Curious about the history of Blackpool Illuminations and how they came to be? They’re as much a part of Blackpool as sticks of rock and The Tower!
The illuminations were originally founded way back in 1879 when the world was a very different place. It all began with just one row of eight arc lamps on 60ft high poles along the seafront.
Back then, even public street lighting was a curiosity. The lights on Blackpool seafront were called ‘artificial sunshine’ by the public. They must have literally been dazzled by the sight, and people flocked to Blackpool to see them.
Don’t forget that this was twelve months before the patent of the electric light bulb. At the time, most homes were lit by candles and oil lamps. It was a very dim and dreary world, compared to the one we now live in.
The First Blackpool Illuminations for a Royal Visit
The first static illuminations, similar to how we know them today, were erected in 1912.
They were lit to celebrate the first Royal visit by Princess Louise. She came to Blackpool to open Princess Parade – the then new section of promenade between North Pier and Cocker Square.
So 1912 is the year that’s used to mark the beginning of the history of Blackpool Illuminations (with breaks in the display for the two World Wars).
The Illuminations celebrated their Centenary in 2012, which was also the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Rest is History!
10,000 bulbs festooned the way as part of the celebration event. It was so successful that local businesses asked for the event to be repeated again later that year. The rest, as they say, is history.
The First Illuminated Trams
In 1925 the Lights stretched from Manchester Square to Cocker Square. It was also the year that the illuminated Gondola tram (below) made its appearance. Read about the first Illuminated Heritage Trams here.
At that time the Illuminations lasted for 31 days.
After this success, in 1926 the whole promenade from the Pleasure Beach to Gynn Square was lit up for the first time. The Jubilee Lifeboat tram was also launched to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Borough of Blackpool.
- The three piers were lit up in 1929
- The tableaux on the Cliffs made their first appearance in 1930.
- In 1932, after a break for World War One, the animated tableaux were put up at North Shore, and the illuminations extended to the current route of today.
- In 1939, there was a second break in the annual event because of World War Two.
The Role of Switch On in the History of Blackpool Illuminations
The Big Switch On is a huge annual event in its own right.
The first ceremony in 1934 was performed by Lord Derby who had been made a Freeman of the Borough of Blackpool.
Over the years, many famous names have performed the esteemed task. The roll call of switch on stars is a who’s-who of popular artists through history.
Each year the Blackpool Illuminations showcases something new.
In 1934 the Cliffs tableaux were extended. The Tower was also fully illuminated for the first time, around all four sides and the top.
It’s good to see that little changes about the British weather – it’s said to have been raining for 37 of the 38 nights when the Lights were on in 1934! Just as today, it didn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm for the show.
Everyone’s Favourite Throughout the Years
Over the years the Blackpool Illuminations are a favourite late summer/autumn attraction for millions of people.
They’ve changed with the times and seen new technology come and go. They’ve stood the test of time, the harsh weather and many a storm.
Old Photos, Film and the History of Blackpool Illuminations
Are you interested in the more recent history of Blackpool Illuminations? Probably the years when you were young? Have a look at this gallery of photos from the mid to late 1900’s.
More about old Illuminated Heritage Trams from the past. Ones that are no longer running.
We’ve also picked out some amazing videos and film for you to watch, from through the years.
You might also be interested in our ‘Old Blackpool Illuminations’ Pinterest Board.
The Friends of Blackpool Illuminations
A meeting of businesses at North Shore was held in October 2011 to discuss the cuts to the Illumination Fund.
The concern was that cutbacks to the fund and displays would have a hideous affect on North Shore businesses. (It was rumoured that the run of Lights were to be shortened, to end at Gynn Square). Attendees discussed how, between them, they could help to boost support and donations for the department.
The meeting made the local and regional news. MP’s and representatives from all over Blackpool attended and put forward their concerns and ideas.
Working Together to Help
Richard Ryan and Alan Cavill were present to answer questions. From this meeting a group was formed called ‘The North Shore Forum’.
The aim and objectives of the group were to support Blackpool Council and the Illuminations fund. To help to maintain and hopefully improve the quality of the ‘Greatest free light show on Earth’.
Several meetings took place before Gary Pretty (the Chair of the Blackpool Combined Association) asked the members of NSForum to consider changing the group name. It went to vote and was known as ‘Friends of the Illuminations’ from January 2012.
The illuminations department at that time had a newsletter and Facebook page in the name of ‘Friends of Blackpool Illuminations’. The groups merged into one. With the same outlook, aims and principles, it made sense.
A Patron for Blackpool Illuminations
In March 2012 Laurence Llewelyn Bowen agreed to be Patron for Blackpool Illuminations and is still involved. Others volunteered to be Ambassadors, representing North and South shore sectors.
The Illuminations are paramount to the tourist industry and economy of Blackpool. They extend the season, create footfall and significant income when other UK seaside towns are no more than ghost towns.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, the bottom line is money. The bigger and better the show, the more visitors it attracts. Year-on-year the Illuminations are the number one reason for people to visit Blackpool and the Fylde Coast. Without more funding, the team are unable to improve on what they have, just maintain it.
Without progress, the Illuminations stare at the slippery slope of decline, so if you feel able to help the Illuminations, please do so.
How Lightpool Festival Began
Back in 2015, a £2m grant was secured from the governments Coastal Communities Fund. Along with contributions from Blackpool Council and LeftCoast this provided funding for Lightpool Festival for the first two years.
It included a series of shows, exhibitions and entertainment, along with the new projection shows on the front of The Blackpool Tower.
Lightpool Comes to Blackpool
New attractions included:
- Digitally mapped projections onto the Blackpool Tower building
- A new artistic light installation at the Grundy Art Gallery throughout the Illuminations. To create a day-time experience and open the Lights up to a new audience.
- New gateways at arrival points.
- The new Festival at October half term, with live street entertainment
- Resort Ambassadors to help people in town
The purpose of this funding was to encourage people to get out of their cars and onto the streets of Blackpool. Not just to explore the promenade, but other areas too, including the town centre.
It was very successful and it’s now Lightpool Festival is a regular feature of the Blackpool Illuminations.
Blackpool Illuminations Today
Discover the Blackpool Illuminations of today in the pages of this website. It’s part of the Visit Fylde Coast family. But nothing beats a walk along Blackpool promenade on an autumn evening, gazing up at the twinkling Lights!
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