The first of the summer visits was to Morecambe to explore two buildings which have played a significant part in its leisure industry: one going back to the late Victorian era and the other an icon of the Thirties. Our first stop was to the Morecambe Winter Gardens which is a Grade 2 listed building and was built in 1897 by Magnall and Littlewood. The architectural design followed closely many large railway stations being built at the same time and this was apparent from the domed internal ceiling space. The beautiful sandstone facade is still in good condition but its dominant place on the seafront is overshadowed by more recent commercial development. The foyer, staircases, ceilings, mouldings and chandeliers still give a feel of its former splendour but much of the circle and balconies have sadly been reduced to their bare fabric. Our guide from the Friends of the Winter Gardens, Peter Wade, gave us a detailed and engaging walk and talk about many aspects of the building moving from the stalls, into the gods through dressing rooms to backstage and finishing on the stage itself. Peter skilfully managed to recreate the part MWG had played to generations of locals and holidaymakers while explaining their hopes for its regeneration. After much climbing of stairs, the Friends of MWG welcomed us to afternoon tea and we were able to admire their collection of adverts and photos of performers and related memorabilia. It was a chance to take a stroll down a 50’s and 60’s memory lane for those who had visited MWG in its 20th century heyday.
We moved across the Prom to the recently renovated art deco Midland Hotel where we were given a tour of the hotel by a Lancastrian from Liverpool who gave us an engaging talk embellished with his Scouse humour. Built in 1933 for the London Midland and Scottish (LMS ) railway, by Oliver Hill, it contains nautically themed works of art by Eric Gill and photos of the murals by the Sussex born artist Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Garwood and replicas of textiles designed by Marion Dorn. In her autobiography, Tirzah wrote how the hotel resembled a big white concrete ship facing out across the shining sands, mudflats and treacherous waters of Morecambe bay.
The Eric Gill bas relief which is entitled “Odysseus welcomed from the sea by Nausicca” was carved into 6000 tonnes of Portland stone and is behind the reception desk. On the wall in the South Room (now the Eric Gill suite), is a relief map of the Lancashire coast and the Lake District beyond. Other nautical themes were continued with sea horses on the outside of the building and (now the hotel’s merchandising logo) and on the ceiling above the iconic spiral staircase, a circular medallion depicting sea gods and mermaids. The Midland hotel was a luxury hotel and it is not difficult to imagine the likes of Sir Laurence Oliver and many ‘ bright young things’ of the time visiting it in the thirties. It is also not that difficult to see how it was used as a filming location for the thirties themed TV series: Poirot.
A rewarding afternoon exploring two very different buildings and with the help of our guides we left Morecambe with a better feel for how they had played their part in the life of Morecambe as a tourist destination.