Thrills of the rides as Blackpool Pleasure Beach grew

In the second of two articles marking the 125th anniversary of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, historian Juliette Gregson looks back at the key dates from the early 20th Century to now...

Friday, 12th March 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 12th March 2021, 1:29 pm
Bank Holiday crowds in 1939 headed for Blackpool Pleasure Beach where the popular attractions were Noah's Ark and the Grand National
Bank Holiday crowds in 1939 headed for Blackpool Pleasure Beach where the popular attractions were Noah's Ark and the Grand National

Alderman Bean could never have envisaged that

millions of people, both young and old, would experience

unbridled happiness at the Pleasure Beach.

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The official opening of the Pepsi max Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, 1994

Even more so than in 2021 and how his creation would celebrate its 125th birthday and still bringing excitement and wonder.

1910 – 1920: Following the First World War, investment in the park stopped due to the difficulty in exporting rides from the United States. Despite this, profits soared and the company was one of the most prolific employers in the North West.

1920 – 1930: The 1920s saw a period of great development with the opening of Noah’s Ark and The Virginia Reel. This was followed by the classic Big Dipper wooden rollercoaster.

1930 – 1940: In the 1930s, Leonard Thompson succeeded his father-in-law to become managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach and took over the running of the park.

The Grand National in the 1950s

This decade saw the introduction of many new rides including The Rollercoaster, The Pleasure Beach Express and the world famous, twin-tracked coaster, The Grand National.

The cheery face of Mr Funshine was the official logo of Blackpool Pleasure Beach for more than 70 years. Despite being retired in 2006, his big beaming yellow face is still hugely popular with visitors to the park and is still to be found brightening up souvenirs. The logo was designed by Tom Purvis, a British graphic designer and illustrator whose art deco design work covered many aspects of the Pleasure Beach, including posters, programme covers, and postcards.

1940 – 1950: The Second World War put a temporary halt to progress at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. However, during these challenging times, the park remained open enabling thousands of evacuees, service personnel and the British public to escape the reality of war.

1950 – 1960: In this decade, the park started a return to prominence with the opening of the highly regarded Wild Mouse wooden rollercoaster in 1958 followed by The Derby Racer in 1959. This carousel has 56 horses, each one hand-carved at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

1960 – 1970: This decade saw a collection of much-heralded rides opening at the park. These included an enchanting trip through the Looking Glass on Alice in Wonderland; the Grand Prix; overhead Monorail; ever popular Tea Cup ride and the world’s longest Log Flume.

1970 – 1980: Geoffrey Thompson became managing director in 1976 and added exciting iconic rides including the Steeplechase, opened by the racehorse Red Rum in 1977. Two years later, Europe’s first 360-degree looping coaster, the Revolution, opened to huge acclaim.

1980 – 1990: In 1988, the year the British bobsleigh team were competing in the Winter Olympics, a dazzling new ride, the Avalanche, opened and carried more than a million passengers during the first year. It was the first, and as of 2020, remains, the only bobsleigh rollercoaster in the UK.

1990 – 2000: Geoffrey Thompson’s reign saw an investment of £12m for the world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster at the time – the Pepsi Max Big One– which opened in 1994.

At 235ft tall, The Big One changed the skyline of Blackpool’s seafront. Also the exterior of the grounds were redesigned and a brand new Edwardian style cosmopolitan shopping complex, Ocean Boulevard, was created along the Promenade.

In 1997 and 1998, in another UK first, the £2 million Ice Blast was constructed which catapults riders 210 feet vertically into the air. In 1998 The Globe Theatre opened, featuring the famed Eclipse show starring Vladimir.

2000 and beyond: In 2000 £15 million was invested in the Viking themed Valhalla. This thrilling new ride was hailed as the biggest, most spectacular dark ride ever to be constructed by mankind. In 2003 The Big Blue Hotel opened in May and also saw the 100th birthday of our Chairman, Mrs L.D. Thompson!

2004: A sad year as Mrs LD Thompson, MBE JP and Geoffrey Thompson OBE passed away. Amanda Thompson OBE became managing director and invested £5m in the park with re-theming and refurbishment. A further £8m was invested in 2007 with the opening of Infusion, the world’s first rollercoaster suspended entirely over water.

2011: A £10.3m investment was made in 2011 to bring the UK’s only Nickelodeon Land to a six acre site in the Pleasure Beach.

2012: Amanda Thompson was awarded the OBE for her services to tourism.

2013: The new £3.35m Wallace and Gromit Thrill-O-Matic opened. The Big Dipper celebrated its 90th birthday as well. The 72ft high white-knuckle ride, Red Arrows Skyforce opened.

2016: A year of celebrations as Blackpool Pleasure Beach marks its 120th year of fun and Hot Ice celebrated its 80th anniversary of spectacular ice shows.

2017: After five years of planning, work commenced on an exciting new project, code named ‘Construction 2018’.

This new ride was to be the UK’s first double launch rollercoaster and represented a huge investment of £16.25m. ICON opened in 2018 and is a firm favourite.

The £12m Boulevard Hotel opened in 2019 with 120 stylish rooms with views of the seafront or park, a 90-seat restaurant and state-of-the-art conference facilities.

As part of this year’s celebrations, the company will be creating a wall in the park to mark this special milestone in their history.

One of the merchandising opportunities will be to have your very own brick that will be placed in the anniversary wall.

l With thanks to Nick Moore, Visit Blackpool, Blackpool Pleasure Beach Marketing & archive department for all the extra information.