Blackpool Tower Conservation

The Blackpool Tower Conservation

Years of work have transformed the look of this favourite Fylde Coast landmark. Blackpool Tower conservation got going seriously in the 2010’s to reveal many of it’s stunning original features. Bit by bit this glorious landmark is returning to its former glory. Take a look…

In the Beginning…

Built in the late 1800’s, the history of The Blackpool Tower is long and complicated. As you’d expect, there have been a number of different owners over the years. In fact we’ve got another full page, devoted to the history of The Blackpool Tower.

… and time for new beginnings

By 2010 The Tower was privately owned by Leisure Parc’s, the business controlled by Trevor Hemmings. In 1998, the leisure entrepreneur had invested £74m on much of Blackpool seafront, including the piers, in expectation of the ‘super casino’ development.

But after being in private ownership for many years, the structure of The Blackpool Tower and it’s buildings had suffered the ravages of time. It’s an old building in a very exposed place, with many tens of thousands of people passing through it each year. Not having been properly maintained, it was looking a little neglected.

The Blackpool Tower, around the late 1980's
The Blackpool Tower, around the late 1980’s

So in 2010 Blackpool Council bought The Blackpool Tower from Leisure Parc’s. It was a bold and ambitious move to restore it to its former glory. The Council spent £38.9m buying three attractions, including The Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Golden Mile centre. They brought operator Merlin in to look after the Tower attractions. Merlin also manages SEA LIFE and Madame Tussauds.

The Blackpool Tower Conservation

Now the owners of The Tower, Blackpool Council can control the use and maintenance of the building. Which means they’ve been able to restore the magnificent building to its rightful position as the town’s top attraction. Crucially, they could also unlock grant funding which private operators can’t generally access.

A big part of the Council owning vital assets like the Tower and Winter Gardens is making sure they’re properly restored and protected. Then they’ll stand the test of time and can be enjoyed for years to come.

With the Council as the new owners, the long slow road to conservation could begin. Will it ever be complete? In a building so large and extensive there’s always another job to do!

The Big Reveal

The Blackpool Tower reopened on 1 September 2011 after a year-long, £5m revamp.

The Skywalk launched as part of the newly named Blackpool Tower Eye, complete with floor to ceiling glass observational panel. This has given spectacular views of the three piers, seafront and Fylde Coast. On a good day you can even see Manchester, the Lakes and Scotland.

With the fish in their new home at Sea Life, the old aquarium reopened as the Blackpool Dungeon. It’s a Lancashire version of the London Dungeon, officially opened on 24 August. We were lucky enough to go along to the preview event as you’ll see in the next video. The old cafe also became a gourmet burger restaurant.

Start at the beginning…

With the interior work completed and the attraction reopened, conservation of the building could continue. The two most obvious things being the restoration of the front of the building and repainting of The Tower itself.

The nine terracotta arches and stained glass windows of the main entrance now look like they did when new. This has brought the façade of the building back to its original design.

And the metalwork of the actual Tower itself wasn’t ‘just’ painted. It was all painstakingly conserved, repaired and then repainted – from the bottom to the very top!

Take a look at it in this video, filmed in July 2020 –

Here’s a look back at just a little bit of the work which went into this first phase of transformation –

Six Months in, on Blackpool Tower Conservation Work

By six months in, works were well underway on the project to restore the famous arched façade.

The heritage conservation project saw the boxed in frontage removed and the sea-facing facade restored to its original design. It was part of a wider, multi-million pound investment to safeguard two of Blackpool’s biggest assets, The Tower and the Winter Gardens.

The first phase of work restored seven of the arches and the second phase a further two. Once fully restored and re-leaded, the beautiful stained glass windows could be properly displayed once again. It’s the first time in many years that they’ve been on show, in all their glory.

Sensitive to its history, the intention of the restoration was never to change how the Tower looks. Rather that it would preserve and restore the frontage to retain its original quality and character. We think you’ll agree that’s exactly what happened!

Conservation work begins on the stained glass windows - August 2011
Conservation work begins on the boarded in stained glass windows – August 2011
Stained glass windows on the front of Blackpool Tower. Photo taken in August 2011 before the front of the building was boarded off for restoration works to begin.
The state of the stained glass windows on the front of Blackpool Tower when first uncovered. Photo taken in August 2011.

Making Bespoke Terracotta Pieces

When you’re repairing a historical building with so many decorative features you can’t just go to the DIY store and buy a few spare parts!

Each damaged, broken or missing decorative piece has to be handmade to match the original. It’s a laborious and costly job, and explains why this kind of project takes so much time and money.

New terracotta detail pieces were specially commissioned, designed and delivered during the first six months. This manufacture took place off site. At the same time, painstaking work was going on at The Tower, to safeguard any original bricks which could be retained.

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New terracotta pieces for the Blackpool Tower, waiting to be fitted
New terracotta pieces for the Blackpool Tower, on site and waiting to be fitted

Damage to the building and its features had taken place through weathering, neglect and changes to the Tower front design. The damage had accumulated over many years, but it all had to be repaired to protect one of Britain’s best loved buildings.

Some of the damage to the front of the Blackpool Tower building
Some of the damage to the front of the Blackpool Tower building
Some of the damage to the front of the Blackpool Tower building

Ongoing Repair Work

Do you remember the boarding that was around the front of the Tower for such a long time? The appearance of it changed a few times during the life of the works. It started out in a brick colour, presumably to match in with the building…

The 2011 renovation of Blackpool Tower
Front of the Blackpool Tower when restoration work started. This photo was taken in August 2011.

A facelift for the facade followed, with a brighter look in Spring 2013 when the graphics went white.

Boarded facade for the Blackpool Tower Conservation work gets a facelift. May 2013
Boarded facade for the Blackpool Tower Conservation work gets a facelift. May 2013

All the building and restoration work was taking place behind the panelling for both safety and aesthetic reasons. It also allowed the Tower to remain open throughout.

In the next clip from 2013 you can see this old boarding –

Blackpool firm, F Parkinson were principal contractor with Francis Roberts Architects of Preston being responsible for the design of the repairs and restoration.

Contractors managed to save three arches worth of the old stained glass from all the nine arches. True to the heritage of the building, the original pieces got a new life in the middle arches. But we bet that you won’t be able to tell the old from the new!

The Blackpool Tower undergoing restoration. Photo - August 2013
The Blackpool Tower undergoing restoration. Photo – August 2013

Twelve Months In…

During the first year of the works the restoration on the front of the Blackpool Tower building progressed at a pace. And during the summer of 2014, work continued on the Tower itself. With the central section of stained glass arches now complete, they could be unveiled for everyone to enjoy.

Then in 2015, the front of the building got the finishing touch – its name in Lights – made by the Blackpool Illuminations team.

Restored stained glass arch on the front of Blackpool Tower
Restored stained glass arch on the front of Blackpool Tower. Photo from August 2014.

Painting The Blackpool Tower

What a labour of love! From top to toe the Tower has had a good fettle!

Bit by bit, years of old paint were stripped away with high pressure water jets and sections of rusted iron work replaced. The cleaned and repaired metal work could then be repainted with modern, weatherproof paints. Of course all done in the Tower’s own traditional ‘red-lead’ colour.

Throughout these years, the scaffolding was known locally as the ‘bandage’. The white sheeting that surrounded it for all the world gave the impression of a big bandage, wrapped around the Tower. First installed in 2008 it seemed to be there forever. Indeed, some parts of the steelwork remained covered for the full eight years, while elsewhere it moved up and down!

Lots of scaffolding on the Blackpool Tower - March 2012
Lots of scaffolding on the Blackpool Tower. Photo dated March 2012
The 'bandage' moved up and down the Tower, according to works underneath. Photo - June 2015
The ‘bandage’ moved up and down the Tower, according to works underneath. Photo – June 2015

It takes seven years just to paint the Tower structure. The painters climb the 563 steps from the roof of the building to the top of the Tower to complete this epic task. We think that everyone will be hoping that it’s a good few years before it needs doing again!

Removal of the ‘Bandage’ on Blackpool Tower Conservation Work

Easter week of 2016 was a time to celebrate! Eagle eyed visitors were first to spot the last poles of scaffolding finally being removed… Then on 31 March 2016 the 518 feet-high landmark was once again finally free of the ‘bandage’.

The Blackpool Tower conservation work is almost complete - the last bits of scaffolding on 30.3.16
The Blackpool Tower conservation work is almost complete – the last bits of scaffolding – on 30.3.16

Nicola Biven was first to share a photo on the Live Blackpool Facebook page – she lives in nearby St Annes and can see the Tower from home. Her daughter, celebrating in the photo, had been really looking forward to seeing the Tower without scaffolding. It might have taken a long time, but the works gave Blackpool Tower a really thorough refurbishment.

Blackpool Tower unveiled - Taken on 31.3.16 by Nicola Biven
Blackpool Tower unveiled – Taken on 31.3.16 by Nicola Biven

Continuing Conservation at The Blackpool Tower

Looking after this iconic Blackpool landmark is a bit like painting the Forth Bridge! There’s always another project to do.

In late 2020, The Blackpool Tower Ballroom received £764,000 from the Government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. The purpose of the fund was to help venues impacted by Covid-19. It enabled the repair and restoration of the legendary ballroom ceiling, back to its former glory. What a great opportunity to do this work, while the building had to be closed because of the pandemic. And it provided employment for local specialists.

Ballroom dancing with Strictly Come Dancing at Blackpool Tower Ballroom
Ballroom Dancing at Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Restoring the Ballroom Floor

One of the most recent pieces of work is the restoration of the fabulous parquet floor in the ballroom, back to its original glory. With layers of varnish and ballroom dancing removed it revealed the beautiful blocks of wood. Resealed and highly polished it looks just like it did all those years ago.

The restored floor in The Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Foundations of Blackpool

The Blackpool Tower opened on 14 May 1894. Have you spotted this decorative foundation stone, dated 1891? Have a look for it, next time you’re on the promenade. Find it on the front of the building.

Commemorative Plaque on Blackpool Tower, one of many traces of Blackpool's past
Commemorative Plaque on Blackpool Tower, one of many traces of Blackpool’s past

Approximately 70,000 people entered during that first day, to see the magnificent new building modelled on the Eiffel Tower.

Apparently the Tower wasn’t built very well in the first place, and corroded quite badly. To the point that when it was about 30 years old there was talk about demolishing it. Thankfully, our ancestors decided instead to replace the metalwork, and our modern restoration follows in their footsteps.

Consider that the Tower cost £290,000 to build back in 1894 – and £6m to refurbish today. Wonder how much it would cost to build a new one from scratch in today’s money?

Decorative Features

Next time you’re around, why don’t you pop-in and wander the corridors and take in the amazing decorative features? (Obviously you have to pay to enter the attractions themselves but you can go into the entrance and first floor corridors, free of charge).

The first thing to greet you is these amazing mosaic designs. Find them inside the double-entrance porch of the front doors. The whole building is full of decorative features – art and social history all rolled into one.

Mosaic panels inside the front entrance of the Blackpool Tower
Mosaic panels inside the front entrance of the Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower Conservation Work Wins Award

Restoration of The Blackpool Tower’s famous arched frontage was recognised with a regional planning award in December 2016.

The Blackpool Tower
The Blackpool Tower

The project was commended by the North West branch of the Royal Town Planning Institute at an awards ceremony in December 2015. The commendation was for the creative way that council planners secured the highest possible standard of repairs for the Tower through their pre-application process. The completed works not only restore the look of the Tower building, but provide it with more protection from the weathering on Blackpool’s seafront

Anything to add to this article?

We want to include your photos, memories and information – simply email what you know to jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk for inclusion.

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2 thoughts on “The Blackpool Tower Conservation”

  1. For no clear reason I woke this morning wanting to learn about the Tower. I am rewarded here with an uplifting story of its splendid restoration. It’s great to read that so much LOCAL talent gathered together to achieve (and raise funds for) what must surely have looked almost impossible! Proper job.

    1. And a proper job it does look too Howard! Glad to hear that you enjoyed your read and found what you were looking for!

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