The History of Blackpool Illuminations and how they began.

Have a look at the history of Blackpool Illuminations and how they came to be.

The illuminations were originally founded in 1879 and began with just a row of eight arc lamps on 60ft high poles along the seafront.

An old Tuck postcard of the Blackpool Illuminations - part of the History of Blackpool Illuminations
An old postcard of the Blackpool Illuminations – Tuck Postcards

At the time public street lighting was a curiosity and the lights 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. Most homes would have been lit by candles and oil lamps.

The first static illuminations as we know them today were erected in 1912. That year marks the start of the Centenary period (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.

Royal Occasions Celebrated through the History of Blackpool Illuminations

On May 2 1912, Princess Louise made the first Royal visit to Blackpool to open Princess Parade, the new section of promenade between North Pier and Cocker Square.

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 - History of Blackpool Illuminations
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 the above photo

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 – and 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.

Gondola Tram, Tuck Postcards, History of Blackpool Illuminations
Gondola Tram, Tuck Postcards

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 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, after a break for World War One, the animated tableaux were put up at North Shore, and the illuminations were extended to the route which you see today. In 1939, there was a second break in the annual event because of World War Two.

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

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 when he’d been made a Freeman of the Borough of Blackpool.

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

New Displays

Each year the Blackpool Illuminations has showcased something new.

In 1934 the Cliffs tableaux were extended and the Tower was 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.

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

Everyone’s Favourite Throughout the Years

Over the years the Blackpool Illuminations have been 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 Blackpool Illuminations at the Pleasure Beach, part of the more recent history of Blackpool Illuminations
Old Blackpool Illuminations at the Pleasure Beach, part of the more recent history of Blackpool Illuminations

Old Photos and Film of the History of Blackpool Illuminations

If you’re interested in the more recent history of Blackpool Illuminations you might enjoy looking at photos from the mid to late 1900’s.

There’s more information about the old Illuminated Heritage Trams that are no longer running.

We’ve also picked out some amazing videos and film for you to watch from through the years.

Have a look through the pages of the History section

Centenary Year in 2012

The first static illuminations as we know them today were erected in 1912 which marks the ‘beginning’ of the Blackpool Illuminations. (There were breaks in the display for the two World Wars).

In 2012 the Centenary of the Lights was celebrated, which was also the Diamond Jubilee Year of Queen Elizabeth II.

Blackpool Illuminations Today

Take a look round this website to find out about how the Blackpool Illuminations today. 

Blackpool Illuminations today - tomorrows history of the Blackpool Illuminations
Blackpool Illuminations today – tomorrows history of the Blackpool Illuminations

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


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