8 Things to Know About Blackpool

As one of England’s favourite seaside resorts, Blackpool has a long history of entertaining its customers for over 200 years.

With miles of sandy beach, a fairground unrivalled anywhere in the world and incredible views from the Tower, Blackpool is a town with a colourful past and a bright future.

Here are eight things you should know about the history of the town.

1. It began as a destination for sea bathers

A detail of artist William Bartlett’s drawing of Blackpool from 1840

Although now famous for its diverse entertainments, Blackpool owes its existence to an interest in sea bathing, first recorded there in the 1750s.

By the early 19th century, purpose-built facilities were being built for the resort’s customers.

Significant numbers of working people from manufacturing towns travelled in carts or on foot to enjoy Blackpool’s charms.

2. It rivalled Brighton as the resort of choice

The Imperial Hotel, Blackpool © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP154924
The Imperial Hotel in Blackpool was built between 1866-7. In 1904, a substantial extension was added. Image © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP154924

When the railway arrived in the 1840s, Blackpool was just a large village. But during the mid 19th-century, it began to grow more quickly.

In the 1860s, two piers and a large hotel (the Imperial Hotel) opened, which gave Blackpool facilities to rival Brighton, then the resort of choice for the wealthy.

3. It had some of the earliest electric lights in the world

This photograph from 1894 shows holiday makers strolling along the promenade in Blackpool with tall electric lights in the background
This photograph from 1894 shows holiday makers strolling along Blackpool’s promenade with tall electric lights in the background. Image via Historic England Archive. Ref: CC7900487

In the 1870s, Blackpool again demonstrated its ambition by the opening of one of the first Winter Gardens in England.

Next came an early aquarium and a set of electric street lights in 1879, which were among the earliest in the world.

Blackpool’s love affair with electricity continued in the 1880s with the creation of one of the world’s first electric tram lines.

4. Blackpool Tower was once Britain’s tallest building

This photograph of Blackpool by W & Co. Ltd was taken c. 1897 to make a postcard. It became legal to send postcards through the post in 1894, the year the Tower opened. Image via Historic England Archive. Ref: OP00472

During the 1890s, the seafront was adorned by the Tower, Britain’s tallest building when it opened in 1894. Its design was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The Tower offered a huge range of entertainment for the entry price of sixpence. For this fee, visitors would find an array of attractions including a zoo with big cats, a monkey house and aviary, a refreshment bar and roof gardens.

5. It’s been called one of the wonders of the world

Interior view of ballroom in Blackpool Tower © Historic England Archive. Ref: AA048180
Interior view of the ballroom in Blackpool Tower © Historic England Archive. Ref: AA048180

In 1919, commentator Thomas Luke celebrated Blackpool as ‘one of the wonders of the world’. Fifteen years later, the writer J. B. Priestley declared it ‘the great roaring spangled beast’ in his book English Journey.

Blackpool had created entertainment on an industrial scale. Visitors could enjoy the elegant interiors of the Winter Gardens, walk along its three piers, ride increasingly exhilarating (actually terrifying) roller coasters and marvel at the breathtaking views from the Tower.

6. At its peak, it drew around 10 million visitors per year

The Blackpool Open Air Baths used classical features to create an atmosphere of grandeur as well as entertainment © Historic England Archive. Aerofilms Collection. Ref: AFL03/Lilywhites/BLP43

In the 1930s, Blackpool’s numerous theatres and cinemas could seat more than 60,000 people each night.

After the First World War, the Blackpool Corporation undertook substantial investment to give the Victorian resort a fresh look and modern facilities.

This included a vast new lido, an indoor swimming pool, tram stations and a very early multi-storey bus station and car park for the growing number of visitors arriving by bus and car.

7. It became less popular after the Second World War

A family enjoying the sunshine on the beach at Blackpool, 1946-1955 © Historic England Archive. Ref: AA086159
A family enjoying the sunshine on the beach at Blackpool, 1946-1955 © Historic England Archive. Ref: AA086159

Blackpool remained England’s busiest resort following the Second World War, but a growing number of its traditional visitors could now afford holidays abroad or were attracted to other British destinations.

Elderly man paddling in the sea, with Blackpool Tower in the background, 1946 - 1955 © Historic England. Ref: AA047928
Elderly man paddling in the sea, with Blackpool Tower in the background, 1946 – 1955 © Historic England. Ref: AA047928

Blackpool was also perceived by some to be old-fashioned and run-down. The council responded to these concerns in 2003, publishing a plan of proposals to regenerate the town’s distinctive neighbourhoods, its town centre and the seafront.

8. It’s being regenerated

Blackpool's seafront © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP154540
Blackpool’s seafront © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP154540

In recent decades there have been major investments in Blackpool, transforming the arrival experience for motorists, creating new sea defences and building a modern promenade and tram system.

In 2006, a heritage initiative was launched and many historic buildings have since been refurbished. The streets have been repaved and new, futuristic lighting has been installed.

The Floral Hall was a key part of the Winter Gardens that opened in 1878. This central circulation space has been the subject of a restoration programme by the council since 2010. Image © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP117483
The Floral Hall was a key part of the Winter Gardens that opened in 1878. This central circulation space has been the subject of a restoration programme by the council since 2010. Image © Historic England Archive. Ref: DP117483

The Winter Gardens and the Tower were bought by Blackpool Council in 2010 and ambitious restoration programmes have begun to revive these key attractions. We have contributed grant funding towards repairing the Spanish Hall in the Winter Gardens.

What have we missed? Let us know your favourite things about Blackpool in the comments below.

Want to learn more? Check out our publication Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage by Allan Brodie and Matthew Whitfield. Read online or order a copy here.

Further reading:

10 responses to 8 Things to Know About Blackpool

  1. Lizzie Heywood says:

    Very proud to call Blackpool my hometown. Blackpool Council are to be applauded for their continued efforts to not only regenerate the area (the promenade, including the comedy carpet in front of Blackpool Tower, is particularly impressive), but also to protect and restore some of the town’s most significant heritage assets. I’d have liked to see more discussion in this article about the piers in Blackpool- North Pier is Grade II listed and was completed in 1863.

    • Loved your short piece. I too am proud to be from Blackpool and feel I owe it much. My Grandma worked on the north Pier for many Summers in the 50s/60s.and I went in to see her as a child after fishing on the jetty. Many other lovely memories too!.

  2. Ian Heywood says:

    Don’t forget that Blackpool was the first place to have electric trams. The first ran in 1885 and the system, although much reduced from its heydays in the 1930s, is still running today.

  3. Marian Miller says:

    What about the illuminations? As a child we travelled from Derbyshire to see them every year, crawling along in the car. A real treat!

  4. Luke Stephenson says:

    Another proud sandgrown’un here. For me, the true jewel in Blackpool’s crown is Stanley Park, designed by the famous architect Thomas Mawson. A stunning place all year round.

  5. Toni Sharpe says:

    Say what you like about Blackpool but it is what a seaside resort is all about and I love it!

  6. Graham Newton says:

    I was born and brought up in Blackpool and cannot think of a better place to have grown up in the 50s/60s. I have returned in retirement and cannot imagine a better place to retire to. Parts of the town and it’s neighbours have always been rough and some are now worse but that applies throughout the UK. There has been regeneration with mixed results but there is still a great deal about the town and the Fylde in general that I wouldn’t swop for elsewhere.
    Where else is there a promenade about 13 miles long where you can walk or cycle. The tower building and the Winter Gardens are wonderful and normally there is always something going on. There are still millions of visitors a year and they don’t all come for kiss me kwick hats and candy floss.

  7. Sylvia Crosby says:

    Blackpool is a brilliant place to go to , I go every year ( apart for this year due to the coronavirus) . I love Blackpool, always have . My daughter and her family love it too . I am missing it this year . Everybody is so friendly there and they treat people as friends not just visitors . Can’t wait to go there again . Bless Blackpool and all the locals there .

  8. Graham Norman Applin says:

    Lived in Blackpool in early 70s best place to live loved it when to tilsley comp 73 / 75 lived marton mere caravan park

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