Feature: The illuminating history of Blackpool’s famous lights

Image: Creative CommonsImage: Creative Commons

Tonight (Friday 4 September) the Blackpool night sky will be once again lit up by the famous Illuminations. Hollywood Super Star, Tim Burton has the honour of pushing the button, after the annual pre-switch on concert.

The lights were first shone down the promenade in 1879 and consisted of just eight arc lamps. That original event came a year before Thomas Edison became the patent of the electric light bulb.

Not until 1912 when Princess Louise opened a new section of promenade, did we see a display similar to that of the modern day extravaganza. 10,000 light bulbs were used for that event and after a couple of year’s success behind them, the annual illuminations were born.

The First World War halted progress but by 1925 the lights had been further extended before eventually in 1932 the illuminations reached their current length, running form Star Gate to Red Bank Road. The 1932 display was the first showing of the animated tableaux displays that we see towards the end of the run, which still prove to be a favourite of visiting tourists and locals alike.

The first switch on ceremony held in the specially erected stage area which features a celebrity pulling the switch was held in 1934, Lord Derby flicked the switch that year as the annual event grew and grew.  BBC Radio 1 broadcast the ceremony live in 1993 when Status Quo were the guest celebrities. After a successful stint from the BBC, GMG Radio took over the coverage in 2010. Each year a famous face pulls the switch and a number of acts perform in the switch on arena featuring, pop bands, singers and comedians.

Most visitors these days drive through the illuminations by car or bus.  Although some prefer an open top tram ride. Today there is also the option to use the special walkway at Bispham for viewing the tableaux displays. Which contain many different shows on 40 separate tableaux which amounts to more than 5,000 square metres in surface area.

With so many different displays on show the Illuminations now cost £2.4m to stage. The lights now only use green electricity from renewable resources meaning that generations to come will still be able to enjoy the spectacle without the fear of causing further damage to the environment.

So, after 22 weeks of erecting the lights in time for switch on, Tim Burton will light up the promenade like so many before him, as Blackpool opens its gates for the thousands of tourists once again.

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