Blackpool North Pier, Lancashire

Designed by Eugenius Birch and commissioned by the Blackpool Pier Company, work commenced on the first of Blackpool's piers in 1862. The North Pier was opened on 21st May 1863 by Mr F Preston, Chairman of the Pier Company, amid much pomp and ceremony. In effect it formed a seaward extension of the Talbot Road, which had recently become host to the town's first railway station. The railway was to prove significant for Blackpool because not only did it allow some 20,000 visitors to witness the spectacle of the North Pier opening, but it provided the means by which Blackpool became the great playground of the north-west.

A landing jetty was added to the main structure in 1864, and extended three years later, bringing the overall length of Blackpool North Pier to 1,650ft (500m). Two pleasure steamers, the 'Queen of the Bay' and the 'Clifton', were also purchased by the Pier Company offering excursions to the Lake District, Isle of Man, Llandudno, Southport and Liverpool.

The North Pier head was enlarged in 1874 to facilitate the building of a fine 'Indian' pavilion, a bandstand, a restaurant and some shops. The Indian pavilion soon acquired a reputation for its quality of music, the first eminent conductor of the pier orchestra being Edward de Jong, a distinguished flautist. Later Simon Speelman, who went on to achieve fame with the Manchester Halle Orchestra, performed on the North Pier. Probably the best remembered conductor though was 'Toni', a conductor easily recognisable by his shocking head of hair. Such was his reputation that advertising was quite unnecessary, and everybody knew his orchestra could be found playing in the sun lounge (which had replaced the original bandstand in 1932) of the Blackpool North Pier.

As Blackpool's popularity grew so did the North Pier. The pier head was further extended in 1875 and 1877 with the addition of north and south wings, electric lighting was installed, and in 1896 the neck was widened, almost doubling it in size. Expansion of the structure continued into the new century: 1903 saw the construction of a new theatre, and the redevelopment of the shoreward end to include additional shops and an arcade.

Like most piers Blackpool North Pier did not escape damage from shipping or fire. It was struck by a vessel in 1892, and suffered further damage in 1897 when HMS Foudroyant, once Nelson's flagship, was wrecked in a storm whilst being moored to the pier. In 1921 the Indian pavilion was destroyed in a blaze, and its successor met the same fate in 1938. The current 1500 seat theatre, built on the site in 1939, survives only through the quick reactions of one of its entertainers. In 1985 singer Vince Hill noticed smoke when leaving the North Pier and, having raised the alarm, assisted in fighting the blaze.

During the 1960s the 'Merrie England Bar' was opened along with other amusements. The early 1980s saw £350,000 spent on the redevelopment of the entrance buildings, to better compliment the North Piers surviving Victorian architecture. Severe storm damage in 1987 closed the seaward end jetty for four years, but when it reopened it offered the unique attraction of regular helicopter flights from the pier to take in the local sites. Leisure excursions from Blackpool North Pier resumed a year later with a visit from the MV Balmoral.

Grade II listed, Blackpool North Pier today is considered the most traditional of the three Blackpool Piers. It retains much of its Victorian splendour and is devoted to the gentler pursuits of promenading and sun bathing rather than the brasher entertainment offered by its newer companions.


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