On this day in history….19th September 1879

On this day in history : 19th September 1879 – The very first Blackpool Illuminations, called ‘Artificial Sunshine’, bathe the Promenade in light, a whole month before electricity becomes generally available in London….

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Image credit : Karen Fletcher via flickr

Blackpool was already an established seaside resort and was lit by gas lamps…. The council decided to invest £5,000 in experimenting with the concept of electric street lighting…. So, on the 19th of September 1879, eight Siemen’s dynamo-electric machines powered by sixteen Robey engines were used to power eight arc lamps, spaced 320 yards apart, along the Promenade…..giving a light equivalent to that of 48,000 candles…. Between 70,000 and 100,000 people travelled from across the Country to witness it….img_3870

The first form of the modern day display came about in May 1912 with a royal visit by Princess Louise to open a new section of Promenade – an electrical engineer was employed to create a display…. About 10,000 bulbs were used and the result was so impressive that the council were persuaded to repeat the performance as an after season event in the following September…. Once again, in 1913, the lights shone – but with the outbreak of WW1 darkness reigned…. It was in 1925 that the illuminations were reinstated, this time on an even more ambitious scale and their popularity grew – continuing to do so until the Second World War…. Even after the war ended rationing prevented the lights from being switched back on again – it wasn’t until 1949, after special permission from the Government to burn so much electricity, that the lights returned in all their glory….and have entertained the crowds every autumn ever since….

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Image credit : Mjobling, Wikipedia project – Public domain

On this day in history….14th May 1894

On this day in history : 14th May 1894 – Blackpool Tower opens to the public; after a visit to Paris Mayor John Bickerstaff wanted Blackpool to have an Eiffel Tower that it could call its own….

Bickerstaff had taken his family to Paris on holiday and had fallen in love with Gustav Eiffel’s tower…. Blackpool was fast becoming one of the top resorts in Britain and the Mayor was intensely proud of it; being the owner of a luxurious hotel on Blackpool’s ‘Golden Mile’ he thought a tower such as the one in Paris was just what the resort needed….

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On arriving home he set to work establishing a committee and in February 1891 the Blackpool Tower Company was formed…. Two architects, Messrs Maxwell and Tuke from Manchester were commissioned – and plans drawn up….

Bickerstaff was informed that the total cost of the project would be in the region of £290K (that’s over £40m in today’s terms)….some serious fund-raising needed to be done…. He approached the owners of some of Lancashire’s largest cotton trade businesses and managed to secure the money that was needed….

The Tower, which stands at 518ft 9ins high, took three years to build; it used 2,500 tons of steel and 5 million Accrington bricks…. On opening some 3,000 visitors paid 6d (sixpence) to use the lift to ascend the Tower – that was after paying a 6d entrance fee….those wishing to attend the circus performance were charged a further 6d….

The circus and ballroom were designed by Mr Frank Matchum…. The circus, situated on the ground between the four legs of the base has never missed a season since its opening…. The fabulous ballroom, with its intricate artwork, was nearly lost in 1956 due to a carelessly discarded cigarette…. Extensive damage was caused but thankfully some of the original workmen were still alive and the ballroom was restored to its former glory….at a cost of £500K and taking two years to complete…. Many of us will remember when it was home to the BBC’s ‘Come Dancing’ – and even more of us will be familiar with its appearances on ‘Strictly’….img_3148

A previous fire in 1897, which broke out at the top of the Tower, could be seen from fifty miles away…. Built on four levels, three are open to the public; the ‘Eye’ with its panoramic views of the seafront, through big glass windows and then a further two levels above which are outside…. The upper of which has a roof garden and from here 563 steps lead to the very top of the Tower and these are used for maintenance work….img_3151

For the first thirty years the construction was not painted on a regular basis and became so badly corroded that demolition was considered…. However, the decision was taken to rebuild and between 1920 and 1924 all of the steelwork was replaced…. Nowadays it takes a team, known as ‘Stickmen’ seven years to paint it in its entirety…. In 1973 it was designated as a Grade 1 listed building….

When the wind gusts above 70mph the Tower can sway by up to an inch….but when gusts reach 45mph it is closed for safety…. Five miles of electrical cable power 10,000 bulbs to illuminate the Blackpool Tower….img_3147img_3149