Blackpool North Pier
Commemorative Plaque on Blackpool Tower
Blackpool Winter Gardens
Blackpool's newly restored Winter Gardens
Blackpool's Stanley Park
You might think that Blackpool and the coastal towns of the Fylde Coast were created with the arrival of the railways, but the history of them goes back beyond that, with evidence of habitation in this area long before.
In 1970 an elk was found on a site opposite Blackpool Sixth Form College. This photo shows it on display at the Harris Museum in Preston.
The barbed arrowheads found with its carcass showed that it had been hunted by man over 11,000 years ago. It's the earliest evidence of human habitation so far north in the UK.
Later, Roman coins were found at Rossall in 1840.
The Rossall Hoard is a complicated story of intrigue and mystery around the Hesketh family, the founders of Fleetwood.
More coins were found at Hackinsall in 1926, from a period of occupation around AD 80. Many of the villages in the area were then listed in the Domesday book of 1086.
Blackpool itself was first seen in medieval ages. It takes its name from the discoloured waters of ‘le pull’ - a stream draining Marton Mere and Marton Moss through peat lands. The stream went into the sea near the present Manchester Square.
The name 'Blackpoole' first appears in the 1602 Bispham parish baptismal register. 'Foxhall' was the first house to be built in the area. That was at the end of the 1600’s and was built by Edward Tyldesley, the Squire of Myerscough.
Following an Act of Parliament in 1767 a tract of sandhills along the coast was enclosed, with plots of land being allocated to landowners in Bispham, Layton, Great and Little Marton. It also stipulated the laying out of the long, straight main roads in the area, including Lytham Road, St Annes Road and Highfield Road.
The bracing fresh air from the Irish Sea has always been a draw to bring visitors to this coast, and friends of the Tyldesleys were the first to come here, gradually followed by others.
Four large hotels were catering for the well-to-do in society by the late 1780s.
They included Bailey’s (now the Metropole - above), Forshaw’s (now the Clifton Arms), Hudson’s (at Lane's End) and Hull’s (on the site of Weatherspoons on the promenade).
Other accommodation was offered at Bonny’s, (King Edward VII, Chapel Street), Elston’s (later the York Hotel), the Gynn, and in houses throughout the area.
At this time, visitors to the coast enjoyed horse riding on the beach, walking on the six yards wide promenade, and enjoying facilities for archery and bowling greens. They stayed in the holiday accommodation among the fifty or so houses, some of which were residential, along the sea front. The main reason for coming to Blackpool at this time was still the health giving properties of the sea air.
The main landowners of the time did little to develop the resort, until the early 1800’s when Henry Banks took matters into his own hands.
Henry Banks is often considered to be the ‘Father of Blackpool’, in 1819 he purchased the Lane Ends estate and soon built the first holiday cottages. In 1837 his son in law built the first assembly rooms, which was the Victoria Promenade – the bulk of which still stands on the north-west corner of Victoria and Bank Hey Streets. (Marked where the red pin is on the Google map below).
When the railways first emerged, the journey to Blackpool was a horrible one: two days from Yorkshire and a full day from Manchester. Incredible by today’s standards.
Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood transformed all that in 1840 with his Preston and Wyre Railway, built to serve his newly created port and town of Fleetwood. Fleetwood, and Cleveleys, were the first seaside resorts on the Fylde Coast.
The railways were suffering from a lack of funding, and it was the cheap excursion trains from the mill towns of Lancashire that saved them from collapse.
Visitors continued their journey from Poulton station to Blackpool by horse-bus or wagonette. Talbot Road station finally brought the railway straight to Blackpool on 29th April 1846.
Even in the early 1860’s there was still little entertainment to be found in Blackpool. The original Uncle Tom’s Cabin was offering refreshments, music and dancing, until what remained of the building was demolished in 1907 after erosion of the crumbling cliff on which it was perched. The current Uncle Tom's was built afterwards.
In 1863 North Pier (above) was the first to be built, of cast iron on screwed piles, and is now a Listed Building.
In 1867 the Prince of Wales Arcade opened (now the site of the Tower), and the following year saw the Talbot Road Assembly Rooms and Theatre Royal (the former Yates’s Wine Lodge and Addison’s night club) and the South Jetty added to the list of attractions.
Central Pier (above), was not well used until 1870 when Robert Bickerstaffe introduced open-air dancing for the “working classes”.
Read more about the history of Blackpool Central Pier here
In the same year a new Promenade, with a sloping sea wall, was completed from South Shore to Claremont Park (just north of the Metropole hotel).
In 1872, extensive pleasure gardens were opened at Raikes Hall, to the east of the town. Within a few years they boasted a lake, racecourse, football and cricket ground, skating rink, aviary, monkey house, ballroom, theatre, switchback and many other attractions. By the end of the century, the gardens were unable to compete with attractions nearer the sea and were sold off for building in 1901.
In 1872, Dr. W. H. Cocker had bought the Prince of Wales arcade and turned it into a private aquarium and menagerie. In 1875 he opened it to the public. Part of its south wing survived in the Tower’s aquarium.
On the plot to the north, the Prince of Wales Theatre was opened in 1877, to which swimming baths were added in 1881.
In 1875, the Winter Gardens Company was formed to build an indoor promenade and pavilion, which opened with much ceremony on 11 July 1878.
Below: The Floral Hall in the Winter Gardens today.
By this time, the existing railway line couldn’t cope with the large numbers of trippers wishing to visit, and so the single coastal line was rebuilt as a double track and linked with the Kirkham to Lytham line. The site of the current Coral Island became the principal station.
Blackpool received the Charter of Incorporation as a Borough on 21 January 1876. The 1877 season was a successful one which saw the opening of the Borough Theatre, but the following years saw the resort in a depression which threatened the town’s future.
In 1879 the Council held a grand fete and carnival to attract the crowds, including a ‘Naval Attack on Blackpool’ which drew 100,000 spectators.
Blackpool Carnival photo, thanks to Andy Ball
Another spectacular carnival and procession was held in 1923.
Blackpool Carnival made a come back in 2017.
By now, huge numbers of working class people were coming to Blackpool, rather than the previous small numbers of gentry.
Once again the transport infrastructure had to be improved to cope with demand and the country’s first permanent electric street tramway opened on 29 September 1885.
It originally ran from Cocker Street to South Shore, and of course it's stil in operation today.
The 1890s saw a huge entertainment boom to provide for the estimated 250,000 visitors that the resort could accommodate. In 1889 the original Opera House was built in the Winter Gardens complex, and in 1894 the Tower opened.
In 1893 Victoria Pier, now called South Pier opened.
Read about the history of Blackpool South Pier here.
The year after, in 1894, the beautiful Grand Theatre (above) opened in Church Street.
Read about the history of Blackpool Grand Theatre here
A number of other venues opened in following years, and in 1899 the three tier promenade was completed between Carleton Terrace and the Gynn.
The promenade, much of which has been rebuilt in recent years, stood well as a testament to Victorian Engineering. It had been completed between 1902 and 1905 and reclaimed 22 acres of land between North and South Piers from the sea.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach was originally the place where gypsies and fairground artists gathered, and was laid out at about the same time.
One of the first rides was Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine built in 1904 and remains today, including alterations made over the years.
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 saw the first illuminated tram, and the first static illuminations were erected in 1912, with breaks in the display for the two World Wars.
Find out more about the history of the Blackpool Illuminations here
The 1900's saw the completion of many projects, each of them adding to the Blackpool experience of today.
Blackpool doesn’t rest on its laurels, and continues to shape, develop and grow.
Recent years have seen the transformation of the Tower under the management of Merlin, new developments at the Pleasure Beach, the rebuilding of the sea defences and promenade, the upgraded tramway, and many more changes and improvements.
Have a look through the other pages in this 'History' section
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