Blackpool Tower

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Blackpool Tower


Blackpool Tower general view.jpg
Type: Observation tower
Location: 53°48’57"N, 3°3’19"W
Town: Blackpool
Built 1894
By: Maxwell and Tuke
Observation tower
Owned by: Blackpool Council

Blackpool Tower rises 518 feet above the town of Blackpool in Lancashire, a cast iron masterpiece built purely as a tourist attraction overlooking the seafront, as which it still serves.

The tower was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris and was opened to the public on 14 May 1894. At 518 feet tall it is currently reckoned the 120th tallest freestanding tower in the world.[1] The tower is a Grade I listed building.[2]


The Blackpool Tower Company was founded by London-based Standard Contract & Debenture Corporation in 1890, when it bought an Aquarium on Central Promenade with the intention of building a replica Eiffel Tower on the site. John Bickerstaffe, a former Mayor of Blackpool, was asked to become Chairman of the new company and its shares went on sale in July 1891.

The Standard Corporation offered £150,000 worth of shares in its initial public offering, reserving kept 30,000 shares for itself. At the initial float only two-thirds of the shares were taken up, leaving the company short of cash and it sought contributions from its existing shareholders, but in its own financial condition, Stabndard was unable to pay: Bickerstaffe, to prevent the collapse of his venture, bought up available shares until his original holding of £500 amounted to £20,000. He also released the Standard Corporation from their share commitments. When the Tower opened in 1894 its success justified the overall investment of nearly £300,000, and the Company made a £30,000 profit in 1896.[3]

Two Lancashire architects, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, designed the Tower and oversaw the laying of its foundation stone[4] on 29 September 1891.[5] By the time the Tower finally opened on 14 May 1894, both men had died.[4] Heenan & Froude of Worcester were appointed structural engineers, supplying and constructing both the main tower, the electric lighting and the steel front pieces for the aquariums. A new system of hydraulic riveting was used, based on the technology of Fielding & Platt of Gloucester.[6]

The total cost for the design and construction of the tower and buildings was about £290,000.[7] Five million Accrington bricks, 2,500 tons of iron and 93 tons of cast steel were used to construct the tower.[8] Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower is not free-standing. Its base is hidden by the building which houses Blackpool Tower Circus. The building occupies a total of 54,357.7 square feet (5,050.0 m²).[2] At the summit of the tower there is a flagpole;[9][10] A time capsule is buried beneath the foundation.[7]

The design of the tower was ahead of its time. As a writer for the BBC noted: "In heavy winds the building will gently sway, what a magnificent Victorian engineering masterpiece."[10]


Blackpool Tower's first circus programme
The Tower and Illuminations

When the tower opened, 3,000 customers took the first rides to the top.[4] Tourists paid sixpence for admission, sixpence more for a ride in the lifts to the top, and a further sixpence for the circus.[7] The first members of the public to ascend the tower had been local journalists in September 1893 using constructors' ladders.[11] In 1897 the top of the tower caught fire, and the platform was seen on fire from up to fifty miles away.[5]

The tower was not painted properly during the first thirty years and became corroded, leading to discussions about demolishing it. However, it was decided to rebuild it instead, and between 1921 and 1924 all the steelwork in the structure was replaced and renewed.[8]

On 22 December 1894 Norwegian ship Abana was sailing from Liverpool to Savannah, Georgia but was caught up in a storm, and mistook the recently built Blackpool Tower for a lighthouse. Abana was first seen off North Pier, and later drifted to Little Bispham where she was wrecked, and can still be seen at low tide. The ship's bell still hangs in St Andrews Church in Cleveleys.[12]

In 1940, during the Second World War, the crow's-nest was removed to allow the structure to be used as a Royal Air Force radar station known as RAF Tower,[9] which proved unsuccessful.

In 1949 a post box was opened at the top of the tower.[11] The hydraulic lifts to the top of the tower were replaced in 1956–57 and the winding-gear replaced by electric.[2]

The top of the tower was painted silver in 1977 as part of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee celebrations.[2] A giant model of King Kong was placed on the side of the tower in 1984.[2] In 1985 escapologist Karl Bartoni and his bride were married suspended in a cage from the tower.[11]

The lifts and winding gear were again replaced in 1992.[2] The same year the tower complex was renamed Tower World and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales.[13] The tower is usually painted in dark red, except for its centenary year in 1994 when it was painted gold by abseiling painters.[2][9] In 1998 a "Walk of Faith" glass floor panel was opened at the top of the tower. Made up of two sheets of laminated glass, it weighs half a tonne and is two inches thick.[11] In October 2007 a laser beam installed on the tower for the duration of the annual Illuminations was criticised by astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, presenter of The Sky at Night television programme, who said, "Light pollution is a huge problem. I am not saying we should turn all the lights out, that is not practical, but there are some things which are very unnecessary. The Blackpool Tower light is certainly something I do not think we should be doing. I very much oppose it." The beam could be seen 30 miles away; Moore called for it to be stopped. The Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston said the laser has added to a spiralling problem affecting astronomy.[14]

The tower has transmitters for local FM station Radio Wave 96.5 and some non-broadcast services.

Blackpool from the air

The tower continued to be owned by the Bickerstaffe family until 1964, when the Blackpool Tower Company was sold to EMI.[15] Since then it has been owned by Trust House Forte, First Leisure and Leisure Parcs Ltd, owned by Trevor Hemmings. In March 2010 it was announced that Blackpool Council had bought Blackpool Tower and the Merlin Entertainment Group would manage it and add various attractions including a new Dungeon attraction[16] and a new observation deck called Blackpool Tower Eye will operate at the top of the tower.[17] The company will also manage the Blackpool Louis Tussauds waxwork museum to be rebranded as Madame Tussauds.

Blackpool Tower in popular culture

  • Blackpool Tower is referred to several times in the humorous monologues written by Marriott Edgar, as performed by Stanley Holloway and others:[18][19]
    • In Three Ha'pence a Foot (1932), Sam Oglethwaite escapes the consequences of declining a bargain with Noah by standing on the top of Blackpool Tower, up to his neck in floodwater, finally exclaiming "The sky's took a turn since this morning: I think it'll brighten up yet."
    • In The Lion and Albert (1932)[20] and The Return of Albert (1934), Albert Ramsbottom is swallowed whole, then eventually disgorged, by a lion called "Wallace". The incident takes place in the Blackpool Tower Menagerie,[21] which did indeed have lions.
  • Artists who have performed at the tower include Arthur Askey, Duke Ellington, Paderewski, Dame Clara Butt, Cleo Laine, Peter Dawson and the band Busted.[13]
  • Comedian Peter Kay performed his show on 10 and 11 April 2000 in the Circus Arena, later released as Live at the Top of the Tower on DVD.
  • The film Dick Barton Strikes Back (1947) featured a fight scene on the tower.[2]
  • The film Forbidden (1949) features the tower in a climactic scene.
  • In the Goon Show episode The Thing on the Mountain (1958), Neddie Seagoon is accidentally catapulted to the top of Blackpool Tower without a ticket.
  • The song "Up the 'pool" from Jethro Tull's 1972 album Living in the Past briefly mentions the tower. ("The iron tower smiles down upon the silver sea...")
  • The film Funny Bones (1995) features the tower in several key scenes.
  • In his imaginary wife's log, 'Mrs Fry's Diary', Stephen Fry is depicted convincing the naive Edna Fry that he has taken her on holiday to Paris, while they have actually travelled to Blackpool.
  • Throughout Coronation Street's run, Blackpool has been the feature of many storylines and the tower as a main filming location, the first being in June 1961.
  • 2016 Tim Burton's movie Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children has its climax and last scenes surrounding Blackpool's Tower.

Blackpool is a popular seaside resort, and the beach-front tower is still a major attraction. It is lit during the annual Blackpool Illuminations, when the town and seafront are decorated with colourful illuminated displays for six miles along the promenade.

Blackpool Tower Eye

The top of the tower is known as the Blackpool Tower Eye. At a height of 486 feet, the Eye is the highest observation deck in Lancashire. It was previously known simply as the "Tower Top", until it reopened on 1 September 2011, having closed down the previous year for refurbishment, as part of the renovation of the entire Blackpool Tower complex, during which time Merlin Entertainments were brought in by new owners Blackpool Council to manage the attractions.

There are four levels in the Blackpool Tower Eye:

  • The enclosed area includes the main "Eye" attraction, which consists of a row of glass floor and wall along the west side of the tower, providing panoramic views of Blackpool seafront.
  • The second and third levels are outdoors, and the third level is the highest level accessible to the general public.
  • The crow's nest is only accessible to employees.

Tower Ballroom

A couple dances on the floor of the Tower Ballroom
Jazz Event in the Tower Ballroom
The dance floor in the Tower Ballroom

The original ballroom, the Tower Pavilion, opened in August 1894. It was smaller than the present ballroom and occupied the front of the tower complex.[22] The Tower Ballroom was built between 1897 and 1898 to the designs of Frank Matcham, who also designed Blackpool Grand Theatre, and it opened in 1899. It was commissioned by the Tower company in response to the opening of the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens. The ballroom floor is 120 feet x 120 feet and is made up of 30,602 blocks of mahogany, oak and walnut.[22] Above the stage is the inscription, "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear" from the poem Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare. Each crystal chandelier in the ballroom can be lowered to the floor to be cleaned which takes over a week.[23]

From 1930 until his retirement in 1970 the resident organist was Reginald Dixon, known affectionately worldwide as "Mr. Blackpool". The first Wurlitzer organ was installed in 1929, but it was replaced in 1935 by one designed by Reginald Dixon himself. Ernest Broadbent took over as resident organist in 1970.

The ballroom was damaged by fire in December 1956, and the dance floor was destroyed along with the restaurant underneath the ballroom. Restoration took two years and cost £500,000, with many of the former designers and builders coming out of retirement to assist, the restaurant then became the Tower Lounge.[23]

The BBC series Come Dancing was televised from the Tower Ballroom for many years[24] and it has also hosted shows from Strictly Come Dancing, including the grand finals of the second and ninth series, on 11 December 2004, and 17 December 2011 respectively.[25]

The Blackpool Junior Dance Festival ("Open to the World") has been held each year in the ballroom since 1964.[22] Also the World Modern Jive Championships are held annually.

Dancing was not originally allowed on Sundays; instead, sacred music was played. The ballroom also originally had very strict rules including:

  • "Gentlemen may not dance unless with a Lady" and
  • "Disorderly conduct means immediate expulsion".[23]

The ballroom has had a number of resident dance bands including Bertini and his band, and Charlie Barlow.[26][27] Other smaller dance bands have also appeared as residents including the Eric Delaney Band[28] and the Mike James Band.[29]

Under the management of Leisure Parcs, and the direction of bandleader Greg Francis, the Blackpool Tower Big Band was reformed in 2001 after an absence of 25 years. The New Squadronaires, The Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra also performed.[30] Themed nights were also introduced along with the sixteen piece orchestra, with resident singers. In 2005 the Empress Orchestra became resident in the ballroom alongside the specially created and smaller Empress Dance Band.[31]

The Orchestron

The Tower's orchestrion is now in the collection of Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum.[32]

Tower Circus

The Tower Circus is positioned at the base of the tower, between its four legs. The circus first opened to the public on 14 May 1894 and has not missed a season since.

The present interior was designed by Frank Matcham and was completed in 1900.

The circus ring can be lowered into a pool of water and holds 42,000 gallons at a depth of up to 4 feet 6 inches, which allows for Grand Finales with Dancing Fountains. The Tower Circus is one of four left in the world that can do this.

The clown Charlie Cairoli appeared at the tower for 39 years. Britain's best-known ringmaster Norman Barrett worked the ring for 25 years. The American elephant trainer Ephraim Thompson performed there in 1902. Animals appeared in the circus until 1990.

It was planned to close the circus at the end of the 1990 season and replace it with an animatronic attraction. Public opinion and the fact the animatronics were not ready meant that the circus continued.

Menagerie and Aquarium

Dr. Cocker's Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie had existed on the site since 1873.[33] It was kept open to earn revenue while the tower building went up around it, and then became one of the tower's major attractions. The aquarium was modelled on the limestone caverns in Derbyshire. It housed 57 different species of fresh water and salt water fish and the largest tank held 56,310 pints@ of salt water.[34] The menagerie and aviary were regarded as one of the finest collections in the country and included lions, tigers, and polar bears.[35]

The menagerie continued until 1973,[33] when it was closed following the opening of Blackpool Zoo near Stanley Park. The aquarium closed in 2010 and was remodelled to make way for a new "Dungeons" attraction.[36][37] This was done by the Merlin Group, which took over the operation of the Tower at the end of the 2010 season on behalf of new owners Blackpool Council.

Other attractions

The Walk of Faith
View from the top of the tower
Blackpool Tower and Coral Island

Other attractions within The Blackpool Tower complex include:

Tower maintenance

Painting the tower structure takes seven years to complete,[10] and the workers who maintain the structure are known as "Stick Men". There are 563 steps from the roof of the tower building to the top of the tower which the maintenance teams use for the structure's upkeep. If the wind speed exceeds 45 mph, the top of the tower is closed as a safety precaution. Five miles of cables feed the 10,000 light bulbs which are used to illuminate the tower. In April 2002 the Tower maintenance team was featured in the BBC One programme, Britain’s Toughest Jobs.[38]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Blackpool Tower)


  1. "The Skyscraper Center". Retrieved 24 October 2016. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "The Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (81–90)". The Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  3. Lancashire Record Office DDX1444 introduction
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "The story of Blackpool and its Tower". Icons. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "The Blackpool Tower, the great icon of British Victorian engineering, 1894". Ward Book of Days. Retrieved 2 November 2007. 
  6. Stephan Mills: Fielding & Platt, An innovative Gloucester engineering company. The fist 100 Years, 1866–1966, S. 11
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "The Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (71–80)". The Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "World Federation of Great Towers – Blackpool Tower". World Federation of Great Towers. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Blackpool Tower". Enjoy Blackpool. 12 May 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Entwistle, Simon. "Local landmarks: Blackpool Tower". BBC. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (51–60)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  12. Fleming, Craig (5 February 2008). "The Fylde coast – A graveyard for ships". Blackpool Gazette. Retrieved 6 February 2008. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (61–70)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  14. "Veteran TV star-gazer blasts tower laser". Blackpool Gazette. 24 October 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2007. 
  15. "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (41–50)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  16. "Blackpool Tower’s full restoration plans confirmed". Blackpool Aloud. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  17. "The Blackpool Tower". Blackpool Tower. Retrieved 17 January 2010. 
  18. Marriott Edgar (n.d.). Albert 'Arold and Others. Francis, Day and Hunter. 
  19. Michael Marshall (ed) (1979). The Stanley Holloway Monologues. Elm Tree books. 
  20. sometimes later referred to as Albert and the Lion
  21. The other Blackpool Zoo only opened in 1972, long after the date of this story
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (21–30)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (31–40)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  24. "BBC in talks over TV show's return". Blackpool Gazette. 19 February 2004. Retrieved 2 November 2007. 
  25. "Strictly a sellout for return of TV classic". Blackpool Gazette. 18 November 2004. Retrieved 2 November 2007. 
  26. Barlow, John. "Charles Barlow and the Tower Band". Barlow Genealogy. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  27. Curtis, Bill (June 1988). Blackpool Tower. Terence Dalton. ISBN 0-86138-064-9. 
  28. "From Leigh to Las Vegas – A brief biography". Andy Prior. 2002. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  29. "Mike James Sound". Mike James. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  30. "Big Bands back at the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool". DancesportUK. 2001. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  31. "The Empress Dance Band". The Empress Orchestra. Archived from the original on 28 February 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  32. Birmingham Museums Trust accession record 1956S00629
  33. 33.0 33.1 "Closed collections - The Bartlett Society". 
  34. "Blackpool Tower Heritage Trail (01–10)". Blackpool Tower. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2007. 
  35. "Lytham & St.Annes on the Sea Lancashire - Local History - Blackpool Tower Menagerie 1904". 
  36. The Blackpool Gazette 25-08-10
  37. "Blackpool Tower Aquarium to be replaced by dungeon". 19 November 2010. 
  38. "A head for heights". Blackpool Gazette. 15 April 2002. Retrieved 2 November 2007.