Lytham St.Annes Coat of Arms
Lytham St.Annes, Lancashire, England


John R Huddlestone.

The Era, Saturday 5th May, 1900.


There are but few London or provincial managers who can boast of as varied and extensive a career as Mr John R. Huddlestone, general manager of the Blackpool Winter Gardens. Blackpool has now become an important place in the amusement world, and during the quarter of a century or so that Mr Huddlestone has laboured in this breezy town he has taken a deep and kindly interest in the providing of high-class amusement, and has earned a large amount of public appreciation. Mr Huddlestone, who is comparatively a young man, was born at Rochdale, in Lancashire, his first introduction to public life being as assistant clerk to the Rochdale School Board.

In the early seventies he went to Blackpool to fill the post of clerk to the secretary and manager of the North Pier company, so that his intimate acquaintance with amusement catering may be said to have commenced then. In 1879, Mr Huddlestone became connected with the Lane Ends Estate Company, one of the properties of the company being the old Prince of Wales's Theatre, which has now given place to a more modern amusement resort.

John R. Huddlestone

His next change was in 1880, when he was appointed secretary to the Blackpool Winter Gardens Company. At the inception of the Winter Gardens Company in 1875, Mr Huddlestone, who was in the North Pier Office, was called upon to audit the accounts of the company, to which in later years he was to serve in turn as secretary and general manager. Mr Huddlestone continued in the capacity of secretary till the month of June, 1896, when to the regret of the majority of the directors and shareholders, he severed his connection with the company, and shortly afterwards undertook the management of the Empire.

It was here that he showed that he could as skilfully direct a "show "as he could control the finances of a company. Previously, the Empire had passed through troublous times. The original company had gone into liquidation owing to the heavy losses in the working of the two preceding years, and the place was beginning to be regarded as a veritable " white elephant." Try as they would it was an utter impossibility to draw the people in, and in the two years the company experienced a loss of over £5,000.

But immediately Mr Huddlestone assumed the reins of management the fortunes of the place underwent a complete and most remarkable metamorphosis. In a few weeks' time, instead of being deserted and empty, the public were eager to obtain admission, and it became necessary to place special police constables on duty to regulate the traffic. The phenomenal success which attended Mr Huddlestone's early efforts at the Empire—a success which was maintained to the end –can only be attributed to the excellence of the entertainment provided by him. He hit the public taste to a nicety, and his patrons were not slow in showing their hearty and unstinted appreciation.

On April 3d, 1899, in response to the unanimous invitation of the Board, he returned to the Winter Gardens, this time in the capacity of general manager, a post which he is now filling with distinct credit to himself, and in a manner which commends itself to the company. That he is well fitted for such an important office is abundantly shown by the present sound financial state of the concern.

The Winter Gardens cover an area of more than six acres, and upon this space are erected Her Majesty's Opera House, the leading theatre in the town; Floral Hall, with ferneries, palm house, and promenades; Grand Pavilion, sumptuous Indian Lounge, and palatial Empress ballroom, together with numerous cafes and billiard-rooms, &c. The whole of these are controlled by Mr Huddlestone in a way that leaves nothing to be desired.

In the early days. before Her Majesty's Opera House was built, the Pavilion was used for theatrical representations, and many notable artistes have appeared there from time to time. During the whole of his lengthy connection with the Winter Gardens Mr Huddlestone has always shown a deep and warm interest in matters theatrical. He can tell of how in the early days a programme was looked upon as wonderfully powerful if it cost £100, while at the present time it is no rare thing for a single turn to be paid that amount and even more. Mr Huddlestone estimates that for "talent" and orchestras alone during the season he pays over £1,000 every week.

Mr Huddlestone is sanguine of great success in the coming season, having just returned from a tour on the Continent with a book bursting with novelties. In addition to a host of other exclusive artists he has secured the valuable services of Madame Albani for a series of Sunday concerts during the coming season.

Blackpool is generally looked upon by outsiders as a deserted place shut up until the advent of the summer season, but this is a complete mistake. The Winter Gardens have always been a popular resort in the winter, and the Opera House has received a large share of patronage; but the past "quiet season," by reason of Mr Huddlestone's spirited yet judicious enterprise and the popular system of management introduced in the theatre, has been phenomenally favourable. All through the winter the business has been maintained at a high level, and there is every prospect of Mr Huddlestone achieving a still greater record for the Winter Gardens during the season of 1900.