Final performances at Margate Winter Gardens before site closes for ‘options’ report – The Isle Of Thanet News

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The Soul Festival finale is the last scheduled performance at Margate Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

Tonight (August 7), crowds will enjoy live music at Margate Winter Gardens for the last time before the doors close for the venue to undergo an ‘options assessment’.

The venue, which is owned by Thanet Council, was due to close from August 14 as the Margate Soul Festival is the latest event booked for performances in the historic building.

Thanet Council plans to use Margate Town Deal funding of £300,000 to create a fully developed plan for the site. This would include a detailed project delivery plan with public and private sector engagement. Specialist services would be needed to help test the market and identify available opportunities. Specialist architects would also be used to determine the work required and develop a fully costed scheme.

What future for Margate Winter Gardens?

Initially, operator Your Leisure was to retain the lease which ran until 2024, but an agreement was later reached for an early sale. Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at the Theater Royal also ended on April 28. A refurbishment of this venue is planned as part of the £22.2million Town Deal fund, but the date has yet to be announced.

In May, Margate Central Borough Councilors Helen Whitehead and Rob Yates, along with other members of Labour’s shadow cabinet on council, called a public meeting to hear future plans for the Winter Gardens. Thanet Council leader Ash Ashbee said the council was “committed to including significant amounts of public engagement as part of the assessment”.

Protest against the Winter Gardens Photo Frank Leppard

A protest calling for the meeting also took place outside Thanet Council offices on July 14.

Some 200 people attended the rally organized by Thanet resident Jack Packman. That day, Cllr Yates said the money allocated to Thanet’s council for the study had not been received and the procurement process to hire a consultant had not started.

Those who supported the demonstration included Olby’s, Margate Operatic Society, Thanet Virtual High Street, Silvers, Off The Hook productions, Ralph ‘Mr Ramsgate’ Hoult and business owner/photographer Frank Leppard.

Photo Frank Leppard

Margate Winter Gardens has been open and supporting the Thanet community for 110 years, the last time it was closed during World War II. The 2,000-seat venue supports local jobs and has entertained hundreds of thousands of people over the years.

Margate Soul Festival reaches its climax today with a headlining performance on Sunset Stage from Emeli Sande and live performances from The Brand New Heavies, Loose Ends, SouLutions and ‘Lovers Rock Queen’ Carroll Thompson.

Potted history of winter gardens

The pavilion and winter gardens took just nine months to build, costing £26,000, and opened on August 3, 1911.

When completed, the pavilion and winter gardens consisted of a large concert hall, four entrance halls, two side wings and an amphitheater. Originally, the stage could be seen from both the main hall and the amphitheater with the possibility of closing the stage in bad weather. Accommodation was for approximately 2,500 people inside the building and 2,000 in the open.

Courtesy of MWG

The main hall had been designed as a concert and dance hall. In the early 1920s, the 36-piece Margate Municipal Orchestra performed a variety of classical and operatic works, backed by the leading singers of the day. Most of them were performers like Carrie Tubb and Harry Dearth, engaged in major London gigs, including Covent Garden. Others like Pavlova – one of the greatest dancers in the world – and Madame Melba were engaged as part of their world tour.

During the second half of the 1920s, Ivan Kalchinsky’s Blue Slavonic Company arrived and performed a cabaret show for six weeks. The company will present a summer show until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Courtesy of MWG

The Second World War, unlike the First World War, interrupted the normal life of conservatories and, in a short time, almost ended it for good.

Thanet became a restricted area, due to fears of invasion, and it was forbidden to enter it for leisure or pleasure. The Winter Gardens’ first wartime role was during the evacuation of Dunkirk when it served as a receiving station for some of the 46,000 troops landed at Margate. It also found other wartime roles such as an air raid precaution and food rationing center. There were also concerts for the troops on Sundays and enlightening dances every Thursday and Saturday.

In January 1941, many windows were smashed when a sea mine exploded nearby, but the main structure was undamaged. Six months later, on July 7, the Winter Gardens received a direct hit causing extensive damage. The main structure of the hall remained intact and the chandeliers survived as they had been removed for storage.

Plans for the reconstruction of the Winter Gardens were drawn up in 1943, but due to the war, work could only start in February 1946. The work only lasted six months. The building officially reopened on August 3. Repairs cost £40,000, almost double the cost of the whole building in 1911.

After the wars, stars appearing on the site included Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Dame Vera Lynne.

Courtesy of MWG

In the 1960s the Winter Gardens hosted Helen Shapiro, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas and in July 1963 the Beatles performed there.

Stage versions of TV shows have also proven popular with Hughie Green’s ‘Double your Money’ and ‘Opportunity Knocks’. ‘Double you Money’ was the first summer season to appear at the Winter Gardens since 1939, playing for ten weeks at the height of the season in 1962.

Courtesy of MWG

In 1974, with the formation of Thanet District Council, the Winter Gardens found themselves with a new owner and manager, Peter Roberts. In 1978 it was completely relocated, refurbished and carpeted at a cost of £125,000 and a new entrance was fitted on the sea side of the main hall.

History courtesy of Margate Winter Gardens/Adapted from ‘A History of Margate’s Winter Gardens’ by John Williams and Andy Savage.

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