Tonight (7 August) viewers will enjoy live music at the Margate Winter Gardens for the last time before doors close to give the venue an ‘option review’.
The venue, owned by Thanet City Council, was due to close from August 14 as the Margate Soul Festival is the last event booked to perform in the historic building.
Thanet City Council plans to use funds from the £300,000 Margate Town Deal to produce a fully developed plan for the site. This would include a detailed project implementation plan involving the public and private sectors. Specialized services would be required to test the market and determine the opportunities available. Specialist architects would also be employed to finalize the work required and develop a fully costed scheme.
The operator Your Leisure was originally supposed to keep the lease, which ran until 2024, but an early handover was then agreed. Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at the Theater Royal also ended on 28 April. A refurbishment of this venue is planned as part of the £22.2million Town Deal fund but a date has yet to be announced.
In May, Margate Central Borough Councilors Helen Whitehead and Rob Yates, along with other members of Labor’s shadow cabinet in Council, called for a public meeting to hear what the future plans for the conservatories were. Thanet Council Chair Ash Ashbee said the Council was “obligated to include a significant level of public engagement as part of the assessment”.
A demonstration also took place outside the offices of the Thanet Council on July 14, calling for the meeting.
Around 200 people attended the gathering, organized by Jack Packman from Thanet. 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 yet begun.
Supporters of 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.
Margate Winter Gardens has been open for 110 years supporting the Thanet community, most recently during the Second World War. The 2,000 seat venue supports local jobs and has entertained hundreds of thousands over the years.
The Margate Soul Festival culminates today with a headlining performance from Emeli Sande on the Sunset Stage and live performances from The Brand New Heavies, Loose Ends, SouLutions and “Lovers Rock Queen” Carroll Thompson.
Potted history of conservatories
The pavilion and conservatories took just nine months to build, cost £26,000 and opened on 3 August 1911.
When completed, the pavilion and conservatories consisted of: a large concert hall, four entrance halls, two side wings, and an amphitheater. Originally, the stage was visible from both the main hall and the amphitheater, although the stage could be enclosed in inclement weather. The accommodation was intended for about 2,500 people inside the building and 2,000 outside.
The Great Hall was designed as a concert and dance hall. In the early 1920s the Margate Municipal Orchestra, composed of 36 musicians, performed a variety of classical and operatic works, backed by the leading singers of the time. Most of these were artists like Carrie Tubb and Harry Dearth, hired by the leading London concerts, particularly Covent Garden. Others such as Pavlova – one of the world’s leading dancers – and Madame Melba were hired as part of their world tour.
In the second half of the 1920s, Ivan Kalchinsky’s Blue Slavonic Company came along and presented a cabaret show for six weeks. By the outbreak of World War II, the company was to present a summer show.
In contrast to the First World War, the Second World War interrupted the normal life of the conservatories and ended it almost permanently within a short time.
Thanet was declared a restricted area due to fears of invasion and it was forbidden to enter for leisure or pleasure. The Winter Gardens’ first wartime role was during the Dunkirk evacuation, when it served as a receiving station for some of the 46,000 soldiers who had landed at Margate. It also found other wartime roles such as air raid preparedness and a food rationing center. There were also concerts for the troupe on Sundays and lightening dances every Thursday and Saturday.
In January 1941, many of the windows were shattered when a sea mine exploded nearby, but the main structure remained undamaged. Six months later, on July 7th, the winter gardens were hit by a direct hit that caused considerable damage. The main structure of the hall remained intact and the chandeliers survived, having been removed for storage.
Plans for the reconstruction of the conservatory were drawn up in 1943, but work could not begin until February 1946 due to the war. The work lasted only six months. On August 3, the building was officially reopened. Repairs cost £40,000, almost double the cost of the entire building in 1911.
Stars who performed at the venue after the wars included Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Dame Vera Lynne.
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 were also popular on Hughie Green’s “Double Your Money” and “Opportunity Knocks.” “Double You Money” was the first summer season to be played at the Winter Gardens since 1939, playing for ten weeks in 1962 during the season’s peak.
With the formation of the Thanet District Council in 1974, the Winter Gardens found themselves with a new owner and a new manager, Peter Roberts. In 1978 it was completely re-seated, refurnished and re-carpeted at a cost of £125,000 and a new entrance was fitted on the seaward side of the main hall.
Story courtesy of Margate Winter Gardens/adapted from “A History of Margate’s Winter Gardens” by John Williams and Andy Savage.