Blackpool illuminations light up for 1st time
Blackpool was a successful holiday resort in Victorian times, the crowds drawn by the fresh seaside air, the beach, the piers and the entertainment. But the Lancashire coastline can be bracing even in the summer, and the season was limited, though events could help to stretch it out.
One such event was the forerunner to the illuminations as we know them now. In 1879 eight powerful arc lamps at intervals of 320 yards, possibly the first electric street lamps in the world, were erected along the promenade. The lamps and generators were to Dr Siemens’ design, paid for by the go-ahead council at a cost of approximately £5,000. Advertised nationally as “artificial sunshine”, the lamps pre-dated Edison’s patent of the electric light bulb, so they were truly innovative. Up to 100,000 visitors were attracted to the resort to enjoy the new technology.
The success of the new system was not picked up on by the council, however, until in May 1912 a display of about 10,000 bulbs arranged to coincide with a royal visit again proved a hit with holidaymakers. That autumn commercial sense kicked in, and a display was organised as a season extending crowd-puller for September. The experiment was a huge success, and another display was put on in 1913, but then WWI intervened and the idea lapsed, not picked up on after the war ended perhaps because the trauma and tragedy of that conflict threw a pall over the country for years after the armistice.
The time was right to party again by 1925, the jazz age, when the world was again a brighter and more hopeful place. Blackpool was buzzing once more, and a far longer display from Manchester Square to Cocker Square was put in place for the autumn, again with a view to extending the season. This time the display was more impressive and designed, with artful festoons of light bulbs in different colours along the way.
It is not known who turned the lights on in 1925 – the first “celebrity” switch on was in 1932, when Lord Derby did the honours in a display stretched still further along the prom.
The new display was a hit with tourists, the hotels and guest houses filled up nicely into the colder weather, and the Blackpool Illuminations had become established as an annual fixture, eventually being switched on at the end of August or early September. These days a permanent staff of more than 40 people use a million bulbs in the displays, with lasers and animated tableaux providing designers with more opportunities to impress the three million visitors who come for one or more nights of the 66 day show.
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