Stretching 158m into the Lancashire skyline, Blackpool Tower is one of the oldest and most recognisable attractions in the whole of the north-west, and with good reason – not only is it visible for thirty miles around, it absolutely dominates the seafront at Blackpool, and as such is a structure that absolutely demands attention. For over a century, the tower and its associated attractions have provided entertainment for legions of holidaymakers, and it’s rare (certainly in Lancashire) to find someone who didn’t visit it at some point in their childhood.
The history of the Tower begins in 1889, after Blackpool Mayor John Bickerstaffe’s trip to France to see the Great Paris Exhibition. So impressed was he by the size and scale of the newly-constructed Tour Eiffel that he set out plans to build a similar structure in his home town. Two years later, and at a cost of £290,000, Blackpool Tower opened its doors to the public.
However, the tower very nearly didn’t make it beyond its first thirty years. Due the giant iron structure not being properly painted and maintained during its early existence, it had begun to corrode, and was in serious danger of being demolished and sold off as scrap metal. Thankfully for the millions of visitors who’ve gone up the tower since then, though, the decision was made to renew and replace the entire structure of the tower in the years 1921-24 – a big job, given that the structure contains 2,500 tonnes of cast iron and almost 100 tonnes of steel.
Despite the impressiveness of its construction, though, there’s a limited amount of entertainment to be gleaned from gazing at such a large amount of metal and brick. It’s rather fortunate, then, that Blackpool Tower has such a great array of rotating and fixed attractions for people of all ages. The Tower Ballroom, for example, is a staple for anyone who feels like quick-stepping back in time to the tune of the now-famous organ music; almost as old as the tower itself, it’s recently found itself back in the public eye as the venue for several episodes of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Similarly, the aquarium, housed on the bottom floor of the tower complex, is another classic structure that has entertained the town’s visitors for over a hundred years – longer even than the tower itself. The aquarium building was originally part of a zoological complex known as Dr Cockers’ Menagerie and Aquarium, kept open to bring in some extra money while the tower itself was built around it. While its role in the history of Blackpool is interesting, it’s nothing compared to the sight of the aquarium itself; taking up most of the ground floor of the tower – there’s a penny arcade towards the back section – the aquarium is based on Derbyshire’s limestone caverns, and is home to 57 different species of fish.
By far the most famous of the old-timey attractions, however, is the Tower Circus. It hasn’t missed a season since it was first opened in 1894, and is famous for being one of only four circuses left in the world capable of lowering the ring into a pool of water. Given that it can submerge itself up to a depth of four and a half feet, it’s little wonder that aquatic displays, fountains and other impressive water-based techniques tend to feature heavily in the shows’ finales. That aside, entertainment is provided by daring teams of acrobats, and perennial favourite Mooky the Clown; animals haven’t been used in circus performances at Blackpool since 1990, and so if you’re of an ethical persuasion, you can rest assure that no animals have been harmed in the sake of entertainment. To top it all off – quite literally – it’s pretty much mandatory to visit the viewing platform at the top of the tower itself, allowing you to see the whole of Blackpool, and for miles around in any direction. For those who can stomach it, there’s also a clear glass section of the floor – known as the Walk of Faith – that allows you to see straight down, and appreciate exactly how high up you are.
It’s for good reason that Blackpool Tower is one of the most popular attractions in the town, and it’s sure to provide something for every visitor, no matter what their tastes run to.