THIRTEEN years after the house lights went out for the last time at Bournemouth’s Winter Gardens, it still looms large in people’s memories.

The concert hall was demolished in 2006 after years of campaigning by supporters to secure its future.

See all the pictures of the Winter Gardens through the ages in a gallery 

Kirill Karabits, principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, first came to the town that year, and he mentioned “the famous Winter Gardens” last weekend in an interview on BBC Radio 3. He told the programme Music Matters of his dream of seeing a new concert venue open in the town.

The story of the Winter Gardens is really the history of two buildings that bore that name.

The original Winter Gardens Pavilion was built in 1875. It was a glass structure, known originally as the Crystal Palace of the Summer and Winter Gardens.

A prospectus published in 1891 for the auction of the lease on the site gives us some idea what the venue and the town were like in those days.

It was shared with the Echo by Fred Curtis, whose late wife Jeanne, was given a copy by former councillor Major James MacFarland many years ago.

“These delightful grounds lie in the very bull’s eye of alluring Bournemouth,” says the prospectus.

It describes the structure as a ‘palace of glass’ in the midst of the gardens, capable of holding 4,000 people. It says Bournemouth is “picturesque”, with 6,000 “well-built houses”.

The Winter Gardens was not used as a concert venue until 1893, when it was leased to Bournemouth Corporation.

It was an ideal performance venue for Dan Godfrey’s new Bournemouth Band, formed that year.

The original Winter Gardens saw the likes of Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry, Jean Sibelius and Gustav Holst conduct Godfrey’s band, which became Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra.

However, the building was demolished in 1935, six years after the construction of Bournemouth’s Pavilion, where concerts were to take place instead.

Another Winter Gardens was built in 1937, originally as an indoor bowling centre. It turned out to have spectacularly good acoustics and was converted into a concert hall in 1946.

For several decades, the new Winter Gardens was at the heart of the town’s cultural and social life.

Orchestral concerts sounded superb there, but it also hosted concerts by the biggest rock and pop acts of the day.

The Beatles played there on November 16, 1963. They had already played the town’s Gaumont in August, but Beatlemania had by now well and truly arrived. Film cameras from US television news recorded the scenes as police held back the screaming crowds at the stage door. The Rolling Stones played the venue that same year.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience performed at the Winter Gardens in 1967, Pink Floyd played the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon there in January 1972, Elton John played there in 1972 and 1973, while both David Bowie and Wings performed in 1973 and Queen in 1974.

But most other kinds of entertainment sold thousands of tickets too. Summer seasons by the likes of Cilla Black and the since-disgraced Rolf Harris were big attractions. Tony Hancock performed there, as did other great names in comedy, including Morecambe and Wise, Bob Hope and Jack Benny.

Film screenings, wrestling matches and more also took place at the venue. And it occasionally became Bournemouth’s village hall – most memorably for a 1997 meeting which saw fans rally round the debt-ridden AFC Bournemouth.

But by the time that meeting took place, the Winter Gardens’ best days were already behind it. The start of its decline could perhaps be traced to 1979, when the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Bournemouth Sinfonietta moved their base to the new Poole Arts Centre, or to the opening of the BIC in 1984.

Tastes were changing, the big pop acts of the day wanted bigger venues, and many argued that Bournemouth had too many theatre seats.

As early as 1990, there was serious talk of bulldozing the hall following a structural survey.

In 1993-94, the Winter Gardens Trust tried to raise £2.5million for refurbishment, with the offer of a lease and a £500,000-a-year grant from Bournemouth council.

But the scheme needed National Lottery funding, which it could only get if the orchestras were to return to Bournemouth. A report from Southern Arts killed that idea.

Several schemes collapsed over the following few years, including the idea of Bournemouth University creating a media arts centre there.

From 1998-2000, private developers were invited to pitch their ideas for making the hall viable. Sir Robert McAlpine was chosen to work up its plans, but its plans were eventually thrown out for proposing “over-development” of the site and not providing enough “cultural and community benefits”.

As the idea of selling-off the site gathered momentum, the public protests grew.

Musical luminaries joined the campaign to save the venue.

Film composer Ron Goodwin said at his BSO Christmas concert in 200 that losing the hall would be “an absolute tragedy”.

Composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies wrote of the impending sale: “It is such vandalism that makes one ashamed, in European company, to admit to being British.”

More than 25,000 people signed a petition in 2001 demanding that the venue be saved. A change of administration at the council the following year seemed to indicate that was a possibility – but the new administration eventually decided to close the venue anyway.

The BSO gave the last Winter Gardens concert in 2002, after which the building stood empty as the debates continued.

Bournemouth council finally decided in 2005 to demolish it in favour of two 300-seater halls. The bulldozers finally moved in the following year.

Today, the Winter Gardens remains a car park, with plans for development still being worked up.

Whether or not the town eventually gets a new concert venue, it is clear many people still feel warmly about the old one.

The other famous acts who performed at the Winter Gardens 

  • Larry Adler
  • Julie Andrews
  • Count Basie
  • Bay City Rollers
  • Tony Bennett
  • Acker Bilk
  • Max Bygraves
  • Roy Castle
  • Maurice Chevalier,
  • Petula Clark
  • Perry Como
  • Billy Connolly
  • Billy Cotton
  • Leslie Crowther
  • Paul Daniels
  • Carl Davis
  • Duke Ellington
  • Adam Faith
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • George Formby
  • Bruce Forsyth
  • Freddie and the Dreamers
  • Ron Goodwin
  • Stephane Grappelli
  • Lenny Henry
  • Iron Maiden
  • Burl Ives
  • Jack Jones
  • Tom Jones
  • Howard Keel
  • Nigel Kennedy
  • Eartha Kitt
  • Cleo Laine
  • Danny La Rue
  • Brenda Lee
  • Humphrey Lyttelton
  • Lindisfarne
  • Nana Mouskouri
  • Simon Rattle
  • Cliff Richard
  • Paul Robeson
  • Harry Secombe
  • The Shadows
  • Stevie Wonder