It opened on 21 May 1863 and is a well-loved landmark that we all know – take a look back into the history of Blackpool North Pier.
Thanks go to Juliette W Gregson for this article. Juliette is a resort-based specialist heritage photographer and social historian. She 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 always retained its unique qualities of being a quieter more reflective place, compared to Blackpool’s other two piers. 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. In 1846 Blackpool Railway Station was built on land opposite the Talbot Hotel. In the beginning it only had two lines, extra excursion platforms were soon built, opening at the top of Queen Street. While the station was being built, the spoil from the excavations was dumped on the seashore – this would later be 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.
Opening of the Pier
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.
A medallion was made to commemorate the opening of the Pier in 1863, showing the new Pier itself. On the reverse are the words: ‘The first pile was screwed June 21st 1862, opened to the public May 21st 1863. Length 1350 feet, breadth 21 feet.’ The 31mm diameter medal was made of white metal.
Many medallions were made to celebrate other major events or buildings:
- One was made for The Blackpool Tower, stating that a foundation stone was laid 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.
- Also in 1911 a medallion was made for the coronation of King George V and his consort Queen Mary.
Blackpool also had the edge in souvenirs, as medals were made from copper salvaged from Nelson’s Flagship ‘HMS Foudroyant’ in 1897. More on the story of the shipwreck later.
It was said that over 20,000 people descended on the town to join in the jubilant festivities when the Pier opened. 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’.
Innovative Engineering in the History of Blackpool North Pier
Blackpool North Pier was built between 1862 and 1863 by R.Laidlow and Son to the designs of Eugenius Birch.
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 such as Brighton West and of course Blackpool North Pier.
Most piers of the era were made using 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 was constructed with cast iron screw piles and columns, in turn supporting iron girders and a wooden deck.
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.
- 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, composed 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. It retains much of the original structure and several original features. It’s Grade II listed.
The promenade deck is lined by wooden benches on each side, with ornamental open-work backs of cast-iron.
Two pairs of original kiosk bays jutt out along the pier. The elongated hexagons are named ‘kiosks circa 1900’. They’re made of glass and wood with a two tier lead roof topped off with an octagonal lantern of blue glass and 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, created by the Irish Sea.
Looking at the history of Blackpool, land, houses and cattle have all been engulfed through the ages by the barbaric nature of the weather.
In December 2013 the 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 contend 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
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