If you’re interested in the area and it’s past you’ll probably know something about tunnels, subways & underground Blackpool… Tunnels are said to connect various buildings – whether they did or not is the mystery! But you might actually remember some of the underground toilets and subways.
We’d had presence of mind to ask Blackpool Council to take some photos of Chapel Street subway before filling it in. That subway is the location which began this page. It’s a popular subject – each time we add something new more people get in touch to add extra information. We’ll keep coming back and adding more underground locations to this page.
The Official Line on Blackpool’s Tunnels…
Back in 2015 Blackpool Council received a Freedom of Information Request, asking about their knowledge of underground structures. They confirmed they’re aware of six existing, what they called ‘subterranean features’ –
- The abandoned subway and toilets at Central Pier/Chapel Street. Filled in during early 2021.
- An old seawater intake underneath the Best Western Carlton Hotel.
- Another seawater intake to the Sea Life Centre.
- The former Derby Baths also has a sea water intake, at Warley Road/Promenade.
- An old, abandoned air raid shelter near the Comedy Carpet.
- Another abandoned air raid shelter under the cliffs at Red Bank Road
- There was a tunnel between Blackpool Tower and the former Alhambra – which is where Poundland now is on the promenade. Now demolished, a few feet of it are still visible in the Tower basement.
Subway Toilets at Station Road
On Blackpool Promenade at South Pier there’s a set of traffic lights, controlling a T junction with Station Road. Not many yards along Station Road, at the right hand side, there’s a small fenced feature. It’s inconspicuous and something you’ll have passed without noticing.
It’s also marks what was once the entrance to yet another of Blackpool’s underground subway toilets. Mike got in touch with us at Visit Fylde Coast, having accessed this forgotten world. He tells us “there aren’t any outside links and sadly have been vandalised. The beautiful ornate urinals and tiled floor is still visible though, photos attached.”
Mike adds “Waterloo road underground toilets, Manchester Square and Talbot Road have all definitely gone.”
Tunnel between The Tower and the Winter Gardens
Published 15 January 2021
Our friend and photographer Mel Jones was in touch, with some very interesting information…
Mel initially left a comment on this very article, saying “I was an extra many years ago in the Rudolph Valentino film. They took us through the tunnels from the Tower Circus to the Winter Gardens in top hat and tails.”
Not many minutes later I was talking to Mel on the phone, where he explained in more detail…
He thought it was about 1975-ish when he was about 15 years old. Apparently he was an extra in the Rudolph Valentino film, part of which was filmed in the Tower. About 200 people were dressed in costume, including tail coats. Here’s the clip from the boxing match – which you can clearly see is the Tower Circus ring –
Obviously the producers didn’t want them traipsing through the streets of Blackpool in full costume. Instead, when lunchtime arrived, they all trooped through this tunnel to the Winter Gardens. There they were fed with their lunch, before returning the same way to the Tower.
Mel remembers it clearly. As he says, there were about 200 people so someone else must remember it too. He added “if my memory serves me right, the entrance was under the Circus stalls – and was bricked up many years ago.”
John Knights also got in touch with his recollections of the filming. John says: “I remember the filming, as some scenes were also shot at the now demolished Illawalla in Thornton, near where I lived as a child. Apparently a ballroom scene.”
Was there a Tunnel between these buildings?
Interested in the subject of tunnels under Blackpool? You’ll know that a passageway between these two buildings is much discussed.
You’ll know that we often call on the epic work of local historian Nick Moore for our interesting information. Nick’s History of Blackpool tells us:
“The tunnel between the Palace and the Tower (we’ll come back to that another day!) is the only proven tunnel in Blackpool designed for people to move through.
“Former worker Harry Luby described maintenance tunnels between the Winter Gardens and the Tower “these tunnels were nine foot wide and six foot tall and that the route from the Tower to Tower Street was more straightforward than the route from Tower Street to the Winter Gardens, which may have had to contend with sewage and water pipes and a steep incline. There were actually two tunnels, so that you could not go directly from the Tower to the Winter Gardens. The tunnels were on two different levels.”
Nick’s History also adds: “There are many other underground maintenance passages, drainage channels, culverts, storage passages and disused subways etc, which give rise to regular tunnel myths.”
Now we don’t know what you think but this sounds like there was an underground connection between the Tower and Winter Gardens!
Another Historians Opinion…
Fleetwood historian Richard Gillingham is another friend of ours. We also asked him for his opinion and this is what he said:
“The reputable Blackpool historians currently active – Ted Lightbown, Robert Leach and David Wall – have all stated that the tunnel between Winter Gardens and the Tower does not exist. All of them have thoroughly investigated the claim of its existence. The two complexes were operated by rival companies. All however agree about the existence of the short service tunnel between the Tower building and the former Palace building next door on the Prom – under Lower Victoria Street.”
Dick also made another good observation about the Winter Gardens – Tower Tunnel. He says “Will the old Tower Co depot on Tower Street be unearthed when the open air car park is excavated for the new Imax Cinema?. Hopefully some evidence of the tunnels might be found.”
And what about Rudolph Valentino?
The next obvious thing to find out is whether film scenes were actually shot at the Tower. Sure enough, Wikipedia fills in that gap for us.
Mel wasn’t far off with the year either. He said filming took place in 1975-ish. The film came out in 1977.
Valentino was an American biographical film co-written and directed by Ken Russell and starring Rudolf Nureyev, Leslie Caron, Michelle Phillips, and Carol Kane. Loosely based on the life of silent film actor Rudolph Valentino, as recounted in the book Valentino, an Intimate Exposé of the Sheik, written by Chaw Mank and Brad Steiger.
Russell originally intended to shoot the film in Los Angeles. With 80% of the film shot indoors, he chose instead to film in the UK to keep costs down. 21 weeks of photography began on 8 August 1976 in Almeria in Spain. The second half of the shoot was at Elstree Studios here in the UK. The Spanish locations served as stand-ins for California and The Blackpool Tower ballroom was indeed used as a shooting location.
Final word goes to Blackpool Council. They say “We’re aware of rumours surrounding the existence of a tunnel between the Tower and the Winter Gardens. There is no evidence of such a tunnel ever existing, and nothing in the planning archives.”
More Tower/Winter Gardens Tunnel Recollections
Michael left a comment, saying “Back in the early 1970’s I delivered goods to the Tower. The Manager I had to see was up at the Winter Gardens. They took me downstairs near the feet of the Tower through a door along the tunnel. Dim lit lights and damp I remember, and it came up near the main doors at the top of Victoria Street (inside). And then went back down again. It wasn’t straight, but a curved tunnel, made with brick and a flagged floor. Remember it as if it was only yesterday..“
Filling in part of Underground Blackpool
Published 5 January 2021
One of these abandoned subways, at the Chapel Street junction of the promenade, has been filled in.
We managed to get you some photos of it before work began, thanks to Blackpool Council. Abandoned many years ago, the subway was in a poor condition and dilapidated state. Repair and ongoing maintenance would have been at a significant cost.
So the subway was decommissioned by infilling with light weight foam concrete. This eliminates any ongoing maintenance costs for the council and increases the safety of the roads by increasing the loading capacity of Chapel Street and the Promenade to 40/44 tonnes for future users.
The council was successful in securing funding of £900,000 from the Department of Transport’s Challenge Fund. The grant covers the full budget of these works.
To enable the work to be carried out, a section of the Promenade was reduced to single lane traffic. The lane closure began on Monday 11 January 2021.
Roger got in touch shortly after our article was published, saying “I’ve just been reading your excellent item on the tunnels at Chapel Street. Pity they’re filling them in. I think old, unused underground places are interesting. I can’t remember using them as a child, though (I’m 65).
“I’ve been on Google Street view, and realised there was a ventilator box near the manhole covers, presumably for the subway. I’ve also noticed that the toilets seemed were called ‘Undercroft’.”
Scrutiny of Utilities
Back in the day, all the big political conferences were held in Blackpool. Do you remember seeing all the utilities taped shut with security tags? Manhole covers, litter bins and voids of any kind were inspected prior to the event, before being sealed.
Another reader got in touch to make a very good point. That after the Brighton Bombing in 1984’s political conference, there were intense security examinations of all the tunnels and labyrinths of the Winter Gardens for Maggie Thatcher’s 1985 conference at Blackpool. Safety checks were carried out on tunnels and passageways under the town. Even sewer accesses around the building were locked down throughout the conference. Pity we can’t get access to those old records!
More about Underground Blackpool…
We’ll come back to the other subways and tunnels another day.
But a few years ago we explored another underground world, also now filled in. Do you remember there being a boat store at Little Bispham? Built originally as an underground car park it was filled in as part of recent sea wall works. We did manage to get you a good look inside the underground boat store though, before the diggers moved in.
Do you know anything to add to these mysteries? Leave a comment below.
If you have any photos then please email them across to us. Just send them to jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk. Full credit will be given.
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