Council leader pledge to do ‘everything possible’ to restore Margate Winter Gardens despite estimated £6m cost

Margate Winter Gardens Photo John Horton

Thanet council leader Rick Everitt says Margate Winter Gardens has “suffered decades of under-investment” which now needs to be ‘put right.’

The Grade II listed building hosted its last performance on August 7 last year during the Margate Soul Festival before the lease was returned to Thanet council by Your Leisure and the doors were shut in readiness for an appraisal report on the venue and its future uses.

The lease hand back came after Your Leisure faced a substantial shortfall in its income as a result of Covid with trading income down by £1.28million in 2020 compared to 2019 and outstanding liabilities in the region of £8m in terms of loans for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres.

The council, as guarantor for the leisure centre loans, could have faced extra penalties if the loans were redeemed early.

Some £300,000 has been allocated for the Winter Gardens from the £22.2million Margate Town Deal fund for the appraisal.

Photo John Horton

The initial Town Deal bid included a £4million allocation for works to the historic venue but this fell down when the government Department for Levelling Up – which issued the funding – asked for more detail on long-term plans which could not be supplied.

The council has appointed consultants Counterculture to put together a night time economy review and strategy for the district, and explore options for the future of the Winter Gardens.

All options for either lease arrangements, operator agreement or sale for the venue are being kept open with a tender opportunity made public in May for an agent to take on the site.

Courtesy MWG

That specialist will launch a marketing campaign. The £90,000 contract was anticipated to start last month and continue until a buyer/operator is found and engaged. Cllr Everitt said the site will shortly be marketed to potential operators “to gauge their interest.”

In March a report to councillors said an immediate cost of £2.5m is needed for structural , building and mechanical and electrical works with a further £3.5m estimated over the next 10 years, meaning total costs are estimated at £6.25m.

The detailed marketing pack will be aimed at securing an organisation to refurbish, improve, maintain and operate the venue for uses that could include a concert hall, theatre, event spaces or leisure and tourism uses.

Talking at a full council meeting on Thursday (July 13) Cllr Everitt says the project will require external funding “to make it happen.”

He added: “ I want to make it clear that this administration will do everything it can to restore the Winter Gardens both structurally and in terms of its status as an iconic entertainment venue.”

Photo John Horton

However, he added there was “no quick fix” and the priority is “to keep the building safe” despite this possibly giving the appearance of “giving up,” which he said was “very far from the case.”

Under construction 1911 Courtesy Tony Ovenden

Ramsgate councillor Tony Ovenden has recently shared photos of the Winter Gardens construction in the early 20th century, remarking on how “the rapid construction of concrete and steel 112 years ago does highlight the challenges we face for the venue. There is going to be huge maintenance cost issues due to age that will have to be overcome.”

Under construction 1911 Courtesy Tony Ovenden

He adds: “The rapid development of the tourist industry in the early part of the twentieth century saw rapid developments like pavilions, sundecks and the Lido for example. All constructed to create wealth at the time and not thinking about the long future and sustainability.

Under construction 1911 Courtesy Tony Ovenden

“If you look around at anything that linked to early twentieth century tourism it was all done to make money at the time. Nothing was built to last. I just hope something can be done with the Winter Gardens.”

Under construction 1911 Courtesy Tony Ovenden

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.

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 your 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.

Help us to continue bringing you Thanet news with a donation towards our running costs


  1. £6m for a venue that was losing money hand over fist even before COVID struck.

    If all the locals clamouring for its renovation had actually been to regular shows there then it wouldn’t be in this mess as there would have been funds available.

      • Barely any.

        But I’m not clamouring to bring it back.

        It is going to be a monumental money pit for the Council to run at a time when they can’t even clean the streets. Are private investors really going to stump up the cash for it ? We got lucky with the Granville but the Winter Gardens is a different biscuit altogether.

        It’s had its time, couldn’t make money and options should now be explored for alternative use.

        It’s like Manston airport and Ramsgate Port. Rose-tinted nostalgia always seems to trump actual financial reality.

    • You are wrong Venetian Blind. Your Leisure held the lease for the Winter Gardens and Paul Palmer was the manager at the time when the Winter Gardens closed. Paul had pulled the venue out of the doldrums and had brought the venue into a break even situation. If the £4 million Town Deal money that was originally allocated to the Winter Gardens but later rescinded had been allocated, most of the costs would be covered for the vital repairs and we would be on the way to having a thriving venue suitable for everyone in the Thanet population.

        • And how much do you think Turner Contemporary makes? Only difference with TC is, (a) it has unlimited funding, and (b) it has more limited appeal.

          • Whether you like it or not, the Turner has been the catalyst to regenerate a whole area of Margate and encouraged inward investment.

            I’m not a huge fan of the arts but you cannot deny what the Turner has done for Margate.

            The Winter Gardens hasn’t been an area focal point for decades.

          • Whether or not it has regenerated anything (and I personally don’t believe it has), surely a theatre with a similar amount of funding and free/subsidised events can only be good for the area?

  2. Nil desperandum : plainly the Department for Levelling Up has some hard thinking over recent criticism of its financial prowess (lack of) regarding delivery BUT the Community Wealth Fund is coming on stream and the Crown Estate has rather good rental income from its offshore leases ‘for the wider good’ as proposed by HM The King. There is a movement to concentrate larger lumps on genuine Left Behinds for much longer horizons (decade +) including High Street revitalisation and with more ‘grassroots’ involvement in the interests of expedition, economy and enterprise. As the most stressed town south of the Wash Margate is a front-runner and the WG is well placed to complement new hotel capacity for the silver pound minicationing (away from Mediterranean heat) as also the Theatre Royal. A pity the Town Deal did not sort out the ‘core’ potential first but there it is. Watch the Autumn Budget – a 3rd regeneration conference is being organised at The Margate School for late October

  3. It is a prime site but not fit for purpose as completely inaccessible for many people. I think most of it would need to be demolished and completely re-built to make it fit for the 21st century. One that Margate could be proud of and star performers would be proud to come to. It could become an amazing multi-purpose space, and would be lovely to have the sea view windows opened up again.

  4. I put my money on it becoming another art gallery we don’t need one but that’s what they will use it for!

  5. Complete hypcracy from TDC and it’s Cllrs, expect nothing less. What about the motor museum building in Ramsgate and it’s need for many years. This shows the two tier thinking at Council level between the two towns. #buildonbrownfild buildinmanston

  6. No , the problem is dreamland was offered £4 million from levelling up money plus £2 million thanet council wasted on a white elephant thanet parkway mismanagement by our local politicians.politics is about choices, wrong decisions have consequences

    • Mr Lewis – the first common sense post I’ve appreciated from you in recent times. Look at the latest bunch of local politicians elected, nothing in their past fills me with confidence for the future of Thanet as a whole.Failed in the past and will fail again regardless of their politics.

    • Without a doubt past decisions have a role, animal export, recent management changes and associated costs, settling of numerous claims/liabilities using NDA’s ( which means the electorate have no way of casting a vote based on actual known performance) pre covid there were problems in the planning department and the use of external contractors, council has been held to account by the information commisioners, the P+R plumbing contract, the East Kent Housing fiasco. The dreamland sell off and poor negotiation in the councils desperation to make it seem a success, Newgate Gap shelter, the street lighting contract. Will we ever know the total losses associated with the commercial property department. How much is the council subsidy to leaseholders in Royal Crescent costing ( admittedly to be eventually recouped when the flats are sold). The costs to the council in respect of the ramsgate port berth replacement. Issues within the building control department , add all these up and the costs of the station are little more than a rounding error, at least the station is finished and will serve the thousands of houses that will in time be built around it. Forward planning rather than firefighting. The ineptitude and waste demonstrated by administrations and senior management of all hues over the years is mind boggling.

  7. The sad thing is that an earlier administration agreed with the Regeneration Officer NOT to put in a bid from Thanet North for the Levelling Up Fund – a last minute change of adminsitration resulted in a hurried £6 millions for Margate Digital. Inquiries were subsequently made in the second round as to whether Margate might claim the ‘missing £14 millions’ but answer was ‘too late chum you missed the boat’. That £14 millions would have made pretty good headway for the WG, TR, OTH and maybe a few other items pushing forward the Turner Effect if there had been any coherence in the Vision Thing.
    As it is, ‘poor delivery’ (throughout the land it must be said) is likely to result in a ‘withdrawal and regrouping’ of development funds – watch the Autumn Budget ! There must be a better way of organising affairs (as will be expounded in The Margate School’s 3rd regeneration conference in October !

    • Quite, the turner centre had a 1.6 million refurb on a modern building only 10 years old, the idea that you can do a decent job on the wintergardens and continue to do so for 10 years for 6.25 million is laughable. It’d be surprising if you could do a proper job ( repair and improve for todays world) inside 3 years whilst it remains closed and spend anything under 10 million.
      With Dreamland as a direct competitor as an entertainment / display / conference centre that’s already had plenty spent on it and so you’d hope could be ready sooner for less, does margate have a need for two such facilities and if we have two would both be successful? Or would they drag each other down? The margate land trust conveniently has 6 million so maybe a transfer to them in exchange for the main stage and bars etc being retained , may possibly give the building a future. Then TDC could concentrate on saving the Theatre Royal.

    • Six million for the East Kent College Group when they could have easily hosted the same courses in their Broadstairs college site.

      Does anyone remember who was chair of the original Margate Town Deal board ?

  8. You need action on this very quickly.This is the most important venue in Margate and the councils before you have allowed it to deteriorate You dont realise how much the people of Margate and Thanet and surrounding areas miss going there.

      • I think that’s a stretch.

        If it was indeed Margate’s most important building then more people would have been going there.

        • Most visited hardly equates most important. If so, then sure the job centre and Morrisons are prime candidates?

    • Must have been making a mint than Anthony, with so many people from thanet and beyond using it.

      Makes you wonder were the money went or it wasnt used as much as you say

  9. If it could be refurbished and repurposed into some kind of multi purpose building then it may have a future.The refurbishment would have to give the building a low maintenance requirement and low heating and lighting costs.there is no point in yet another patch an repair job which will result in the same situation further along the line.
    The sort of audience that would watch Bob Monk house and ‘in for a Penny’have gone or are going the same way as those artistes of yore so there is no point in harking back to the past.
    My big beef is yet again something falls over in Margate and all is calamity and something should be done.Ramsgate has received nothing except for fixing up yet more TDC run down buildings.
    Ramsgate has had ideas and plans yet the Margate mafia at TDC have quashed them on the basis of ‘not invented here’.
    Still the new administration have not been in office long, but by the autumn we should expect something better than the usual dreary ‘there is no money’or ‘we need to throw yet more cash into the harbour ‘.
    You are on notice Rick,it’s time to stop listening to the deadwood at TDC.

    • Concerts, celebrations, festivals, exhibitions, fairs, parties, presentations… again, it WAS a “multi purpose building”, in a way that (say) the Marlowe in Canterbury is not. I should know, I worked there! Advertised events were just a small percentage of what went on there.

    • As for Ramsgate, I agree, but all credit should be given to those who are successfully reviving the Granville.

  10. The Granville is still an ugly (in my opinion) building which blocks what was once a vista along the Eastcliff between Winterstoke and Wellington Crescent, and which also takes up space along the shared-use promenade.

  11. Reallocate the £4 million going to the private company Dreamland with offshore parent companies and use it to save the Wintergardens, a historic and iconic Margate landmark!

  12. Get the winter gardens up and running yes, how about giving money to the two local Football clubs MFC and RFC who between them are doing more for the youth of Thanet than anybody else, largely run by volunteers who give hours of their own time every week. Hundreds of boys and girls are enjoying life at their venues every week, well done both clubs.

  13. How about in the mean time TDC keep the garden area clean and tidy instead of letting it get overgrown, some people will start fly tipping on the grounds if left the way it is at the moment.

Comments are closed.