31st August - 4th November 2018

History of Blackpool Illuminations

Blackpool was already a well-established sea-side resort long before the Illuminations came about. Prior to 1879 the streets were lit by gas light but in that year the Council devoted the sum of £5000 to experiment with the concept of electric street lighting.Siemens Arc Lamp 1897 On the 19th September 1879 Dr Siemens' 8 dynamo-electric machines powered by 16 Robey engines were used to power 8 arc lamps on the promenade spaced 320 yards apart, emitting the equivalent of 48,000 candles of light in total. The event had been advertised nationally and between 70,000 and 100,000 visitors travelled from all over Britain to witness the event. The light generated was called "artificial sunshine" and these were possibly the first electric street lights in the world. The nearest to modern day displays was staged on Princess Parade in May 1912 to mark the first Royal visit to Blackpool. Princess Louise officially opened the new section of promenade and as part of the celebrations of this event the Blackpool electrical engineer was instructed to decorate the promenade in what was then a "novel fashion of garland lamps".1912 Princess Parade About 10,000 bulbs were used and the results were so impressive that the local chamber of trade and other business people in the town persuaded the Council to stage these lights again in September of that year. Thousands of people visited the resort to see the illuminations and the event was judged a commercial success. In 1913 the Council was again encouraged to stage the Princess Parade lights as an after season event in September. The response from the public was nothing short of astonishing but hopes of building on this success was short lived with the outbreak of the First World War the following year. Illuminations were back in 1925 on a more ambitious scale with lights festooned along the promenade from Manchester Square to Cocker Square. It quickly became appreciated that Blackpool Illuminations were a worthwhile tourist attraction and they continued to be staged annually for many years. By 1932 animated tableaux had been added and these were erected on the cliffs linking North Shore and Bispham. Tableaux - Blackpool Illuminations The length of the lights was extended to it's present length of just under six miles from Squires Gate to Red Bank Road. In 1939, although the Illuminations were ready for staging, they were prevented by the outbreak of the Second World War. There was a full scale preview on August 31st complete with a giant searchlight sweeping wide from the Tower top. But the next night the blackout had been enforced and the only colour to be seen was inside hotels and boarding houses where landladies had coloured their light bulbs with dolly blue. Even after the war had finished there were restrictions on the use of fuel and decorative lighting, consequently the Illuminations remained prohibited. The austere climate of post-war Britain meant the Lights did not come on again until 1949 when Anna Neagle pressed the switch, but only after the Council were given permission by the Government to burn the required amount of electricity. Since then the Illuminations have been staged every year in the same format you see today. They are always switched on at the end of August or beginning of September and currently run for 66 nights. It is a popular misconception that the Illuminations extend into the Christmas period but this has never in fact been the case. The Illuminations are a temporary show and every feature has to be taken down for maintenance at the Council's Rigby Road Depot. So 126 years after it's birth the role of the Blackpool Illuminations remains remarkably similar to it's origins. Held each year at the end of the summer holiday season the Illuminations continue to attract literally millions of people to the Town.