Last performances at Margate Winter Gardens before venue closure for ‘options’ report

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 shut for the venue to undergo an “option appraisal.”

The venue, which is owned by Thanet council, was due to shut from August 14 but Margate Soul Festival is the last event booked in for performances at 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 the opportunities available. Specialist architects would also be used to scope out the required works and develop a fully costed scheme.

What does the future hold for Margate Winter Gardens? Photo Rob Yates

Initially operator Your Leisure was to retain the lease which ran until 2024 but agreement was then made for an early surrender. Your Leisure’s annual rolling lease at Theatre Royal also ceased on 28 April. A refurbishment of that venue is planned under the £22.2million Town Deal fund but a date for this is yet to be announced.

In May Margate Central ward councillor Rob Yates, together with fellow members of Labour’s shadow cabinet at the council, called for a public meeting to hear what the future plans for the Winter Gardens were. Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee said the council was “committed to including significant amounts of public engagement as part of the appraisal.”

Winter Gardens protest Photo Frank Leppard

A demonstration calling for the meeting was also held outside Thanet council’s offices on July 14.

Some 200 people attended the gathering organised by Thanet resident Jack Packman. On that day Cllr Yates said the money allocated to Thanet council for the study had not been received and the procurement process to hire a consultant had not begun.

Those backing 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, with  the last time it was closed during World War II. The 2,000-capacity venue supports local jobs and has entertained hundreds of thousands over the years.

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

Potted history of the 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 amphitheatre. Originally the stage could be viewed from both the main hall and the amphitheatre with the ability to enclose the stage in bad weather. The accommodation was for about 2,500 persons inside the building and 2,000 in the open air.

Courtesy MWG

The Main Hall had been designed as a concert and dance hall. In the early 1920s, the Margate Municipal Orchestra, consisting of 36 musicians, would perform a variety of classical and operatic works, backed by the leading vocalists of the day. Most of these were performers like Carrie Tubb and Harry Dearth, engaged from the leading London Concerts, notably Covent Garden.  Others like Pavlova – one of the world’s leading dancers – and Madame Melba were engaged as part of their world tour.

During the latter half of the 1920s Ivan Kalchinsky’s Blue Slavonic Company arrived and presented a cabaret show for six weeks. The company was to present a summer show right up until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Courtesy MWG

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

Thanet was made a restricted area, due to invasion fears, and it was prohibited to enter it for leisure or pleasure purposes. The Winter Gardens’ first war-time role was during the evacuation from Dunkirk when it acted as a receiving station for some of the 46,000 troops landed at Margate. It also found other war-time roles such as an air raid precaution and food rationing centre. There were also concerts for the troops on Sundays and Brighten-Up Dances every Thursday and Saturday.

In January 1941 many of the windows were broken 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 considerable damage. The main structure of the hall remained intact and the chandeliers survived as they had been removed for storage.

The plans for reconstruction of the Winter Gardens were drawn up in 1943 but due to the war, a start on the work could not be made until February 1946.  The work took only six months to complete. The building officially re-opened on 3rd August. Repairs cost £40,000, approaching double the cost of the entire building in 1911.

After the wars stars appearing at the venue included Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and Dame Vera Lynne.

Courtesy 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 were  also proving 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, it played for ten weeks during the peak of the season in 1962.

Courtesy MWG

In 1974 with the formation of Thanet District Council, the Winter Gardens found itself with a new owner and a new man in charge, Peter Roberts. In 1978,  it was completely re-seated, re-furbished and re-carpeted at a cost of £125,000 and a new entrance provided on the seaward side of the Main Hall.

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


    • What ….. is that the Searchers , final ,final ,not quite final tour ! Lol
      They’ve had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra . Lol
      I agree that they probably would have played the Winter Gardens if it was still open although they’ve played
      Kings Hall ,Hernia Bay before now

      • Haha, actually they’ve only had one farewell tour (in 2019), but they’re coming back for a “final fling” – probably! Frank Allen from the band is a really great guy though.

  1. Very sad…..they dont pick the litter,they dont dig out the weeds,they dont sweep the streets and now our theatres are being taken away.TDC look after the people who pay their taxes.

    • I could not agree with you more it’s an absolute disgrace typical TDC no scruples just keep taking our money with no investment

        • Blaming central gov does not explain the waste such as all the legal fees when infighting occurs and employees take action for mistreating them or letting the Sally ferry out of the harbour without paying its fees. Other local authorities manage why not TDC?

    • Why should my taxes be used to pick up litter ? People shouldn’t be so dirty and lazy and not drop their litter.

      Have you any idea how many people would need to be employed to dig out weeds in thanet ? Years ago they would be sprayed but people dont like chemical control but havent come up with a solution.

      Yes TDC under homer was a disgrace but central government have cut back year on year. This is what this area voted for a government that cuts services. So we have got a thanet that people want.

      Thanet cant be that untidy look at all the people who have flash cars, a Lamborghini was stop in police checks the other day lol.

      Over 9,000 kids live below the poverty line.

      All this is what thanet wants it a tory stronghold hold. Has been for decades apart from the brief labour sit. Plus the Tories breaking the electoral rules to get craig what ever his name is.

      Thanet is broken, skint run down area just what the Tories and the people of thanet want.

      • Not at all politically neutral on your comments then, mysterious Mr X? 🤪🤪
        If you think a Labour government would do any different you really are in cloud cuckoo land.
        As for TDC, how many millions squandered on the harbour at Ramsgate, how many hundreds of thousands squandered on non disclosure agreements? Shall we continue?

        • Ton

          You forgot

          How much spent on fighting bulling claims and pay off ?

          Who said I was neutral ?

          Just seems to me that most things seem to stem for a Tory side that’s all. The fake shake ( spelling I know ! ) trying to buy the harbour or something like that. The tory leader some time back was it selling or buying property and did some time.
          One tory that sold counterfeit stuff he did time as well.

          An ex local MP selling guns etc did some time as well !

          That’s just a few !!

          Yet the Tories keep getting in so bu that the public of thanet must be happy with that

  2. I don’t understand why they’re closing the place in the middle of the season.
    Why not wait till the end of September, fir example?

  3. Surely Your Leisure would have been on a fully insuring and repairing lease..? How have they been allowed to permit the building to fall into such disrepair?

  4. Just another example of a broken organisation – TDC councillors and officers are out of touch with the people of Thanet and out of their depth. Many of the officers are still working from home, service is terrible and our elected representatives live off popukist soundbites to cover up their inabilities and that they are just in it for themselves.
    There is no logic to this closure at this time, if the money was in place and consultants lined up to go then fair enough but it’s another bungled job where the people of Thanet will find another amenity lost – now Homer and her crew are gone, who will take the blame?

    • “Just another example of a broken organisation – TDC councillors […] are out of touch with the people of Thanet and out of their depth.”
      But … these are the councillors that *WE* voted for!

      That means that we are out of touch and out of our depth.

  5. If TDC allow The Winter Gardens to close permanently all management should resign and hang their heads in shame!

  6. The Winter Gardens to be closing. What can I say it’s a very sad loss to the town. Its the way of the world we’re going backwards people taking money and not investing profits back into the business.

      • Lizzie b
        Do you mean the shelter
        with the so called ‘Art Box’ in it?
        Handed over by TDC to the group called Stretch, I think. They TDC, never maintained the shelter over many years and it had fallen into serious disrepair.
        But look at it now, I am sorry to have to say this
        but it is an absolute eyesore.
        Goodness only knows how TDC come to these decisions as apparently another group wanted to bring it back to the usage it was intended for.

    • Exactly, was born in Thanet now live in East Anglia. If TDC are unable or unwilling to save the Winter Gardens then we MUST. Prepared to support any committment to saving this venue.

  7. 300,000 ! For a bloke to assess what repairs need doing ? I’ll give ’em a quote for free “stop trying to hoodwink us and do the repairs ” does anyone remember the architects plan for Margate which was in Cecil Square some years ago ? All that money and nothing came of it!
    Methinks it’s a rouse

  8. It’s a disgrace that the council has let it get this far the community of Thanet and surrounding areas will be lost without this wonderful venue just hope that it doesn’t sit and rot like the rest of the venues .

    • Agreed!
      All these millions our Council are drawing with grants, at least one of the (if not 2m) should be invested in WG. It’s the best thing Thanet has. Not even the @Turner’ boat shed compares to it. IMHO.

    • It’s up to us the public David , that need to make sure that this doesn’t happen and that we hold all involved accountable .
      I think that there should be a public meeting at the Winter Gardens when the survey results are known so that we the public have a say in the future of this wonderful institution rather than leave it to councillors to talk about it behind closed doors with the result being that TDC ending up giving us ( the public) with affait accompli.

  9. Councillors don’t run TDC the officers do! and they blame it on the councillors! Get a decent management team in and forget the politics!

  10. i find it very sad that in this day and age that there isnt anyone with the knowledge and foresight to set up a trust to restore and maintain a theatre with such an illustrious history as the winter garden if tdc cant look after the buildings in its care in a responsible way then maybe the councillors should all hang their heads in shame and resign forthwith

  11. Reading all the above comments makes me think there couldn’t be a better time to get rid of TDC and bring back Margate Town Council.
    TDC have spent the last 40+ years lining their own pockets at the expense of council tax payers whilst destroying everything that was good about Margate.

  12. I used to live in Kent, you have to realise and fully understand that politicians do not give a s*** about us. The only way to win is to all come together and make a stand. If you want to keep the Winter gardens from being sold to developers and the politicians getting a back hander as usual, we all know how it works and yet let them continue on. Make a stand, say no, be as 1 voice.

  13. If we’re REALLY going to stand together against the theatre’s closure, then it has to be without the involvement of any politicians or cllrs. As soon as anyone representing a political party starts doing things (whether it be Conservate, Labour, UKIP, Lib-Dem, Green, or whatever), then it automatically alienates a section of the public. Perhaps musicians, actors and comedians who’ve performed there can be persuaded to get involved? I know that Jim Davidson (for example) loves that venue.

    • Absolutely fabulous idea, with TV being so dire we need live shows, comedy especially. TDC will not enjoy the publicity, they have left this grand bulding to fail. Last time I was in Thanet, had time to walk around Margate/Cliftonville, dismayed at the dilapidated appearance of this elegant building. Celebrity Endorsement would be a credible incentive.

    • Absolutely fabulous idea. Celebrity Endorsement would be a credible incentive to save the Winter Gardens.

  14. Never a truer word said . I agree with your comments about keeping politics out of it , as it alienates people
    We need to be united in a campaign but that might be easier said than done .
    On paper your suggestion about getting musicians ,actors ,comedians who played at the Winter Gardens to publicly support it seems a good idea ,but practically how can that be done ?
    I know Peter you’ve obviously got contact addresses for some people who’ve contributed to your books so possibly that might be one avenue to explore ?
    And maybe pop stars ( Mike Nolan : Bucks Fizz who lives in Broadstairs ) and David Essex who has local connections and has regularly played WG over the years can publicly come onboard once there’s a structure for a public campaign to save both the Winter Gardens and Theatre Royal .
    Btw ,Peter , I’ve nothing against him but I’m not sure it would be a positive thing having Jim Davidson getting involved as he’s a bit marmite and might put some people getting behind a campaign .
    It’s just a thought ……

    • I believe that ALL types of artists should be involved. For example, Tracey Emin alienates people just as much Jim Davidson, but having BOTH their signatures can do no harm! I do have quite a few contacts, but unfortunately I don’t have time to organise such a campaign at present (I’ve been up since 4am working on a book!).

  15. It’s been run in to the ground with no care for the building by the Your Leisure job club. The venue is now beyond economic repair. It’s highly unlikely to be viable as a theatre. Standard TDC procedure is to spend hundreds of thousands to commission consultants periodically to tell us what we know already. The building will rot and become unsafe. Rhey can then spend more taxpayer money “making the site secure”. The left will object to any viable redevelopment and the Tories lack any vision beyond inviting local artists to paint the hoardings. Welcome to Thanet.

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