Massive celebration to mark Tower’s 120th birthday

MAGNIFICENT VIEW Blackpool Tower as seen from the air.

MAGNIFICENT VIEW Blackpool Tower as seen from the air.

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Blackpool Tower could not be in better health as it celebrates its 120th birthday.

After tough times for over the last decade and more, the resort’s big-hitters claim the good times are finally on the way back.

And the boss at The Tower agrees – she says business has rarely been better,

“Blackpool is on the way back up. Faith is being restored,” said Kate Shane, manager at The Tower. “You can see the green shoots appearing.

“Easter for us was phenomenal in terms of visitor numbers and to date we are well ahead of where we expected to be.

“We are on track to have a bumper year – and I think the same goes for a lot of other places in town too.”

The Tower, which opened on May 14, 1894, celebrates its big anniversary today with an invite-only party, which includes performances from school choirs, dance groups and folk band The Houghton Weavers.

There’s a gift to regular visitors too, with 1,200 tickets going on sale online (www.theblackpooltower.com) at noon for just 6p each – the price it cost to ride to the top of The Tower on the day it opened 120 years ago.

“The normal price is £13 so this is a real ‘thank you’ to our customers and an exciting way to celebrate what is a massive milestone in The Tower’s history,” said Kate. While that offer is sure to lead to a short-term scramble for tickets, it is the long-term Kate and everyone else at The Tower are interested in.

The attraction has slowly gone from strength-to-strength since it was purchased by Blackpool Council in 2010.

Stage One of a £5m renovation, including the restoration of all the stained glass windows in the building, will be completed by July. Stage Two – all the scaffolding removed from the outside of The Tower to reveal a sparkling new look – will be done by the end of next year.

But Kate is convinced the recovery has already begun.

“It’s difficult to make exact comparisons because of the way we now price things. But if you look at it strictly in terms of tickets sold versus tickets sold from four years ago... we are over double that,” she said.

“And things are getting better for the whole of Blackpool I think, not just us.

“It is about pulling together because if we put on a united front with the other visitor attractions, the hoteliers and the taxi drivers; if we all start talking the same talk and pulling in same direction, we are going to get more people to Blackpool – and it’s all about that.

“It’s all about building the future.

“Yes, we know about the social issues and, yes, we know about hotels closing on the Prom and it depresses me – I have to drive past them every day.

“But in terms of the visitor attraction and the economy that is based around that, we are on the way back. We’ve kicked ourselves too many times, over too long a period. It has hurt us and it’s got to stop.

“Now we’ve got to start celebrating the amazing things that are going on in this town, one of which is The Tower turning 120 today. But there is lots more... the new Promenade, the Comedy Carpet, the work they’ve done at the Pleasure Beach, the Winter Gardens, the Grand Theatre.

“These buildings aren’t to be found anywhere else.

“They are in Blackpool and we need to start reminding people how special it is and giving them a reason to put us on the agenda for weekends and weeks away and not go somewhere else.”

As for today’s extra special day in the life of The Tower, Kate – who became manager three years ago – says she feels proud to be a part of it.

“I’m so honoured to be manager at this time. I’m honoured to do the job anyway because it is such a special building but to be here for a celebration of this nature makes it all the more important for me,” she said.

“It’s been a big team effort, lots of sleepless nights. In fact I think I should be able to claim hair dye on expenses because I am that grey now!

“But although it has been stressful pulling it all together, I am 100 per cent certain it is going to be worth it.

“It’s a big day in the life and the history of Blackpool Tower and we are all here to celebrate it.”

Coun Graham Cain, Cabinet Member for Tourism and Leisure, is equally as enthusiastic. “For 120 years Blackpool Tower has been wowing visitors to the town and long may it continue,” he said.

“As a council we are extremely proud to own this magnificent building and we are passionate about protecting its unique features for future generations to enjoy.

“The Tower was built by entrepreneurs who had a vision that anything could be achieved and that spirit lives on in the town today. Since we purchased The Tower we’ve been delighted by the new attractions that Merlin brought in. Visits have become a completely different experience, which was a change that was much needed.

“Blackpool Tower is here for everyone to enjoy, anyone can walk through for free.”

Tower facts and figures

* Don’t be too scared of walking across the glass Skywalk at the top of The Tower – it is 5cm thick and can hold the weight of two elephants

* Nine tons of paint are needed to cover The Tower

* On a clear day The Tower can be seen from North Wales and the Lake District

* The lift to the Tower Eye at the top takes just 69 seconds to travel 315ft. The top is shut, however, if wind speeds exceed 45mph

* The lifts which whizz up and down all day long travel approximately 3,500 miles per year

* The first Wurlitzer organ was installed in the Ballroom in 1929.

It was replaced in 1935 with one made to Reginald Dixon’s specification – he played there from 1930 until his retirement in 1969

* The Ballroom floor measures 120 feet by 102 feet. It comprises 30,602 separate blocks of mahogany, oak and walnut

Iconic legacy of Maxwell and Tuke

If you asked 100 people in Blackpool to say what James Maxwell and Charles Tuke meant to them you may get 100 blank looks.

Which is a shame for the pair are responsible for one the most iconic buildings in the country.

Maxwell and Tuke were the architects behind Blackpool Tower, which today celebrates 120 years since it first opened its doors to the public.

They were hired for the project in 1890 and were told it must look like “a replica Eiffel Tower”, which had opened in Paris a year before.

The Blackpool Tower Company was formed. It purchased an Aquarium on Central Promenade, where The Tower was to be built.

Maxwell and Tuke laid the foundation stone on September 29, 1891, with a time capsule buried beneath it. Three years, five million bricks, 2,500 tonnes of iron and 93 tonnes of cast steel later, The Tower opened to the public.

The sad thing is that neither of its architects were around to see their design completed. Both died during the building stage.

On the first day of business – May 14, 1894 – 3,000 customers queued to ride to the top in the lifts. It was a costly business. Visitors paid sixpence admission, sixpence more to go to the top, and another sixpence for the circus.

But those people weren’t the first to go to the top.

A few months before a group of intrepid local journalists climbed up using ladders. I can safely say that had I been working on The Gazette at the time and been offered the chance to climb to the top of the 518-foot high Tower by ladder, I’d have feigned a groin strain!

As The Tower prepares to celebrate its big anniversary today with an invite-only party, it’s fair to say there has been the odd bit of drama over its 120-year life.

Just six months after it opened, in December 1884, a Norwegian ship named Abana was caught in a storm in the Irish Sea shortly after leaving Liverpool en route to America. Drifting with its sails torn to shreds, the ship’s captain somehow mistook the recently built Tower for a lighthouse. The ship sank near Bispham.

In 1897 the top of The Tower caught fire and the blaze could been seen up to 50 miles away in Manchester.

For the first 30 years after it was built, the structure wasn’t painted properly and, as a result of the water and sand swirling in off the sea and beach, became badly corroded to the point where there were serious discussions about demolishing it. In the end – and thank goodness for this – it was decided to rebuild instead, which took place between 1921 and 24, when all the steelwork was replaced and renewed.

During the Second World War the crow’s nest was removed from The Tower to allow it to be used as an RAF radar station, known as RAF Tower. In 1949 a post-box opened at the top, while in the 50s the hydraulic lifts were replaced by electric ones.

The top of The Tower was painted silver in 1977 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebrations; in 1984 a giant model of King Kong was placed at the side; and a year later escapologist Karl Bartoni and his bride were married suspended in a cage from the top. Rather them than us.

Lots of famous figures have been to The Tower. Princess Diana visited in 1992, while the likes of Peter Kay, Arthur Askey, Duke Ellington, Cleo Laine, and the band Busted have all performed there.

There’s much more to do than just go to the top of course, with the Tower Ballroom, designed by famous architect Frank Matcham and completed in 1898 (The Tower’s response to the opening of the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens), still going strong and reaching a new audience courtesy of BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

There’s also the Tower Circus – home for so many years to the late, great clown Charlie Cairoli and Britain’s best-known ringmaster Norman Barrett – which continues to have shows throughout the summer season.

There is now Jungle Jim’s children’s playground and the Tower Dungeon.

It might have reached the grand old age of 120 but Blackpool Tower, one of the UK’s most iconic structures, appears to be going as strong as ever. Roll on the next 120.