Blackpool Central Pier is the one with the Big Wheel and fairground rides.
But what about it’s past?
What stories are hidden in the history of Central Pier?
History of Blackpool Central Pier
Central Pier was originally close to the site of the long closed Blackpool Central Railway station, and not far from Blackpool Tower.
It’s now 1,112 feet long (or 339 metres), and was opened on 30 May in 1868.
When it originally opened it was a longer structure – with 120 extra metres of landing jetty that was used at low tide, and from where steamboat excursions once left – as they also did from North Pier.
Have a look at our ‘Old Blackpool’ Pinterest Board when we find any interesting historic photos around the internet we add them here.
Blackpool South Jetty Company
It was the success of Blackpool North Pier which encouraged the formation of the Blackpool South Jetty Company. This was the year after North Pier was opened, and it was they who built Central Pier.
Here’s a familiar name to anyone who is interested in Blackpool history – Robert Bickerstaffe. He was the first manager of the pier – he was also coxswain of the first Blackpool lifeboat too.
Central Pier was always designed to be a place of fun, in the early days that meant dancing, with the modern amusements and rides being added much later.
From Historian Nick Moore…
Nick Moore is a local historian who has collected together information about the whole of the history of Blackpool in a free to access online resource called ‘Blackpool Chronology’
Nick has very kindly provided the information below about the history of Central Pier.
1868 – The South Pier Jetty Company opened the South Jetty on the 30th of May. Have a look at this video, taken in August 2017
It was originally 1118 feet long and had an entrance hall, two shops, several kiosks, and a pier head lounge. Wylie’s Sea Beach Hotel was renamed as the Wylie’s South Pier Hotel. Major Preston’s name was rapidly erased from the foundation stone of North Pier, because of his support for the new pier, and there was no public opening ceremony.
The pier was at first unsuccessful, but from 1870 Robert Bickerstaff introduced steamer trips and open air dancing on the pier head, and it soon became known affectionately as the “People’s Pier”.
In 1878, the pier was given a new tollhouse at its entrance, and on the pier itself were shops occupied by photographers, confectioners and fancy dealers as well as a floor for dancing, and refreshment rooms.
Also, from 1878, the Central Pier Company’s steamers “Wellington” and “Nelson” ran to Southport, Llandudno, Lytham, Barrow, Peel and other places.
By 1888, Central Pier was featuring Professor Taylor “eating, smoking, and writing underwater” and acts such as the “White Coons”. Pierrots were first seen on the pier in 1907. Starting with those of Adeler and Sutton, they were succeeded by Fred Allendale’s Premier Pierrots and then by Wylie-Tate’s Super Pierrots in 1922.
The old wooden jetty was replaced with a 400-foot long iron pier extension, for steamers, in 1891. A central dancing platform was also added, which became an open-air theatre from 1949. This steamer jetty was washed away in 1964.
In 1893, the new South Pier was opened and the South Jetty was renamed Central Pier to avoid confusion.
In 1903, the eastern-style White Pavilion, designed by R Knill Freeman of Bolton with ironwork by Mr Dryden of Preston, was added at the landward end. It was demolished in 1966. The Electric Grotto Railway was built by Messrs. Meinhardt in 1904, but it was removed following objections from the Corporation in 1907: the building housing it was retained.
In 1909, the pier unveiled its “Rollerator” ride, an innovative mix of skating and switchback. It still kept its own Roller Skating Rink however.
The Joy Wheel was opened in 1911, with speed boats and racing cars rides following in 1920.
In 1913, a suspected Suffragette bomb was discovered on the pier, just before a visit by the King and Queen.
Redman’s Café was opened on the pier on the 1st of December 1914, after the original premises had been converted into the Church of England Temporary Social Club for Soldiers on the 27th of November.
In 1932, an “Automatic Chip Dispenser” was unveiled on Central Pier, together with a new photograph booth, and a guess-your-weight machine.
In 1945, the pier mounted a display showing a V1 and a V2 rocket which had been dropped on London. It cost 6d to enter. The pier later displayed a replica German U-Boat conning tower.
1949 saw skating stopped on the pier, and an open-air theatre was created. The theatre at the beach end continued to have shows – with Morecambe and Wise topping the bill in “Let’s Have Fun”.
Peter Webster first appeared at the open-air theatre on Central Pier in 1951, playing to 1,000 people twice daily – mainly children. “Uncle” Peter Webster went on to star in over 5000 shows.
Circlorama Cinema: In 1965, the Circlorama Cavalcade 360 degree cinema appeared on Central Pier. It had been backed by cash from Harry Talbot de Vere Clifton, after the success of the London original, and was made by the firm of Harkness Ltd. When the London show closed, it was erected on the end of the pier ready for the summer season. It was a total failure, as it kept breaking down due to the salt air. At the end the season it was dismantled and removed/reassembled in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.
Also, on Central Pier, the new Sea Breeze Café was opened at the western end.
The Central Pier Theatre was demolished in October 1966, and the front was rebuilt, to house the Golden Goose Amusement Arcade. A new theatre was built on the site of the old dance floor, opening in 1967.
In 1967, the Dixieland Palace replaced Central Pier’s pavilion, above the Golden Goose Arcade on the 31st of May. It had the “official biggest bar service” in Britain. The pier head’s open-air dance floors became the New Theatre, dancing was moved to the White Pavilion, and the Venetian Bar was opened in the centre, to cater for both public and the pier’s theatre artistes. The Dixieland Showbar was then opened in 1968 along with the Golden Goose amusement arcade. The Dixieland had its own Golden Fry Restaurant – specialising in “chips in a basket”. Further out, before the theatre, was the Venetian Bar – frequented by performers during intervals. Fire destroyed the Dixieland on the 22nd of September 1973, but it was soon reopened. It was refurbished in June 1986, becoming Maggie May’s Showbar. Linda Nolan played nine consecutive summer seasons there, following this directly with two summer seasons on South Pier. Maggie May’s was later renamed “Peggy Sue’s Showboat” and “Legends”.
The pier’s jetty was removed at the end of 1975, the low water jetty already having been demolished in 1968.
On February the 24th 1979, a security guard on the pier, doing his rounds, reported seeing a UFO. A ball of orange light rushed past with a roaring noise, leaving a lingering smell of ozone. The Ministry of Defence was notified, deciding to take no action.
Cinema 180 opened on Central Pier in 1979. By 1981 it had changed into Cinema USA, and by 1983 to Cinema 3D. It was housed on the centre of the pier in a giant geodesic dome.
Oz nightclub was open on the pier in 1989. It changed to Sequins in November 1990, then Legends Showbar, Club 1-11, and finally, to Wicked.
The new Big Wheel was opened on Central on the 13th of April 1990. It stands 108 feet high and holds up to 216 people in 26 carriages. Burton’s Wagon Wheels were the original sponsors. The pier also opened the Wheel House Bar and Disco, and the Super Waltzer.
Blackpool Central Pier