Blackpools Illuminated and Colourful History as a Holiday Destination

When we hear the name Blackpool we immediately think of Kiss Me Quick Hats, Donkeys and the amazing Illuminations. Blackpool has been a popular holiday resort for decades delighting visitors with its many attractions. Here we take a look back at how it all started for Blackpool, when, where and how.


View of Blackpool

Blackpool is located on the North West Coast of England by the Irish Sea and is near to the Cities of Liverpool and Manchester. Blackpool is pretty densely populated in fact it is one of the most crowded areas in terms of population outside London. It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that Blackpool became a place where visitors came in order to take in the bracing sea air and walk on the seven miles of sandy beaches that follow the coastline of Blackpool.

Early History

By 1781 stage coaches were transporting people to Blackpool via a newly constructed private road from Manchester then from Halifax the following year. The real emergence of Blackpool as a holiday destination came about when the railway was built in 1840’s. The building of the railway meant that Blackpool became more accessible to the working people of northern England, while by 1881 Blackpool’s population had grown to fourteen thousand people.

Coming into the twentieth century Blackpool had a growing population with forty seven thousand people residing here. Blackpool boasted a great promenade, piers, trams, donkey rides, fortune tellers, theatres, pubs and the ever popular fish and chip restaurants. In fact many of the old attractions are still in evidence today tilting a nod to the past and what has made Blackpool great!

Blackpool’s Grand Theatre opened in 1904 with the first cinema quickly following in 1905. It was around this time that the first primitive rides of The Pleasure Beach were opened, while the famous illuminations were first switched on in 1912 more than one hundred years ago! When the First World War began they were naturally turned off and did not return again until 1925. By 1926 Stanley Park had opened followed closely by Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks in 1929.

Sunbathers in Hats and Coats

Sun Bathers

It sounds hilarious doesn’t it? But actually going back to the 1950’s when many working class people flocked to Blackpool in their thousands many sunbathers could be seen on the sunny beaches in full outdoor gear! Indeed my family has photographs of grandparents and great grandparents doing exactly that. Why people sat on the beach back then with their coats on we don’t know. Maybe it was modesty or maybe they just didn’t have swimming costumes.

Many working class families flocked to Blackpool in the fifties as it was affordable for them with accommodation being plentiful. Most companies awarded their workers two weeks annual leave by the fifties with many choosing Blackpool for their holidays. It wasn’t until the dawn of cheap airfares that Blackpool saw the beginnings of a slump as many grabbed the opportunity to travel abroad in order to take advantage of the mostly guaranteed sunshine.

The Infamous Blackpool Landlady

The infamous Blackpool lady
The typical Blackpool landlady of bygone years was depicted as a fat shapeless middle aged woman wearing slippers and hair curlers who ruled her boarding house with a rod of iron. Rather than a welcoming figure she was depicted as a woman with a loud broad voice who put the fear of God into holiday makers, especially when they got on the bad side of her. The late great Les Dawson who played in Blackpool theatres for many years had this frightening character off to a tee.

How true was this caricature of the Blackpool landlady? Well, many comedians and artists who stayed in the resort when playing the theatres of Blackpool in the fifties and sixties tell hilarious tales about their ferocious but cunning landladies. The truth of the matter is that many landladies struggled for much of the year only making ends meet during the summer season. Times could be hard and difficult, while accommodating the public and not knowing who will come through your doors next is difficult. We are sure that there were many great landladies back then as there are today.

The Winter Gardens

The Winter Gardens
On July 11th 1878 The Winter Gardens Theatre opened its doors in Blackpool. The opening ceremony was a night to remember as the Lord Mayor of London and sixty eight other dignitaries attended from all over the UK. Blackpool being the popular holiday resort it was and still is meant that holiday makers from the Winter Gardens beginning were eager to take in a show at this beautiful theatre.

Over the years stars both national and international stars have graced the stage of the Winter Gardens with celebrities today still feeling it is an honour to appear here. Famous names who have entertained holiday makers over the years include

  1. Frank Sinatra
  2. Judy Garland
  3. Bob Hope
  4. Shirley Bassey
  5. Peter Kay
  6. River Dance the Show

The North South and Central Piers

The North and South Central Pier
The three piers are integral to the makeup of Blackpool and hail from the 1800’s. The North Pier was built in the 1860’s, opening officially in 1863 and is the longest and oldest of the three Blackpool piers. The North Pier began life as a promenade but quickly developed into a location for theatres and bars. This pier was associated with the classier visitor to Blackpool as many of the concerts held here were highbrow orchestral productions plus an entry fee was also charged even up until 2011.

The North Pier is now a Grade II listed building as awarded by English Heritage due to the fact that it is the oldest existing pier in England. Over the years the pier has seen fires, survived huge storms and has even been rammed by boats that have gone off course but still it remains stalwart and a fully working pier. The North Pier is located about four hundred yards from the Blackpool Tower and was designed by Eugenius Birch, while the promenade deck is lined with wooden benches.

The pier head was extended when a pavilion was added and opened in 1877. Further additions to the pier include an Arcade Pavilion in 1903, stage and sun lounge in 1932, a theatre in 1939, a bar in the sixties, followed by many amusements and attractions that still exist today.

The Central Pier is located between the other two piers about five hundred yards from Blackpool Tower with Blackpool’s Lifeboat Service stationed close by. Having fun was the order of the day for the Central Pier built in 1868, rather than the more staid entertainment of the North Pier. Dancing was the main attraction, while in the early 1900’s roller skating was introduced much to the delight of holiday makers.

Fairground rides and amusement machines quickly followed along with steam boat rides that departed from the jetty. By the end of World War 2 dancing had lost its popularity on the Central Pier and the pastime was replaced by theatres, bars and amusements. In 1990 a huge Ferris wheel was also installed on the pier.

Formerly known as the Victoria Pier the South Pier opened on Good Friday in 1893 to the sound of brass bands, a choir and an orchestra. The South Pier was the shortest but widest of the three piers and featured a band stand, thirty six shops, a photography stall and an ice cream salesman. The pier suffered two fires in just six years. In 1958 the grand pavilion that was built twenty years earlier was badly damaged by fire and once again in 1964 when it was completely obliterated. The pavilion was replaced by the Regal Theatre in 1963. The pier today is filled with great amusements and still attracts thousands of visitors.


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