Skegness Esplanade and Tower Gardens
- Heritage Category:
- Park and Garden
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Location Description:
- Tower Gardens, west of Grand Parade and Esplanade Gardens east of North Parade, Grand Parade and South Parade.
- Statutory Address:
- The Esplanade, Skegness, Lincolnshire, PE25 2UG
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- Statutory Address:
- The Esplanade, Skegness, Lincolnshire, PE25 2UG
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Tower Gardens, west of Grand Parade and Esplanade Gardens east of North Parade, Grand Parade and South Parade.
- East Lindsey (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Skegness Tower Gardens (formerly Pleasure Gardens) part of the new town plans of 1868 by Civil Engineers Clarke and Pickwell for Lord Scarbrough. Esplanade Gardens designed by Skegness Urban District Council engineer, surveyor and architect Rowland Jenkins (in office 1912-1952) dating from 1922.
Reasons for Designation
Skegness Esplanade and Tower Gardens, designed by Rowland Jenkins (1877-1952) in the 1920s and 1930s, are registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Design interest: they are a significant creation both in scale and detail, embodying many of the sought-for design elements of a seaside landscape of the period. The well-structured composition, punctuated by bridges, sunken formal gardens, pavilions, bowling greens and mock castles, is linked by water features to create a visual and textural interest in what were formerly sand dunes;
* Designer: as a testimony to Rowland Jenkins’ artistic vision and flair;
* Preservation: despite some losses, the majority of the elements have survived and the overall layout remains clearly legible;
* Historic interest: The first of the Butlin's holiday camps opened in 1936 in Skegness, and as the site of the first bumper cars to be seen in Britain. The foreshore was created using money from the Unemployment Grants Committee, employing local manpower at a time of national depression;
* Documentation: they are well documented particularly through historic mapping and photographs, which provide considerable detail of the evolution of the gardens and resort as a whole;
* Group value: strong group value with the Grade II listed Jubilee Clock Tower built 1898 by Edmund Winter and which formed a main focus point within the foreshore development.
When Skegness was connected to the railway in 1873 the numbers of visitors increased rapidly, at a time when agriculture was beginning to decline. By this time much of the land was owned by the Earl of Scarbrough who saw the opportunity to convert the estate to meet the demands of the new summertime trade. A plan of the new town was drawn up in 1868 by Civil Engineers Clarke and Pickwell, who went on to design and construct the pier, and Skegness became a seaside resort, superimposed on the old village of 350 inhabitants, with a grid system layout of wide, tree lined streets, parades, a new main shopping street and supporting amenities.
Work began in 1877 with the building of a sea wall, built of limestone blocks bought by rail from the Earl of Scarbrough’s Roche Abbey quarry, on which to construct the Grand Parade and its extension north and south and Lumley Road which replaced the former High Street. Within the first five years of development the Pleasure Gardens, with bandstand and Pavillion, an indoor swimming bath and a pier one-third of a mile long had been built. Tower Gardens (then known as the Pleasure Gardens), were of particular distinction, created from a site used for storing coal that had been landed by ships locally from Tyneside.
The glory of the newly created town was its pier. Opened in 1881 by the Duke of Edinburgh it was at the time the fourth longest in Britain. In 1882 it is recorded that over the August Bank Holiday there were 20,000 visitors to the pier, the majority having arrived by train simply to ‘walk the plank’. The pier has suffered a number of problems: in 1919 it was breached by the schooner Europa but was repaired and survived until 1978 when it was shattered in a storm although the 1000 seater theatre survived but this too perished in 1985 following a fire. Attractions and events in Skegness at the end of the C19 included a cricket match between the Australian Touring Team and Skegness and Visitors XV which the home team won by eight wickets. Another early attraction was a race meeting held in 1882 on the sands opposite the Sea View Hotel, when 17 train excursions bought in race followers for the four events. Towards the end of the C19 a nine-hole golf links was laid out along the south dunes; it opened in 1895. Five years later the Skegness Golf Club was renamed Seacroft Golf Club, and at the same time the course was extended to eighteen holes. A second links known as The North Shore opened in 1910 and the original club house, much enlarged, is now the North Shore Hotel.
By the end of the C19 a number of new hotels had opened but by 1900 the Seacroft Hydro was the biggest, and was renamed in 1921 as the Seacroft Hotel. Sea air had been recognised as having a recuperative influence long before John Hassall created his famous Jolly Fisherman poster for Skegness in 1908, and at the end of C19 convalescent homes were being erected. Many were financed by wealthy benefactors or by large companies for their employees; the Countess of Scarbrough established one in Park Avenue, for women only, in the 1890s. The Derbyshire Miners Convalescent Home opened in 1928, and in 1939 they added a holiday camp alongside, to give the miners their very own ‘Butlin’s’. The contraction of the coal industry had an impact, and the camp, was forced to close in 1989. Homes to provide seaside holidays for disadvantaged children from Nottingham and Derby had been opened in the 1890s in Scarbrough Avenue, Brunswick Drive and Roseberry Avenue but only that in Scarbrough Avenue remains.
Following the end of the First World War, the Earl of Scarbrough offered to sell the whole of the foreshore to Skegness Urban District Council. The deal was completed in 1922 and included the beach, parades, Pleasure Gardens (now the Tower Gardens), Marine Gardens and the Sands Pavilion.
This saw a new surge in the growth of the town, the council’s engineer, surveyor and architect Rowland Jenkins (1877-1952), who held office from 1912 until his death, masterminded a second remarkable phase in the development of the famous seaside resort (https://skegness.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/death-of-skegness-foreshore-designer). He introduced a number of new features including the Embassy Ballroom, bowling greens, tennis courts, a bathing pool, a boating lake, the Suncastle Solarium, a waterway, beach walks, a ruined castle and an expanse of rose gardens. Jenkins transformed the foreshore into a huge pleasure park by the sea, sometimes incorporating ideas he bought back from walking tours of Italy and elsewhere on the continent. An example of this is the walk alongside the south boating lake, formerly known as the Axenstrasse which, with its ferroconcrete rustic rocks, fences, arches, pathways, shelters, bridges and castle ruin effect was designed to give at least a hint of the St Gothard area of the Swiss Alps. All combined with water, flowers, or lawns to form an attractive picture. The vision was assisted by government grants, made necessary as a result of the great financial depression of the 1920s and 1930s. The Unemployment Grants Committee made money available absorbing quite a large proportion of manpower in the area, and allowing many families to avoid the hardships of living ‘on the dole’. The Esplanade was created following the construction of a sea wall along the high tide line, and the reclamation of land from the sands of the foreshore. The 1906 OS map shows an area known as Marine Gardens planted with a shelter belt of hedges or trees and laid to lawn prior to the more extensive expansion of the Esplanade in the 1920s and 30s. It was during this time that Billy Butlin first visited Skegness with his hoopla stall which he had previously operated in Bristol and Olympia, London. He set up stall in 1925 on a site off North Parade known as The Jungle, close to where the County Hotel stands today. The fairground was originally on the central beach, south of the pier, but after the First World War it was moved to the seaward side of North Parade, filling the space between the pier entrance and the figure 8 switchback at the Sea View end of the parade. Butlins amusements including model cars, a slide, a haunted house, were on the other side of the road, an area which also accommodated a theatre and mini-zoo. The seaside of the parade was the main draw for crowds with racing games using small model race horses and Charlie Severn’s Aerial Flight which, shown on the 1906 OS map, predated most of the other attractions. This consisted of two parallel wire cables suspended between high wooden platforms. The flyer clutched an inverted handle above their head and swung themselves to and fro towards the far platform with a safety net to catch the numerous ‘drop-outs’. There was a wooden studio where an artist drew portraits and sold his landscape paintings, a photo studio, a bowling alley with an Ariel motorcycle on show, a crystal maze, hall of mirrors and balloons for sale. There were roundabouts, helter skelter, swingboats, a rifle range, coconut shies and stalls selling ice cream. But, 1929 was the last summer for everyone. A covenant relating to new building compelled the council to remove all temporary structures and give notice to all stall holders, although it allowed them to relocate to a new amusement park to be built on the other side of the pier. Billy Butlin offered to build and operate it for himself and the other occupiers and the council accepted. From here Butlin went from strength to strength as he adapted his various ventures including the first Dodgem bumper cars to be seen in Britain. North Parade was developed with permanent attractions and in 1930 the opposite side of the parade began to be built up with private hotels and, later, residential flats.
Throughout this development Jenkins never lost sight of the special importance in the overall scheme of the foreshore of the clock tower. When the pier was finally lost to the sea in 1984 the clock tower assumed an even greater importance. Built in 1899 by Edmund Winter of Liverpool to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, it remains the town’s most notable landmark.
The foreshore development scheme was completed by 1939. The immediate post-war years saw holiday travel continuing but with emphasis changing from rail to road. New car parks had to be provided and much of the south foreshore was eventually used for this purpose. At the start of the C21, despite decades of change, Jenkins vision persists. Almost all the amenities he created for the foreshore have survived. Jenkins was also responsible for upgrading the highways, sewerage and water supply at a time when Skegness was developing as a holiday town. Rowland Jenkins died in 1952 at the age of 75.
In the post Second World War years some of the amenities provided in the 1920s and 1930s needed replacement, and by the end of the C20 the largest, most notable change is the replacement of the big open-air swimming pool and the Embassy Ballroom. Tower Esplanade was revamped and the 1990s saw the completion of new sea defences, incorporating marine walks the full length of the seashore. The new defences and walks had little impact on Jenkins’ landscape and likewise, new attractions in the form of Natureland and Seal Sanctuary (1965) and the Aquarium (2015, formerly known as Pandas Palace (1986) have also respected the earlier landscape features. On 22 May 2006, the Fairy Dell, a feature of the esplanade gardens was re-opened following a major refurbishment during which improvements were made to the pool including clean-filtered water and extra water features, but the majority of the basic hard landscaping of Jenkins design has been retained.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Skegness Esplanade and Tower Gardens (formerly known as Pleasure Gardens) are situated on the east coast of Lincolnshire, about 25 miles north of Boston. Tower Gardens and Skegness Esplanade of the late C19 and early C20, are on the sea front, and are divided into three main compartments based around Grand Parade, North Parade and South Parade, all of which link to a grid system of roads laid out to the east. To the east the three compartments are interlinked by a meandering canal weaving through the various sections of the designed landscape. The principal lines of the landscapes’ structure from east to west are formed of Scarbrough Avenue, which aligns with the Pier, and Lumley Road which aligns with the Jubilee Clock Tower and Tower Esplanade. Built on reclaimed land, the western edge of the esplanade gardens follows what was labelled as the High Water Mark on the 1889 Ordnance Survey (OS) map. The esplanade is now separated from the beach by sand dunes and a marine walk added in the late C20.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES Tower Gardens represents the earliest phase of the designed landscape forming part of the new town drawn up in 1868, for the Earl of Scarbrough by the Civil Engineers Clarke and Pickwell. This firm was later to design and construct the pier. The gardens were created from a site used for storing coal that had been landed by ships locally from Tyneside. The gardens are shown in detail on the 1889 OS map, bounded by Grand Parade (shown as North Parade) to the east, Rutland Road to the west and Lumley Road to the south, all of which provide access to the gardens. Tower Gardens retain the structural detailing of the original landscape features with the pond, bandstand, bridges, paths and lawns retained in much the same naturalistic configuration as the original. The Pavillion, which formed the northern boundary, has fallen into disrepair and, at the time of visiting (October 2016), was due for demolition and the associated bandstand is not the original but a replacement in the same location. Metal railings, particularly along the western boundary, add a formal frontage to the terraces along Rutland Road and cast-iron and timber benches appear late C19 or early C20 in date. Mature specimen trees form the garden framework, with seasonally changing shrub and perennial planting at a lower level.
The eastern entrance to Tower Gardens, has been altered slightly with small kiosks built on a terrace to the east of the approach. When originally laid out, the view from the gardens on this side would have been to the open sands and the sea but the esplanade, laid out in the early C20, saw the creation of the Embassy Ballroom directly in line with the eastern access to the gardens, closing the direct view to the sea. On the south side a terrace of shops have been built, truncating the gardens slightly, but still allowing access through a covered walkway from Lumley Road.
Many entrances provide access to the gardens and compartments on the eastern side of North Parade, South Parade and Grand Parade, each with characteristics reflecting the theme of the individual gardens.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING The principal buildings of the Esplanade gardens were the Embassy Ballroom built in 1929 and the contemporary open-air swimming pool and Orchestral Piazza, an open space with a domed bandstand. The Embassy Ballroom underwent a major conversion in 1982 to become the multi-purpose Embassy Centre. More demolition and rebuilding during 1999 resulted in the new Embassy Theatre Complex being built, opened on 3rd August 2000 by Ken Dodd. The new building was built on the footprint of the original ballroom but none of the historic fabric was retained. A new indoor swimming pool, fitness suite, a small outdoor pool and car park have replaced the original open-air pool and Orchestral Piazza.
The basic structural framework of the entire esplanade gardens is primarily created from ferroconcrete (iron reinforced concrete), with rock pools, rock gardens and paths made in crazy paving from broken slabs of cast concrete. An extensive water feature in the form of a boating lake with massive formations of artificial rock-work, grottoes and concrete Venetian bridges is the main focus of the southern gardens, east of South Parade although the Venetian bridge has been replaced in recent years. The surrounding banks and edging of the bowling greens, west of the boating lake, are in the form of imitation logs in decorative concrete. The Fairy Dell, an irregular shaped paddling pool of artificial rock-work contains a central feature of a late C19 fountain. North of Tower Esplanade a series of gardens are linked by a system of meandering canals. Folly buildings are a feature here with, at the extreme north, a mock castle ruin in cast artificial stone blocks. To the rear of the Suncastle public house are three bowling greens framed by sunken formal gardens with two sets of stone (concrete) steps leading down from the Esplanade and tiered concrete terraces for spectators. Ornamental Venetian bridges with balustraded parapets traverse the meandering canals from north to south.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS The gardens are best appreciated starting from the northern extreme where the ruined castle folly with turrets, towers and pointed arches, marks the northern boundary and when seen from the meandering canal, gives the appearance of a moated fortification. The terminus of the waterway is located in the north-west corner of the gardens where a small island allows the turning of boats taking passengers on a waterway boat ride around the east side of the gardens all the way down to Tower Esplanade. A crenellated boat house and subterranean public convenience block service the terminus and include moulded concrete block walling and ‘stone’ cylindrical litter bins to add landscape structure. The litter bins are a feature of different sections of the gardens and would have had a metal inner sleeve to aid emptying but most have been in-filled with concrete or adapted as planters.
Moving southwards, the canal winds around the rear of Natureland and Seal Sanctuary, built in 1965 on the site of, what appears on a photograph of 1955 to be former tennis courts or cricket pitches. The hard landscaping and lawns on the west side of Natureland are simple and symmetrical but certainly in keeping with the sunken formal gardens to the south and, from the photo of 1955, retain their original configuration relatively unchanged. A late C19 fountain has been incorporated but appears to have been moved from elsewhere.
South of Natureland Seal Sanctuary, the landscape is reminiscent of a miniature C17 or C18 landscaped park designed around the ‘house’, in this case the house being the Suncastle. Although the front elevation of the Suncastle has been extended with successive accretions, the rear elevation remains virtually intact with a glazed arcade giving the impression of an orangery or conservatory at ground level. The surrounding, symmetrical, sunken gardens are designed to be seen from above either from the esplanade or the terrace above the subterranean pavilion and changing rooms which runs along the east side of the bowling greens. Three meticulously kept bowling greens are the central focus of the plan, framed by formal parterres defined using crazy-paving and low walling, and planted in a planned and structured design. The parterres are approached by flights of steps leading down from the esplanade from which the views lead beyond the formality of the bowling greens to the more naturalistic appearance of the meandering canal and Venetian bridges which allow the journey through the more ‘naturalistic’ part of the landscape. Semi-circular paths lead to the steps on the western side of the sunken gardens with an inverted semi-circular ‘drive’ to the front of the Suncastle. A keyhole shaped pond on either side of the ‘drive’ adds a further formality to the front elevation.
To the east of the bowling greens the ground rises and here the canal continues to meander through the more naturalistic area of the landscape. A linear path creates a walk which traverses the canal, over Venetian bridges leading south towards the pier. Immediately west of a deep meander of the canal, and south of the bowling greens, are a putting green and crazy golf course and a children’s play area (formerly a paddling pool), complete with a castle folly similar, but on a smaller scale, to that on the extreme northern edge of the esplanade gardens. The play equipment was replaced in the C21 and the playground has been resurfaced to comply with health and safety regulations.
Continuing south, the canal broadens around a small island providing the opportunity for boats to pass or turn. Here a small ticket office, in the form of a crenellated turret, and mooring platform allows passengers to board or alight for the boat trips. Immediately to the west is an open fronted, timber-built shelter with a clay pantiled roof which faces north-west onto what is currently a playing field. Permission has been granted for a new hotel to be built here in the near future. East of the canal a terrace of beach huts were built (according to OS map regression) sometime between 1951 and 1967.
The canal continues south passing under another bridge, the pier and Scarbrough Esplanade before weaving its way along the eastern side of the central complex of fairground rides and amusement arcades, an area which represents the current incarnation of what was Billy Butlin’s first amusement park of the 1930s and the site of the first bumper cars to be introduced into Britain. It is here that modern development, and natural disasters have had their greatest impact on the 1920-30s designed landscape. The Embassy Centre, a new swimming and fitness complex, replaced the Embassy Ballroom and the large open air swimming pool but the space continues to function in a similar vein. The Compass Gardens at the southern end of this central area, north of Tower Esplanade, have been a feature of the landscape here since before the 1930s development. Photos dating to before 1920 depict the Compass Gardens with the tiled compass engraved with the names of cities worldwide, pointing in their direction and with mileage distances. In the centre of the compass, surrounded by iron railings, is the meteorology station. This has since been relocated near the Suncastle on North Parade. Today the centrepiece of the compass is a small fountain and a statue of the Jolly Fisherman. The Jolly Fisherman, although a fibreglass replica, has been a symbol for the resort since 1908, when it was first used to advertise train trips to Skegness from Kings Cross. The gardens have been truncated slightly with the redevelopment of the Embassy Centre but still provide a decorative framework to the cross roads created by Lumley Rd, Tower Esplanade, North Parade and South Parade with the Clock Tower at the junction’s centre. A photo dated to 1910 showing Marine Gardens on the east side of Grand Parade, also captures a timber shelter with tiled roof, this is one of two surviving as part of the current landscape design, the other being adjacent to the model village, providing a view of the boating lake. Both shelters are to be considered separately for listing. The 1910 photo also shows a large fountain in the centre of Marine Gardens which has been incorporated into the ‘Fairy Dell’ following the developments of the 1920s and 30s.
South of Tower Esplanade, the buildings fronting the street have been changed significantly with the Foreshore Centre having been demolished and the construction of The Aquarium (formerly an all-weather children’s adventure play area known as Panda’s Palace). Behind (south) of the buildings is the boating lake which opened in 1924 as the first major work in the 1920s foreshore development plan, transforming what, until then, had been sand dunes. It was so successful that six years later it was doubled in size with an extension to the south. Here small bridges, rock formations, seating terraces and shelters formed of ferrous concrete, create a rustic feel, reminiscent of Jenkins’ Axenstrasse design. Some bridges have been replaced and paths appear to have been widened to make them more accessible for people in the C21. The key features of this southern end of Jenkins design include the popular Fairy Dell, a paddling pool with a central C19 fountain, moved from the marine gardens in the early C20. This has been resurfaced in the early C21 to comply with health and safety standards but the formality and symmetry of the central pool's shape has not been altered. The smaller surrounding pools are modern adaptations without the small bridges which are shown on historic photographs of the original. The ‘rock formations’ surrounding the pool create a private enclosed setting with small shelters and seating. Bridges, islands, seating terraces and rock formations characterise the boating lakes and they remain in shape and form much like the original plan.
To the east of the boating lakes, a network of paths weave through compartments of the landscape, linking them together in a cohesive manner. Between South Parade and the boating lakes, more bowling greens, a parterre garden planted in summer months with bedding plants, a model village (established in 1962) and a crazy golf course provide a mix of features. Ferrous concrete, in places moulded to look like ‘logs’, again add the structural features to the design, particularly noticeable around the bowling green’s spectator terraces. All the compartments of the design are enclosed along the edge of South Parade with metal railings which, judging from historic photos, are the original. The Rockery Gardens to the south of Princes Parade mark the southern extreme of Jenkins’ early C20 landscape. Here the quiet, relatively secluded gardens are characterised by a waterfall created from a mechanical stream, running through artificial channels, bordered by crazy-paving and tranquil seating. The whole enlivened with shrubs and alpine planting.
Books and journals
Kime, W, Wilkinson, K, Skegness Past and Present, (2012)
Kime, W, Lincolnshire Seaside, (2005)
Kime, W, The Book of Skegness, Ingoldmells, Addlethorpe and Chapel St Leonards, (1986)
Skegness Standard, (Publisher), Skegness Past, (2007)
1952 obituary republished in 2008, accessed 06 September 2008 from https://skegness.wordpress.com/2008/12/19/death-of-skegness-foreshore-designer/
Booklet Skegness Lincolnshire's famous seaside resort
Skegness Esplanade Gardens. Historic Parks and Garden Register Review. Lincolnshire:April 1996 by Glen Anderson Associates
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing