The Empress Ballroom was designed by the architects Mangnall and Littlewood who also designed the original adjoining Opera House. The Ballroom is situated in the Winter Gardens Complex, Blackpool and was mostly completed in the summer of 1896 when it was first opened for a short season in August that year. The main entrance to the Ballroom was through the newly created Empress Buildings in Church Street, which led people thorough the Italian Gardens and beside the Indian Lounge, and the just completed Giant Ferris Wheel.
Towards the end of the First World War, in 1918, the Empress Ballroom was taken over by the Admiralty as a space to assemble Gas Envelopes for their R.33 Airship. Thankfully the Ballroom was handed back the following year and some restoration work undertaken although the room's 3 original chandeliers were not reinstated, however, 13 new ones were hung in their place.
Right - The Empress Ballroom, Blackpool in November 2013 - Photo M. L.
The Ballroom had a new sprung floor fitted in 1934 which apparently involved fitting 10,000 strips of oak, mahogany, walnut, and greenwood, on top of 1,320 four inch springs, and covering some 12,500 foot.
The Ballroom is lavish in style, with a wonderful Barrel Vaulted Ceiling and ornate balconies surrounding its huge sprung dance floor. It also has a small stage in the middle of the Hall and has been host to an array of events over the years including political party conferences and musical concerts. It is linked to the adjoining Arena, formerly the Indian Lounge, and is 49 metres long by 24 metres wide, with a height of 19 metres.
You may like to visit the Winter Gardens' own Website here.
From - The Building News and Engineering Journal July 31st 1896.
On Saturday next this building is to be opened for the season. The decorations will be completed in the autumn. Messrs. Mangnall and Littlewood are the architects. Their design was selected by the directors of the Winter Gardens Company, Blackpool, who invited five architects to send competition designs for this work last summer, giving each firm a premium for their time and trouble. Tenders for the work were let in two sections, in consequence of the buildings being required to be ready for opening this August.
One section, comprising the grand hall and lounge, was let to Messrs. Whitehead and Son, contractors, Blackpool, in November last; and the other section, comprising the block of shops and offices to Church-street, with the main entrance to the grand hall in the centre, was given to Mr. Smith, contractor, Blackpool, last October.
The iron construction to the ball-room and lounge is being carried out by the Widnes Foundry Company. The clerk of the works is Mr. W. Smith. The main entrance to the grand hall is approached from Church-street by a corridor 24ft. wide 80ft. in length, lined on each side with Doultons faience up to the springing of semicircular roof, the front portion of roof being also in faience, and the back portion being in glass. This work is in Doultons best style. The scheme of colour adopted is rich amber for the structural lines, with peacock-blue base and capping to dado. Each side of entrance is laid out in seven bays with enriched pilasters about 12ft. from centre to centre, resting upon a dado about 4ft. in height. Between each pilaster, above the dado, is laid out with semicircular panels, 5ft. 6in. in height, the centre one being a bevelled glass mirror, the side panels receiving painted figures, of which there are 28 in number, each being most artistically painted in tiles, and treated in different design and colour. These panels form a most striking feature, and have been designed and entirely painted by the artist, Mr. W. E. Neatby, of Messrs. Doultons, the keynotes for tiles being taken from the names and colours from the various precious stones, excepting a few which bear the title of birds. Above the panels is the entablature, which has a frieze in relief and colour. Above the entablature springs the semicircular faience ceiling, treated with a moulded and enriched beam over each pilaster, and divided into panels by intermediate moulded ribs, each panel treated with figures and foliage in colours of most attractive designs in faience, the subjects in the panels being mermaids and conventional treatment of seaweed and fishes.
The Italian gardens are situated between the main entrance buildings and the grand hall, laid out in terraces and walks, with groups of statuary and fountains. The ground will also be lighted up with electric lights. On one side of the gardens are erected conservatories, and on the other side will be erected terraces of castellelated and palatial buildings, as at Earls Court, to mask the side walls of the present Opera House.
The main avenue down the centre of ground leads to the grand hall. The grand hall, 189ft. by 110ft., has a floor capacity of 20,790sq.ft. There is a promenade 15ft. in width around the four sides raised one step above the pavilion floor. The stage and orchestra are placed on the south side, in the centre of the room. The floor is specially adapted for dancing, having spiral springs fixed 3ft. apart over the whole of the dancing area, and is to be laid with a pine sub-floor secretly nailed upon red deal joists, and finished on the surface with handsome parquet, having a wide border, with pattern in various coloured woods. There is a gallery around the room 15ft. wide on each side, approached by wide staircases. There are sufficient windows introduced on all sides to give light for day performances at all seasons of the year. There are ample cloakrooms and lavatories for both sexes.
The above article and sketch for the Blackpool Winter Gardens Ballroom was first published in The Building News and Engineering Journal, July 31st 1896.
Above - An early postcard depicting the Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens, Blackpool
Above - An early colour postcard depicting the Empress Ballroom, Winter Gardens, Blackpool
Above - The Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens Complex - Caption reads: -'GALA NIGHT AT THE EMPRESS BALLROOM (specially drawn by Fortunino Matania, R.I.). The famous ballroom of the Blackpool Winter Gardens, which can dance over three thousand people simultaneously on its new Wonder Dance Floor, pictured in carnival dress by the famous artist, who has graphically captured the spirit and zest for pleasure of Blackpool's revellers, which presents a spectacle of majesty, colour and dance unequalled in any other ballroom in Europe. Like the famous Tower Ballroom it also has a wonder Wurlitzer Organ (shown below). It is here that the world's greatest dancing championships are held annually in May, namely, the British Professional and British Amateur Ballroom Championships.
Above - A photograph of the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ Console which was originally installed at the Empress Ballroom, Blackpool. This 1981 photograph shows the Organ after it had been moved to the Hulme Playhouse - Courtesy Alan Ashton who says: 'The organ was originally from the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, and was eventually removed and the pipework incorporated in the Wurlitzer in the Assembly Hall at Worthing. The console itself is now, I understand, in the ownership of a private collector.' - Alan Ashton. (I am told that the organ is now back in the Empress Ballroom and will be playing there again soon. M.L.)
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