Last week I wrote a post about our day out to the pine woods and sand dunes at Formby, a few miles down the coast from my hometown of Southport. It was fantastic for me to be by the sea again. I can’t tell you how much I miss it…
The following day, we decided to be totally reckless and head off to Blackpool:
I don’t mean any disrespect to the town in saying that, it’s just that in February many seaside towns are notoriously ‘dead’ and, on this occasion, Blackpool proved to be no exception.
Here are a few photos of the Promenade as we walked along it. Admittedly the absence of sunshine didn’t help . . .
Like most seaside towns around Britain, Blackpool’s heyday has been and gone. The 1950s and 60s saw these towns thriving – until a mix of factors, including cheaper air fares, longer holidays, higher pay etcetera – led to the great increase in Brits heading abroad in the following decades, mostly to Spain and other Mediterranean countries. The British seaside towns saw a gradual decline, many looking very sorry for themselves and sadly neglected. (But it’s good to see that many are now undergoing a ‘rejuvenation process’.)
Blackpool got its name from a historic drainage channel called Spen Dyke, which ran over a peat bog. Blackened water was discharged into the Irish Sea, forming a black pool on the other side of the sea. Dublin (or Dubh Linn) comes from the Irish name for ‘black pool’.
The area behind the town, known as the Fylde, was once inhabited by a Celtic tribe called the Setantii, a sub tribe of the Brigantes (whose most famous queen was Cartimandua, who stayed loyal to the Romans at the time of the Boudica rebellion).
The area developed very slowly for hundreds of years, some of the small, coastal villages eventually becoming part of Blackpool. But it wasn’t until the 18th century, when the practice of sea bathing to cure diseases became fashionable with the wealthier classes, that Blackpool really began to grow.
By 1781 a private road was built to the town and a regular stagecoach service to Manchester and Halifax started. A few amenities, hotels, an archery stall and a bowling green developed – and the town steadily grew By 1801, the population was 473. But the most important factor in Blackpool’s early growth was the arrival of the railways. By 1851 the population had reached 2,500.
With the sudden increase of visitors came the need for more accommodation, and more attractions. Gas lighting was introduced in 1852 and piped water in 1854.
By this time, the Lancashire cotton industry was thriving and it became the practice among mill owners to close for one week a year for servicing and repairing machines. Many mill workers would stream into Blackpool. Fortunately, each mill closed for a different week, enabling the town to keep a steady flow of visitors throughout the summer.
Between 1863 and 1893, three piers were constructed out over the sea (North, Central and South Piers) – and Blackpool proudly became the only town in Britain with three piers.
The Winter Gardens (a larger entertainment complex including a variety of venues, including a theatre and ballroom and conference facilities) was opened in 1878.
And the town’s most famous building, the Blackpool Tower, was first opened to the public in 1894.
Inspired by the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris, Blackpool Tower was built at a total cost of £290,000 (for design and construction). It is now a Grade 1 listed building. It houses several attractions, including the famous Blackpool Tower Circus and equally famous ballroom:
At 518 feet high, it is the 103rd tallest freestanding building in the world. On clear days it can be seen from as far away as North Wales and the Lake District. At the summit is a flagpole and buried beneath the foundations is a time capsule. How exciting! (No, I’m not being sarky.) The picture below is looking south from the top of the Tower. The Central and South Piers can be seen.
Two years after the Tower was completed, the Pleasure Beach (amusement park/fairground) was founded and has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in the UK and one of the top twenty most visited amusement parks.
It holds the record for having the most roller coasters in Europe. Of the ten it has, five are wooden.
In 1897, Blackpool became the first municipality in the world to have electric street lighting as long stretches of the Promenade were wired. This lighting, and the accompanying pageants, played a big part in the development of the Blackpool illuminations in the autumn – a Lights Festival which runs for around 60 days.
Blackpool has seen many changes in fortune over the years, but it still has the reputation of being one of the UK’s most well known seaside resorts. The following picture (which is looking north) shows what the Promenade was like in 1898:
Today, Blackpool manages to maintain a steady stream of holidaymakers and day trippers during the summer, and the town still has a thriving tram route, which runs from Starr Gate to the south of the town to the fishing port of Fleetwood to the north – a distance of 9.9 miles:
Large numbers of people visit the illuminations every year. In 2016 they will be ‘on’ from September 2nd until November 6th (66 days). As a child, my parents took us to see the illuminations on several occasions, and I found the lights, the Disney characters and all the other features totally magical.
References: a variety of Wikipedia pages (for images other than my own, plus additional historical detail).