150 years of Central Pier: We celebrate the ‘People’s Pier’

Central Pier
Central Pier
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It has been one of the jewels in Blackpool’s entertainment crown for well over a century.

In fact, today marks 150 years since Central Pier opened in the resort.

It has brought joy to millions of people in that time and remains a key landmark, loved by so many.

Over the years it has hosted some of the biggest names in the industry, including the likes of Morecambe and Wise and Ken Dodd.The ‘Blackpool South Jetty Company’ was formed in

1864 and work began in 1867 to the design of J.I. Mawson. The success of the North Pier, which opened in 1863, prompted the formation of the company.

Central Pier opened on May 30, 1868 as the South Pier, changing its name when the Victoria (now South) Pier opened.

Its 1,518ft length included a 400ft low-water jetty. The entrance was altered in 1877 and 1903. The overall length was reduced to 1,118ft when the jetty was demolished in the 1970s.

Peter Sedgwick, owner of Blackpool’s three piers, believes the anniversary is something everyone should be celebrating.

He said “We have had so many piers close down around the country so it is fantastic that Central Pier can celebrate this milestone.

“It is one of Blackpool’s most iconic structures and it has stood the test of time.”

It became known as the ‘People’s Pier’ due to it being popular with poorer visitors who stayed in central Blackpool. North Pier attracted wealthier visitors staying in the North Shore. The

‘People’s Pier’ was renowned for its entertainment, particularly open-air dancing which was very popular before World War Two.

Most of the centre platform became an open-air theatre in 1949, and the pier head dancefloor became the New Theatre in 1967.

Dancing was moved indoors to the shoreward end White Pavilion, which was built in 1903, until 1966 when it was demolished to make way for the Dixieland Palace/Golden Goose complex which opened in 1967. This was damaged by fire in 1973 but was rebuilt. Today, this entrance building is home to an amusement arcade and a nightclub.

In 1986, the theatre was modernised as part of a £400,000 scheme and became Maggie May’s.

The 108ft ‘Big Wheel’ was added in 1990 after strengthening and the pier gained the iconic silhouette that it has today.

Other facilities on the pier include dodgems, waltzers, a family amusement centre, kiosks and fishing for permit holders.

In March 2015, Blackpool Central and South Piers were put up for sale. Cuerden Leisure announced that they were selling Blackpool’s South and Central Piers and the Grade II-listed Llandudno Pier.

The three piers were put on the market for a collective price of £12.6m.

They were eventually sold to the Sedgwick family, who now own and operate of all three of Blackpool’s famous piers under the Blackpool Pier Company.

The 150th anniversary will also see some alterations to the pier.

Renee Sedgwick, the spokeswoman for the Blackpool Pier Company, said: “The Central Pier will gain a new entrance front to it once the holiday season is over.

“My father (Peter) has always said to me that as owners of the piers we are their guardians and we should be looking after them for future generations.

“We continue to do this and there is no reason why Central Pier should not be here in another 150 years.”

How will the day be celebrated?

The pier, home to Blackpool’s famous ‘Big Wheel’ will be welcoming a host of famous stars who made their name appearing at the pier.

Bobby Ball, of Cannon & Ball fame, singer Joe Longthorne, Linda Nolan and Johnny Casson are among the acts who will be visiting the pier on the day to help celebrate the big day.

There will also be an official cake-cutting by the mayor.

Renee Sedgwick, Blackpool Pier Company spokeswoman, said: “We have lots of events planned for the day to suit all ages.”

There will be a 150-prize treasure event organised for children, which starts at midday at the Pirate Bay family bar along with bands performing throughout the day and a host of other prizes for visitors to the pier on the day, regardless of age.

Renee added: “There is no where else in Blackpool where you can get this kind of free entertainment.”

Construction that has stood the test of time

Central Pier is constructed mostly of cast iron with wooden decking. The piles on which the structure rests were driven using the screw pile method pioneered by Eugenius Birch. This involved twisting screw-tipped cast iron piles down through the sand until they hit bedrock.

The materials and building techniques were similar to those used for North Pier but the structure of Central is a little more delicate in appearance.

The pier has suffered relatively little damage apart from fires in 1964 and 1973 which gutted the theatre buildings.