Showtown - Blackpool Museum - opens 15 March 2024

Showtown – Blackpool Museum of Entertainment

Roll-up, roll-up to Showtown – Blackpool Museum of fun and entertainment! Open as of 15 March 2024 – filled with artefacts, film, music and performance, it’s immersive, participatory and inclusive. Both museum and visitor attraction, it’s memorable and distinctive – just like the lively spirit of Blackpool! Explore more than 800 objects from Blackpool’s internationally significant and extensive collections. Plus those on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum and other private partners.

Showtown will make you laugh, dance, discover, learn and more importantly have fun! Celebrate:

  • Blackpool as the UK’s most popular seaside destination
  • its role in the development of British popular culture
  • and it will be the first permanent display in a UK public museum relating to circus, magic, variety and ballroom dance.

Find Showtown at: the black seafront Sands building, opposite Poundland. Bank Hey Street, Blackpool, FY1 4TQ
Open daily from 10am.

Showtown – Blackpool Museum full of Fun and Entertainment!

We were in danger of losing the wonderful memories from the older generation. Memories from people who’ve lived and holidayed in Blackpool over the years. The town’s played an unrivalled role in the development of British popular entertainment over the past 150 years.

Blackpool’s heritage is about people and their stories – the extraordinary and rarely told stories of Britain’s largest seaside resort. It’s this delightful, rich, community memory which brings our heritage so vividly alive. These stories are at the heart of the museum project, saved for future generations.

Telling our story

This project tells ‘The Blackpool Story’. A local heritage focus for Blackpool people, reconnecting them with their own history. It’s also be a major visitor attraction. Showtown – Blackpool Museum – is also a high quality, professional, self-sustaining business. It will have the capacity to reinvest resources to support heritage-based learning and community programmes.

We were at the press preview, prior to opening. Take a look around inside…

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No conventional ‘museum’

But this will be no conventional museum – it’s a dynamic and celebratory space. A blend of museum and visitor attraction, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance. Blackpool Museum is immersive, participatory and inclusive. It will have a strong personality with a memorable and distinctive take, true to the lively spirit of Blackpool.

Bang in the middle of Blackpool, the museum of fun and entertainment is an immersive experience that captures the spirit of this amazing town.  Showtown will make you laugh, dance, discover, learn and more importantly have fun!

Full of star quality, get up close with the entertainers who put Blackpool on the map – the comedians, dancers, acrobats, performers, and larger-than life characters who turned a seaside resort into the home of show business.

What’s inside Showtown?

Divided into six gallery spaces over 1000 sq m, Showtown explores the elements that make Blackpool so special: Seaside, Magic, Circus, Illuminations, Shows and Dance. The museum is full of fun, taking you behind the scenes and offering the opportunity to have a go. It’s a museum not just to be seen, but to be experienced close up.

There’s interactive games, audio visual prompts, music and laughter, encouraging you to play, explore and learn more about Blackpool and its people. Each gallery is a mixture of objects, including original costumes, props, puppets, posters, programmes, disco booths and dance floors. Hear the words of entertainers (real and imagined) through the museum’s audio-visual displays, giving behind the scenes hints, tips and gossip. Their tales offer a glimpse behind the curtain into the world of show business. A radio and TV script writer has given each exhibition space its own voice, bringing to life the stories featured throughout the museum.

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW 

Blackpool is the spiritual home of ballroom dancing and this story started with the working-class holidaymakers for whom the spectacular Victorian ballrooms were built. It was thanks to these venues that the town led the way in the development of ballroom into a professional sport and became the setting for the world-famous Blackpool Dance Festival competition. The museum’s Dance section explores and features the spectacular dresses from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Visitors with a deeper interest in dancewear can follow the journey of these costumes at the ‘Dressmaker’s Table’ with Vicky Gill, who designs dresses for Strictly and for professional ballroom dancers. No story of the Blackpool dance scene would be complete without featuring the importance of the town to the Big Bands and to Northern Soul.

HOW’S TRICKS

TV magician Paul Zenon, one of the many magicians inspired by Blackpool, displays props

and mementoes from his career and talks about his Blackpool story. Magician and magic curator Roy Davenport also reveals some of the secrets and presents some of the key tricks that are part of the ‘Evolution of Magic’. Also featured is Romany Romany, the Diva of Magic and of course, Sooty and Sweep. Significant objects from the Tommy Cooper Collection at the V&A and the British Magic Museum are presented in Blackpool for the very first time. 

SHOWS

This Lancashire seaside town has played host to the biggest stars in entertainment so the museum will look behind the scenes at the process of performing in the town. A stunning Danny La Rue costume is presented in the ‘Variety Wardrobe’ capturing the long tradition of the music hall and variety. A suit worn by comic double act Morecambe and Wise from the V&A feature in the ‘Comedy Wardrobe’ alongside pieces worn by Jane McDonald, Gracie Fields, Linda Nolan and Peter Kay 

BESIDE THE SEASIDE

Visitors to this space can see and hear what visitors got up to in Blackpool almost 80 years apart through two interactive viewfinders. One will show the black and white photographs captured by Mass Observer Humphrey Spender in 1937 whilst the other will show the colourful contemporary works of photographer JJ Waller whose photographs were directly inspired by the Mass Observation material. In the ‘Punch and Judy Booth’, a conversation can be heard between Blackpool’s last Punch and Judy Professor Joe Green and his grandfather John describing their long family tradition of performing Punch and Judy in Blackpool. Giant digital panorama uses images and stories from Blackpool through the years to tell the history of the seaside that allow visitors to appear on the screen.

ROLL UP! ROLL UP!

Posters from Blackpool Heritage collections advertising acts from the 1890s through to today set the scene: Blackpool has been and continues to be an international centre for circus with the Blackpool Tower Circus entertaining audiences from 1894 until the present day. A display case full of props and gags used by the legendary clown Charlie Cairoli are on display alongside never before seen costumes on loan again from the V&A including the clown costume worn by James Stewart in the 1952 film, The Greatest Show on Earth.

ILLUMINATIONS 

Blackpool’s pioneering use of electricity eventually led to the creation of more elaborate illuminated displays along the promenade in the 1920s. This gallery explores the story of the world-famous Blackpool Illuminations and offer visitors an insight into the design and manufacture of the lights. Part of the experience is a screen featuring a changing view of the wonderful hand-painted, single-point perspective illustrations of ‘road section’ illuminations design. As one drawing merges into the next on the screen, visitors feel as if they are travelling down the promenade through the Illuminations surrounded by a group of past and present designers and managers of the Illuminations as they discuss their designs. A stunning display of posters advertising the Illuminations through the years and the opening spectacle of Blackpool’s Illuminations being turned on by the stars, a tradition started in 1934 is displayed with the original Art Deco Switch On switch.

Where is Showtown and How much is it?

Find Showtown in the landmark and historic Palatine Building on the Golden Mile, next door but one to The Tower. The address is Bank Hey Street, Blackpool FY1 4TQ. For booking and general queries call 0808 175 6929

  • Tickets are £15 for adults and £11.50 for children. Valid for a whole year meaning that visitors can return as many times as they like!
  • If you are a Blackpool resident and pay your council tax to Blackpool Council, you are eligible for FREE entry too…. Now that’s the way to do it!!
  • Discounted tickets are also available for students and seniors, with free entry for carers.

Book your tickets now at showtownblackpool.co.uk  or call 0808 175 6929 for more info on group bookings and please mention you saw it on Visit Fylde Coast!

Sands Venue - October 2020 with a completed exterior
Sands Venue – October 2020 with a completed exterior

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How the Blackpool Museum project unfolded…

We’ve been following the progress of this exciting new attraction from the outset. When it’s opens, you’ll visit without a thought to the twists and turns which went into its completion. That in itself is an interesting story, another part of the social history of the town!

Take a look through our own small archive of how the project began, developed and unfolded. It’s been on the cards for over 10 years and is an interesting story in itself!

2014: Development of the Blackpool Museum Project begins

In May 2014, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Blackpool Council announced a £1.6m pot of money. The fund would begin developing the look of a Blackpool Museum. A group of eight dedicated staff then spoke to over 2,500 people in Blackpool and across the country. This fact-finding was used to develop the museum and explore what it could include.

2015: Blackpool Museum Project is Born!

Blackpool Museum Project was set up in 2015 to develop plans for a brand new museum and visitor attraction. It was originally to be based inside the Horseshoe Pavilion in the Winter Gardens. Here’s an artists concept of how the curved space might have looked –

Buttress Architects impression of how the Museum might have looked in the Horseshoe Pavilion
Buttress Architects impression of how the Museum might have looked in the Horseshoe Pavilion

Plans Evolve to Celebrate Blackpool’s Entertainment Heritage

The museum will celebrate Blackpool’s pivotal role in shaping popular entertainment in Britain over the last 150 years. Venues and shows are obviously central to this story but it was the performers who were the real stars. Their stories and experiences are vital to create a display reflecting the rich diversity of talent that made Blackpool the northern home of variety. The Museum is looking to build on Blackpool’s existing heritage collections. It will collect costumes, props, and other items to display in the Museum. It’s also creating a digital story collection of short films produced with entertainers telling an aspect of their life story.

No Ordinary Museum

The museum will display the council’s own nationally-significant collections in an imaginative, immersive way. There’ll also be quality space for temporary exhibitions, co-created with communities, the V&A and others. Not a conventional museum, it’s a dynamic and celebratory space. A blend of a museum, visitor attraction and theatre, filled with artefacts, film, music and performance. It draws together nationally significant historic collections – immersive, participatory and inclusive. With a strong personality and a memorable and distinctive take, true to the lively spirit of Blackpool.

2016: Funding to Preserve Blackpool Tower Circus Collection

In December 2016, Blackpool Council was awarded £97,000 from The Collections Fund – delivered by the Museums Association. The money was granted to help preserve the Blackpool Tower Circus Collection and make it available to the public. The two-and-a-half-year project was called Marvels and Mayhem, contributing to the proposed displays in the Blackpool Museum. The project supported the recruitment of volunteers to help create a catalogue and preserve the collection. Plus providing engagement opportunities with the local community.

Charlie Cairoli Jr - preserving the Tower Circus Collection
Charlie Cairoli Jr – preserving the Tower Circus Collection featuring his dad – the legendary Charlie Cairoli

Aims of the Collections Fund

The aim of the Collections Fund is to develop collections and use them to achieve positive social impact. Launched in 2011, the Collection Fund offered a total of £3.5m in grants between 2017 and 2019. The award for the project in Blackpool is the twelfth round of awards the fund has made so far and is the largest grant awarded this round.

The final aim of the project is to add to the knowledge of the collection. Members of the local and regional circus community will be invited to the collection to share their stories. Their experiences and expertise will add to the understanding of the collection and the history of Circus.

2017 part 1: Second round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund

In March 2017 the second round application went in to the Heritage Lottery Fund. It included the final plans and costings for the delivery of the Museum in the Horseshoe Pavilion at the Winter Gardens.

Proposed Adelaide Street entrance to Blackpool Museum, artists impression
Proposed Adelaide Street entrance to Blackpool Museum, artists impression

It will create 40 full-time equivalent jobs, plus a range of volunteering and training opportunities. It’s expected that 210,000 visitors will be attracted each year. Including 22,000 new staying visitors, the economic benefit will be around £12.3m to the region. Had this bid been successful it would have enabled the repair, restoration and reuse of the Grade II* listed Pavilion Theatre and Horseshoe (below). While the bid is being decided, the Museum team continued with preparation for delivery of the Museum. Also working to secure further funding, develop partnerships and collect stories.

The Horseshoe at Blackpool Winter Gardens, the Pavilion Theatre is behind the right hand wall
The Horseshoe at Blackpool Winter Gardens, the Pavilion Theatre is behind the right hand wall

2017 part 2: Changes to Plan A for Blackpool Museum

Statement released by Blackpool Council on 18 July 2017 “It is with regret that Blackpool Council has decided that it is unable to proceed with the Blackpool Museum Project in its current form. Unfortunately the scale of the matched funding target is too great at a time when the Council is under severe financial pressure.

“Despite this decision, the Council still has the ambition to build on the excellent work done to date. Although the ambition remains to build a museum in Blackpool, it’s likely to be over a different scope and time frame than originally envisaged.”

Changing plans

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £1.24m in 2014 to explore the feasibility of running a full scale museum. However, large costs to develop the Grade II* listed building would result in an £8m gap in the amount of capital funding available. So the Council decided not to proceed with a £26m museum. Instead, plans for a different museum elsewhere in the town were to be explored. The good work already done was utilised, with a view to submitting new funding bids in future years. The town will still feel the economic benefits from hosting its first museum.

2017 part 3: Developing Plan B for Blackpool Museum

Original plans to site the Blackpool Museum in the Horseshoe Pavilion were now shelved. So in August 2017, behind the scenes, the team began to develop and cost a range of new site options for the museum. At the same time they were approached to be part of a new Promenade development.

After considering the options in detail, the Project Board chose the Palatine Building as the preferred site. The Palatine Building is a landmark building on the promenade between the Tower and Coral Island, home to the Sands Venue and Wild West Diner. Coolsilk Property and Investment Limited is developing it into a 5* hotel and leisure complex. With the entrance on Bank Hey Street, the museum will occupy the first floor of the building.

2018: Progress on Blackpool Museum at the end of 2018

The project team had been hard at work, refining what Blackpool Museum will look and feel like. From your first welcome and accessibility of the venue, to activities and events. Entertainers and people in the industry are helping with insight into what makes this amazing town tick. Star objects are being found and fascinating facts are being researched. Blackpool Museum will show you the inner-workings of this incredible show town, through the voices and memories of people who live, work and visit Blackpool.

With the market researched the business planning began and the funding target was half-way met. 2019 was the year when bids were submitted to cover the rest of the cost.

Preview of Blackpool Museum Exhibits

  • Beside the Seaside explores the beach as Blackpool’s first stage and reflect Britain’s love of the seaside.
  • How’s Tricks? delves into the spectacle of Blackpool’s Golden Mile sideshows from the 1890’s onwards and Blackpool’s important role in the development of magic.
  • Roll Up! Roll Up! will reveal the world-class creativity, skill and dare-devilry behind Blackpool’s circus heritage stretching back to the 1850’s
  • It’s Better with the Lights On will shine a light on one of the world’s greatest light attractions, the Illuminations.
  • Showtime puts Blackpool centre stage as the home of popular live entertainment. It will present a phenomenal range of live acts including comedy, magic and ventriloquism.
  • Everybody Dance Now celebrates Blackpool as the spiritual home of ballroom dancing from the Blackpool Dance Festival to BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing.

2019 part 1: Launch of Blackpool Museum, welcome to Showtown!

On the afternoon of Monday 9 January 2019, Visit Fylde Coast went along to the big Showtown! reveal. We joined hundreds of other excited people at The Blackpool Tower Circus. The afternoon was the big reveal of the name and branding, and more about the launch of this exciting new attraction.

Here’s a short video from the afternoon (made in the days before VFC was vlogging!) –

Fun, accessible and fully-immersive

Along with invited guests we heard about the £13m museum’s vibrant new name ‘SHOWTOWN’. It’s the colourful, bold and playful brand which reflects the spirit and aim of the attraction. It celebrates Blackpool’s internationally significant story as the UK’s most popular seaside destination. And its role in the development of British popular culture.

Located in the ‘Sands Venue Resort Hotel’ and open year-round, the museum will be fun, accessible and fully-immersive, filled with objects, film, music and performance. Mixing the best of museums and visitor attractions, it’s your chance to look behind the scenes at what makes Blackpool special. Showtown will be divided into six themes; seaside, magic, shows, circus, illuminations and dance.

Take a look at the official video introducing Showtown –

2019 part 2: Stan Laurel’s Bowler Hat!

On 24 June 2019, Blackpool Council secured £4 Million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the Museum Project. It’s the final piece in a £13 Million funding jigsaw that will see the project become a reality. By now, the Museum Project had already secured more than £7 million external funding.

Stan Laurel Bowler Hat Photo Lorne Campbell Guzelian, Blackpool Museum Project
Pictured above: Kerry Vasiliou, Learning and Engagement Manager at the Blackpool Museum Project with Stan Laurel bowler hat signed to Cyril Critchlow in 1947, Blackpool Council Heritage Collection © Blackpool Council. Photo: Lorne Campbell Guzelian

The year-round visitor attraction will be a fully-immersive, family-friendly experience. Filled with memorabilia, film, music and live performance, it’s an opportunity to look behind the scenes at what it took to make Blackpool special. In partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) London, and private owners, it will display, collect, research and celebrate collections related to popular entertainment.

2020: Funding Secured for Blackpool Museum

In January 2020 Blackpool Council secured £75,000 from the Wolfson Foundation for Showtown, the town’s first museum. The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity. It supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and humanities.

Lin Richardson is Deputy Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation. She said: “Blackpool remains a popular UK seaside location which attracts millions of visitors every year. The Museum will engage and educate locals and visitors of all ages, focussing on both traditional and novel entertainment in this popular resort.”

What happened next…

Well we all know what happened next, the worldwide Covid 19 pandemic. Turning the world upside down it also put a halt on the Showtown project.

With the lease signed in autumn 2021 for the space inside the new Sands Resort Hotel building at the promenade, work began in September 2021. Lancashire based Conlon construction worked inside in preparation for the 2024 opening. In 2023 everything came together at a pace and on 15 March 2024 the museum finally opened to the public.

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4 thoughts on “Showtown – Blackpool Museum of Entertainment”

  1. I believe Cyril Critchlow was an avid supporter of a museum in Blackpool. When I spoke with him he had many ideas but not enough support. Will any mention be made of his endevours be made? When I first came to Blackpool in 1995 I was amazed to find more about Blackpool at Wigan Pier than there was in the town itself. A museum has long been overdue.

  2. When I visited the Rickcliffe Hotel, as my Grandma used to own it, the present owner gave me a dusty suitcase full of papers. Now we have looked at them, we understand he was an injured airforce man who was sent to the Rockclffe to work. He left his suit case there in 1952. The story of his life is all there. Would you like it in your museum?

    1. Thanks Rachael, I’m sure that the new museum would be interested in this special piece of social history. I’ve passed your contact details on to them.

  3. Hi I’m interested in your Telling a story project.
    Also trying to trace some of the girls from the tiny tots from the Blackpool Tower ballroom 1966 I have one or two pictures and the program but as most of the girls have married and different names I can’t fined them I would like to see if we could get as many as possible together for some kind of reunion.
    I was inspired by Blackpool Tower Circus so moved into the circus world joining Billy Smart Circus and becoming a flying trapeze artist.I have been asked by some Design and textile students about costumes in circus so I am doing research on this hopefully to put something together.any help would be appreciated
    Regards Jill de wit

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