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History of Blackpool Tower

Home > History > History of Blackpool Tower

The idea for the tower came when Blackpool Mayor John Bickerstaffe commissioned the design of a new landmark for the town after he visited the Great Paris Exhibition in 1889 and was impressed by the Eiffel Tower. When he returned to Blackpool he set up a committee of businessmen in order to raise the funds to build a similar design in the town.

He invested £2,000 of his own money to form, with other local investors, the Blackpool Tower Company Limited, registered on 19 February 1891.

Two Lancashire architects, James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, designed the Tower and oversaw the laying of its foundation stone, on 29 September 1891 with a time capsule buried beneath it. By the date the Tower finally opened on 14 May 1894, both men had died. The total cost for the design and construction of the tower and buildings was about £290,000.  Five million bricks, 2,500 tonnes of iron and 93 tonnes of cast steel were used to construct the tower. The cast steel and iron are distributed in such a way that if it did ever collapse it would fall into the sea.

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 sq metres (6,040 sq yards).  At the summit of the tower there is a flagpole.
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.

Blackpool Tower

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 Florida 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.

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.

The tower has transmitters for local FM station Radio Wave 96.5 and some non-broadcast services.

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.