The history of Blackpool and growth of the town is really interesting. It goes back even further than the holidays of the Lancashire Mill towns. You might think that Blackpool and the coastal towns of the Fylde Coast were created with the arrival of the railways. Local history goes back much further than that!
The Carleton Elk
In 1970 an elks skeleton was found on a site at Carleton, opposite Blackpool Sixth Form College. This photo shows it on display at the Harris Museum in Preston.
The barbed arrowheads found with its carcass show that it was hunted by man over 11,000 years ago. It’s the earliest evidence of human habitation so far north in the UK. More about the Carleton Elk here
The Rossall Hoard
Fast forward to much more recent times, when in 1840 Roman coins were found at Rossall, Fleetwood. The Rossall Hoard is a complicated story of intrigue and mystery surrounding 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 later listed in the Domesday book of 1086.
Where the name ‘Blackpool’ came from
Blackpool itself was first seen in medieval ages. It takes its name from the discoloured waters of ‘le pull’. That was 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 it 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. Plots of land were allocated to landowners in Bispham, Layton, Great and Little Marton. It also stipulated the layout 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. Friends of the Tyldesley’s were the first to come here, gradually followed by others.
Health Giving Benefits of Sea Air
Four large hotels were catering for the well-to-do in society by the late 1780s.
They included Bailey’s, which is now the Metropole (above) and Forshaw’s (now the Clifton Arms). Plus 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 archery facilities and bowling greens. They stayed in the holiday accommodation of the fifty or so houses along the seafront, some of which were residential. The health giving properties of sea air was the main reason for visiting Blackpool.
Early History of Blackpool and Growth of the Town
The main landowners of the time did little to develop the resort. In the early 1800’s Henry Banks took matters into his own hands. He’s 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, 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).
Look at this old British Pathe clip of Blackpool promenade from round about 1900.
Advent of the Railways
When the railways first emerged, the journey to Blackpool was a horrible one. It was 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.
However, the railways were suffering from a lack of funding. It was cheap excursion trains from the mill towns of Lancashire which 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. What remained of the first 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 was the first to be built, of cast iron on screwed piles. It’s now a Listed Building. More about the history of North Pier here.
In 1867 the Prince of Wales Arcade opened (now the site of The Blackpool Tower). 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.
Another new Pier, or two!
Central Pier (below), only became well used in 1870 when Robert Bickerstaffe introduced open-air dancing for the “working classes”. More about the history of Central Pier here.
In 1870 a new Promenade, with a sloping sea wall, was completed from South Shore to Claremont Park (just north of the Metropole hotel).
A little later 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 it closed at the end of the 1898 season. In 1901 Raikes Hall and gardens were sold off for building land.
Beginnings of The Tower and Winter Gardens
- 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.
By this time, the existing railway line couldn’t cope with the large numbers of trippers wishing to visit. The single coastal railway 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.
Continuing the history of Blackpool and growth of the town, the Central Station site is about to be redeveloped again.
History of Blackpool Borough
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. However, the following years saw the resort in a depression which threatened the town’s future.
In 1879 the Council held a grand fete and Blackpool Carnival to attract the crowds, including a ‘Naval Attack on Blackpool’. This huge event drew crowds of 100,000 spectators.
Another spectacular carnival and procession was held in 1923 and a modern Blackpool Carnival made a come back in 2017.
Beginning of the Tramway
By now, huge numbers of working class people were coming to Blackpool, rather than the previous small numbers of visiting gentry.
Once again the transport infrastructure had to be improved to cope with demand. 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 still in operation today.
Opera House, Tower, South Pier, Grand Theatre and Pleasure Beach
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.
In 1894 The Blackpool Tower opened. On the 1910 Godfrey Edition map (see below) map you can read about the trials and tribulations of the financing of Blackpool Tower. It’s hard to imagine the place without it now. It was built thanks to the intervention of John Bickerstaffe, after whom the new council buildings are named.
In 1893 Victoria Pier, now called South Pier opened. There’s more about the history of Blackpool South Pier here.
The year after, in 1894, the beautiful Grand Theatre opened in Church Street. Read about the history of Blackpool Grand Theatre here
Promenades and The Pleasure Beach
A number of other venues opened in following years. In 1899 the three tier promenade was completed between Carleton Terrace and the Gynn.
The promenade and sea defences along the whole of the Fylde Coast have been constructed in sections, often after flooding or erosion.
North shore promenade and colonnades stood well as a testament to Victorian Engineering. Central promenade was 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.
One of the first rides was Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine built in 1904. It’s still there and operating today, including alterations made over the years.
The Advent of the Blackpool Illuminations
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 saw the first illuminated tram travel on the seafront. In 1912 the first static illuminations were erected – known as ‘artificial sunshine’ – to welcome Princess Louise. There were breaks in the display for the two World Wars but they’ve shone every other year since.
Find out more about the history of the Blackpool Illuminations here
By now Blackpool is established as a major seaside destination. Have a look at this next clip from the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection of Blackpool in 1904 –
Blackpool in the later 1900’s and Today
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 have taken place at the Pleasure Beach. New sea defences and promenades line the seafront. Our Blackpool tramway is completely upgraded. Plus many more changes and improvements all over town.
Find out More about the History of Blackpool and Growth of the Town
Have a look through the other pages in this ‘History‘ section.
Join Blackpool’s Past – the Original Facebook Group
Read Nick Moores history of Blackpool. It’s the most comprehensive guide of EVERYTHING to do with the history of Blackpool.
Blackpool in Old Maps
As with most places its streets, buildings and landmarks in Blackpool have changed with population growth over the years. With the help of an original Ordnance Survey map from 1910 you can see just how this has happened.
Godfrey Edition maps from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are fascinating to look at and compare to what you know of the area today.
On the reverse of each map is a fairly thorough overview of the history of the area, which makes it doubly interesting. As an added bonus, the Blackpool maps also include a list of who lived where, cross referenced by street and house number (below), which makes fascinating reading.
The North Pier and Town Centre Map of 1910 tells us that by the mid 1700’s people were visiting the town, but the growth of Blackpool was a little behind Brighton, Southport and Scarborough. By the time of this 1910 map, visitor numbers were approaching 4 million a year.
Blackpool landladies get a mention of course, all 3,457 of them at the date of the 1911 census. Seasonality of life in the resort also features then as it does now. 15.6% of the population needed help from the Chief Constable’s Relief Fund in the winter of 1909-10.
While you’re here…
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