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Blackpool Tower

The Story of Blackpool and its Tower

The town that the Blackpool Tower rises above was once nothing more than a tiny farming and fishing community set on marshy land along the Fylde coast of Lancashire. What transformed its fortunes, from the mid-18th century, was the craze for sea-bathing. Blessed with miles of broad, sandy beaches, it proved a natural magnet for those whose idea of a good time was to rush to the coast at the weekend and plunge into a bracingly cold sea.

Building the tower
©Leisure Parcs Ltd
Before too long, enterprising locals were setting up small hotels and guest houses on the seafront to cater for the bathers. The thrill-seekers were only too happy to part with their money. An industry was born.

When the industrial revolution produced a large, overworked urban labour force, the need for leisure time that involved a change of scenery, rather than just being away from work, came to be keenly felt. Blackpool became the number one spot for day trips and short breaks. As the 19th century progressed, the tourists diversified, and in 1867 Blackpool got its very own grand hotel, the Imperial, at the north end of the Promenade.
Building the tower
©Leisure Parcs Ltd

In 1889, an event that took place on the other side of the English Channel was to transform Blackpool’s visual identity forever. An enormous cast-iron tower, the tallest structure in the world, was built in the centre of Paris for the International Exhibition. In response to a property investment scam by a London-based company, which had produced bogus proposals to build replicas of the Eiffel Tower all over Britain, the mayor of Blackpool, John Bickerstaffe, decided to see his own project through.

The mayor, after whom a restaurant in the Tower today is named, invested £2,000 of his own money in the scheme and also brought in other local investment. A pair of Lancashire architects, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, designed the Tower and oversaw the laying of its foundation stone in 1891. When the Tower finally opened on May 14, 1894, both men had sadly died, but Mayor Bickerstaffe was on hand to see 3,000 excited customers take the first sixpenny rides to the top. The Tower was to remain in Bickerstaffe’s family until the 1960s.

Building the tower
©Leisure Parcs Ltd
As well as panoramic views of the Lancashire coast, there was a host of other entertainments in the Tower. The aquarium survives to this day, although it has been greatly modified over the years. A restaurant and outdoor café area were considered rather refined, while the various bars catered for a different kind of appetite. The zoo has since disappeared, but the basement circus – now without performing animals – remains.

A fire in 1956 partially destroyed Frank Matcham’s gorgeously decorated Victorian rococo Ballroom, but it was restored exactly to the original designs, and remains the jewel in the Tower’s crown. As the Wurlitzer organ rises from beneath the stage, and couples sashay on to the dance floor, the harsh reality of the outside world recedes into the dim distance – which is exactly why the Blackpool Tower was built.