The History of Blackpool
The now world-famous seaside town of Blackpool is in historical terms a very recent creation. The name of the place gives a clue as to why this is so: the spot where a settlement eventually grew was a black pool where peaty water drained from the marshy ground inland – Marton Moss and Marton Mere. The marsh made getting to the coast awkward, so settlers were very few in number: neither the Brigantes nor their Roman conquerors bothered with it. The situation continued thus for centuries – the Domesday Book shows there was no habitation worth recording in 1086.
It is only in 1602 that we find the first written mention of Blackpool as a settlement, in Bispham Parish Church records, the spot cited as the bank of the Black Pool. The Civil Wars passed the place by, but after the Restoration local landowner Charles Tyldesley built Fox Hall as a residence on the coast with a view to arranging horse racing and shooting on the coast – an early inkling of Blackpool’s destiny.
By 1750 the settlement, based on fishing, had expanded to more than 20 cottages and an inn, but was still off the beaten track. This changed with the Georgian fashion for sea-bathing – done for health reasons rather than pleasure. The well-to-do made their own way to Blackpool to seek a salt-water cure for their ailments. Numbers increased when Thomas Clifton and Sir Henry Hoghton financed a road to the village in 1781: within a couple of years coaches from first Manchester then Halifax were scheduled there.
The demand for accommodation was met by hoteliers: in 1785 Baylies and the next year Bonnies hotels were built. Still by 1801 Blackpool’s population was just 473. Some development continued – housing on South Shore in 1819, a theatre in 1828 – but it was the coming of the railways which transformed Blackpool.
In 1840 nearby Poulton got a station, visitors making their way in horse-drawn wagons and carts to Blackpool. It took another six years for a branch line to be run from Poulton to Blackpool. The visitor trade boomed. Hotels and guest houses were opened to cope. Money was made.
Blackpool benefitted from its Lancastrian hinterland being the industrial powerhouse of Britain. Factory workers wanted an occasional escape, fresh air, some amusement: Blackpool obliged.
A virtuous circle began of profits from visitors being re-invested in attractions to draw bigger crowds and more money. The town had gaslight by 1852; a promenade was begun in 1856; the Prince of Wales Arcade opened its doors at the end of the 1860s, by when two piers had been added to Blackpool’s facilities: North Pier in 1863, and Central Pier in 1868 (South Shore’s Victoria Pier followed in 1893).
Such activity required regulation and control: in 1876 Blackpool became a Municipal Borough with its first mayor appointed – William Cocker. Three years later an exciting innovation drew more visitors – electric lighting on the front, advertised by the council as ‘artificial sunshine’. Development continued apace: an electric tramway began operating in 1885; the Opera House was ready for business in 1889; work on Blackpool Tower commenced in 1891; on the North Promenade in 1893. Blackpool was a boom town.
The success of the arc lights set up in 1879 sowed the seed for Blackpool’s future illuminations: a royal visit in May 1912 saw some 10,000 bulbs deployed artistically; the experiment was repeated the following year, but WWI halted the fun, and it was not until September 26 1925 that the next switch-on occurred, cleverly used to extend the summer season into autumn.
Blackpool’s entertainment infrastructure was largely in place by the end of the Victorian era, though some additions came in the new century: an aviation display in 1908 on Squires Gate racecourse was a success – and incidentally led to the siting of Britain’s oldest existing airport; and Stanley Park with its facilities for golf, tennis and bowling opened in 1925.
The tiny village of three centuries ago is now a major town with a population rising beyond 150,000. It remains a popular destination for millions of visitors every year.