Beside the Seaside, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018

Showtown – Blackpool Museum of Entertainment

Showtown is the Blackpool Museum of entertainment. It’s going to be filled with artefacts, film, music and performance and is immersive, participatory and inclusive. Both museum and visitor attraction, it’s going to be memorable and distinctive – just like the lively spirit of Blackpool! Explore more than 800 objects from Blackpool’s internationally significant and extensive collections. Plus those on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum and other private partners.

Showtown will celebrate:

  • Blackpool as the UK’s most popular seaside destination
  • its role in the development of British popular culture
  • and it will be the first permanent display in a UK public museum relating to circus, magic, variety and ballroom dance.

OPENS 2023

In autumn 2021 the lease was signed for the space inside the new Sands Resort Hotel building at the promenade. Working with Lancashire based Conlon construction, work began at the beginning of September 2021 in preparation for the 2024 opening.

About Blackpool Museum

We were in danger of losing the wonderful memories from the older generation. Memories from people who’ve lived and holidayed in Blackpool over the years.

Blackpool’s heritage is about people and their stories. It’s this delightful, rich, community memory which brings our heritage so vividly alive. These stories lie at the very heart of the museum project. Capturing that information so it can be shared with future generations.

Telling our story

This project aims to tell ‘The Blackpool Story’. It will provide a local heritage focus for Blackpool people, reconnecting them with their own history. It will also be a major visitor attraction.

Blackpool Museum, Showtown, will be a high quality, professional, self-sustaining business. It will have the capacity to reinvest resources to support heritage-based learning and community programmes.

The extraordinary and rarely told stories of Britain’s largest seaside resort will be explored and shared. Blackpool has played an unrivalled role in the development of British popular entertainment over the past 150 years.

No conventional ‘museum’

But this will be no conventional museum – it will be a dynamic and celebratory space. It’s a blend of museum and visitor attraction, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance. Blackpool Museum will be immersive, participatory and inclusive. It will have a strong personality with a memorable and distinctive take, true to the lively spirit of Blackpool.

The Museum will be located in the landmark and historic Palatine Building on the Golden Mile. Next door but one to The Tower the new Sands Hotel is Blackpool’s first 5* hotel and leisure complex. And the new Blackpool Museum is part of this important redevelopment.

Sands Venue - October 2020 with a completed exterior
Sands Venue – October 2020 with a completed exterior

Offsite and away from the physical progress, the team has been working on the detailed design phase. They’re working out exactly what the experience will look, feel, sound and even smell like! It’s exciting progress towards making the Museum project a reality.

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How the Blackpool Museum project unfolded…

We’ve been following the progress of this exciting new attraction from the outset. When it’s opens, you’ll visit without a thought to the twists and turns which went into its completion. That in itself is an interesting story, another part of the social history of the town!

Take a look through our own small archive of how the project began…

2020: Funding Secured for Blackpool Museum

In January 2020 Blackpool Council was awarded £75,000 from the Wolfson Foundation for the town’s first museum – Showtown. The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity. It supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and humanities.

Lin Richardson os Deputy Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation. She said: “Blackpool remains a popular UK seaside location which attracts millions of visitors every year. Wolfson is pleased to support this fun and unique museum. It will engage and educate locals and visitors of all ages, focussing on both traditional and novel entertainment in this popular resort.”

2019: Stan Laurel’s Bowler Hat!

On 24 June 2019, Blackpool Council was allocated £4 Million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the Museum Project. It’s the final piece in a £13 Million funding jigsaw that will see the project become a reality.

Stan Laurel Bowler Hat Photo Lorne Campbell Guzelian, Blackpool Museum Project
Pictured above: Kerry Vasiliou, Learning and Engagement Manager at the Blackpool Museum Project with Stan Laurel bowler hat signed to Cyril Critchlow in 1947, Blackpool Council Heritage Collection © Blackpool Council. Photo: Lorne Campbell Guzelian

By now, the Museum Project had already secured more than £7 million external funding.

The year-round visitor attraction will be a fully-immersive, family-friendly experience. Filled with memorabilia, film, music and live performance, it’s an opportunity to look behind the scenes at what it took to make Blackpool special. In partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) London, and private owners, it will display, collect, research and celebrate collections related to popular entertainment.

2019: Launch of Blackpool Museum, welcome to Showtown!

On the afternoon of Monday 9 January 2019, Visit Fylde Coast went along to the big Showtown! reveal.

We joined hundreds of other excited people at The Blackpool Tower Circus. The afternoon was the big reveal of the name and branding, and more about the launch of this exciting new attraction.

Here’s a short video from the afternoon (made in the days before VFC was vlogging!) –

Fun, accessible and fully-immersive

Along with invited guests we heard about the £13m museum’s vibrant new name ‘SHOWTOWN’. That’s the colourful, bold and playful brand which reflects the spirit and aim of the attraction. It celebrates Blackpool’s internationally significant story as the UK’s most popular seaside destination. And its role in the development of British popular culture.

Located in the ‘Sands Venue Resort Hotel’ and open year-round, the museum will be fun, accessible and fully-immersive. It will be filled with objects, film, music and performance. Mixing the best of museums and visitor attractions, it’s your chance to look behind the scenes at what makes Blackpool special.

Showtown will be divided into six themes; seaside, magic, shows, circus, illuminations and dance.

Take a look at the official video introducing Showtown –

2018: Progress on Blackpool Museum at the end of 2018

The project team had been hard at work, refining what Blackpool Museum will look and feel like. From your first welcome and accessibility of the venue, to activities and events, everything is being scrutinised.

Entertainers and people in the industry are helping with insight into what makes this amazing town tick. Star objects are being found and fascinating facts are being researched. Blackpool Museum will show you the inner-workings of this incredible show town, through the voices and memories of people who live, work and visit Blackpool.

The market’s been researched and now the team are business planning. They’re thrilled to be halfway to meeting the funding target. 2019 is the year when bids will be submitted to cover the rest of the cost.

Preview of Blackpool Museum Exhibits

  • Beside the Seaside explores the beach as Blackpool’s first stage and reflect Britain’s love of the seaside.
  • How’s Tricks? delves into the spectacle of Blackpool’s Golden Mile sideshows from the 1890’s onwards and Blackpool’s important role in the development of magic.
  • Roll Up! Roll Up! will reveal the world-class creativity, skill and dare-devilry behind Blackpool’s circus heritage stretching back to the 1850’s
  • It’s Better with the Lights On will shine a light on one of the world’s greatest light attractions, the Illuminations.
  • Showtime puts Blackpool centre stage as the home of popular live entertainment. It will present a phenomenal range of live acts including comedy, magic and ventriloquism.
  • Everybody Dance Now celebrates Blackpool as the spiritual home of ballroom dancing from the Blackpool Dance Festival to BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Beside the Seaside, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Beside the Seaside, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Roll Up Roll Up, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Roll Up Roll Up, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Showtime, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Showtime, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Wonderland, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Wonderland, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Better with the Lights On, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Better with the Lights On, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Everybody Dance Now, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018
Everybody Dance Now, proposal for one of the displays at Blackpool Museum. Photo: Casson Mann 2018

2017: Developing Plan B for Blackpool Museum

Blackpool Museum was originally going to be in the Grade II* listed Horseshoe Theatre in the Winter Gardens. There’s more information about the first stages of the project and how it’s evolved further down on this page.

In July 2017 it was decided that the costs to develop the new Blackpool Museum there were too large. With an £8m gap in the funding, Blackpool Council wisely decided not to proceed with the £26m plans.

However, that was far from the end of the story. Behind the scenes, the team put together a Plan B for the museum.

New Site Options

In August 2017 the Museum team began to develop and cost a range of new site options for the museum. During this process they were also approached to be part of a new development on the Promenade.

After considering the options in detail, the Project Board chose the Palatine Building as the preferred site. The Palatine Building is a landmark building on the promenade between the Tower and Coral Island.

It housed the Sands Venue and Wild West Diner. Coolsilk Property and Investment Limited is developing it into a 5* hotel and leisure complex. It will be the first of its kind in Blackpool. With the entrance on Bank Hey Street, the museum will occupy the first floor of the building.

The old Bank Hey Street view of the Sands building, where the entrance will be for the new Blackpool Museum
Before: The old Bank Hey Street view of the Sands building
Proposals for Blackpool Museum in the new Sands development on the promenade
And after: Proposals for Blackpool Museum in the new Sands development on the promenade

2017: Changes to Plan A for Blackpool Museum

Statement released by Blackpool Council on 18 July 2017

“It is with regret that Blackpool Council has decided that it is unable to proceed with the Blackpool Museum Project in its current form. Unfortunately the scale of the matched funding target is too great at a time when the Council is under severe financial pressure.

“Despite this decision, the Council still has the ambition to build on the excellent work done to date.

“Although the ambition remains to build a museum in Blackpool, it’s likely to be over a different scope and time frame than originally envisaged.”

Changing plans

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £1.24m in 2014 to explore the feasibility of running a full scale museum.

However, large costs to develop the Grade II* listed building would result in an £8m gap in the amount of capital funding available. So the Council decided not to proceed with a £26m museum.

Instead, plans for a different museum elsewhere in the town were to be explored. The good work already done was utilised, with a view to submitting new funding bids in future years. The town will still feel the economic benefits from hosting its first museum.

2017: Second round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund

Blackpool Museum, Adelaide Street entrance

In March 2017 the second round application went in to the Heritage Lottery Fund. It included the final plans and costings for the delivery of the Museum at the Winter Gardens.

It will create 40 full-time equivalent jobs, plus a range of volunteering and training opportunities. It’s expected that 210,000 visitors will be attracted each year. Including 22,000 new staying visitors, the economic benefit will be around £12.3m to the region.

The Project will also enable the repair, restoration and reuse of the Grade II* listed Pavilion Theatre and Horseshoe (below).

Horseshoe at Blackpool Winter Gardens

HLF will make their decision this summer. But work will not stop!

The Museum team will continue with the preparation for the delivery of the Museum. They’ll also be working to secure further funding, develop partnerships and collect stories.

2016: Funding to Preserve Blackpool Tower Circus Collection

In December 2016, Blackpool Council was awarded £97,000 from The Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association. The money was granted to help preserve the Blackpool Tower Circus Collection and make it available to the public.

Fund to preserve Blackpool Tower Circus collection

The two-and-a-half-year project was called Marvels and Mayhem. It will contribute to the proposed displays in the Blackpool Museum. The project will support the recruitment of volunteers to help create a catalogue and preserve the collection. Plus providing engagement opportunities with the local community.

Aims of the Collections Fund

The aim of the Collections Fund is to develop collections and use them to achieve positive social impact.

The Collection Fund launched in 2011 and is offering a total of £3.5m in grants between 2017 and 2019. The award for the project in Blackpool is the twelfth round of awards the fund has made so far and is the largest grant awarded this round.

The final aim of the project is to add to the knowledge of the collection. Members of the local and regional circus community will be invited to the collection to share their stories. Their experiences and expertise will add to the understanding of the collection and the history of Circus.

2015: Blackpool Museum Project is Born!

Blackpool Museum Project was set up in 2015 to develop plans for a brand new museum and visitor attraction. It was originally to be based inside the Winter Gardens Pavilion in Blackpool.

Artists impression of Blackpool Museum

Celebrating Blackpool’s Entertainment Heritage

The museum will celebrate Blackpool’s pivotal role in shaping popular entertainment in Britain over the last 150 years.

The venues and shows are obviously central to this story but it was the performers who were the real stars. Their stories and experiences are vital to create a display reflecting the rich diversity of talent that made Blackpool the northern home of variety.

The Museum is looking to build on Blackpool’s existing heritage collections. It will collect costumes, props, and other items to display in the Museum. It’s also creating a digital story collection of short films produced with entertainers telling an aspect of their life story.

No Ordinary Museum

As well as displaying the council’s own nationally-significant collections in an imaginative, immersive way, there’ll be quality space for temporary exhibitions, co-created with communities, the V&A and others.

Not a conventional museum, it’s a dynamic and celebratory space. A blend of a museum, visitor attraction and theatre, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance. It draws together nationally significant historic collections – immersive, participatory and inclusive. With a strong personality and a memorable and distinctive take, true to the lively spirit of Blackpool.

2014: Development of the Blackpool Museum Project begins

In May 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Blackpool Council announced a £1.6m pot of money. The fund would begin developing the look of a Blackpool Museum.

A group of eight dedicated staff then spoke to over 2,500 people in Blackpool and across the country. This fact-finding was used to develop the museum and explore what it could include.

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4 thoughts on “Showtown – Blackpool Museum of Entertainment”

  1. I believe Cyril Critchlow was an avid supporter of a museum in Blackpool. When I spoke with him he had many ideas but not enough support. Will any mention be made of his endevours be made? When I first came to Blackpool in 1995 I was amazed to find more about Blackpool at Wigan Pier than there was in the town itself. A museum has long been overdue.

  2. When I visited the Rickcliffe Hotel, as my Grandma used to own it, the present owner gave me a dusty suitcase full of papers. Now we have looked at them, we understand he was an injured airforce man who was sent to the Rockclffe to work. He left his suit case there in 1952. The story of his life is all there. Would you like it in your museum?

    1. Thanks Rachael, I’m sure that the new museum would be interested in this special piece of social history. I’ve passed your contact details on to them.

  3. Hi I’m interested in your Telling a story project.
    Also trying to trace some of the girls from the tiny tots from the Blackpool Tower ballroom 1966 I have one or two pictures and the program but as most of the girls have married and different names I can’t fined them I would like to see if we could get as many as possible together for some kind of reunion.
    I was inspired by Blackpool Tower Circus so moved into the circus world joining Billy Smart Circus and becoming a flying trapeze artist.I have been asked by some Design and textile students about costumes in circus so I am doing research on this hopefully to put something together.any help would be appreciated
    Regards Jill de wit

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