Blackpool’s iconic tower is currently undergoing major redevelopment. The top of the tower is currently closed. The Ballroom, Jungle Jim’s and the Tower Circus are now open.
In 1889 the Mayor of Blackpool, John Bickerstaffe, visited Paris and was so inspired by the Eiffel Tower that he decided Blackpool needed its own version.
Bickerstaff approached the cotton barons of Lancashire and raised the £290,000 required to build it. Architects Maxwell & Tuke from Manchester were appointed to design it and construction began at the end of 1891.
The tower opened in 1894, standing 518 feet and 9 inches high, around half the height of its French counterpart (1,063 feet).
In March 2010, with help of Government and European funding, Blackpool Council purchased the tower from Leisure Parcs. The Winter Gardens, Louis Tussauds Waxworks, the Golden Mile Centre, and several other attractions were also included in the £30 million deal.
The new owners appointed global visitor attractions operator Merlin Entertainments Group to manage the operations and redevelopment of the both the tower and the waxworks.
Merlin has extensive experience in running similar attractions and entertainment venues. Their UK portfolio includes the London Eye, Alton Towers, Legoland, Madame Tussauds, and the Seal Life aquariums, including the existing attraction on Blackpool Promenade.
Restoration and Refurbishment
At the same time details of the sale to Blackpool Council were announced, Merlin Entertainments revealed they would be introducing new attractions to the tower; the Blackpool Dungeon and the Blackpool Eye. They also announced that Louis Tussauds would be transformed into a second UK Madame Tussauds.
Blackpool Tower Dungeon
This new attraction is set to open in September 2011. Live actors, shows, special effects, and a ride will transport visitors back to the darkest days of Lancashire’s history.
It is part of the regeneration plan for the tower developed by Blackpool Council and Merlin Entertainments Group. Merlin runs similar dungeon experiences in London, York, and Edinburgh.
Blackpool Tower Eye
The Top of the Tower is currently closed and is being transformed into the Blackpool Tower Eye, expected to open in September 2011.
Guests will enjoy a unique 4D cinema show before ascending to the top of the tower. The existing ‘Walk of Faith’ glass floor is to being replaced with an enlarged ‘Airwalk’ glass floor and a new skyline graphic is being added to the walls of the observation deck to help visitors indentify visible landmarks. High powered telescopes are also being fitted.
The Blackpool Tower Circus is a 2-hour show featuring clowns, acrobats, and other circus artistes. Up to 3 performances are held each day depending on the season. A detailed schedule of dates and times is available on the official website.
Jungle Jim’s is a large indoor children’s play centre within the tower. Adults go free. A café offers drinks and light snacks.
Couples have been dancing at Frank Matcham’s magnificent Tower Ballroom since it opened in 1899. The ballroom floor measures 120 foot square and incorporates over 30,000 blocks of oak, walnut, and mahogany.
Each day the venue plays host to romantic tea dances, accompanied by the music of the ‘mighty’ Wurlitzer organ.
From 1930 until 1970 the resident organist was Reginald Dixon MBE, know for his signature tune ‘I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside’. Dixon himself helped design the present Wurlitzer, installed in 1935.
The current principal organist is Phil Kelsall. Others are Chris Hopkins, John Bowdler, and David Lobban.
Opening times for the Tower Ballroom are usually 10 am to 4/5 pm, depending on the day and time of year. A detailed schedule of opening times and an organ schedule can be found on the official website.
Events are also held in the evenings – Northern Soul Weekender etc.
The ballroom operates a Gold Card Membership Club, giving discounted entry and reduced price food and beverages.
An annual pass is scheduled to launch in June 2011.
The aquarium closed at the end of 2010 and will be replaced by the Blackpool Tower Dungeon, set to open in September 2011.
Admission and Ticket Prices
Merlin’s new pricing structure means that visitors will only pay for attractions they wish to see. Combination tickets giving savings on individual entry prices are also available.
Ticket prices for 2011 are:
Combination ticket (Circus, Jungle Jim’s, Ballroom) – adult £12, child £12, senior £10.80, family £36
Circus – adult £9, child £8.10, senior £8.10, family £28.20
Ballroom – adult £8.40, child free (2 free children per adult), senior £7.20, family £14.40
Jungle Jim’s – child £5.40, family £10.20, adult free (2 free adults per child)
Kids under 3 go free except in Jungle Jim’s where an admission fee is charged for all children.
Merlin offers an annual pass giving 12 months entry into their attractions. Blackpool Tower offers will be included in the scheme from September 2011.
Attractions in Merlin’s portfolio include Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, Legoland Windsor, Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester, Madame Tussauds (Blackpool and London), Sea Life, London Eye, Thorpe Park, and Warwick Castle.
Tower Festival Headland
Work is currently being completed on the Tower Festival Headland, a purpose-built entertainment venue located in front of the tower.
The Comedy Carpet will also be here. This unique public artwork will feature the famous catchphrases of entertainers that have appeared in Blackpool.
Blackpool Tower enjoys a prominent location on the Promenade in the town centre, right next to the Houndshill Shopping Centre and close to the Winter Gardens.
Visitors arriving by car should leave the M6 motorway at Junction 32 and follow the M55 until it ends at Blackpool. Blackpool Tower is well signposted from here. Drivers using satellite navigation systems should note the postcode is FY1 4BJ.
The nearest train station is Blackpool North. The attraction also has its own tram stop; Blackpool Tower.
The nearest car parks are the multi-storey at the Houndshill Shopping Centre (pay on return) and the car park at the bottom of Central Drive (pay and display).