The Early Years of The Blackpool Illuminations


It takes a massive twenty two weeks each year to install over a million lights, lampshades, wiring and rigs that produce the wonderful display. It then takes another nine weeks to take down the lights and store them away once the Illuminations have finished.

The origins of the Blackpool Illuminations reach back into the late 19th Century when the local council invested in the first electric street lights in England and maybe even the world. The “artificial sunshine” lights were first used on Blackpool promenade in September 1879. The eight arc lights emitted light that equaled 48,000 candles and the switching on of the lights was advertised across the UK. The lights caused a national sensation with somewhere between 60,000 to 100,000 visitors to the town to witness the new technology.

A royal visit that of Princess Louise in May 1912 is viewed as the birth of the modern day Illuminations. The Princess was visiting to open a new part of the seafront promenade and the local council strung up a garland of lamps to provide an extra touch of glamour to the opening. In comparison to the modern displays the first Illuminations where fairly small. Only 10,000 lights were used in the show. The lights were a huge success and the Blackpool local chamber of commerce and a leading business people in the town lobbied the town council to run the lights again in September.

The lights were a huge success drawing visitors to the town from all over the UK. The Princess Parade as the lights were know a the time were deemed so successful that the council looked to stage the event in September every year. The lights in 1913 were another massive draw but sadly the outbreak of World War I,in 1914, meant that the lights were not put up again until 1925.

Once the Blackpool Illumnations returned the size and scale of the displays grew and grew. The lights were now much large and more complex in design and decoration. The length of the display also grew from the small scale display that had informed the first Princess Parade back in 1912. In that first display post the First World War the Illuminations ran the length of the seafront from Manchester Square to Cocker Square and in 1932 the first moving displays were added. The popularity of the yearly light show was increasing all the time but was again curtailed in 1939 by the outbreak of the Second World War. Although the lights were very briefly in place in 1939 they were soon replaced by a huge searchlight on top of Blackpool Tower.

The difficult economic climate after the end of the war meant that the lights didn’t return in all their bright eyed glory until 1949.

Louis Oliver