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A splendid day out



…was really a Splendid Weekend, a gathering of hundreds of Steampunk enthusiasts and fascinated visitors from all over Britain and abroad. Rose, Ian and Rob who curate the event, invited us to be part of their Steampunk Arts & Literary Festival, “The Arts of Steam”.

We were very flattered, of course, but did wonder if my presence at a ‘Literary’ Festival would contravene the 1968 Trades Descriptions Act.

The venue for The Arts of Steam was the iconic Winter Gardens Theatre, on Morecambe’s Marine Road Central.

Built in 1897 as the Victoria Pavilion – designed by Mangall and Littlewood with help from our hero and the Professor’s good friend Frank Matcham – the theatre was an extension of the existing Winter Gardens entertainment complex, which comprised a ballroom, an aquarium, open air bathing pools and several drinking dens.

© Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust

 In fact, Michael Magister played the Victoria Pavilion not long after it opened, which is something I must mention in the next book. Laurel and Hardy, Wilson Keppel & Betty, Sir Edward Elgar, Dame Shirley Bassey and Sir Ken Dodd are just some of the performers who’ve trodden those hallowed boards.

The Winter Gardens closed in 1977 and the ballroom building was pulled down five years later. Mercifully, the theatre was listed as a Grade II building "representing a significant aspect of Morecambe's entertainment industry" and escaped demolition. 12 years ago, the now crumbling property was bought by The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust and their tremendous work, with the help of passionate volunteers, restoring what’s left of the magnificent Victorian infrastructure has progressed since then. Once again, The Winter Gardens is a working venue.

You can learn more about the theatre and how to support the continuing renovations and up-keep here:

The surviving original Victorian features are stunning.

Rare bow-fronted box office stalls.

Stunning stained glass designs.

Externally, the exquisite iron work on the canopy and gates.

This is the view of the stage from the audience's point of view…

…and the auditorium from a performer’s perspective.

Here’s the sparse Steam, Smoke & Mirrors stand before we set up.

And here it is after.

The copper pipe proscenium-effect lighting rig is an experimental new addition to the stand.

A young member of the SS&M team rehearses her: “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him before he ran out of steam...” soliloquy.

This was the programme of Steampunk events over the weekend

– entertaining and extensive. 

I know. Not only did Gary Nicholls and I somehow find ourselves on the same bill as brilliant Steampunk writers Rosie Garland, Andy Frazer, and from America David Lee – but we were following the legendary author and Steampunk God – K W Jeter!

Here’s the great man on stage at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe, reading an extract from his Steampunk classic novel “Infernal Devices”.

And here’s Gary Nicholls and me strutting our stuff to a packed audience of enthralled fans…who, in all honesty, probably only came over for a sit down.

To see Gary’s excellent work, take a look at:

The highlight of the weekend, and it rarely gets better than this: me with K W Jeter, the man who in 1987 originated the expression 'Steampunk'.

Date for diary – “A Splendid Day Out” returns to Morecambe in October.

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