The Blackpool Tower was inspired by the Eiffel Tower which officially opened in 1889. The Eiffel Tower soon became the centrepiece of European engineering during the Industrial Revolution. This was a period that had led to technological innovations which had not been seen before.
The Eiffel Tower was the main attraction at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 which brought in visitors from far and wide. At the Exposition was Sir John Bickerstaffe (1848-1930), a prominent local businessman who came from a well-known fishing family in Blackpool and served as Mayor between 1889-1891. As Bickerstaffe gazed upon the giant structure of the Eiffel Tower, he felt compelled to bring a similar structure back to his own town. At the time, the Victorian period was an era of innovation and London along with other areas of England had been demonstrating the talent of the age with incredible inventions and engineering projects which continued to impress audiences. Bickerstaffe wished to bring this new age of science and creativity to his home town through the creation of Blackpool’s own Eiffel Tower.
The visit to Paris would not only provide Bickerstaffe with the concept of a Tower but also the concept of a circus. In Paris, Bickerstaffe visited the Nouveau Cirque, which had originally opened in 1886. Among the many attractions that the circus offered, there was the unique hydraulic sinking ring which was a ground-breaking innovation at the time. This feature proved popular with Bickerstaffe who decided that his new Tower would also have a sinking ring, although unlike the circus he observed in Paris, the Blackpool Tower Circus would be built in between the legs of the Tower.
With this new idea in mind, the Blackpool Tower Company was formed with a series of investments from the Standard and Debenture Corporation of London. There were five directors of the Company but as the only local man, John Bickerstaffe was made the Chairman of the Company. Not long after the initial plan had been proposed, the London investments ceased and it was up to the ambition and determination of John Bickertsaffe to push for the Tower to be built. Bickerstaffe initially faced some opposition from the local elite within the community. In particular, was the prominent businessmen Dr William Henry Cocker (1836-1911) who was elected the first mayor of Blackpool in 1876 and served until 1879.
Dr Cocker was influential and did not favour of the creation of the new Opera house in the Winter Gardens as he had resigned from the Board in protest. Dr Cocker’s attitude was one which was shared with other members of the local community who felt that the growing numbers of holiday visitors from around Lancashire and Yorkshire were driving away the upper classes. The idea of a Tower being built in Blackpool, therefore, created a mixed reaction. There was an anxiety for local businessmen who had catered to the upper classes that the creation of the Blackpool tower would be a ploy to gain more visitors from a lower class rather than the wealthy patrons.
It was Dr Cocker who had suggested the idea of illuminating the promenade with numerous new dazzling electric lights which at the time were being used for the first time around Europe. This would be the beginning of a tradition which is still upheld and incredibly popular with the Blackpool Illuminations. It was perhaps Dr Cocker’s opinion that the new lights were a more acceptable form of entertainment for the upper classes.
Overall, despite the anxieties and social opposition against the idea of a Tower, a plot of land was finally chosen on the Promenade in 1890 to build the structure. Incidentally, the land housed Dr Cocker’s Aviary, Menagerie and Aquarium for a number of years and for sometimes the attractions had failed to be profitable, leading Dr Cocker to sell them off for what he assumed would have been a profit. Nevertheless, these features would soon be incorporated into the Tower and would become increasing popular once more as the years went on.
Furthermore, a competition was created to find a design for the new Tower and after deliberation, the winning design was submitted by two Manchester architects named James Maxwell (1838-93) and William Charles Tuke (1843-1893). The project was ambitious and the engineers who had been involved with the Eiffel Tower’s construction were consulted to help with the construction. There was an invitation sent to Monsieur Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923), the creator of the Eiffel Tower, to oversee the construction of the Blackpool Tower, although this invitation was declined.
The creation of the Tower had several financial difficulties and yet in spite of this, the building commenced with ste
el being brought in from Manchester. The railway provided the opportunity to move entire sections of the Tower at a time. Steel and Iron in the Victorian period had become a much cheaper alternative to masonry and this affordable material allowed for the Tower to be constructed with less financial strain.
Finally, the construction was complete and the Blackpool Tower was officially opened on the 14th May 1894. At this time, Blackpool Tower was the second largest building in the world after the Eiffel Tower and was a remarkable achievement. The creation of the Tower permanently altered the landscape of Blackpool ever since and became an identifiable symbol of both the town and the seaside.
With the opening of the tower, came the beginnings of a variety of new entertainments and in particular the Circus, which despite being surrounding by scaffolding and bricks on the opening day, was a huge success. Yet, this was only one aspect of the Tower as there many other amusements on offer including the Tower Ballroom, designed by Frank Matcham in 1899. It allowed for people of all classes to mix with one another, through music and dancing, as t
hey enjoyed themselves and it has remained a key aspect of the Tower today. There were also the Aquarium, Aviary and Menagerie and a brand new zoo which was especially created for the opening day of Blackpool Tower. The Menagerie and the Zoo remained open until 1973 when they closed and then the animals were reloca
ted to the Blackpool Zoo which had opened in 1972. The aquarium would go on and entertain until it closed in 2010 which would mark the end of one of the oldest continuous aquariums in the world.
Other entertainments which have been housed within the Blackpool Tower included: The Oriental Lounge, the Roof Gardens, the Olde English Village, Tower Oriental Village and Tea Room, Apollo Playground and more recently the Blackpool Tower Dungeons which opened in 2011.
All of these entertainments have contributed to the vibrant history of the Blackpool Tower and as a building it has become an identifiable and iconic symbol linked to the seaside resort. 125 years later, this building with several entertainments continues to bring joy to many visitors each year.