The Gateway square named after ‘Mr Blackpool’

Blackpool’s Talbot Gateway is sleek and ultra-modern - but why was the public space in its main area named Bickerstaffe Square? Local historian Juliette Gregson finds out...

By Claire Lark
Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 3:45 pm
Sir John Bickerstaffe
Sir John Bickerstaffe

Blackpool Council ran a competition to name the public space in the main area of Blackpool’s central business district.Students from Blackpool Sixth Form College and Unity College came up with the name ‘Bickerstaffe Square’.

So much regeneration has happened in the past ten years in Blackpool some good and some open to debate!

So why was Bickerstaffe Square named as it was?

The finished complex in 2014. Photo: Infinite 3D Ltd

We have to travel back in history to find out how this occurred and what relevance it has today. As always thanks to the ladies and gents at Blackpool Heritage and Nick Moore for extra information.

Sir John Bickerstaffe (1848-1930) colloquially known as ‘Mr Blackpool’ for a variety of reasons to locals and visiting holidaymaker’s.

JP, alderman, founding father of the town council, serving as a member of the crew of Blackpool’s first life- boat to name but a few posts held.

However Sir John is mostly remembered for being the driving force that brought ‘Blackpool Tower’ to fruition.

Work well underway to construct the buildings at Talbot Gateway. Photo: Juliette Gregson

A visit in 1889 to the ‘Great Paris Exhibition’ saw John returning to Blackpool, set up a committee who could help raise funds to build their own.

Manchester architects Maxwell and Tuke were hired to design and implement the concept which would be half the height of the ‘Eiffel.

In 1890, the Blackpool Tower Company Limited was registered, and proceeded to buy land and lay out foundations, ready for construction to commence.

A time capsule was buried on the site before the first foundation stone was laid in September 1891 and, three years on, five million Accrington bricks and more than 2,000 tons of steel later, the tower was complete. In 1894, May 14th it was a Whit Sunday when Blackpool Tower was finally opened.

Some of the shops which were demolished to make way for the new business district. Photo: Juliette Gregson

Sir John was born and raised in a small cottage which in today’s location would be Hounds Hill and the now earmarked old central station site.

Together with his brother Tom, he saw what could be done and the potential that Blackpool had as a growing town. Talbot Gateway was classed as Phase One which the vast redevelopment and regeneration of the area in 2012 that incorporated Cookson and Larkhill Street. I was delighted to find that the views I could obtain from the top car park of Wilko enabled me to record the changes.

The area cleared and familiar buildings were knocked down, Peter Jones carpets, The Tache, The Georgian – fish and chips to name a few. I went down every few days to see what was left and in later months capturing the new builds that had begun to appear.

The new Blackpool Council office took shape alongside Sainsbury’s making the skyline change again instead of seeing derelict and underused properties left to rot. The Bus Station was also given a ‘makeover and mend’ with the above car park still being retained and remodeled. Where I used to stand in the actual bus station itself, was it just me that always thought it was cold wherever you stood!