The Winter Gardens opened in 1897. There had been previous ‘pleasure gardens’ on the site but this is the official beginning.
1897 – 2013. It is almost a human life span. Admitedly, a long life, but still… And, thinking of ‘history’, it is also a ‘long’ 20th Century. The end of Victorian England extending into the early days of the new millenium.
We are thinking about these time frames; the human span and the ages. Story and history.
Our gathered stories take us back to the 1930’s. The heyday of the Winter Gardens by all accounts. Packed to the rafters and a fresh lick of paint. Basking in the brightest electric light of the era (for all that we think of those days in perpetual black and white). This is the edge of living memory.
For the early days there are historical sources, faded playbills, contemporary accounts. We discover a piece of early documentary film from the Mitchell and Kenyon archive- a beautiful tracking shot along the promenade (real black and white), all parasols and perambulators, and laughing boys tossing caps in the air – a gesture we know from such archive films but that has now disappeared. We learn that this is 1901. A brand new century and the Winter Gardens a brand new palace of entertainment. And that this film was shown in there, in here, the very day that it had been filmed.
And we also learn that in those rosy Edwardian days, Morecambe hosted the largest and most significant choral music festival in the country. Two years later, a song written by Edward Elgar, commissioned by the festival, is performed for the first time in the Winter Gardens; ‘Weary Wind of the West’. We have been listening to it.
Cut to 1977. (1897 – 1977, roughly the lifespan of a grandfather.) The RAF Band enact the last rites of the building. A final performance that concludes with a (doubtlessly) rousing rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’… And the crowds go home and Barbara Mann locks the doors… And that is nearly 40 years ago.
Since then, in the parlance of the stage, the theatre has been dark…
So. A long life that we begin to think of as three lives.
Prehistory. 1897 – c. 1933.
A life of living memories. c. 1933 – 1977.
An afterlife. 1977 – ‘the present day’…
And it is a long time now, this afterlife. A long time for a building to sit, waiting for it’s future; living in the past. Repository of memory. Symbol of decay. Sustained by past glories and the love of ‘friends’…
We wonder about the entwined themes- heritage and restoration.
What do we think about ‘heritage’?
We have the impression of a world lived in sepia when we know that in fact it was bright and as vivid as now. Maybe brighter. And the film camera and the film show, even though it is hand cranked, and flickers, is in fact a marvel of new technology, worthy of a gasp, of genuine astonishment…
What happens when the living memory disappears? Does it then become the story of parents and grandparents? Ancestral memory?
What should happen to a building like this? Do we believe in monuments?
What is it that draws us to such dereliction? Is this about celebrating survival, or decay?