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The Winter Gardens
Cleethorpes is a seaside town on the north-east coast of Lincolnshire in the UK. Up until 2007 it was home to the Winter Gardens, an attractive, dome-roofed building recognisable to visitors from far and wide and holding happy memories for denizens long departed for pastures new. With its prominent position on the Kingsway, opposite the colourful Dolphin Gardens and parallel to Cleethorpes promenade, the Winter Gardens could be seen from many vantage points around the town. Visitors to the town rarely had to ask for directions to get to it.
The view from the top floor of the Winter Gardens was unsurpassed in Cleethorpes until the arrival of Pleasure Island Theme Park1, just south down the road on the border between Cleethorpes and Humberston. What you could see (from the Winter Gardens) for as long as you cared to stare across the River Humber was East Yorkshire, all the way down to Spurn Point2. Watching the huge tankers navigate their way up the estuary towards Immingham and South Killingholme, massive liners full of holidaymakers on their way to Zeebrugge, Belgium, and small boats trying to dodge their swells was a pastime enjoyed by many children lucky enough to be staying as guests.
Railway worker George Eyre of Cleethorpes had an accident while at work, and both his legs were amputated. With the compensation he received for his injuries George financed the building of the Olympia on 'The Orchard', a plot of land owned by his wife Rose. A planning application for an 'amusement hall and restaurant' was submitted to Cleethorpes Council in April 1934 with building commencing immediately after permission was granted. George ordered flooring suitable for roller skating, as a thank-you for his devoted friend Owen Stanland, who in his spare time used to push George around in his wheelchair. Owen met his future wife at one of the early roller-dances.
In June 1934 an extension to the Olympia was applied for and granted; the building could now hold 500 people. In July 1935 an application was placed for three wooden buildings3 adjacent to the Olympia. Following Rose's death it was discovered that she had not left a will, and her previous husband's family the Sheardowns attempted to claim back their land from George. The building was sold to the borough council with the proceeds split between George and the Sheardowns.
During the Second World War, the Olympia was used as a cookhouse and dining area for the 8th Reserve Royal Artillery Unit, which was stationed in Cleethorpes. When the Olympia closed for refurbishment in the mid-1940s, the special flooring was taken up and placed in the Colosseum Cinema on the High Street.
The Winter Gardens
The building was reopened in 1946 and renamed the Winter Gardens, with Don Twidale as the first manager. Don's previous job was as a baker; after rising at dawn to start baking, he would then distribute his bread and cakes to customers in Cleethorpes and the surrounding area in a horse and cart. Comparing the two jobs, Don said he 'missed the fresh air but not the early mornings' of the bakery round, but he still got to meet people even though it was 'in four walls' as manager of 'The Gardens', as the building became affectionally known locally. Don created his own musical ensemble, from local talent, who performed as the Winter Gardens Orchestra on Sunday nights. Tables could be booked and were frequently rebooked for the following week by departing patrons.
Small rooms could be hired by firms for conferences, and also by the public, to celebrate family parties such as wedding anniversaries and milestone birthdays. Many a local firm, such as Clover Dairies, COSALT4, Grimsby Exchange, the Merchants Box Company, Messrs Smethurst and the local branch of the NUT all booked their annual dinner dances at the Winter Gardens. One guest entertainer at the Fish Trade Golf Society dinner was a captivating young Bob Monkhouse; such was his star quality that the audience member who witnessed his performance still recalled it half a century later. Other one-off guest artists included David Whitfield (who performed drunk) and yodelling Frank Ifield. The Winter Gardens' staff party was usually held between New Year and Easter when tourist business was slack. Before he was a guest of Her Majesty, the speaker and guest of honour at one Grimsby Evening Telegraph literary luncheon was best-selling author Jeffrey Archer.
King and Lawton
Jack Lawton was a summer season organist on Cleethorpes Pier when Shirley King arrived for a singing audition in 1960. Shirley quickly earned the nickname 'the east coast's answer to Vera Lynn'. Jack and Shirley fell in love and the couple married in 1963. Now a double act, they were offered a 'nostalgia night' variety show at the Winter Gardens by the manager Jimmy Jackson. The weekly King and Lawton show Saturday Night Continental ran for many years with the couple becoming well-known locally as 'Mr & Mrs Cleethorpes Entertainment'. On Friday afternoons King and Lawton hosted tea dances which were always well-attended by elderly couples, some celebrating over 60 years of marriage. The music would be live and the dances ranged from the stately Waltz to the more lively Jive for those still twinkle-toed. Shirley King eventually took over the post of marketing and promotions manager for the Winter Gardens until her retirement in 1996.
Melody Night (aka Bags' Ball)
Wednesday nights were reserved for the world-famous Melody Night (affectionately nicknamed the 'Bags' Ball'); primarily meant for visiting seamen and good-time girls to meet up and then spend some quality time together before the sailors departed for the next port. In more modern times this event became the haunt of older women, usually divorcees or merry widows seeking a one-night stand, their own dream dance partner or just a chance to dress up in their finery, make-up and bling to pretend they're 25 again for a few hours.
Weekend Record Fairs in the 1970s and 80s were renowned, with people travelling from abroad to attend in the hopes of adding to their vinyl collection (although some rarities priced as much as £500 were beyond the reach of most). Sunday antique fairs were well attended and one special event was a toy fair held in the Floral Suite on the first floor.
Dancing the Night Away
The huge dance hall played host to many a young couple who met there and then later decided to spend the rest of their lives together. Some nights there'd be a disc jockey playing records to a panel of flashing multi-coloured lights but when the music slowed and the lights dimmed all that would remain would be the central revolving disco light focusing its sparkle on the closely-dancing couples. Some discos went on all night, well into the early hours, with the attendees staggering home shielding their eyes from the Sun rising over the River Humber.
Rod Stewart appeared at the Winter Gardens in the 1960s when he was lead singer with the Steampacket. The East Coast Connection Soul Club held events in the main dance hall; this was a members-only club and many reminiscences can be found on the internet.
Popular singles garnering multiple play during Northern Soul events would be re-released by the record producer, some attaining greater retail success second time around. For example, the Tams' 1964 recording 'Hey Girl Don't Bother Me' reached No 1 in the UK in July 1971. The much-requested Jackie Wilson's 'I Get The Sweetest Feeling' and Tami Lynn's 'I'm Gonna Run Away From You' enjoyed two chart appearances, both were re-released in 1975.
At concert times a well-known group would play live on stage. Memorable visiting performers included Status Quo, Mott the Hoople, Queen (an advance ticket cost 70p), Atomic Rooster, Bay City Rollers, Free, Genesis, Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, the Rumble Band and AC/DC. A then-unknown Elton John appeared at a college dance in 1971, the year his first record 'Your Song' appeared in the charts. In August 1973 'Britain's No 1 rockin' lady' Suzi Quatro was booked to perform at the Winter Gardens for the now unbelievable entrance fee price of 90p. Dexy's Midnight Runners made an appearance in 1980 while their hit single 'Geno' was No 1 in the charts. The Grimsby Live Aid Concert in 1985 was held at the Winter Gardens; performers included local legends The Rumble Band and the Brothers Band.
The Winter Gardens held licenced boxing matches with evening events including dinner so fans could take along a date. The events attracted not just local fighters but pugilists (boxers) from far and wide. Retired boxers like Barry McGuigan and Henry Cooper often turned up to watch these bouts. The Winter Gardens has played host to many more recognisable names, including England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, who celebrated his testimonial dinner there in 1980. Sticking with the sporting theme, other well-known visitors over the years included Bill Shankley, Harvey Smith, Bobby Moore, Ken Wolstenholme and John Parrot.
A 'Save the National' dinner was held at the venue in March 1983, attended by 300 members of the Winter Gardens Sporting Club. Guest of honour that night was triple Grand National winner Red Rum, who seemed happy to oblige adoring fans by posing for photos and allowing endless petting. Red Rum must have enjoyed his visit because three years later he was back to celebrate his 21st birthday in style as special guest at a charity ball. In June 1987 the Grimsby and District Ladies Club Darts League held their presentation evening at the Winter Gardens.
Local celebrity Dave Boylen, who played for Grimsby Town FC from 1966-78, was responsible for bringing some of the most famous footballers on the planet to the Winter Gardens. Boylen had connections with Manchester and often returned there; when he was a youth he used to watch Manchester United's junior team and one of the players he got to know was George Best. When he was asked to conjure up a special guest for Town legend John McDermott's testimonial dinner at the Winter Gardens, Boylen contacted his old friend Besty. Not only did he accept and turn up, he also brought along a friend to make the after-dinner speech, namely one Rodney Marsh. That night the Winter Gardens almost burst at the seams, tickets had been like gold dust as practically everyone in the area wanted to be there.
Boylen was involved with the Artie White Foundation6, set up for the benefit of local charities in 1997, for almost a decade. For a man of short stature, he wielded considerable clout with his fellow sporting geniuses. He was able to rustle up a veritable who's who of footballing legends to attend the foundation dinners: Sir Bobby Charlton and his brother Jack, Sir Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles and Denis Law. Such luminaries in attendance would guarantee a sell-out event, meaning maximum funds for the local people with special needs, such as the Jake Desmond O'Brien Appeal.
Tying the Knot
As the century drew to a close, the Winter Gardens applied for and was granted a licence to conduct weddings. The first couple to book their nuptials at the venue were Lisa Lumb and Stephen Gregory who tied the knot in style in February 1999.
Ghosts, Memories and the End of An Era
The ghosts of long-dead rhythmic partners dance no more in the hallowed halls of the Winter Gardens. The treasure chest of memories built up over two centuries remains only in the minds of the people fortunate enough to experience one of the events in the local favourite building, and those lucky enough to have had the recollections passed onto them by friends and loved ones. There will be no more couples who meet and fall in love at the Winter Gardens. In 2007 the unique building closed its doors for the last time and the buyer who was going to develop the land pulled out due to local opposition to the planned construction of a block of flats. The once-magnificent building was boarded up but vandals gained entrance and trashed the place. Fearing for the safety of these yobs should they return to wreak more damage, the local council erected barriers and cordoned off the area. The Winter Gardens deteriorated further due to neglect and was finally demolished and cleared in 2008, for the total cost of £109,000. All that remained was a small pile of rubble and wind-blown rubbish behind the steel fence. Not many locals can pass this vacant eyesore without feeling a lump in the throat or a tear gather in the eye.
The council's plan for the future of the prime plot of land was to build a doctor's surgery and health centre as soon as the finance became available7. Some developers were reportedly in the process of submitting a planning application for some living accommodation, possibly flats or maisonettes, but at the time of writing, April 2010, the vacant plot is up for sale.