Blackpool for hundreds of years was a coastal hamlet, listed in the Domesday book of 1086 as laying in the ‘Hundred of Amounderness’.
Things changed for Blackpool in the mid 18th C when it became fashionable to travel to the coast during the summer to bathe in the sea to improve wellbeing.
Visitors to Blackpool’s 7 mile long beach were able to use the new private road build by Thomas Clifton and Sir Henry Hogton which ran between Blackpool and Manchester.
The population began to increase rapidly, in 1801 it was less than 500, by 1851 it was over 2,500.
The real boost to Blackpool came in the 1840’s when the railway connected Blackpool with the industrial towns of the north west, this made it much easier, and importantly, much cheaper for visitors to reach Blackpool. This in turn meant more people settled in Blackpool taking advantage of the new opportunities and the creation of jobs that weren’t in the dangerous factories and mines and homes that were away from the squalid conditions of the rapidly expanding industrial towns.
Blackpool was incorporated in 1876 and by 1881 it had a population of 14,000, by 1901 it had grown to 47,000 and by the end of WWII it was 147,000.
The tower was opened on 14th may 1894, it was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris although slightly smaller it is 518ft 9 inches in height.
The Tower Ballroom opened in 1899 and the first Wurlitzer organ installed in 1929, this was replaced however in 1933 by an organ designed by the resident organist Reginald Dixon. Mr Dixon was resident organist from 1930 until his death in 1970, he also had a radio programme on the BBC for most of that time
‘The Organist Entertains’ which came live from the Tower ballroom every week.
The Tower Circus at the base of the tower, opened on 14th May 1894 and has not missed a season since despite two world wars and a fire in 1954 which destroyed the original dance floor and the restaurant beneath it.
The trams run from Starr gate in the south to Fleetwood Ferry in the north. The tram system dates from 1885 and is one of the oldest electric tram systems in the world. The original trams ran perfectly well, transporting residents and around 6.5 million visitors a year for the best part of 120 years, but in 2008 the government and Lancashire County Council announced that it was improving the service, it now runs ‘flexi-trams’ the like of which can be seen in hundreds of other towns and cities around the world, but running a heritage service from the pleasure beach to Little Bispham on weekends and holidays.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach
The pleasure beach is a family owned amusement park, owned by the Thompson family, and it’s one of the top 20 amusement parks in the world, with an estimated 5.5 million visitors a year.
It was founded in 1896 by William George Bean a failed Madison Avenue advertising man. He returned to England and opened two amusement parks, one in Great Yarmouth and the other in Blackpool opposite the tram terminus.
In 1903 William Bean and business man John Outhwaite purchased 30 acres of land to expand the amusement park, their vision was to create another Coney Island (U.S.A) that would ‘make adults feel like children again and inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent nature’.
The first major attraction was ‘Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machine’ which opened in 1904, the next was a fore-runner of the water ride ‘The River Caves of the World’ which opened in 1905.
Outhwaite died in 1911 leaving the initial business to Bean, but the Outhwaite still has shares in the park and occasionally has input into it’s development.
In 1923 land was reclaimed from the front and the park moved to it’s current 44 acre site. Bean died in 1929 leaving the park to his daughter Lillian, she had previously married a Mr Thompson.
Opened on 11th July 1878 and covers 6 acres. The intention was to provide a concert room, promenades, and conservatories for the occasionally inclement weather. The Vestibule, Floral Hall, Ambulatory and Pavilion Theatre were built in the 1870’s. The Opera House followed in 1889 and the Empress Ballroom and the Indian Lounge (now the Arena) in 1896.
In 1910 the Opera House was rebuilt and rebuilt again in 1939 it now seats almost 3000 people. In 1930 the Olympia was built followed by the Galleon bar, Spanish hall and Baronial Hall.
The North Pier
Opened on the 21st May 1863, the longest of the three piers at 1650 feet long. It was always seen as a ‘better class’ of pier, having orchestral concerts and ‘respectable’ comedians it’s also the only pier to consistently charge admission. It also has a display of one of the oldest Sooty glove puppets commemorating Harry Corbett who bought the first Sooty here.
Opened in 1864 and was designed for steam and pleasure boat traffic, which the North Pier was unable to accommodate. It was 1,100 feet long when it was built.
In 1870 the old wooden jetty was replaced with a 400ft iron extension, making way for shops, photographers, confectioners and fancy goods sellers. It also had open air dancing and a refreshment room, the central pier was always seen as the ‘peoples pier’.
In 1891 a new low water jetty was built making the pier now 1500 ft in length, and in 1893 it was widened to accommodate new shops, a bandstand and dancing stage, and iron arches were added to support electric lighting.
In 1909 a Rollerator, an open air roller-rink was opened, and in 1949 an open air theatre, this was demolished in 1966 when the front of the pier was completely rebuilt incorporating the Golden Goose arcade and a new enclosed theatre on the site of the old dance floor. Since the 1960’s varies bars and refreshment areas have come and gone, and a big wheel was erected on the pier in 1990.
Opened in 1890 the south pier is shorter and wider than it’s neighbours at just 429 ft long, it has 36 shops and shelters and a bandstand. The Grand Pavilion could seat 2000 people and was renowned for it’s high class vocal and instrumental concerts , variety entertainments, military and other band concerts.
Blackpool Promenade was widened in 1902 so the pier entrance was set back.
In 1911 an entrance pavilion to entertain 900 was built, followed in 1918 by a cinema and in 1924 the Floral Hall seating another 1000 people.
The South Pier has suffered two fires, in 1958 the Grand Pavilion was gutted, and on the 6th Feb 1964 a fire destroyed the Rainbow Theatre that had been built to replace the Entrance Pavilion. A new theatre – renames the South Pier Theatre was rebuilt in just 12 weeks at a cost of £90,000 and opened for the summer season that year.
The Blackpool Illuminations were founded – after a fashion – on 19th September 1879, this first display consisted of 8 arc lights, it was presented as ‘artificial sunshine’ and it preceded Thomas Edison patenting the electric light bulb by a year.
The first display similar to the ones we know today was in May 1912, to make the Royal Families visit to Blackpool when Princess Louise opened a new section of the promenade; Princess Parade. Garlands using around 10,000 light bulbs were used along the new parade.
The Illuminations had to be halted in 1914 and didn’t’t start again until 1925, only to be stopped again in 1939. There has been a display every year since 1946 every year becoming larger and more ambitious, the display now goes all the way from Starr Gate to Bispham. The display also used to feature half a dozen specially built single car trams also lit with thousands of light bulbs, this stopped in the 1990’s when the new trams were introduced but recently two, the rocket and the steamboat have been rescued from the scrap heap, the rocket is back in commission and the rocket will be shortly at the time of writing (2013).