Ballroom’s bright and beautiful after spring clean

Repairs and refurbishment at the Blackpool Tower ballroom, including the balcony balustrades
Repairs and refurbishment at the Blackpool Tower ballroom, including the balcony balustrades
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It’s the jewel in the crown of Blackpool Tower, the glittering Ballroom.

Beloved of the hundreds of dancers who pass through its doors each year, the gilded plaster work and gleaming chandeliers make the Ballroom one of the most remarkable spaces you will ever see.

As the Tower complex now opens throughout the year, the brief shutdown this month gives staff a chance to deep-clean the room which plays host to anything from sedate afternoon tea dances, through BBC’s prime time show Strictly Come Dancing’s Blackpool show, and last month’s jam-packed Blackpool Rocks music festival.

All of this takes its toll on the building, which marked its 120th anniversary last year.

While the 518ft-tall Tower itself has been undergoing a £6million repair programme since 2008, which is due to be finished in the autumn, staff have to take advantage of these quiet winter weeks to do much of their internal maintenance and cleaning - although there is a daily cleaning and repairs schedule too - while the visitors are kept out.

Last year a £2.95 fee for entrance to the Ballroom balcony was introduced, to some criticism as where visitors had previously been allowed in for free - but they were leaving rubbish and using the facilities, thus costing the Tower’s staff time.

The fee covers a six-hour session, during which visitors can watch the dancing and listen to whatever music is played, including the iconic Wurlitzer organ, and the pay off was that the cash pot would be spent on additional repairs over and above the regular maintenance schedule.

As the Tower undergoes its major internal spring clean ready for the new season, the new, additional programme of repairs and refurbishments is also underway.

The balustrades around the ledge of the balcony are the first thing being tackled, being recovered in foam and regal red fabric, and a rolling programme of reupholstering the seats in the balcony will now also begin.

Tower general manager Kate Shane said: “We’re using a local firm, Hams, to do the work, and it will be a rolling programme now that we have the pot to get it underway.

“The balcony seating has been repaired on a needs-must basis, but the balustrades haven’t been refurbished for 30 years, but this will be a full upholstery.”

The Ballroom team wield brooms to sweep away dust from hard to reach spots, and spray bottles to get soapy water into the nooks and crannies of the ornate plaster work and glass decorations.

The 16 glittering chandeliers are hand winched to floor level, where elbow grease plays its role alongside modern technology. The glass lampshades are carefully removed and run through the glass washers behind the bar, while the metal work and crystal beading is scrubbed and buffed to a sparkling finish by hand.

Phil Ratcliffe has been on the maintenance team for 25 years - and admits he has visions of the classic Only Fools And Horses’ scene in his head from time to time, when the chandeliers are lowered for cleaning.

“There’s no electric winch to do the job,” he said. “It’s all by hand.

“In the past we did have more time and the chandeliers would be stripped right back bare and even the beading was put through the glasswasher too. But that was in the days of smoking being permitted inside, and it was a really hard job before the smoking ban.

“The water’s still really filthy when we’ve finished cleaning. They used to be full of nicotine and stained, now we just tend to get bits of confetti stuck up them from weddings and functions.”

The stripped back and newly repolished floor is protected from the chandelier cleaning with plastic sheeting, and tables are scattered around the dance floor with the lampshades while the detailed metal and glasswork are cleaned.

Also in bits is the Tower’s famous Wurlitzer organ, which provides the soundtrack to hundreds of hours of dancing every year and marks its 80th anniversary this year.

Keith Ledson and Tim Moon work for more than two weeks to service the instrument from top to toe, the pipe chamber behind the scenes to the foot pedals.

“The bottom keyboard gets the most use, because of the style of music played,” Keith said. “And it’s difficult to get that sorted when anything goes wrong.

“Back in the 80s the organ would be tuned once a month, and that meant you could really keep an eye on it. Now, you’re lucky if there’s chance to do it twice during the summer season, and it’s used more than ever.”