In the fictional diary of British writer Stephen Fry’s wife, “Mrs Fry’s Diary,” the naïve Mrs Fry is tricked by her husband into believing they travelled to Paris for Valentine’s Day — when, in fact,Mr Fry had merely taken her to Blackpool, the coastal resort town in Lancashire.
The fictional Mrs Fry fell for the ruse in large part (if not entirely) due to the presence of Blackpool Tower. The 518-foot metal structure was inspired by the Eiffel Tower when it was built in 1894, but today, the structure and the area surrounding it bear little resemblance to Paris.
A Tower, a Circus, a Ballroom — Oh My!
Blackpool, Lancashire, has drawn visitors from around the United Kingdom since the mid-1700s, when it was fashionable for wealthy Britons to visit for the health and restorative benefits of the sea. One hundred years later, when the railroad connected Blackpool with the industrialised corners of England, more travellers came to the sea to escape the city.
As tourist traffic in Blackpool increased, so did the need for new attractions to keep visitors entertained. Enterprising businessmen began adding attractions to supplement the seven-mile beach. By the 1890s, Blackpool was a bustling holiday destination.
The centrepiece of the development in Blackpool was Blackpool Tower. At the time, towers were popular amongst English seaside resorts, offering visitors the chance to see the surrounding area from a new perspective. Blackpool’sown tower construction was overseen by John Bickerstaff, the city mayor, who wanted an attraction to rival Paris’ Eiffel Tower, which had opened to great fanfare five years earlier. Blackpool’s extreme weather and high windsmade an exact replica impossible, so architects James Maxwell and Charles Tukeinstead let Eiffel’s iron creation inspire their design. Blackpool Tower shares the same basic shape as the Eiffel Tower, but with a wider bottom — and half the height. Constructionbegan in 1891 and wasn’t complete until May 1894, but the finished tower was met with great enthusiasm. A steady stream of visitors have made the trip to the top ever since.
More Than a Great View
Beyond the height, another major difference between the Blackpool and Eiffel towers is the base. Unlike France’s structure, Blackpool Tower is not freestanding. The base is surrounded and supported by a building that houses the Blackpool Circus, Blackpool Ballroom and several other attractions.
Most visitors to Blackpool Tower start with the Blackpool Eye, the official name for the top of the tower. When the weather permits, one can ride an elevator to the top of the tower and take in 360-degree views of the surrounding area from an enclosed observation deck; an additional two levels are open to the outdoors.
Blackpool Tower also houses two vastly different attractions, each designed for a different audience: the Blackpool Tower Circus and the Blackpool Tower Dungeon. The circus has run continuously for more than a century, featuring some of the most legendary circus acts in the world, including Mooky the Clown. The Blackpool Tower Dungeon is a new attraction, built to replace the former menagerie and aquarium that closed in 1973 and 2010, respectively. The dungeon combines a frightening live-action show about the darker side of Blackpool’s 1,000-year history with a free-fall ride into a replica of a medieval dungeon.
For a less hair-raising adventure, fans of the television programme “Strictly Come Dancing” will recognise the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where many episodes of the popular show have been filmed. The formal ballroom has hosted some of the world’s most legendary musicians, but on most days visitors can take a spin on the dance floor to the sounds of a Wurlitzer organ or simply watch the dancers from one of the upper balconies while enjoying afternoon tea.
With the Blackpool Tower as its centrepiece, the city of Blackpool continues to draw thousands of visitors every year, many of whom return for their annual holidays as others have for more than 300 years. Those who have not visited before can find Blackpool hotels online and purchase attraction passes ahead of time, allowing them to enjoy all this city has to offer without hassle. Even if it isn’t Paris, as the befuddled Mrs Fry believed, Blackpool still has its own mystery and enchantments to offer.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Like the fictional Mrs Fry, writer Grace Cutler once mistook Blackpool Tower for the Eiffel Tower — except that she was a mere 6 years old at the time. Today, she visits Blackpool nearly every summer with her own children, who enjoy watching her cower in terror in the Blackpool Tower Dungeon.