Tower Terror

Pictures Martin Bostock.'Preview of rennoavtion work at Blackpool Tower.'Dungeon general manager Gary Blackadder in a reconstruction of Lytham Priory.
Pictures Martin Bostock.'Preview of rennoavtion work at Blackpool Tower.'Dungeon general manager Gary Blackadder in a reconstruction of Lytham Priory.
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WELCOME to our torture chamber!

Not the usual way to greet holidaymakers, but gazing at grisly severed limbs and bloodsoaked bones is set to be Blackpool’s next big draw.

Or how about a walk down Plague Street, with the rats, or joining the hooded monks of the Dark Chapel?

This is the new Blackpool Tower Dungeon, taking shape in the bowels of the Grade 1 listed landmark, and on target to open on September 1.

Along with the Blackpool Tower Eye, due to launch at the same time, the sites will join Madame Tussauds as part of the Merlin stable of new attractions in the resort.

Already 20 actors have been recruited to terrify visitors as they step back to medieval times, when peasant women were routinely accused of witchcraft, and petty thieves paid for their crime with the loss of an arm.

It was a time when the Black Death haunted communities.

Hardly a barrel of laughs. But the so-called horrible histories of the Dungeons is a well-tested hit already in London, Edinburgh and York.

The mix of horror and humour enthrals the paying public, and researchers have delved into Lancashire’s murky past to create a time-travelling treat.

In full Blackpool tradition, it ends with a white-knuckle thrill – a drop ride to give the experience of being hanged.

Aptly-named general manager Garry Blackadder said: “Everything is based on real history. We don’t make anything up, we merely add a bit of Merlin magic.

“There is a real buzz around the whole place, and we feel the dungeon is going to be an incredible feature.

“In recruiting our team of 20 actors we have found some real gems, and they will begin training next week, learning the shows and history and the gags and fun element as well.

“For example, when visitors go into the Dark Chapel, based on Lytham Priory, they will brought in by the black jester, and initially there is a feeling of fun, but it is then brought down to a sinister level.”

But it’s not only downstairs where builders are hard at work.

On the fifth floor, parts of the steel legs have been exposed and a 4D cinema, with capacity for up to 100 people, is being built, complete with vibrating floor and air jets.

A five-minute film taking people flying over the Fylde will build anticipation, ahead of the ride up to the Blackpool Tower Eye, being branded as a sister attraction to the massively successful London Eye.

A glass floor abutted to a glass wall will test even those with nerves of steel when they step out of the newly refurbished lifts to enjoy the panoramic view 518 feet up.

There is no public access yet to the top, a, but Tower general manager Kate Shane says people will be amazed by the transformation.

She said: “There are 4D cinemas all over the world, but there isn’t one in a location like this. We are going to put in images of the Tower from when it was being built, for people to look at while they are waiting for the ride to the Tower top.”

Making the Tower relevant as an entertainment centre for the 21st century, while retaining its Victorian heritage is a challenge which Blackpool Council, guardian of the building, is pleased to see.

Cabinet member Coun Ivan Taylor said: “What Merlin is doing is consistent with the spirit of the building. What will be on offer will be more appealing to people, while preserving the heritage.”

The £15.7m funding of the first phase of improvements to the Tower is thanks to money from the European Regional Development Fund, the Northwest Development Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency, and was part of the £40m deal which saw the Tower, Winter Gardens and Golden Mile Centre move into council ownership in March 2010.

The council borrowed £5.5m earlier this year to speed up work on the observation deck so it could open this September, instead of next April, as originally planned.

Improvements will be ongoing, with a percentage of future profits from the attraction ploughed back into its preservation.

Alan Cavill, Blackpool Council’s assistant director for tourism and economy, said: “Merlin has been able to preserve what is an iconic listed building, but bring in cutting edge attractions which will challenge anything across the world. And in the future, under the profit share arrangement, a chunk will go into maintaining the building and adding new attractions.”