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A Quick History of the Illuminations

They celebrated their Centenary in 2012, have a look here at a brief history of how Blackpool Illuminations came to be.

The greatest free light show on earth, Blackpool Illuminations light up the night sky along the seafront of this Lancashire resort every year from the end of August into the first week of November.

It was fitting that it should be the Centenary of the Lights in 2012 and also the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II, because it was the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 which saw the first illuminated tram arrive in Blackpool.

Old Blackpool postcard
An old postcard of the Blackpool Illuminations - Tuck Postcards

The illuminations were originally founded in 1879 – at this time just a row of eight arc lamps on 60ft high poles along the seafront. At the time public street lighting was a curiosity and the lights were called ‘artificial sunshine’ by the public who must have been literally dazzled by the sight and flocked to Blackpool to see them. Don’t forget that this was a time twelve months before the patent of the electric light bulb, when most homes would have been lit by candles and oil lamps.

The first static illuminations as we know them today were later erected in 1912 (which marks the start of the Centenary period) with breaks in the display for the two World Wars.

On May 2 1912 Princess Louise made the first Royal visit to Blackpool to open Princess Parade, a new section of promenade between North Pier and Cocker Square, and that was when the first lights were lit of a similar type to the ones which we see today.

Princess Louise visit to Blackpool in 1912
Princess Louise visit to Blackpool in 1912 - you can just see the first new illuminations at the left 
With thanks to David Wall and the Blackpool's Past Facebook Group for this photo 

10,000 bulbs festooned the way as part of the celebration event and it was so successful that the local businesses asked for the event to be repeated again later that year – and the rest, as they say, is history.

In 1925 the Lights stretched from Manchester Square to Cocker Square and that was also the year that the Gondola tram (below) made its appearance. At that time the Illuminations lasted for 31 days.

The first Illuminated Blackpool Tram, the Gondola
Gondola Tram, Tuck Postcards

Learning from 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 launched to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Borough of Blackpool.

The three piers were lit up in 1929 and the tableaux on the Cliffs made their first appearance in 1930.

In 1932, following a break for World War one, the animated tableaux were put up on North Shore, and the illuminations were extended to the route which you see today. In 1939, World War Two put a second halt to the annual event.

Floral Arch, part of the early Blackpool Illuminations
Floral Arch, part of the Blackpool Illuminations, Tuck Postcards

The Big Switch On is a huge annual event in its own right, and the first ceremony was held in 1934 when Lord Derby performed the honours, having been made a Freeman of the Borough. Over the years, many famous names have performed the esteemed task, and the roll call of switch on stars is a who’s-who of popular artists through history.

Blackpool Tower and Central Promenade, part of the early Blackpool Illuminations
Blackpool Tower and Central Promenade seen illuminated in this Tuck Postcard

Each year the Blackpool Illuminations has showcased something new, and in 1934 the Cliffs tableaux were extended and the Tower was fully illuminated for the first time on all four sides, including the top. It’s good to see that little changes about the British weather – it was reported to have rained for 37 of the 38 nights when the Lights were on that year – and just as today it didn’t dampen people’s enthusiasm for the spectacle.

The Swan Lake Tableau, part of the early Blackpool Illuminations
The early Swan Lake Tableau at Blackpool Illuminations, Tuck Postcards

Decorative canopy, part of the early Blackpool Illuminations
Decorative canopy, part of the Blackpool Illuminations, Tuck Postcards

Over the years the Blackpool Illuminations have been a favourite late summer/autumn attraction for millions. They’ve changed with the times, seeing new technology come and go. They’ve changed with the times, and stood the test of time – plus the harsh weather and many a storm.

Take a look round this website to find out about how the Blackpool Illuminations are made today, about Switch on Stars of the past along with this year’s event, and look at the photos.

But nothing beats a walk along Blackpool promenade on an autumn evening, gazing up at the twinkling Lights!


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