Juliette W Gregson is a resort-based specialist heritage photographer and social historian who also runs a successful Facebook group – Blackpool’s Past! – celebrating local history and heritage.
Juliette has just published her book about Blackpool North Pier – here’s a taster of the history and heritage of this favourite place…
Walk over the sea …
Just like the famous Tower, North Pier is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Blackpool. The endearing, Victorian structure attracts visitors and residents alike and is as much a vital element of Blackpool as the famous trams and Tower. The North Pier, like my family and society itself has changed immensely during that time but the North Pier has always retained its unique qualities of being a quieter more reflective place compared to Blackpool’s other two piers.
On the 21st of May 2013 the grand Pier celebrated 150 years having being built in 1863. Blackpool had very much profited from the expanding railway network in the mid 1800’s and in 1846 Blackpool Railway Station was built on land opposite the Talbot Hotel. In the beginning it only had two lines, extra excursion platforms were soon built, opening onto the top of Queen Street. While the station was being built, the spoil from the excavations was dumped on the seashore – this would later be the foundation for North Pier. This had led on from the original concept when in 1861 a group of the town most prominent movers and shakers had gathered in the Clifton Arms Hotel to discuss the idea of building a Pier where the most ‘in vogue’ Victorians could exercise in the pastime of promenading in the open air.
Many dignitaries that attended included the voluntary artillery, deputations of freemasons & oddfellows, the trades of Blackpool, ancient order of druids ( with two high priests in full costume and a bard mounted on a ass ) bathing vans, hackney carriages and of course a chimney sweep. A medallion was made to commemorate the opening of the Pier in 1863 showing the new Pier. On the reverse is: the first pile was screwed June 21st 1862 opened to the public May 21st 1863, length 1350 feet, breadth 21 feet. The medal itself was made of white metal and was 31 mm in diameter.
Many medallions were made to also celebrate other major events or buildings such as the Blackpool Tower stating a foundation stone was laid September 25th 1891, one for Blackpool Winter Gardens of July 1878. In 1896 Blackpool Big Wheel erection, and subsequent 1926 dismantling, also in 1911 one of the coronation of King George V and his consort Queen Mary. Blackpool also had the edge in souvenirs as medals were also made from copper salvaged from Nelson’s Flagship ‘HMS Foudroyant in 1897, more on the story of the shipwreck later. It was said that over 20,000 had descended on the town to join in the jubilant festivities. Major Francis Preston used his cannon to officially open the new pier Talbot square and the surrounding area were strewn with banners, flags and bunting & a band played the especially composed tune of ‘The Blackpool Pier Polka’.
North Pier, Blackpool was built between 1862 and 1863 by R.Laidlow and Son to the designs of Eugenius Birch. He was most acclaimed for his seaside pier constructions. During his life he was responsible for no fewer than 14 of them including some of the best known such as Brighton West & of course Blackpool North Pier. Most piers of the era were made using cast iron, Birch thought that if wrought iron was to be used it would take a lot of repairing if the pier were to be damaged. It is noted that now due to disregardance of heritage very little remains of his pioneering work.
It was constructed of cast iron screw piles and columns supporting iron girders and a wooden deck. A landing jetty was added in 1866 and extended in 1869, giving the pier a length of 1410 feet. In around 1874, the pier-head was enlarged with wings and the Indian Pavilion and bandstand were built. In 1897, the ‘Foudroyant’, Nelson’s former flagship, was moored off the pier for an exhibition but a severe storm battered it against the pier and left it as a wreck. Shops and an arcade were added to the shore-ward end of the pier in 1903. In 1921, the Indian Pavilion was destroyed by fire, it was replaced but this building was also burnt down. In around 1939, a 1500-seat theatre was built and the bandstand became a sun lounge. In the 1980s the entrance was rebuilt in Victorian style at a cost of £350,000 and in 1991 a carousel and pier tramway were added. The pier suffered storm damage in 1997, severing the jetty from the main structure. The pier is the oldest and best preserved of Blackpool’s piers it retains much of the original structure and several original features. It is Grade II listed. The promenade deck is lined by wooden benches on each side, which have ornamental open-work backs of cast-iron. Two pairs or original kiosk bays, jutting out along the pier, have kiosks circa 1900 in date, which are elongated hexagons in plan. They are constructed of glass and wood with a two tier lead roof bearing an octagonal lantern of blue glass and a minaret roof with a finial.
Living on the coast of a seaside town we are of course prone to violent gales and storms of epic proportions created by the Irish Sea. Looking through the history of Blackpool through the ages land, houses and cattle were engulfed by the barbaric nature of the weather. Alas in December 2013 the owners, the lovely Sue & Peter Sedgwick, had to contend with one of the worst storms to hit the resort in the last few years. The couple have invested much to renovate the iconic structure back to its former glory – Peter promised his wife that one day that he would buy the Pier for her and in 2011 this came true. They aim to bring back North Pier to its former Victorian look and realise that owning a Grade 2 listed building has many different issues to contend with, hopefully work will be done for it to be reopened in February in 2014.
Find out More
Juliette’s book about the North Pier Blackpool
Looking through the legs on The North Pier Blackpool
Sooty and his Blue Plaque at The North Pier Blackpool