Blackpool Illuminations are a fond childhood memory for many. Taking a trip under the lights on foot, by car or tram and being dazzled by the amazing display brings joy to children and adults alike and is huge part of our Illuminating History.
These bright lights that fill tourists with awe and amazement have been doing so for 140 years; lighting up Blackpool back in 1879. So how did the Illuminations begin?
The first set of Illuminations began when the Council devoted the sum of £5,000 to experiment with the concept of electric street lighting, starting off with eight arc lamps on 60ft poles in Talbot Square.
In a time when residents were lighting their homes with candles, this installation left the public in awe of these new lights, calling them ‘artificial sunshine’. This installation brought visitors to the seaside resort to see this new electricity at work; sparking off the visits we see today. However, unlike today’s modern-day technology with the Illuminations, the lamps used to go out as the tide came in due to water leaking into the cast iron wiring pipes!
The closest to our modern-day Illumination displays, first appeared in May 1912 to commemorate Blackpool’s very first royal visit as Princess Louise opened the new section of promenade named after her – Princess Parade. The Illuminations became immensely popular, with thousands of people visiting the resort to see the promenade decorated with around 10,000 lights, the Council saw the event as a commercial success! The response from the Council was to display the lights again that following September. However, hopes of the Illuminations being a regular occurrence was short lived. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 meant the light display was put on hold – in total for 11 years!
The Illuminations returned in 1925 bigger and better than ever before, with lights stretching along the Promenade from Manchester Square to Cocker Square. By 1929, all three of the piers were also lit up, creating a dazzling sight. Another new feature was a huge animated tableau added to the display along the Cliffs. However, the Illuminations were halted once again by the outbreak of the Second World War. The austere climate of post-war Britain meant the Lights did not come on again until 1949 after the Council received permission from the Government. Actress Anna Neagle pulled the switch and the Illuminations shone once more!
Since the 1950s there have been no further interruptions in the Illuminations, meaning they have continued to light up the town and grow in popularity. Each year of the light display is different, with new and favourite lights being maintained and developed. Many famous names have travelled to Blackpool over the years to commemorate the beginning of the annual Illuminations. Celebrities who have pulled the lever include comedian Ken Dodd, actor David Tennant, film director Tim Burton, Alfie Boe in 2018, and even some unlikely names such as race horse Red Rum and even Kermit the Frog!
The Blackpool Illuminations now attract in excess of 3.5 million visitors to the resort each year, with many travelling across the UK to see the Lights running from the end of August to the beginning of November. The display never fails to amaze all who visit and will be a much loved tourist attraction for years to come.