Early History of Blackpool

Early History of Blackpool

Extract from McNamara History

The Early Fylde

The earliest evidence of man in the Fylde, a plain situated between the Wyre and Ribble extending from the Irish Sea eastwards to the foothills of the Pennines and once an area of oak forests and impassable bogs, was provided by the discovery in 1970 of the Highfurlong Elk on a site opposite the Blackpool Sixth Form College. Barbed arrowheads found with its skeleton proved that it had been hunted by man over 11,000 years ago. Later, the Fylde was inhabited by a British tribe, the Brigantes. From about AD 80, they were controlled by the Romans from a fort at Dowbridge, Kirkham. Roman coin hoards were found at Rossall in 1840 and at Hackinsall in 1926, many of the Fylde’s villages are listed in the Doomsday survey of 1086. Their names show many of them to have been originally Anglo-Saxon settlements. However, there are also examples of Scandinavian place-names in the Fylde, evidence for an influx of Vikings via the Isle of Man in the 9th and 10th Centuries. The migration seems to have been relatively peaceful and these Vikings appear to have settled alongside theAnglo-Saxons, as evidenced by the later coupling of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian place-names, as in Layton-cum-Warbreck and Bispham-with-Norbreck. These two townships taken together form the parish of Bispham. From the 12th century, Layton was controlled by the Butlers, Barons of Warrington.

In 1257 Henry III granted to William le Botiller (Butler) an annual fair (29th November — 1st December) and a weekly market (Wednesday) in Layton. This was the earliest grant of a market in the Fylde. Later the Butlers built a manor house for minor family members, close to the present day Hollywood Avenue in Layton. Blackpool emerged in medieval times as a few coastal farmsteads within Layton-with-Warbreck. It took its name from “le pull”, a stream draining Marton Mere and Marton Moss into the sea near the present day Manchester Square. The peat lands through which the stream ran had the effect of discolouring the water, hence the name Black Poole — by 1750 a dyke had been cut through to the River Wyre and the Mere, formerly about two miles long, was reduced to about half a mile in length. The original stream, Spen dyke, was culverted along Rigby Road in the mid-19th century.

In the 14th century the small settlement at Blackpool was called simply “Pul” and a map of 1532 refers to it as” the pole howsys alias the north howsys”. In 1602 entries in the Bispham parish baptismal register mention both “Poole” and, for the first time, “blackpoole”. Towards the end of the century Edward Tyldesley, the squire of Myerscough and son of the Royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley, built Foxhall, giving Blackpool its first house of any substance. Stretching south from Spen Dyke to the boundary with Lytham (Division Lane) was a tract of common, comprised mainly of sand hills along the coast, known as Layton Hawes. Following an Act of Parliament in 1767, it was enclosed, plots of land being allocated to landowners in the townships of Bispham, Layton, Great Marton and Little Marton in proportion to the amount of land held in those places. The Act also stipulated the laying-out of the long straight main roads in the area (e.g. Lytham Road, St Annes Road and Highfield Road).

The healthy attributes of the Irish Sea coast first drew visitors to Blackpool. Friends of the Tyldesleys were among the first and their main activity would have been horse riding on the beach. In 1745 it is recorded that Elizabeth Byron and her brother, Edward, spent a day riding on the sands at Blackpool and Lytham. In 1754, while staying overnight at Poulton, Bishop Podicke mentioned in his diary that “at Blackpool, near the sea, there are accommodations for people who come to bathe”. Such people undoubtedly stayed at local inns and four Blackpool innkeepers, John Forshaw, Thomas Gaulter, John Hebson and Richard Hodkinson, are listed in the 1755 Ale House Recognizance Roll. Thornber mentions that Edward Whiteside was the first to have a habitation fitted up for the reception of company. This was at Fumblers Hill, near the present Cocker Square, which had the advantage of a supply of water from a well.

By the late 1780’s the watering place could boast four substantial hotels catering for well-to-do visitors: Bailey’s (now the Metropole), Forshaw’s (now Clifton Arms), Hudson’s (on the site of Woolworths formerly Lewis’s) and Hull’s (on the site of Wetherspoon’s on the Promenade ). In addition, accommodation was offered at Bonny’s, (King Edward VII, Chapel Street), Elston’s (later the York Hotel), the Gynn, and in houses throughout the area. In 1788 William Hutton, a businessman and writer from the Midlands, visited Blackpool and described the town as he saw it: “The sea coast at Blackpool forms a straight line for many miles. The bank or cliff, which is clay, raises various heights, from three feet to sixty above high water mark. Although about 50 houses grace the sea-bank, it does not merit the name of a village, because they are scattered to the extent of a mile. About six of these make a figure, front the sea with an aspect exactly west, and are appropriated for the reception of company: the others are the dwellings of the inhabitants, which chiefly form the background. In some of these are lodged the inferior class, whose sole motive for visiting this airy region is health”.

Hutton described, in some detail, the recreations enjoyed by visitors in the 1780s – the rich rode in carriages or on horseback along the sands while poorer visitors, “find equal pleasure in using their feet”. Of the six yards wide promenade, – a two hundred yard length of grass – he said: “A perpetual assemblage of company, when the weather permits, may be seen upon this elegant little walk”. There were bowling greens and facilities for archery, and also “a place dignified with the name of The Theatre; if that will bear the name which, during nine months in the year, is only the threshing floor of a barn”. Of course Blackpool’s principal attraction was the sea, with sea bathing and drinking of seawater being a national craze at the time. A bell was rung when it was time for the ladies to bathe, and any gentleman found on the shore was fined a bottle of wine.

The Father of Blackpool

At the turn of the nineteenth century the development of the resort came close to stagnation through the inaction of the principal landowners. The situation was transformed by Henry Banks, often considered to be the “Father of Blackpool”, who in 1819 completed his purchase of the Lane Ends estate, including the Lane Ends Hotel (formerly bottom of Church Street) of which he had been landlord since 1801. He soon built the first holiday cottages, and in 1837, his son-in-law Dr John Cocker, built Blackpool’s first assembly rooms. This was the Victoria Promenade, which included six shop units below. The bulk of the building still stands at the north-west corner of Victoria Street and Bank Hey Street.

The Coming of the Railways

In the early years travel to Blackpool involved much discomfort, taking two days for the journey from Yorkshire and a day from Manchester. The situation was transformed in 1840 when the Preston and Wyre Railway was built to serve Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood’s proposed elegant port and watering place at the mouth of the Wyre. However, the development of Fleetwood soon ground to a halt through lack of capital, and the railway, on the verge of collapse was only saved by cheap excursion trains from industrial Lancashire — many trippers travelled to Blackpool from Poulton station by horse-bus or wagonette. The railway reached Blackpool with the opening of Talbot Road station on 29th April 1846, but the resort was scarcely prepared for the thousands of visitors from Lancashire and Yorkshire who could now reach it with comparative ease. When, after much previous local opposition, Layton with Warbreck (sic) was constituted a Local Board of Health District on 23rd October 1851, the town consisted of little more than 420 dwellings, housing some 2,500 persons. Gas lighting was provided from 1852 onwards, at first by a private company for Bonny’s estate, but piped water was not brought to the town until 1864 when the Fylde Waterworks Company (later the Fylde Water Board) completed its Grizedale Reservoir in the Pennines. The first stretch of sea defences from Talbot Square to Hounds Hill, lined with a post and rail fence and with a wooden bridge over the Lane Ends slade, was completed in 1856.

The mid-Victorian Resort

Even by the beginning of the 1860s,there were still very few forms of entertainment to be found in Blackpool. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, perched on the crumbling cliffs to the north of the town, had begun to provide refreshments, music and dancing. But it reached its zenith later in the century, by which time it was threatened by erosion of the cliffs. What remained of the building was demolished in 1908. Blackpool got its first pier, the North Pier, designed by Eugenius Birch and built of cast iron on screwed piles, in 1863 — it soon became an exclusive promenade for “quality” visitors and the pier is now a Listed Building. In 1867 the Prince of Wales Arcade opened (now the site of the Tower), and the following year saw the Talbot Road Assembly Rooms and Theatre Royal (Yates’s Wine Lodge and Addison’s night club) and the South Jetty added to the list of attractions. The last, now the Central Pier, was not well patronised until 1870 when Robert Bickerstaffe introduced open-air dancing for the “working classes” — in the same year a new Promenade, with a sloping sea wall, was completed from South Shore to Claremont Park (just north of the Metropole hotel). In 1872, extensive pleasure gardens were opened at Raikes Hall, to the east of the town. Within a few years they boasted a lake, racecourse, football and cricket ground, skating rink, aviary, monkey house, ballroom, theatre, switchback and many other attractions.

By the end of the century, the gardens were unable to compete with attractions nearer the sea and were sold off for building in 1901. In 1872, Dr. W H Cocker had bought the Prince of Wales arcade and turned it into a private aquarium and menagerie. In 1875 he opened it to the public. Part of its south wing survives in the Tower’s aquarium. On the plot to the north, the Prince of Wales Theatre was opened in 1877, to which swimming baths were added in 1881. The resort was still seen to be lacking in indoor facilities, so the Winter Gardens Company was formed in 1875 to build an indoor Promenade and Pavilion. It was opened with great ceremony on the 11th July 1878. It had forced the rival North Pier Company to build its Indian Pavilion at the seaward end of the pier (1877).The existing rail link could not cater for all trippers wishing to visit Blackpool, so the single-line coastal railway, opened in 1863 to run between Lytham and Blackpool Central, was rebuilt as a double-track and linked with the Kirkham to Lytham line. Central Station (now Coral Island) soon became the town’s principal terminus.

Blackpool Borough Created

Having almost doubled its population in the previous decade, the town was granted a Charter of Incorporation as a Borough on 21st January 1876. Dr William Henry Cocker, son of Dr John Cocker and grandson of Henry Banks, became the first mayor. Whilst the 1877 season saw the opening of the Borough Theatre (later Feldman’s and the Queen’s, now the C & A department store), the following years saw the resort in the midst of a depression which threatened the future of the whole town. The Council tried to find a saviour for the 1879 season, and decided to hold a grand fete and carnival on the beach between the two piers to publicise the installation of its pioneering electric-arc street lighting. This event featured a “Naval Attack on Blackpool” which was watched by up to 100,000 people from the Promenade, piers and ships. Blackpool was now catering ever more for the working classes of Lancashire and Yorkshire, rather than for the gentry. The increasing popularity of the resort forced the Council to examine various transport systems to supplement the town’s horse-buses and landaus. An electric railway, a novelty set up in the grounds of the Winter Gardens, led the council to Michael Holroyd Smith and his conduit system of electric tramway operation. The country’s first permanent electric street tramway opened on 29th September 1885 and ran from Cocker Street to South Shore.

The Entertainment Boom

In the 1890s it was estimated that Blackpool’s 7,000 dwellings could accommodate 250,000 holiday- makers as well as the permanent population of 35,000. These visitors required entertaining, and the period saw the development of many of the resort’s famous attractions. In 1889 the original Opera House was built in the Winter Gardens complex, and two years later a start was made on Blackpool Tower. The tower and buildings, which included a circus and ballroom, opened at Whitsuntide 1894. In 1893 Victoria Pier (now South Pier) opened and, the following year, the impressario Thomas Sergenson opened his Grand Theatre in Church Street. With the tremendous success of the Tower, the Winter Gardens looked for a new feature to act as a counter-attraction and in 1896 the “Gigantic Wheel” was erected at the corner of Adelaide Street and Coronation Street. However the 220 feet high wheel, with each of its 30 carriages holding 30 or more passengers, was never a great success — it made its last trip on 20th October 1928 and shortly afterwards was demolished.

The stock of theatres was increased by the construction of the Empire (later the Hippodrome and now the ABC Cinema) in 1895. In 1896, the Winter Gardens had also opened its huge Empress Ballroom and adjacent Indian Lounge. The Tower Company responded by rebuilding its own pavilion as the famous Tower Ballroom, designed by Frank Matcham and opened in 1899. The same year, the Alhambra opened on the site of the Prince of Wales theatre (now Poundland). This latter development was a financial disaster and, taken over by the Tower Company, it reopened as the Palace in 1904.

In 1897 the development of the Golden Mile began when the Corporation banned stalls from the beach and the traders moved into the gardens of houses on the Promenade. 1899 saw the completion of a three-tier Promenade and a sea wall between Carleton Terrace (Cocker Square) and the Gynn at a cost of £144,7l6.

Into the Twentieth Century

The turn of the century saw a transformation in the town’s transport system. In September 1892 the tramway was taken over by the Corporation. In 1895 it was extended inland along Lytham Road and later connected with the system operated by the Blackpool, St Annes and Lytham Tramway Company Limited. The private Blackpool and Fleetwood Tram road, running eight miles between Talbot Road Station and Fleetwood Ferry, was opened in July 1898 and soon showed the advantage of the overhead system of power collection.

This system was adopted along existing Corporation routes in 1899, on the coastal extension to the Gynn (1900), around Marton (Church Street, Whitegate Drive and Waterloo Road, 1901) and to Layton (1901). In later years the Corporation took over the Fleetwood Tram road (1920) and built the extension to Starr Gate (1926). The 1960s saw the Promenade route left as the only commercial electric tramway in the country when the routes along Lytham Road (1961) and around Marton (1962) were replaced by bus services — the link between North Station and the Gynn along Dickson Road closed in 1963. Blackpool was constituted a County Borough on 1st October 1904, a dignity it retained until the reorganisation of local government on 1st April 1974. The years 1902 to 1905 saw the building of the present Promenade between the North and South Piers, a project that involved reclaiming some 22 acres from the sea. About the same time, the foundations for the Pleasure Beach were laid as the first substantial features were erected in the sand dunes beyond South Shore, for many years the home of gypsies and fairground artists. One of the very first rides, Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying machine (1904), remains today though in some what different guise, but over the years many additional attractions have been added to create the present forty acre fun park.

Rail traffic to the resort was so heavy that the existing stations at Talbot Road and Central were rebuilt in 1898 and 1900, and a new direct route opened from Kirkham to South Shore in 1903. Blackpool, ever eager to encourage new developments, held its first motor speed trials on the new Promenade in October 1904 and in October 1909 it staged one of the first aviation meetings in the world, attracting many famous aviators.

The first illuminated trams had been seen in Blackpool as part of the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897, but static illuminations were first erected in 1912, when, on 2nd May, Princess Louise opened the Princess Parade. The illuminations were well received, so were revived in late summer. A more ambitious display was produced the following year, a season that broke all records. The Great War forced the termination of the 1914 display and they were not seen again until 1925. They were again discontinued between 1939 and 1948, but in 1949, when fuel restrictions were relaxed, the Illuminations were revived and are now one of the town’s great attractions.

The war years from 1914 to 1918 saw 14,000 troops billeted in the town and a major convalescent hospital on land now part of the airport at Squires Gate, but with many South and East Coast resorts closed, additional visitors were attracted to Blackpool. Between the Wars.

The inter-war period was marked by many municipal schemes and developments. In 1923 the world’s largest open-air baths opened at South Shore. To the south of it the new South Promenade to Starr Gate, 400ft to the west of the old beach, was completed in 1926. The same year saw the official opening of Stanley Park, beyond which a municipal aerodrome was built in 1929. In 1925 the Colonnades were completed at North Shore as far as the Gynn and, beyond, the cliffs were faced with artificial rockery. By 1937, Blackpool’s sea defences, promenades and shelters extended from its boundary with Cleveleys in the north to Squires Gate in the south. In the late 1920s, new bridges were built at Squires Gate, Harrowside and Layton. Devonshire Road was extended as far as Bispham and then beyond to Anchorsholme.

The 1930s saw the building of the Technical College on Palatine Road, Stanley Park Café, Harrowside Solarium, new municipal buildings, Talbot Road Bus Station and the prestigious Derby Baths. Several new schools, libraries and clinics were also built. J C Robinson, who was the borough architect from 1920 to 1944, undertook the design of these schemes. A comprehensive rebuilding of the Central Railway Station in 1939, which would have resulted in a new civic centre, was only stopped by the war. In the private sector, 1928 saw the merging of the Tower Company and the Winter Gardens. This resulted in the immediate demolition of the Big Wheel, the Olympia complex being erected on its site.

Between 1933 and 1939 the Pleasure Beach was transformed by the modern architecture of Joseph Emberton. In 1939 the Odeon and the new Opera House opened, respectively Britain’s largest cinema and theatre. At the commencement of the Second World War, Blackpool received 37,500 evacuees and 1,700 civil servants. Most of the former went home within a few months to be replaced by the first of 769,673 airmen to be given their initial training at the Winter Gardens, the heart of RAF Blackpool — evening entertainments carried on as usual. Wellington bombers were assembled in a new Vickers-Armstrong factory at Squires Gate, later used for the manufacture of prefabricated houses, Hunter Jets, and now a trading estate. Wartime aircraft construction at Squires Gate had led to its development by the Government; including its runways. The municipal aerodrome east of Stanley Park had ceased to serve a useful role by 1939, Squires Gate then being favoured by the airlines. In 1962 Squires Gate airport was purchased by Blackpool Corporation.

Blackpool Today

In 1955 the boundaries of the Borough were extended to include a small part of the urban District of Poulton-le-Fylde. As a result of this and earlier extensions in 1879, 1917, 1920 and 1934, the area of the Borough has increased from 2,358 acres in 1876 to 8,650 acres of land and 2,068 acres of foreshore and tidal water today. The population of Blackpool rose slowly from 473 in 1801 to 3,707 in 1861, reached 47,348 by 1901 and 101,553 by 1931, and has now steadied at around 145,000, (145,776 in 1981). A feature the Fylde shares with many coastal resorts is the high proportion of elderly people in this population, 27.8% as compared with 18.9% in Great Britain as a whole, showing the continuing attraction of the seaside to people of retirement age. The principal role of the town continues to be that of a holiday resort, with the tourist industry thought to employ 12,500 people in activities directly associated with the trade. In 1989 a national survey found that 4,190,000 holidaymakers stayed in the resort, and 12,590,000 people came on day or evening trips — these visitors are thought to have spent over £445,000,000 in the town in 1989. Over the past twenty years the pattern of holidays has changed, with an increasing emphasis on self-catering accommodation (now forming 25.5% of the town’s stock of hotels, guesthouses and holiday flat premises), and on day trips and short breaks throughout the extended season. While the traditional areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Scotland still provide the bulk of the visitors, strenuous efforts are now being made to attract foreign visitors, to whom the fine shopping centre is a major attraction. The variety of accommodation available in the town makes it particularly suitable for conferences, festivals and trade fairs, with exhibition and conference facilities available in the Winter Gardens, at the Norbreck Castle’s Norcalympia, and in various hotels throughout the town. Blackpool continues to develop new facilities for the visitor with reconstruction in the town centre and the Tower Buildings, and major extensions, and continuous rebuilding of the Pleasure Beach. Indoor amusement centres have replaced much of the Golden Mile, but although a number of theatres have closed, live shows and clubs remain a feature of the resort. The replacement of the Palace Theatre by Woolworth’s store and the Queen’s Theatre by C & A, as well as the redevelopment of the Palatine Hotel site, are measures of Blackpool’s continuing importance as a shopping centre. In 1975 the Blackpool Civic Trust was formed. Despite the image often portrayed of the town by the media, the late 60’s and early 70’s saw a recognition that Blackpool had some fine buildings which required protection and areas which were worthy of conservation. The Civic Trust takes a very keen interest in planning proposals which have an impact on the town’s built heritage but are also keen to see new development of a high standard of design. In recognition of the heritage of Blackpool, a town trail, linking historic buildings, has been designed by the Trust. The Trust is also keen to work with the Council in promoting design excellence and is working on a number of initiatives, such as a heritage trail for Stanley Park.

In 1980, the town’s first indoor shopping centre, the Hounds Hill Centre opened on a three-acre site next to the entertainment area close to the Promenade. The centre has 40 shop units, and now the town can offer the visitor and resident over 1 million square feet of shopping space. The Corporation has actively pursued policies of pedestrianisation in the town’s shopping streets for over 20 years, and has improved the shopping environment by making most of the principal shopping streets traffic-free. In 1984 the Council designated the first two Conservation Areas at Stanley Park and Talbot Square. Since that time, the park has now been placed on the national register of historic parks and gardens indicating its historic interest. Outside the service trades, Blackpool provides employment in a variety of light-engineering industries and also in the manufacture of biscuits and confectionery. A number of Government departments including the Departments of Social Security and National Savings have offices on the Fylde Coast. Since the last war, there has been a marked shift from rail to road transport. Central Station closed in 1964 allowing space for the development of the Coral Island entertainment centre and releasing extensive areas for car and coach parking. In 1975, the M55 opened from the M6 to the Borough boundary, making it even easier to reach Blackpool by road. In 1983, Phase 1 of the Squires Gate Link Road opened, and Phase 2 having been completed in 1995, it provides a direct link between the Motorway and the Airport.

In January 1986, the two mile long Yeadon Way opened, utilising the railway embankment that carried the former Kirkham-Blackpool direct line. Yeadon Way provides a direct link from the M55 for visitors into the extensive car parking facilities situated on former railway land in South Shore, which can accommodate 6,000 cars.

The rebuilt Blackpool North Station is now the principal terminus in the town, with Blackpool South returning to the branch line status it had in the early days. The new Pleasure Beach Railway Station opened in April 1987 to serve Britain’s premier tourist attraction. Other new facilities for the Visitor include the Sandcastle Leisure Centre complex which opened in June 1986 on the site of the former open air baths, the Big Wheel on Central pier and a Sea Life Centre which opened in August 1990.

While catering for the visitor in terms of accommodation and entertainment will continue to dominate the economy of Blackpool, the town is growing in stature as a regional shopping centre, and is now ranked third in the shopping hierarchy of the North West. Blackpool is also actively continuing to promote itself as a town for industrial expansion and it is hoped that in this way the economy of the town will remain buoyant in the years to come.