Matchsticks fired his imagination

George Astle of Alfred Streeet , Blackpool with the model of Blackpool Winter Gardens he made out of 30,000 used matchsticks

George Astle of Alfred Streeet , Blackpool with the model of Blackpool Winter Gardens he made out of 30,000 used matchsticks

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CROWDS are flocking to the Olympia Hall of the Winter Gardens, as the venue for Showzam! Central.

This exciting free attraction is a hub of activity and information for the colourful festival of circus, magic and new variety.

Highlights within the hall include the Insect Circus Museum, Mysterious Meeky and Van Burens Temple of Illusions.

There’s a whole range of novelty sideshows and displays and not out of place – if it still exists, of course –would be this fine model of the Winter Gardens itself, created back in the early 1960s out of 30,000 tiny pieces of timber by former bus conductor George Astle.

By then, George, whose colleagues used to gather up spent matches from their vehicles at the end of the day, had already built models of other Blackpool landmarks, including the Tower.

But the Winter Gardens, complete with battery lighting, was his swansong to detailed work in spent fire-raisers.

So what gave him the idea?

George told The Gazette back in 1962: “I got to know of a girl who had modelled the Houses of Parliament, and that set me thinking.

“I started with the Tower and Tower Buildings, then came the Palace, the Grand and now the Winter Gardens.”

When The Gazette caught up with him, still to be matched into the model’s surrounding were the Spanish Hall, the Pavilion and the Olympia Hall.

George, originally from Burton-on-Trent, who ran a boarding house with his wife, revealed he was never short of matches, thanks to parcels which arrived from people he had never met.

“They come from all over the place.

“This is ever since I went on television in 1960,” he said at the time.

A simple twig sparked off his talents in 1953, when he was starting on the Tower.

He bent the twig into a circle and found it just the right size for the circus ring. I based everything on that –16ft to one inch,” said George.

Interviewed in the Winter Gardens, where he was then working as an attendant, George looked up at the dome (co-incidentally unveiled last week after its renovation) and told the reporter: “There are no buildings like this anywhere in the country.

“There’s no monotony in modelling from this.”