Winter Gardens Blackpool: the most magnificent palace of amusement in the world by Vanessa Toulmin

This lavish book is a history of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. As someone who has spoken from the rostrum in the Empress Ballroom during trade union conferences, the Winter Gardens holds a special place in my affections. This book gives the history of the complex and is well illustrated with photographs, contemporary engravings and all manner of ephemera. The latter should be no surprise, as the author, Professor Vanessa Toulmin, is the Director of the National Fairground Archive at Sheffield University and has access to much material concerning the Winter Gardens.

I have a few minor criticisms. Firstly, there is no ground plan. A drawing would have been helpful in visualising the different stages in the evolution of the site. Secondly, some insight into the hidden machinery of the Winter Gardens would have been interesting; its services, lighting, heating and power arrangements must have been as notable in their day as the front of house. Finally, there is little mention of the area nowadays known as ‘The Arena’. This seems to be because it was built in 1964 in the space formerly occupied by the spectacular ‘Indian Lounge’, and the replacement of that lounge appears to have been a major act of architectural vandalism that it seems the author is unable to forgive. The modern Arena has an interesting decorative style, best described as ‘fantasy Egyptian’, and it should, for completeness, be illustrated.

But these are minor criticisms of an excellent work, which I devoured in one sitting but will go back to often.

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