13 surprising things you didn't know about Blackpool

Thursday, 25th January 2018, 2:59 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th January 2018, 3:01 pm

Famous for its Pleasure Beach, the Illuminations, glitzy ballroom dancing, and fish and chips on the seafront, Blackpool is one of the UK’s most popular seaside tourist destinations.

That said, some of these Blackpool claims to fame may still surprise you.

A horse once opened the Illuminations

The Blackpool illuminations are traditionally opened by a celebrity figure.

In September 1977, the famous racehorse Red Rum did the honours, and also opened The Steeplechase rollercoaster. The previous April Red Rum had won his third Grand National title.

Jockey Tommy Stack and Red Rum at the illumination switch-on in 1977 (Photo: JP)

Three piers

Blackpool is the only British beach resort to boast three piers. Holding Grade II listed status, the North Pier was opened in 1863 and is the oldest remaining example of a pier designed by celebrated seaside architect Eugenius Birch.

Central Pier followed in 1868, where a 108ft Ferris wheel known as the Big Wheel was installed in 1990.

Finally, South Pier, originally called Victoria Pier, opened in 1893 and is the youngest of the three structures.

The oldest amusement park ride in Europe

Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which opened in 1896, is no stranger to breaking records. When it opened in 1994, the Big One was the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world

Sir Hiram Maxim's Captive Flying Machine, known as the Flying Machines, is the oldest amusement park ride in Europe, having opened in August 1904. As the ride rotates and picks up speed, the centrifugal force pushes each of the rockets outwards creating the ultimate flying experience.

Flying Machines opened in 1896 (Photo: JP)

Its Tramway network is over 130 years old

The nostalgic tramway in Blackpool is one of the oldest electric lines in the world, dating back to 1885.

Before it was modernised in 2012, it was the last surviving first-generation tramway in the UK.

A vertigo-inducing wedding

Escapologist Karl Bartoni married Wendy Stokes mid-air at the of the Blackpool Tower in 1985, two years after he had performed three daring escapes suspended from the Tower.

With a vicar, choir and church organ on the top of the Blackpool Tower, the couple were lowered from its top in an open cage decorated with flowers, and married standing on a plank in mid-air 450 feet above a crowd of 20,000 people.

Escapologist Karl Bartoni, pictured being laced up in his stunt jacket, married his wife while dangling from Blackpool Tower (Photo: JP)

The UK’s oldest passenger airport

Squires Gate, which became Blackpool International Airport, was one of the first aviation sites in the UK, with a history dating back to 1909.

Just a few years after the first powered flight in the States, passengers were being flown over the Fylde coast. Maximum speed then was just over 40mph and a 30-mile flight was considered long distance, but this was the first place in the UK where non-aviators could take to the air as passengers.

In 2014 the airport was closed with the loss of 100 jobs, but Blackpool Airport site was bought back by the council in a £4m deal in 2017.

Over 30 listed buildings

The town of Blackpool is known for its historic Victorian architecture, but not many people know that there are so many listed buildings.

Famous examples include the Grade II listed Winter Gardens designed by Thomas Mitchell and built 1875-78, and the Baroque-style Grand Theatre designed by Frank Matcham and built over seven months, opening in 1894.

Winter Gardens is among Blackpool's 30 listed buildings (Photo: JP)

A Princess Diana portrait made of 2500 pennies

Blackpool has a museum of oddities, including a portrait of Princess Diana made of 2500 penny coins.

At Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum and it’s ‘odditorium’ you’ll also find shrunken heads, a fertility statue which has had over 1,000 confirmed pregnancies, and a two-headed calf.

It takes 7 years to paint Blackpool Tower

Built in 1894 and inspired by the Eiffel Tower, Blackpool Tower is 518 feet and 9 inches tall, and it takes seven years to paint it from top to bottom.

Its lifts travel 3,500 miles every year – more than the distance between Blackpool and New York – and on a clear day The Blackpool Tower can be seen from as far away as Wales and the Lake District.

It takes seven years to pain the Blackpool Tower (Photo: Shutterstock)

If the Tower collapsed, it would fall into the sea

Given The Blackpool Tower’s height, the number of surrounding buildings and the fact that it is built with 2,500 tonnes of iron and 5 million bricks, there were concerns about safety if it were to collapse.

But, thanks to a unique design and some clever construction, in the unlikely event that The Blackpool Tower ever did fall down, it would fall into the sea rather than the buildings around it.

A million bulbs

Blackpool Illuminations comprise an amazing one million lamps in various types and styles and cost £2.4 million to stage, using equipment worth £10 million.

The dazzling display stretches almost six miles from Starr Gate to Bispham, and shines non-stop for 66 days.

Blackpool Illuminations take 65,000 hours to organise (Photo: JP)

The Illuminations take 65,000 hours to stage

45 staff, including artists, electricians, joiners, mechanics, painters and engineers, work all year round to ensure the displays are ready on time.

Altogether 65,000 staff hours are used on maintenance, preparation, erection and operation, and then afterwards dismantling all the features, fixtures and fittings.

Strictly famous guests

The Tower Ballroom forms the centrepiece to any series of Strictly Come Dancing, and is the week that celebrity dancers strive for when they appear on the show.

But the Strictly celebrities aren't the only famous faces to have appeared over the years. Take That, Cleo Lane and Duke Ellington are among some of the acts to have performed at the Tower, while a huge model of King Kong was attached to the outside in 1984.