90 years of history

The Winter Gardens Pavilion is a significant part of Weston-super-Mare’s seafront and its history as a major player in British seaside tourism.

The Pavilion was designed in 1924 by notable garden designer and town planner Thomas Mawson and town surveyor Harry Brown.

The Winter Gardens was opened on the 14th July 1927 by Sir Earnest S. Palmer, deputy chairman of the Great Western Railway.

The ballroom featured one of the country’s most advanced coloured electrical lighting systems, a feature which was removed during the mid-20th century but has now been recreated by Weston College using current LED technology.

Ken Birch band on stage at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare

The Pavilion luckily escaped damage during the Second World War, where it became the base for the BBC as it relocated out of London to avoid the Blitz. After the war, however, much of the Pavilion’s original architectural features were lost due to subsequent renovations which aimed to keep the venue equipped with contemporary technology.

This renovation led to a highly successful period between the 1950s and ‘70s that saw the building host some of the biggest bands of the day, playing to a packed house each evening. This included acts such as Cilla Black, the Small Faces, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Marc Bolan and T. Rex.

The biggest bands, such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, preferred to perform at Weston-super-Mare’s Odeon and despite urban legend did not play at the Winter Gardens.

1972 was the last full year of chart-topping stars performing at the venue, and when the building was handed over to Woodspring District Council on the 1st April 1974, the books showed a surplus of over £150,000 in today’s money.

Heyday

Ken Birch band on stage at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare

A challenge

During the late 1970s and ‘80s the Winter Gardens was struggling to compete with other venues, particularly in nearby Bristol, which offered better facilities and better acoustics than the Winter Gardens. In 1981 Woodspring District Council proposed six options, ranging from alterations to demolition, which they hoped would fix the trade deficit that the Pavilion presented.

In 1989 the Winter Gardens was completely refurbished and substantially expanded to create a large conference hall and additional catering facilities. This development, coupled with the 1990s creation of the Sovereign Shopping Centre, removed much of the original Italian Gardens.

The Italian Gardens has subsequently been redesigned and redeveloped by North Somerset Council to provide a clearer link between the High Street, Winter Gardens, and the shops and restaurants of West Street and South Parade.

The scale and frequency of public events at the Winter Gardens was reduced due to budget constraints, and by 2014 half of all large events held at the Pavilion were organised by Weston College. These included some of the largest events to be held at the venue – the annual Academic Conference and the Celebration of Success.

Ken Birch band on stage at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare

In January 2015, North Somerset Council approached Weston College with the proposition of transferring the building to the College’s ownership in order to secure its future by restoring the historic 1920s portion of the building, and redeveloping the little-used 1980s conference facilities into an educational centre for its Law and Professional Services Academy and University Centre Weston.

In its 90th year, the Winter Gardens Pavilion reopened to the public after an extensive renovation and refurbishment, which saw £15 million spent on improving the building’s public facilities and creating an educational centre for law, finance, and some university-level courses.

In the historic 1920s portion of the building, the College set to work restoring damage to the roof, walls and plasterwork, and refurbishing original fixtures and fittings such as the ballroom’s uplighters.

The College treated the dome with an acoustic solution to help dampen the room’s echo, and worked with audio visual design engineers to create a bespoke sound system and introduce new video technology that will make the Winter Gardens Pavilion a unique and competitive venue in the area.

This refurbishment also led to the entrance being relocated to its original position in the north wing, the creation of a new reception area, and the development of a new suite of function rooms and meeting spaces. A new public restaurant, Lasseter’s, was opened in the southern wing and the kitchens were completely refitted.

At the rear of the building the College refurbished and reopened the public bistro. The new bistro, the Florentine, opens onto the newly redesigned Italian Gardens which were redeveloped by North Somerset Council in 2017.

Transformation

Ken Birch band on stage at the Winter Gardens, Weston-super-Mare