From humble beginnings to world’s busiest train station: the history of Blackpool Central

Rail workers boarding a train at Blackpool Central Station.
Rail workers boarding a train at Blackpool Central Station.
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From its humble beginnings as a small town centre station for a single line running along the Fylde coast from Lytham more than 150 years ago, Blackpool Central boomed into a bustling station to rival crowded terminals worldwide.

Once famed as the busiest railway station in the world, the people of Blackpool were shocked when, in 1964, it closed its doors forever.

44947 leaving platform 3, Blackpool Central Station, Late 50's. (old Blackpool) / historical

44947 leaving platform 3, Blackpool Central Station, Late 50's. (old Blackpool) / historical

It was the end of the Illuminations season, but unlike the world-famous Lights, the station would not be making a comeback.

The prime piece of land that had been its home for more than 100 years was now deemed so valuable by the old Blackpool Corporation that its most successful transport hub was closed to make way for a major new development.

But for over half a century the site remained woefully underused.

With promises of snow domes and supercasinos falling flat, the area became best known as a car park for tourists seeking easy access to Blackpool town centre.

1953 supplement - The Fans'BLACKPOOL V BOLTON 1953 FA CUP FINAL (02/05/53) . Crowds packed Blackpool  Central Station on the way to Wembley. HISTORICAL

1953 supplement - The Fans'BLACKPOOL V BOLTON 1953 FA CUP FINAL (02/05/53) . Crowds packed Blackpool Central Station on the way to Wembley. HISTORICAL

Now it is planned that the site will become the home of Blackpool’s biggest single tourism investment in more than a century.

The £300m investment aims to transform the car park into a world class visitor attraction with the UK’s first ‘flying theatre’.

Elaine Smith MBE, 83, president of Blackpool Civic Trust, said: “I remember it as a station and people coming out by the hundreds. They used to swarm out whenever the trains came. As you drove around it, it used to be an absolute nightmare, because they just ignored the cars. I used to say they must think they have got a force field around them.

“The numbers were phenomenal - so when it was closed it came as a great shock to everybody. Everybody thought it was the north station that would close.”

Aerial of the railway sidings attached to Blackpool Central Station.'Coop Street on the right runs almost parallel with the railway lines.'The Majestic Ballroom with three distinctive gable ends and light coloured roof is in Bathesda Road.'Kent Road dog-legs in the bottom left to centre left'Central Drive runs from centre left to top right passing the open ground at Revoe on the left.'Blackpool Historical  / undated glass neg

Aerial of the railway sidings attached to Blackpool Central Station.'Coop Street on the right runs almost parallel with the railway lines.'The Majestic Ballroom with three distinctive gable ends and light coloured roof is in Bathesda Road.'Kent Road dog-legs in the bottom left to centre left'Central Drive runs from centre left to top right passing the open ground at Revoe on the left.'Blackpool Historical / undated glass neg

Following the closure of the station building, part of it was used as a bingo hall until 1973, when it was demolished and fairground rides - dodgems, hurricane jets, a carousel and a waltzer - were placed temporarily on the site.

In 1978, the Coral Island arcade opened on the site, where it remains to this day as Blackpool’s largest free-admission family attraction.

Other structures on the Central Station site include Bonny Street car park and a multi-storey car park.

The Bonny Street police station, built in 1976, acted as the force’s divsional headquarters but is now vacant following the opening of the new station in Marton, near the M55, in July.

In 2000, Blackpool Council first announced its interest in a Las Vegas-style ‘supercasino’ development - but hopes were dashed in 2007, when it surprisingly lost out to Manchester.

From 2002 until 2011, Blackpool’s annual Illuminations Switch-on concert was held on the site, with celebrities including Dr Who actor David Tennant, comedian Alan Carr and pop star Robbie Williams pressing the button to the world-famous Lights in front of crowds of up to 15,000 people.

A multi-million pound development scheme to transform the former station site into an indoor ski attraction was unveiled in 2009.

But in 2011, Wigan-based developers Greenbank Partnerships said it needed more time to finalise its plans for the 20-acre site, which, along with a snow dome, would include an entertainment complex, hotels and shops.

At the time, Jonathan Smith, development director for Greenbank Partnerships, said: “We are fairly close to what we think is a sustainable scheme for the site and we will be formally submitting a progress report to the council.

“We are trying to create a new urban entertainment complex which would be something entirely new to the UK market.”

However, the development plans never came to fruition - though Blackpool Council still held out hopes for the project as recently as 2015.

The new development plans, by UK-based firm Nikal Ltd and Media Investment Entertainment of Austria, will include a 4D immersive thrill ride with a fantasy theme, similar to the popular Soarin’ and Avatar attractions at Disney World in the USA.

It will be inspired by the 1970s book ‘The Chariots of the Gods’ by Erich Von Daniken, which explores the mysteries of ancient earth civilisations and alien cultures.

A brief history of the site

Located at the foot of Blackpool Tower, the station opened as Hounds Hill in 1863, and was renamed Blackpool Central 15 years later in 1878.

In 1874 the railway was extended to Kirkham, which brought in trains from Preston and boosted its popularity among holidaymakers and commuters alike.

In the early 1900s the station was enlarged to include 14 platforms to accommodate the large amount of traffic coming through, and a new Marton line was added, bringing tourists straight to the seafront and the resort’s most impressive new attraction – Blackpool Tower.

By 1911, Blackpool Central Railway Station was officially the busiest in the world.

In July 1936, there were 650 recorded train movements in 24 hours.

During the Second World War, tragedy struck when two aircraft on a training exercise collided in midair and crashed into the station, killing 12people.

Civic Trust chairman Joan Humble said: “Central Station was one of the largest railway stations in the whole of the country and it brought thousands upon thousands into Blackpool on a regular basis. Now after all these years since it was closed we must hope that the new development will in turn bring more and more visitors into Blackpool.

“When there was discussion about closing a railway station in Blackpool the original proposal was to close the North Station and keep Central Station open, so it came as a surprise that in fact it was the Central Station that closed.

“We had all the debate and discussion about the super casino which was going to be on that site as a hopefully major attraction that would have brought more visitors to Blackpool, but of course the casino never came. The site has been obviously useful as a car park near the prom across from the piers. It has brought visitors into the centre of town. What we now should be looking forward to is the new attractions.”