Blackpool North Pier opened on 21 May 1863 and it’s a well-loved landmark that we all know and enjoy. Tread the boards and take a look back at its past – both hundreds of years ago and much more recently.
Join us for a walk around, filmed in June 2022 –
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Take a look back into the history of Blackpool North Pier. With thanks to Juliette W Gregson for information for this article – she’s a resort-based heritage photographer and social historian. Juliette also runs the successful Facebook group – Blackpool’s Past! It celebrates local history and heritage.
Juliette wrote and published a book about Blackpool North Pier. Here’s a taster of the history and heritage of this favourite place…
Juliette’s History of Blackpool North Pier
North Pier is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Blackpool. The endearing Victorian structure attracts visitors and residents alike.
It’s as much a vital element of Blackpool as the famous trams and Blackpool Tower. The North Pier, like my family and society itself, has changed immensely. But it’s unique qualities of being a quieter more reflective place, compared to Blackpool’s other two piers, have always endured. On 21st May 2013 the grand Pier celebrated its 150th year.
In the beginning…
Blackpool had very much profited from the expanding railway network in the mid 1800’s. Built opposite the Talbot Hotel, the new Blackpool Railway Station of 1846 only had two lines originally. It wasn’t long before the Victorians added extra excursion platforms.
Did you know? Those Victorian builders dumped the excavated spoil from the station foundations at the seafront. This would later become the foundation for North Pier.
In 1861 a group of the town most prominent movers and shakers had gathered in the Clifton Arms Hotel to discuss the idea of building a Pier. There the most ‘in vogue’ Victorians could exercise in the pastime of promenading in the open air. They suggested the new pier because one had opened at nearby Southport!
Eugenius Birch was the eminent architect of the day and designed a total of fourteen seaside piers in total. North Pier was his second one, now the oldest remaining example of his work that’s still in use.
Captain Francis Preston, of the Manchester Artillery Rifle Volunteers, formally inaugurated the new venture. He drove the first screw pile into the ground at 5pm on 27 June 1862 by the Clifton Arms Hotel, just to the south of the spoil pile.
Opening of the Pier
Blackpool Pier was the original name for what we know as North Pier. It officially opened on 21 May 1863.
An announcement by the specially recalled Town Crier marked the event, along with a rendition of the specially written ‘Blackpool Pier Polka’.
Straight afterwards, the first Blackpool Regatta took place. There were yacht races, a Bay Boat race, two gig races, a Bay Boat rowing race and a sculling match.
Many dignitaries attended included the voluntary artillery, deputations of Freemasons and odd-fellows plus the trades of Blackpool. The ancient order of druids attended, with two high priests in full costume and a bard mounted on a ass! Bathing vans, hackney carriages and of course a chimney sweep were there.
At the time there was a fashion for making medallions to commemorate occasions. The opening of the Pier in 1863 was no exception, with the front showing the new Pier itself. On the reverse was written ‘The first pile was screwed June 21st 1862, opened to the public May 21st 1863. Length 1350 feet, breadth 21 feet.’ At 31mm diameter this medal was made in white metal.
Other celebration medallions –
- One for The Blackpool Tower, marked the laying of the foundation stone on September 25th, 1891.
- Another for Blackpool Winter Gardens of July 1878.
- In 1896 for the erection of the Blackpool Big Wheel, and subsequent 1926 dismantling.
- And in 1911 a medallion celebrated the coronation of King George V and his consort, Queen Mary.
Blackpool always had the edge in souvenirs. Copper was salvaged from Nelson’s Flagship ‘HMS Foudroyant‘ and used for medals. It had famously wrecked in 1897, off the coast of Blackpool.
It’s said that 20,000 people descended on Blackpool to join in with the jubilant opening festivities for the pier. Major Francis Preston used his cannon for the official opening. Talbot Square and the surrounding area was strewn with banners, flags and bunting. A band played the specially composed tune of ‘The Blackpool Pier Polka’.
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Innovative Engineering in the History of Blackpool North Pier
Eugenius Birch designed Blackpool North Pier but it was R.Laidlow and Son who built it, between 1862 and ’63.
Eugenius Birch was most acclaimed for his seaside pier constructions. During his life he was responsible for no fewer than 14 of them, including some of the best known ones. They include Brighton West and of course Blackpool North Pier.
Most piers of the era were made in cast iron. Birch thought that if wrought iron was to be used it would take a lot of repairing if the pier were to be damaged.
North Pier is made with cast iron screw piles and columns. In turn they support iron girders and a wooden deck.
All of these girders, cross bars and buildings are immensely popular with the local starling population. Throughout the colder months they flock in huge numbers called murmurations, to roost in these safe spaces.
Some notable events in the History of Blackpool North Pier
- A landing jetty was added in 1866 and extended in 1869, giving the pier a total length of 1410 feet. By extending it into deeper water, more steamers could tie up.
- In around 1874, the pier-head was enlarged with wings and the Indian Pavilion and bandstand were built.
- The ‘Foudroyant’, Nelson’s former flagship, was moored off the pier for an exhibition in 1897. However, a severe storm battered it against the pier and left it as a wreck.
- Shops and an arcade were added to the shore-ward end of the pier in 1903.
- The Indian Pavilion was destroyed by fire In 1921. It was replaced but this building was also later burnt down.
- Fire destroyed North Pier Theatre in 1938 – see the next video clip!
- In 1939, a 1500-seat theatre was built and the bandstand became a sun lounge. Take a look at this video of the construction, made from photos –
- In the 1980s the entrance was rebuilt in Victorian style at a cost of £350,000
- The carousel and pier tramway were added in 1991.
- The pier suffered storm damage in 1997, severing the jetty from the main structure.
Grade II History
North Pier is the oldest and best preserved of Blackpool’s piers. Now Grade II listed, it retains much of the original structure and several original features.
The first of the towns three piers, Central Pier and then South Pier soon followed.
Wooden benches line each side of the promenade deck, with ornamental open-work backs of cast-iron.
Two pairs of original kiosk bays jutt out along the pier. The ‘kiosks circa 1900’ are made of glass and wood with a two tier lead roof. Each was topped off with an octagonal lantern of blue glass, plus a minaret roof with a finial.
And a home to Sooty!
The original Sooty glove puppet is on display in the ticket office. Find him in the first kiosk as you enter the pier at the left.
Surviving the Weather
Here on the coast of a seaside town we’re prone to violent gales and storms of epic proportions, all created by the Irish Sea.
Look back through the history of Blackpool and you’ll see that land, houses and cattle have all been engulfed over the years, by the barbaric weather. The next video is an average rough sea – it gets MUCH worse than this!
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In December 2013, current owners Sue & Peter Sedgwick, had to contend with one of the worst storms to hit the resort in the last few years. The couple have invested much to renovate the iconic structure back to its former glory. Peter promised his wife that one day that he would buy the Pier for her and in 2011 this came true. They aim to bring back North Pier to its former Victorian look and realise that owning a Grade 2 listed building has many different issues to wrestle with.
Blackpool North Pier Today
Still open daily during the season, Blackpool North Pier is still a well loved Blackpool feature.
It’s now a taste of bygone days mixed with modern life. You can still stroll along the decking, taking in the views and sit down on one of the original wrought iron benches which still line the outside edge of the deck.
And for free, traditional seaside entertainment, enjoy the sounds of the seaside organist in the Sunset Lounge at the seaward end of the Pier. North Pier Theatre still hosts pantomimes, variety shows and music, plus live entertainment in the Merrie England Bar.
Why don’t you explore the sands underneath the pier? It’s a bit of a different world down there – quiet and cool and of course damp until the tide next comes in.
The legs of the pier are crusted in barnacles and the sea scours small pools at their feet. Look carefully and you’ll probably see shrimps and small fish, waiting for the sea to come back and claim them. It’s quite a photogenic place under the pier – well loved by photographers!
Find out More
Buy ‘The North Pier Blackpool’ by Juliette Gregson
MANY THANKS also to Nick Moore and his fascinating History of Blackpool for some of the historical information used in this article.
New Name for North Pier Theatre
North Pier Theatre is now named the Joe Longthorne Theatre. In memory of the entertainer who sadly died in August 2019.
The Hull-born performer played his first summer season at the pier in 1987. He went on to do more than 20 seasons in the 1,400-seat theatre on the Grade II listed pier, which he described as his all-time favourite venue.
The pier owners and his husband, Jamie Moran, had long been in discussion about the tribute. A gala evening was planned for 30 May 2020 to mark the change of name to The Joe Longthorne MBE Theatre. That would have been the entertainer’s 65th birthday. However, it wasn’t to be as all public events were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
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4 thoughts on “Then and Now – History of Blackpool North Pier”
Spent most of me younger years fishing the jetty,happy memories..
my father,winston yearsley, was peer master on the north peer in the 1970 s, are there any records of this? I can still remember him in a naval style uniform.
No mention of the big refurbishment n 1966. Worked on the pier for nearly 6 months. The Victorian kiosks went that year. It had thousands of visitors that summer with lovely weather.
Can you please advise Baxters chocolates and confectionary was this shop on the north pier and from what years was the shop open to and from Thankyou