We were in Blackpool last week-end and took the opportunity to visit the Winter Gardens to see what has been done about the Doulton tiled panels which were designed in 1896 by W.J. Neatby for the foyer of the Empress Ballroom. There were originally 28 of these panels, all different and each of them displaying a very exotic, life-size, art nouveau lady.
Structural changes made to the foyer some time ago led to a number of panels being destroyed whilst others, in a part of the building that became a motor car sales garage, had been covered up and to all intents and purposes, forgotten about. None of them was on show when we went looking for them whilst doing our research for The Arts and Crafts Movement in the North West of England in 2001.
The car sales garage is lomg gone and the showroom is now the Winter Gardens Cafe/Bar in St John’s Square. We were delighted to find no less than 12 panels displayed in deep niches in the cafe walls. Some have been slightly adjusted to fit, but 11 of the 12 still show Neatby’s signature. We have included images of just two of them here to tempt you to call in for a coffee and take time to feast on the whole wonderful collection. It is marvellous that after nearly 120 years so many panels have survived. Congratulations to everyone involved in the process of uncovering, conserving and displaying these beautiful survivors from the 1890s.