Seasonal Come Dancing

If you're looking for a way of getting into the festive mood then you could think about dusting off your dancing shoes. The famous sunken dance floor at the Winter Gardens Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare is playing host to a wide range of balls and ...

Nowadays health and safety laws wouldn't allow such numbers and the Winter Gardens is more likely to be thought of as a conference venue, but there are still opportunities for you to strut your stuff on the dance floor.

For instance, early in the month there's the Holly Ball, starring The Cavern Beatles and Intrigue Showband, and a Christmas Social Lunch and Tea Dance, then on Christmas Eve there's a Sequence Ball and on Boxing Day a Social Dance.

Quite apart from dancing, the ballroom has a number of uses but as Peter Undery, the General Manager, explains there is a very definite seasonal influence. "During the autumn and spring you tend to have more conferences and the occasional tea dance, and at weekends fairs and entertainment. At Christmas it's party time, and throughout December and January large organisations will hire it out for their sole use. In the summer we come to the wedding season (the Winter Gardens Pavilion is licensed to hold weddings) and simple, traditional seaside entertainment."

The Pavilion was a popular location for the original 'Come Dancing' television shows

The idea of the Winter Gardens was first conceived at a meeting back in 1882, as 'a means of postponing the autumn and of mitigating the region of winter; a place affording shade, shelter, rest and recreation to some, while it will afford accommodation for fêtes, balls, concerts, lectures, croquet, lawn tennis and every description of out-of-doors amusements, not for summer or winter only, but for all year round.' That, I think, is a lovely description of exactly what it has done over the last 80 years.

On a different site the first Summer and Winter Gardens was created in 1882 but destroyed by bombs during the Second World War. The Winter Gardens that we now know was officially opened with a ceremony involving a golden key in 1927. The cost of the Pavilion was £35,000 and about £16,000 was spent on the gardens.

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In order to get round height-limit restrictions, the ballroom floor was sunk to 1.4 metres (4ft 6in) below ground level and the floor itself was constructed with oak specially laid on a unique system of pillars to give maximum resilience. The promenade around the dance floor was laid out as a café and the stage was set at the southern end opposite the entrance steps.

During the Second World War, when the BBC was evacuated from London, many programmes were transmitted from the Winter Gardens. Then years later the Pavilion became a popular location for the original 'Come Dancing' television shows. The celebrated dance arena was also featured in the film the 'Remains of the Day'.

Over time there have been several major changes to the Pavilion. In 1963 the Starlight Room was built on to the rear to provide extra catering facilities and a smaller dancing area, and during the '70s the colonnades were glazed over to provide additional space.

But by the end of the 1980s it was decided that the building was outdated and too small and it was redeveloped at a cost of about £5 million. "In 1991 it reopened primarily as a conference centre, but in truth as a multi-function venue," says Peter. "These days we've got two large rooms: the ballroom and the Prince Consort Hall, which can take up to 600 people each. In addition to that there are three small suites, generally used on a daily basis for meetings and seminars."

The Winter Gardens is owned and operated by North Somerset Council. Obviously it is run commercially but there is more than just a recognition that it is there to serve the people of the area.

Peter says, "We're a community venue, but in this day and age you're there to do business as well. The philosophy is still very much as a community venue and a lot of what we do for the community wouldn't happen if it was owned and operated privately. A good example is the Tea Dances: we don't operate them for money; they're very much for love. But that's exactly what a building like this should be used for."

Whether or not it makes money itself, there's no doubt that it must bring a lot of cash to the town as, along with the piers and the beach, the Winter Gardens must be one of Weston-super-Mare's most significant icons. BY MALCOLM RIGBYChristmas at the Winter Gardens

8 December: The Holly Ball

12 December: Christmas Social Lunch and Tea Dance

15 December: Evening Social Dance

16 December: Weston Brass Christmas Concert

24 December: Christmas Eve Sequence Ball

26 December: Boxing Day Social Dance

28 December: Fumble, Rock n' Roll Circus

31 December: New Year's Eve Social Dance and Celebration

Call tel 01934 417117 for further details or visit

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