One of the largest towns in Lancashire, is the seaside resort of Blackpool, with it’s three piers, beach and famous illuminations, it is a great place to continue our adventures…
Status: Blackpool Unitary District, Lancashire, Town, England
Date: 20/06/2013 & 07/11/2013
Travel: Car, Blackpool Tramway (Stargate – Tower)
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Blackpool Tower, North Pier, Central Pier, South Pier, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Blackpool Dungeon, Blackpool Zoo, Blackpool Illuminations, Town Hall, Beach etc
Our journey started outside Blackpool’s magnificent Town Hall, where we were dropped off. It was constructed by Potts, Son and Hennings from 1895 to 1900. The old pink brick exterior complements the alternating rows of stone, which also welcomes you around the main entrance.
Inside is a historic council chamber, with wooden panelling around the room, and 3 large paintings on the walls. Above the mayors chairs at the end of the room is a painting of the marriage of King Henry VII (1457 – 1509) to Princess Elizabeth of York (1466 – 1503) in 1486. In front of the mayors chair is the Blackpool Mace, gifted to the town in 1897 to mark 60 years on the throne by Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901). Historically it was carried by the Mayor himself however the mace carriers are now appointed specially.
Emerging from the area around the Town Hall out onto the promenade, the imposing fronts of the Obelisk War Memorial and the Metropole Hotel greeted us.
The Obelisk was unveiled in 1923 by Brigadier General T. E. Topping and stands on an area knowns as Princes Parade. The tall, beautifully sculpted granite tower was designed by Ernest Prestwich, and built by Gilbert Ledward (1888 – 1960, English Sculptor).
It sits next to one of the oldest buildings in Blackpool, the Grand Metropole Grand Entertainment Hotel, a fantastic old Victorian Building from 1776, that has kept it’s old furnishings inside. There are regular live cabaret shows, and the hotel holds the distinction of being the only hotel on the sea side of the promenade, as it juts out on a bit of land away from the road.
The North Pier is the first of three piers down the length of Blackpool’s famous Promenade. From the pier you get a great view down the North section of the Promenade, with the Central Pier visible a bit further down.
Obviously the most famous structure in Blackpool is the majestic Blackpool Tower, shown here on the left. It can be seen from miles around, from my home village of Banks, into Southport and from the Jubilee Tower on a hill in Darwen. Modelled after the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, the giant steel tower was constructed between 1891 and 1894, the year it opened. Underneath the building is a time capsule, to be dug up one day in the future. The main engineers for the structure were Heenan and Froude from Worcester, and the architects were both from Lancashire, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, although sadly they both passed away before the building was finished.
From the top you get panoramic views across the town, across all the piers, the Promenade and the town centre. Standing at a total height of 158 metres or 518 feet, the building at the base of the tower contains the infamous ballroom. The original ballroom, the Tower Pavilion, opened in 1894 but was replaced by the current one, the Tower Ballroom, by 1898. A devastating fire in 1956 destroyed the dance floor and the restaurant however the damage was soon repaired, and the room was renamed the Tower Lounge. It is most famously used for the finals of Strictly Come Dancing which have been held in Blackpool twice, in 2004 and 2011.
The tower is often lit up, thanks to the 10,000 light bulbs on the exterior, served by 5 miles worth of cabling. It is particularly vibrant during the illuminations, an annual event which we visited later in the year but I have included it in at the end of this post.
Another notable feature of Blackpool Promenade is the Blackpool Tramway, running from the outskirts of Blackpool right through to the town of Fleetwood further along the front. The trams serve 37 stops including main stops outside the Tower and the Piers.
The line holds the distinction of being one of the oldest electric tram routes in the world and one of only three that can accommodate double decker trams (the other two being in Hong Kong, and Alexandria, Egypt). They had been common in the UK however in 1950 the last other tramway in the UK to use double decker trams, Glasgow, closed.
When it opened in 1885 the line used a conduit supply of electricity, located between the rails. This was problematic however as sand and sea water kept clogging the conduit, so in 1899 the overhead wires were added and the trams began to run off them instead.
The trams currently in use are called Bombardier Transportation Flexity 2 trams, coming into use in 2012. The 16 units replace the old heritage tram fleet, as new laws require public transport to be accessible to disabled people, which the old trams are not. They are still used however for special events at weekends, bank holidays and during the summer, but they only stop at certain stops.
We had a short wait until the Tower opened, so we had a wander around the area and down the North Pier, which you will see in a minute. At the base of the Tower is another attraction, the Blackpool Tower Dungeon, a horror attraction similar to dungeons in Edinburgh and London. This one opened in 2011 and is one of the most popular attractions in the town. Run by Merlin Entertainments, inside there is a 26 feet tower that simulates being hung by the hangmans noose, so it’s not for the faint hearted.
Next it was time to scale the Tower, and we got tickets at the entrance at the base of the tower. Before you head up, you pass through a 4D experience, where you have rows of metal chairs, and a large screen in front of you. The experience flies you around the tower and Blackpool itself, before zooming out to the Isle of Man, round the TT course and back up to the tower.
There are two green screens in the tower and you pose for a picture with them and can decide later whether to buy them, when you get down to the shop on the way out. One of them has you stood on top of a Bi-Plane flying around Blackpool Tower, and the second sees you sat on a metal girder overlooking Blackpool, made to look like it was during the towers construction. As you can see we decided to buy the first one, and scanned it in when we got home. It’s really good quality and it’s an amusing keep sake.
There is a plethora of interesting views when you reach the top of the Tower. You are taken up in a lift by one of the attendants, and emerge into the 360 degree viewing room. The main feature in the Tower are the glass panels at the front looking out over the beach. There used to be a single glass panel that anyone brave enough could stand on, but now they have a whole row of them to make it even scarier. You look down and just see the road, far below you. It is a main tourist attraction as you visit the Tower, and it’s fun to see how long you can get your friends to stay on!
There is a plethora of interesting views as you look out the large glass windows all around you. First you will see the North Pier which I mentioned earlier. The North Pier is the oldest (opening in 1863) and longest pier in the town, with a total length of 500 metres.
The Pier was built by Eugenius Birch (1818 – 1884) a notable pier building from Shoreditch, London. The North Pier is the oldest surviving example of his work, and because of this it is a Grade II Listed Structure. It was badly damaged at the end during the 2013 Storms in the UK however the damage has now been repaired. One notable feature of the Pier is one of the oldest Sooty Glove Puppets, which is on display as Harry Corbett (1918 – 1989, creator of Sooty) bought the original puppet here back in 1948.
We visited the other two pier later in the day, but you can see the Central Pier with its stand out ferris wheel, and the South Pier near Blackpool Pleasureland. Directly beneath the Tower, is a large feature on the pavement, featuring many quotes from famous people. At the bottom is one of the most famous, the catchphrase of Bruce Forsyth that reads “Nice to see you, to see you nice!”
Elsewhere, you get a great aerial view of the War Memorial and the Metropole Hotel, looking past the North Pier. Just off to the right of these landmarks, is the Town Hall and it’s Clock Tower in Talbot Square, with Sacred Heart Church just behind it.
Elsewhere, not far from the Tower itself, you can see the Winter Gardens on the 3rd picture, in the large white building with the curved front. Inside is a large theatre, ballroom and entertainment venue. It opened in 1878 and a major claim for the building is that supposedly every UK Prime Minster since Churchill in World War II has given a speech to an audience here.
The building is made up of a number of parts, from the original building from 1878, to the Opera House Theatre in 1889, the Empress Ballroom in 1896 and the Olympica in 1930. In 1931 the Galleon Bar, Spanish Hall and Baronial Hall were all added, and a Ferris Wheel was located here from 1896 onwards, although it has gone now.
The final picture shows Blackpool North, one of two main train stations in the town, the other being Blackpool South. North is the busier of the two and many trains from all over the region call here. The station itself was only built in 1974, as there used to be another station a few hundred yards away, which opened in 1846. It contained a concrete canopy, which was retained when the station was demolished and it now leads into Blackpool North. There are regular trains out to York (via Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds), Manchester Victoria/Piccadilly (via Preston, Leyland, Chorley), Liverpool Lime Street (via Preston and St Helens) and Manchester Airport. The line from Blackpool to Preston is being electrified at the moment and when it is complete, the Department of Transport has announced there will be direct trains from Blackpool to London.
You can visit the official Blackpool Tower Website here.
After enjoying our trip up Blackpool Tower, and coming away with a great souvenir photo, we proceeded through to Birley Street, which, as you can see, has some rather distinctive street lighting. These large metal arches contain not only bright street lights, but also speakers, and regularly place music out onto the street.
They were added back in 2009, as part of an attempt to refurbish the town centre, and introduce some new modernist ideas. I rather like them, and in fact they stand out really well from above, as we spotted them from the top of the Tower. We knew they were in Blackpool but we weren’t sure whereabouts they would be. We got a good idea from the Tower and headed in the right direction, coming across them quite quickly.
Not far from here are the Winter Gardens, as well as the Hounds Hill Shopping Centre, which opened in the 1980’s and remains Blackpools only indoor shopping centre.
We moved back down to the promenade and started heading in the direction of the South Pier. We soon passed Coral Island, a large amusement arcade and one of the largest indoor attractions in the town. Coral Island sits on the site of the ticket hall at the former Blackpool Central Station, which opened back in 1853. It was rebuilt in 1900, with a grand 14 platforms, but it closed in 1964. The area the platforms and main part of the station was on can still be seen, and the proximity of Coral Island to Blackpool Tower and the promenade shows how handy the station was when it was open for visitors. Blackpool North is slightly further out and Blackpool South is close to the South Pier. Blackpool also has a Zoo, located further out of the town centre.
There are a number of other main attractions down the promenade, including Blackpool Sea Life Aquarium, as well as branch of Madame Tussauds. Tussauds opened as Louis Tussaud’s in 1900 in the Hippodrome Theatre, when Louis Tussaud, the grandson of Marie Tussaud (1761 – 1850, creator of Madame Tussauds) came to Blackpool. He eventually moved the museum onto the Promenade, and it was rebranded as Madame Tussauds in 2011.
We soon encountered the Central Pier, the second of the three piers. It opened in 1868, 5 years after the North Pier. It is 339 metres long or 1,112 feet, although when it opened it was 120 metres longer as the end was used as a Jetty, but this became obsolete and was eventually removed. Although you’d think the name Central Pier would come from it being centrally located between the North and South Piers, it is actually derived from its position close to Blackpool Central which I mentioned earlier.
Blackpool really is an impressive seaside town, as most seaside only have 1 pier, and the odd few have 2. But to have 3 is very unusual and the fact that all three are still being up kept and are still open shows Blackpool’s popularity.
Moving on, we had a leisurely walk down the Promenade, passing the various seafront hotels, down to the South Pier. The Blackpool Illuminations were up in preparation for the turn on in Summer, but more on them later.
The South Pier opened in 1983 as the Victoria Pier, 25 years after the Central Pier, and it is also slightly shorter, at only 149 metres long or 488 feet. It is wider than the other two, as it contains a number of pavilions, as well as various rides including Dodgems, a Waltzer and the Wild Mouse Roller Coaster.
The South Pier is only open between March and November, and unlike the other piers it is stood on screw piles, a new method developed before it’s construction.
Another famous landmark in Blackpool, and also visible across the water in Southport, is Blackpool Pleasure Beach. It opened in 1896, and one it’s most famous rides is called the “Big One” pictured above. It was built between 1993 and and 1994, opening that year. This steel monster has a full height of 213 feet, and when it opened it claimed two world records, being the tallest and steepest roller coaster ever built.
Along the sea front are various art installations, running from near the Pleasure Beach round to the border with Lytham St Annes, the next resort along, and here is a selection. The first is a large Disco Ball, which is usually lit up. It was built in 2002, and designed by Michael Trainor, who also gave it a rather unusual name “They Shoot Horses Don’t They”.
The second is called Waterwings, and the metal slats form a picture of a young child swimming underwater. The designer was called Bruce Williams, and the image was cut out in the stainless steel panels by a laser.
The third one I want to show you is a strange concrete construction, which looks almost like a gateway. I haven’t been able to find much information on this one, however it’s a modern yet distinctive creation that is sat in the middle of the various installations.
From here we kept walking round to the town limit of Blackpool, and got the Tram from there all the way back to Blackpool Tower, before heading home.
As promised, I have added in our trip to Blackpool Illuminations, to complete this post. The Illuminations first started in 1879, when eight electric lamps lit up the Promenade. The scope of the lights quickly grew, and in 1912 for a visit by the Royal Family, 10,000 light bulbs were used to create a magnificent event. Today over 1 million light bulbs are used, and the lights are switched on for 66 days between August and November.
The Tower is bathed in lights, and for 6 miles down the Promenade various collections of lights, character boards, animated scenes and special displays from shows such as Doctor Who, light up the night sky. You can see the variety of lights on the pictures above, and it is quite an event, and they are usually switched on by a different renowned celebrity each year. Previous celebs include Prince George Duke of Kent (1902 – 1942), George Formby (1904 – 1961, famous comedian and script writer), Tom Baker (Born 1934, 4th Doctor in Doctor Who), Shirley Bassey (Born 1937, famous Singer) and David Tennant (Born 1971, 10th Doctor in Doctor Who) along with many many more. There has been annual switch on since 1934, with a break between 1939 and 1948 due to World War II.
Blackpool is a great seaside location, which many events on throughout the year. It has it’s own airport, with regular flights to Ireland (Belfast and Dublin), the Isle of Man and also seasonal destinations such as Malaga in Spain. The two train stations have good links into the rest of Lancashire, and the Tram is a great way to see the Promenade. Buses run from Blackpool into Preston as well as Lytham St Annes, Fleetwood, Thornton and Cleveleys.
Blackpool is the perfect place to spend summer, and again later in the year for the Illuminations, which are famous world wide, and a must see for visitors to the area.