Blackpool Tower is a tourist attraction in Blackpool, Lancashire, England, which was opened to the public on 14 May 1894. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it is 518 feet (158 metres) tall and is the 120th tallest freestanding tower in the world. Blackpool Tower is also the common name for Tower buildings, an entertainment complex in a red-brick three-storey block comprising the tower, the ground floor aquarium and cafeteria, Tower Circus, the Tower Ballroom and roof gardens that was designated a Grade I listed building in 1973.
The Blackpool Tower Company was founded by London-based Standard Contract & Debenture Corporation in 1890, when it bought an aquarium on Central Promenade with the intention of building a replica Eiffel Tower on the site. John Bickerstaffe, a former Mayor of Blackpool, was asked to become chairman of the new company and its shares went on sale in July 1891.
The Standard Corporation kept 30,000 £1 shares and offered £150,000 worth of shares to the public, although initially only two-thirds were taken up forcing the company to ask for more cash contributions from its existing shareholders, but the poor financial situation of the company, exacerbated by the falling share price, rendered it unable to pay. Bickerstaffe, to avoid the potential collapse of the venture bought any available shares until his original holding of £500 amounted to £20,000. He also released the Standard Corporation from its share commitments. When the tower opened in 1894 its success justified the investment of nearly £300,000, and the company made a £30,000 profit in 1896.
Two Lancashire architects, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, designed the tower and oversaw the laying of its foundation stone on 29 September 1891. By the time the Tower finally opened on 14 May 1894, both men had died. Heenan & Froude of Worcester were appointed structural engineers, supplying and constructing both the tower, the electric lighting and the steel front pieces for the aquariums. A new system of hydraulic riveting was used, based on the technology of Fielding & Platt of Gloucester.
The total cost for the design and construction of the tower and buildings was about £290,000. Five million Accrington bricks, 2,500 tonnes (2,800 tons) of iron and 93 tonnes (103 tons) of cast steel were used to construct the tower. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower is not free-standing. Its base is hidden by the building which houses Blackpool Tower Circus. The building occupies a total of 5,050 square metres (54,400 sq ft). At the summit of the tower there is a flagpole. A time capsule is buried beneath the foundation.
The tower's design was ahead of its time. As a writer for the BBC noted: "In heavy winds the building will gently sway, what a magnificent Victorian engineering masterpiece."
When the tower opened, 3,000 customers took the first rides to the top. Tourists paid sixpence for admission, sixpence more for a ride in the lifts to the top, and a further sixpence for the circus. The first members of the public to ascend the tower had been local journalists in September 1893 using constructors' ladders. In 1897 the top of the tower caught fire, and the platform was seen on fire from up to fifty miles away.
The tower was not painted properly during the first thirty years and became corroded, leading to discussions about demolishing it. However, it was decided to rebuild it instead, and between 1921 and 1924 all the steelwork in the structure was replaced and renewed.
On 22 December 1894 Norwegian ship Abana was sailing from Liverpool to Savannah, Georgia but was caught up in a storm, and mistook the recently built Blackpool Tower for a lighthouse. Abana was first seen off North Pier, and later drifted to Little Bispham where she was wrecked, and can still be seen at low tide. The ship's bell still hangs in St Andrews Church in Cleveleys.
In 1940, during the Second World War, the crow's-nest was removed to allow the structure to be used as a Royal Air Force radar station known as RAF Tower, which proved unsuccessful. In 1949 a post box was opened at the top of the tower. The hydraulic lifts to the top of the tower were replaced in 1956–57 and the winding-gear replaced by electric.
The top of the tower was painted silver in 1977 as part of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee celebrations. A giant model of King Kong was placed on the side of the tower in 1984. In 1985 escapologist Karl Bartoni and his bride were married suspended in a cage from the tower.
The lifts and winding gear were again replaced in 1992. The same year the tower complex was renamed Tower World and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales. The tower is usually painted in dark red, except for its centenary year in 1994 when it was painted gold by abseiling painters. In 1998 a "Walk of Faith" glass floor panel was opened at the top of the tower. Made up of two sheets of laminated glass, it weighs half a tonne and is two inches thick.
In October 2007 a laser beam installed on the tower for the duration of the annual Illuminations was criticised by astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, presenter of The Sky at Night television programme, who said, "Light pollution is a huge problem. I am not saying we should turn all the lights out, that is not practical, but there are some things which are very unnecessary. The Blackpool Tower light is certainly something I do not think we should be doing. I very much oppose it." The beam could be seen 30 miles (48 km) away; Moore called for it to be stopped. The Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston said the laser has added to a spiralling problem affecting astronomy.
The tower continued to be owned by the Bickerstaffe family until 1964, when the Blackpool Tower Company was sold to EMI. Since then it has been owned by Trust House Forte, First Leisure and Leisure Parcs Ltd, owned by Trevor Hemmings. In March 2010 it was announced that Blackpool Council had bought Blackpool Tower and the Merlin Entertainment Group would manage it and add various attractions including a new Dungeon attraction and a new observation deck called Blackpool Tower Eye will operate at the top of the tower. The company will also manage the Blackpool Louis Tussauds waxwork museum to be rebranded as Madame Tussauds.
* Blackpool Tower Eye. *
The top of the tower is currently known as the Blackpool Tower Eye. At a height of 380 feet (120 m), the Eye is the highest observation deck in North West England. It was previously known simply as the Tower Top, until it reopened on September 2011. Reopening after major renovation, new owner Blackpool Council brought in Merlin Entertainments to manage the attractions, with Merlin deciding to incorporate the tower into its range of "Eye" branded attractions.
Before the lift, guests watch a 4-D film about Blackpool and the local area. The film shows a young boy who is inspired with the tower and goes to the ballroom and circus of the tower. Then, with his goggles he is wearing, makes the tower blast off like a rocket. The film also shows the history of the tower. The film is accompanied by the song "All the Lovers" by Kylie Minogue, a song commonly used to promote Blackpool. The visitors then go into the refurbished waiting area, where memorabilia and newspaper pages about Blackpool Tower are on display, before being taken to the Eye itself.
There are four levels in the Blackpool Tower Eye:
* Tower Ballroom. *
The original ballroom, the Tower Pavilion, opened in August 1894. It was smaller than the present ballroom and occupied the front of the tower complex. The Tower Ballroom was built between 1897 and 1898 to the designs of Frank Matcham, who also designed Blackpool Grand Theatre, and it opened in 1899. It was commissioned by the Tower company in response to the opening of the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens. The ballroom floor is 120 ft × 120 ft (37 m × 37 m) and is made up of 30,602 blocks of mahogany, oak and walnut. Above the stage is the inscription, "Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear" from the poem Venus and Adonis by William Shakespeare. Each crystal chandelier in the ballroom can be lowered to the floor to be cleaned which takes over a week.
From 1930 until his retirement in 1970 the resident organist was Reginald Dixon, known affectionately worldwide as "Mr. Blackpool". The first Wurlitzer organ was installed in 1929, but it was replaced in 1935 by one designed by Reginald Dixon. Ernest Broadbent took over as resident organist in 1970 until he retired due to ill health in 1977. The current resident organist is Phil Kelsall who has been playing the organ at the Tower since 1975 when he started in the circus. Kelsall became resident in the ballroom in 1977, he was awarded an MBE like Dixon in 2010 for services to music. Wurlitzer organs such as this one were manufactured in Buffalo New York in the United States of America.
The ballroom was damaged by fire in December 1956, and the dance floor was destroyed along with the restaurant underneath the ballroom. Restoration took two years and cost £500,000, with many of the former designers and builders coming out of retirement to assist, the restaurant then became the Tower Lounge.
The BBC series Come Dancing was televised from the Tower Ballroom for many years and it has also hosted shows from Strictly Come Dancing, including the grand finals of the second and ninth series, on 11 December 2004, and 17 December 2011 respectively. The Blackpool Junior Dance Festival ("Open to the World") has been held each year in the ballroom since 1964. Also the World Modern Jive Championships are held annually.
Dancing was not originally allowed on Sundays; instead, sacred music was played. The ballroom also originally had very strict rules including:
Under the management of Leisure Parcs, and the direction of bandleader Greg Francis, the Blackpool Tower Big Band was reformed in 2001 after an absence of 25 years. The New Squadronaires, The Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra and The Glenn Miller Tribute Orchestra also performed. Themed nights were also introduced along with the sixteen piece orchestra, with resident singers, including Robert Young, Tony Benedict, Lynn Kennedy, and Mark Porter. In 2005 the Empress Orchestra became resident in the ballroom alongside the specially created and smaller Empress Dance Band. The Tower's orchestrion is now in the collection of Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum.
* Tower Circus. *
The Tower Circus is positioned at the base of the tower, between its four legs. The circus first opened to the public on 14 May 1894 and has not missed a season since. The present interior was designed by Frank Matcham and was completed in 1900.
The circus ring can be lowered into a pool of water and holds 42,000 imperial gallons (190,000 litres) at a depth of up to 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m), which allows for Grand Finales with Dancing Fountains. The Tower Circus is one of four left in the world that can do this.
The clown Charlie Cairoli appeared at the tower for 39 years. Britain's best-known ringmaster Norman Barrett worked the ring for 25 years. African-American elephant trainer Ephraim Thompson performed there in 1902. Animals appeared in the circus until 1990. It was planned to close the circus at the end of the 1990 season and replace it with an animatronic attraction. Public opinion and the fact the animatronics were not ready meant that the circus continued.
Today, the circus is produced and directed by Hungarian Laci Endresz, who is married to Maureen, one of the Roberts family who have a long association with the Tower Circus. A live band (sometimes accompanied by Mooky the Clown) provides all the music for the show, often dynamically syncing with the performers' movements. The circus band play a variety of different songs, usually Latin for the acts. In the winter the circus stages a pantomime instead of the regular show.
* Other attractions. *
Jungle Jim's Towering Adventureland is a large indoor children's adventure playground situated within the tower. It is a £3 million interactive play scheme covering over 2,500 square metres (27,000 sq ft). Based on a lost city, children can tackle a series of adventures in search of hidden treasure.
The Tower Lounge Bar was a large pub with a capacity of 1,700, but staff usually limited occupancy to 1,400 for a more relaxed atmosphere. It closed down in 2014 and has since reopened as a Harry Ramsden's fish and chip restaurant.
The Blackpool Tower Dungeon is part of an international chain of Dungeon experiences operated by Merlin Entertainments. Opened in 2011, it incorporates elements of history with fear and gallows humour based shows. It also features "Drop Dead", a 26 ft (7.9 m) drop tower that simulates being executed by hanging.
* Visiting *
The Blackpool Tower makes every effort to ensure that The Blackpool Tower Eye, Dungeon, Circus , Ballroom and other facilities are accessible to all of their guests. Disabled access into The Blackpool Tower is via Bank Hey Street (opposite Primark). Assistance/guide dogs are welcome in The Blackpool Tower but they must never be left unattended anywhere in The Blackpool Tower.
There's plenty of pay & display car parks in Blackpool with designated parking for those with a disability:
One registered disabled carer is able to visit their attractions free of charge when the person they care for pays the full individual on-the-door rate. The guest will need to provide official documented evidence of the disability, or of registered carer status (for example, blue/orange badge, award letters, or carer ID). The free carer ticket is not available for special events held by The Blackpool Tower or 3rd party organisers.
Toilets with disabled access are available throughout the building including a Changing Places toilet. Please be aware that all their disabled toilets require access by radar key. Please ask a member of staff for assistance.
The Blackpool Tower building can accommodate all guests with a disability, with the exception of guests using mobility scooters. However, complimentary wheelchairs are available.
The Blackpool Tower Eye and 4D Cinema can accommodate all guests with a disability, with the exception of guests using mobility scooters. However, complimentary wheelchairs are available. Although the glass floor level is fully accessible, the outer upper levels can only be accessed walking via stairs. Guests should be aware that the 4D Cinema may startle guide dogs, due to the sound level of the film.
The Blackpool Tower Dungeon - Due to the size of the show rooms, a maximum of two guests requiring the use of a wheelchair or one requiring a mobility scooter can be permitted per tour. The tour is fully wheelchair accessible up to show nine, when the actor in the show will guide guests to a lift leading to the next show.
Due to the age and design of The Blackpool Tower Circus arena, wheelchair spaces are limited, so they cannot guarantee availability. Access for guests with a disability is available on the ground floor. Please be aware that there is a limited amount of seating in The Circus that does not require the use steps to gain access. Please contact The Circus team prior to your visit if you will require assistance.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom - The Blackpool Tower Ballroom can accommodate all guests with a disability, with the exception of guests using mobility scooters. However, complimentary wheelchairs are available. There are five steps to the entrance of the Ballroom, but a chair lift is available for wheelchair users. The Changing Places facilities are available on this level. Unfortunately, the age of the building precludes wheelchair access to the balconies.
Jungle Jim's childrens indoor play - Jungle Jim's can accommodate all guests with a disability, with the exception of guests using mobility scooters. However, complimentary wheelchairs are available. Parents or guardians are responsible for all children in Jungle Jims play area. Children with certain disabilities may not be able to use some of the play equipment. There are a number of steps to gain access to the equipment.
Large groups of guests with a disability visiting The Blackpool Tower are advised to contact their Front of House team - call 01253 622242 prior to your visit. Otherwise be sure to ask the team upon arrival for further advice about access and facilities.
Lift weight limits for disabled users -
Location : Blackpool Tower, Promenade, Blackpool FY1 4BJ
Transport: Blackpool North (National Rail) then 6 minutes. Bus routes 1, 5, 6, 7, 11, 17, 21 and 68 and Blackpool Tramway (Tower Stop) stop outside.
Opening Times: Daily From 10:00. Click here for last admission.
Tickets Tower Eye: From £8.00.
Tickets Tower Circus: From £5.95.
Tickets Tower Ballroom: From £7.95.
Tickets Tower Dungeon: From £10.50.
Tickets Jungle Jim: From £3.00.
Tickets Dino Golf: From £3.50.
Tickets Escape Room: From £13.00.
Tickets Legends: From £20.00.
Combination Tickets Available
Tel: 01253 622242