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Resort Profile BLACKPOOL England’s Coney Island?

Separated by the Atlantic Ocean are the two of the world’s most famous and most frequented seaside resorts: New York City’s Coney Island and Blackpool on the north west coast of England. American author and life-long fan of the amusement industry Gary Kyriazi had only one destination in mind when he made his first trip out of the United States this summer

A general view of the promenade, featuring the Tower, Illuminations and Central Pier Ferris Wheel Image courtesy Blackpool Tower


s with any popular seaside resort, water and a wide, accessible beach were the initial draw, and the eventual transportation brought in the millions. The first known recording of the name Blackpool was on September 22, 1602, when a child was Christened as belonging to “a couple who reside on the Bank of the Black Pool.” Whether the “black pool” refers to the Irish Sea or to some inland body of water is’t clear, but since that time the name Blackpool stuck. The town’s population grew steadily throughout the 1600s and 1700s. Cottages were built, and grand hotels followed. In 1783, transportation by coach became available from mill towns like Manchester, and the rich came in droves to afford their “summer by the sea.”

By the 1800s, the saltwater and air of the ocean were considered medicinal and therapeutic, and bathing became popular. Just as the ferries carried excited New Yorkers from Manhattan to Coney Island, the 1846 extension of the railway to Blackpool brought its crowds to the beach for a pleasant hotel stay and swim in the cold water. And from that point, the growth of Blackpool as a seaside resort was fast and furious, as three piers – still standing today – were erected: the North Pier in 1863, Central Pier in 1868 and South Pier in 1890. In 1889, the Paris World’s Fair had astounded the world with its

1,000ft-high (303m) Eiffel Tower, and Americans and the British were quick to respond. For America’s quad-centennial celebration at Chicago in 1893, the planners chose to rival the Eiffel Tower with a

The beach and promenade as seen from the top of Blackpool Tower. The Big One at the Pleasure Beach can just be seen beyond South Pier top left

250ft diameter observation wheel designed by George WG Ferris. This first Ferris Wheel held 36 gondolas carrying 60 people apiece and was the hit of the fair. The following year, Blackpool opened its own derivative of the Eiffel Tower, the Blackpool Tower, still standing at 518ft-tall (158m).

That the British chose a tower in response to France’s efforts while the Americans chose an amusement ride speaks volumes about the two cultures; however, the Brits weren’t far behind the Americans. In 1896, just three years after Chicago’s Ferris Wheel debuted, Blackpool opened its own “Big Wheel,” its 200ft diameter holding 30 gondolas carrying 30 people apiece.

Pleasure Beach

Rides and amusements had already been crowding Blackpool’s three piers, and the same year the Big Wheel opened, William George Bean formed his Pleasure Beach Company, along with John Outhwaite. They made the unabashed announcement: “We wanted an American Style Amusement Park, the fundamental principle of which is to make adults feel like children again and to inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent character.” Enough said.

Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach began modestly in 1897, right on the beach, and in 1903 an additional 30 acres was added. Rides at that time included a carousel, circular plane ride (the still surviving Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machine), a switchback railway and an Old Mill. In 1923, the beach was reclaimed by the municipal authority, and the Pleasure Beach had to move across the Promenade from the beach, to the 42-acre site on which it still stands. Between that time and 1934 no less than four wooden coasters were built, all of which are still in operation today, along with the 1958 Wild Mouse. John Outthwaite died in 1911, his family eventually sold its interest to George Bean, and when Bean died in 1929, the park turned over to his daughter, Lillian Bean, who the year before had married a young businessman, Leonard Thompson. While Leonard Thompson and his wife expanded the park steadily, it was their only son, the charismatic Geoffrey Thompson, who really pushed the park’s development throughout the 1970s and 1980s; particularly in the wake of America’s theme park boom. Thompson became a leader of the fast-moving amusement industry as he added the latest rides and the newest rollercoasters, complete with theming and strong marketing, while maintaining the traditional look and feel for which Pleasure Beach is famous.

40 OCTOBER 2012

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