National treasure set to look as pristine as when first built

Blackpool Tower
Blackpool Tower
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Blackpool Tower has proudly stood watch over the resort for 122 years.

It’s a national landmark; a treasure which has made the town famous the world over.

Blackpool Tower in 1980

Blackpool Tower in 1980

But in recent years, its beauty has been somewhat marred by an ugly cuff of scaffolding creeping its way up and down the spike.

Residents and visitors alike have commented on the unsightly addition, asking time and time again during the past seven-plus years when it would once again be returned to its rightful glory.

So it’s only right that there’s a good degree of excitement at the news the major restoration scheme, which began in 2008, has an end date firmly in sight.

Kate Shane, the former general manager of the Tower recently promoted to head of Merlin Entertainment’s attractions in Blackpool - which includes the Tower, said: “Quite a lot of the scaffolding has already come down now, and driving along the Prom you just think ‘She looks beautiful’.

King Kong has  a cup of tea whilst guarding Blackpool Tower in 1984

King Kong has a cup of tea whilst guarding Blackpool Tower in 1984

“Everybody has waited a long time and she deserves to be back to her full glory.

“We’ve all been watching the progress, as that scaffolding moved up and down the Tower.

“In 2014, in time for the 120th anniversary, the work on the facade was completed, and now in 2016 the scaffolding is coming off; and it’s another chapter in the history of the Tower.

“The project has affected everyone who works here, so there will be changes as it comes to an end.

“Even the talk we give as visitors go up in the lift, where we sound the alarm to the workmen on the restoration to warn them the lift’s coming past, that script will have to be changed.

“And people out and about in the town won’t hear the alarm all day as the lifts go up and down.”

Maintenance and repairs to the Tower have always been an ongoing task, but the seven-year restoration is the most comprehensive work seen during its 122-year history.

“The method used by the contractors this time, using high pressure water jets to blast the steel, means this is the first time repairs have gone right back to the original bare steel, not just taking off the rusty surface,” Kate said. “At each stage they have been able to establish if the metalwork is in good order and just needed repainting, or if new steel actually needs to go in for certain sections.”

But with the ever-present battering winds whipping off the Irish Sea and the salty seaside air, is repairing the Blackpool Tower a bit like painting the Forth Bridge in Scotland – no sooner have you completed the task, then you have to start again?

“It’s not like that,” Kate assures. “The processes they’ve used are much more sustainable than any repairs before.

“There will be a period now of just general maintenance, rather than any full-blown engineering works.”

Sadly, at the very same time Blackpool’s major landmark’s dominance over the skyline has been blighted, the resort has also become an increasingly popular choice for TV and film crews.

But the scaffolding didn’t deter Hollywood, as director Tim Burton and actor Samuel L Jackson shot scenes for the former’s latest work Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children back in May – although what camera and editing trickery will make of the plastic cuff and poles come the film’s release nobody knows.

Aside from that, there’s the regularly used Channel 4 ident, where the Tower becomes part of a giant 4 looming over passersby taking a stroll on the Prom.

And each November as Strictly Come Dancing broadcasts live to the nation from the Ballroom underneath the steel, exterior shots have been unable to capture the building’s true beauty.

“Yes, perhaps Channel 4 should come back and film a new version – let’s start a campaign for that?” Kate said. “Strictly always gives the whole of Blackpool a great showcase, filming all around the town, but the Tower’s always there in the background, and with that cuff.

“And Coronation Street shot on the Prom right outside a couple of years ago, and there it was again, spoiling the view.

“Now all that will show the Tower in her full, stunning glory.”

For so many people, the beaming messages sent out by Blackpool Tower at night are a highlight of their stay, as well as being a talking point for locals, as it recognises various events, charities and occasions throughout the year, with its high-tech lighting system.

Blackpool’s tribute to its continental cousin, Paris’s Eiffel Tower, in the wake of last November’s terror attacks drew much praise and attention, as it lit up in the Tricolour colours of red, white and blue, in a show of solidarity.

But the brightened skies have taken an almost comical turn during the works – as the scaffolding blacked out sections of the lights.

“It has looked a bit like magician David Blaine’s been at it, chopping it in half and making it hover over a black expanse,” Kate laughed.

“It’s been difficult, too, to have access for the Illuminations team, and with LightPool last year projecting on to the facade of the building and using the lights of the spike, it’s exciting to think how that will be even better now the work’s complete.”

So it’s onwards and upwards for the resort, as we can all countdown to a new season with something to celebrate.

And a celebration is most definitely on the cards to launch the Tower for the 2016 season, although details are yet to be confirmed.

But Kate promises it will be an event for locals to admire their treasure, as much as for tourists.

“We are working up some ideas how to celebrate it,” she said. “But it’s not just about Blackpool Tower, it’s about everybody who lives here looking up to see it looking so good and without scaffolding.

“There’s a bit of everyone’s heart in the Tower, and there’s a lot of history and heritage and stories to tell – and this is just the latest one.”