As Blackpool's popularity grew it soon became clear that additional facilities would be required for the increasing number of visitors. The Blackpool South Jetty Company was formed in 1864, and a design from J. I. Mawson was accepted for the new Central Pier (originally referred to as the South Pier until the construction of a third pier some years later). Laidlaw's of Glasgow were the contractors, having been responsible for the construction of the North Pier five years earlier. Opened on 30th May 1868 the new pier was 1,518ft (460m) in length, which included a 400ft (121m) low-tide jetty at the head.
Managed by Robert Bickerstaffe, a member of the pioneering Blackpool family and former coxswain of the first Blackpool lifeboat, the Central Pier soon became known as the 'people's pier' because of its speciality - dancing. In Victorian times the class system was rife, and working class activities like dancing were very much frowned upon by the genteel folk frequenting the North Pier.
Even though many residents argued that the Central Pier's dancing facilities 'lowered the tone of the area', the pier became a great success with bands frequently playing polkas, barn dances, lancers and quadrilles. Steamer excursions were also popular from the pier-head, running regularly to Liverpool, Barrow, Llandudno, Morecambe and Lytham. The Central Pier's entrance was modified in 1877 but was replaced with the new 'white pavilion' in 1903.
The Central pier has always been considered the 'fun' pier and a roller-skating rink was opened in 1909 for an admission fee of a halfpenny. Further novelties to attract visitors followed. Included among the entertainments were a joy wheel in 1911, speedboats and a racing car ride in 1920, and a 'guess your weight' machine, photograph booth and an automatic chip dispenser in 1932.
Open air dancing reached the height of popularity during the 1930s but declined gradually after the Second World War, and came to an end in the 1960s. In 1949 the central platform was converted into an open-air auditorium, and the pier-head dance area made way for a new theatre in 1967. Dancing moved into the white pavilion until 1966 when the Dixieland Palace replaced it in 1968. A serious fire in 1973 gutted the Dixieland Palace but it was subsequently rebuilt and now plays host to an arcade and nightclub. The overall length of the Central Pier was reduced to 1118ft (339m) in the 1970s when the obsolete low-tide jetty was demolished.
1986 saw the modernisation of the theatre at the seaward end into 'Maggie May's' (later to become 'Peggy Sue's Showboat'), but the most noticeable feature of recent times was the construction of a 108ft (32.7m) high Ferris Wheel in 1990. This huge structure necessitated £750,000 of strengthening work to the substructure of the pier. Today Blackpool Central Pier still remains brash and bright - the epitomy of British seaside entertainment.