Hotel as a must-see building. The future is looking rosy for Morecambe, with plans afoot for an Eden Project in the North. This will attract a whole host of new visitors to this historic coastal resort, who can enjoy the town’s heritage buildings
All Photography taken for this post was taken by Alun Bull, Photographer for Historic England