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Blackpool 100yrs of Fun
« on: January 02, 2011, 09:30:09 PM »
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: THE PLEASURE BEACH AT BLACKPOOL.

The first initial references describing Blackpool as a seaside resort is around 1840. Prior to this, considered a quiet place of fields and presentably a village with coarse B+B hotel accommodation fronting the Irish Sea, its imagery on old sketches of the beach looking towards what later was to become the Promenade were stark. No slates for the rise from the sand, as is seen today, just an incline of it steeped high with pathways formed by numerous visitors’ feet treading a course down to the flat seabed. Plenty of horses, people aback them, and drawn carriages can be studied in the Blackpool front c. 1840 David Cox painting amidst the gold flavour of colour weeping a shiny puddle of water.

The same year Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood - Lord of the Manor of Rossall - bankrupted his estates in extending the railway from Preston to his newly created town of Fleetwood, the line passing within five miles of the Blackpool coast. Other travellers made their way by cart or wagon from Poulton-le-Fylde causing with it a demand for excursions to Blackpool, creating a need for a new line of track from Poulton to the seaside town. In many ways, it was Hesketh’s dream, only a fraction of his beloved railway built; the fulfilment of his plans would have seen the lines passing by the Fylde coasts for more years to come failing the incredible rise of what Blackpool would become to the North of England in the twentieth century.

The resort town grew exceedingly slowly with the gentle tide of visitors to it. There was no Promenade and certainly no entertainment, not even a shadow of public amenities with a very scarce effectual local administration in the area for those times. In 1861, there were less than four thousand permanent residents in the town and inevitably, with progress things would change.

The ‘Cotton Famine’ brought on by the American Civil War gave immense sufferance to the cotton mills of the towns in Lancashire, this may have caused a dwindling of the crowds that came to Blackpool, as plans were immediately put forth to build amenities to attract the ‘better class’ visitors.

In 1862, the Blackpool Pier Company erected the North Pier, completed in 1863 and for a small fee of 1d; the genteel of the public could walk the planks avoiding the throng of lower classes on the streets. In this same year, a series of terraced houses built on North Shore, Claremont Park, remained a private road for a few years and only be entered by payment of a toll. This opulence was intended for a ‘better class of visitor’ to stay at the seafront.

In 1864, the Fylde Water Company, created to pipe water into Blackpool from the reservoirs in the Pennines. There were several grand hotels built attracting success for a while, the Clifton Arms constructed between 1866 and 1876 directly opposite the North Pier preserving the name of Talbot Clifton, who was the Lord of the Manor at Lytham. He had purchased the manorial rights from Sir Peter Hesketh in 1842, utilizing a strip of land covering Talbot Road Station to the frontage of the pier.

The Imperial Hydro, the most elegant of Blackpool’s hotels, was in Claremont Park, the building completed in 1867 and from 1865, the town had created the necessities for a holiday resort that would rival any other in Britain. The day-tripper had been attracted in vast numbers and from 1863; Talbot Clifton funded a second railway line into Blackpool, linking the branch line at Kirkham. In 1874, this had become a double track, though the railways were slow in accommodating the quantity of travellers on the lines. Yet buildings in the two areas around the stations grew in vast measure as row after row of terraced houses were erected so that visitors from inland of Lancashire could be put up overnight in these boarding houses by the Irish sea, their rooms accommodating many people in the estates that were already forming in Blackpool.

A new company, the South Blackpool Jerry Company, opened a second pier in 1868 that became known as Central Pier, though its success was slow its demand of use rose with the introduction of open air dancing, a pastime banned on the North Pier. The Lancashire mill workers could in this era board steamers that sailed regularly from the pier on short excursions. Locally named The People’s Pier and considered to provide for a ‘different class of patrons’ than the high-status of the North Pier.

Serious interest shown by local government in 1865, as the Local Board agreed its intentions of constructing a two-mile Promenade starting from Claremont Park, finishing at the South Shore. Consequently, an Improvement Act passed in 1870 paved the way for the Promenade to open costing £80,000.

A half mile from the Promenade in 1871 a site developed to accommodate an open-air amusement park. The company specifically produced for this was the Raikes Hall Park, Gardens and Aquarium Company. It cost £14,000 for splendid opened air gardens, close to the Talbot Road Station, offering dancing indoors and out to huge crowds coming to Blackpool. At night fireworks displays lit up the sky with a liquor licence covering the whole grounds proving hugely profitable to the many outlets using the amusement park creating its custom. It was a new vision for its time with a great lake and even an aviary, though the more affluent snubbed the proceedings with their social comments.

This venture gave rise in 1875 to the concept of the Blackpool Winter Gardens, giving protection under cover from the worst weather and closer to the sea than the Raikes Hall open-air complex. The Lord Mayor of London attended the opening in 1878 gracing the town with his state carriages and teams of nine horses.

The whole project from start to finish enumerated the sum of around £100,000 and for a number of years it entertained the more sophisticated customers in Blackpool by presenting concerts and genteel amenities with the proprietors of the North Pier felt threatened because of it. In 1877, the platform at the end of the pier widened for a bandstand construction, on the other half a glamorous Indian Pavilion built for £30,000.

Dancing was still banned but a thirty-five piece orchestra played there and concerts became a regular attribute too, whereas it was felt that while the mill workers were still coming to the town in their ever challenging droves a ‘better class season’ could now be accomplished as consequence of the changing environment of Blackpool.

An economic depression hit Britain by the end of the 1870s, yet Blackpool constantly added to its ever-rising amenities of entertainment. In 1875 a big influential landowner in the town, Dr W.H. Cocker, opened a menagerie and aquarium, the site eventually to be occupied by the famous tower and mainly through this man’s influence in 1876 Blackpool became a Borough, Cocker it’s first Mayor.

A new Blackpool Improvement Act passed in 1879, consequently leading to two unplanned and fortuitous achievements that would influence a much futuristic and thriving modernistic Blackpool. Cocker now ending his third year as Mayor, came up with the revolutionary idea of lighting the Promenade, though a section of it only, with electric lighting, resulting in the opening Carnival that September bringing approximately 100,000 visitors into Blackpool and came to be viewed as the first effectual street lighting in Britain.

The second achievement of the act came about mistakenly, as it included the power to charge a 2d. rate for advertising, this control being taken up by the Corporation in 1881, creating the only civic authority using rate payers’ money to advertise its facilities to the thronging public living in the town or coming to it to visit, while posters seen not just in the North West but also in the Midlands.

Other places, drawing custom everywhere of the country too with the spending practices of the middle classes ever demanding further investment into the up and coming seaside town of Blackpool, even though there had been a small recovery from the recession of the 1870s. The 1880s fairing not much better it was in 1885 the Corporation made the decision to install a tram track along the Promenade directly by the seafront. This gave rise to the Blackpool Electric Tramway Company. This was the turning point, as Blackpool would lead as the seaside holiday resort beating even Brighton in its popularity with the working classes.

Four years on in 1889 came the main focal attraction for Blackpool, the inspiration dawning from the Paris Exhibition with the famous Eiffel tower rising 1,000ft into the air. Its popularity stimulated a London company to produce a number of similarly constructed towers at a lesser size for selective British seaside resorts. The first begun in 1890 at Douglas on the Isle of Man but was abandoned due to geological faults.

The second choice was Blackpool, its height optimistically expected seen from Douglas. Blackpool Mayor from 1889 to 1891, Alderman John Bickerstaffe, with his brother Tom, was to be influential members of the Blackpool council for decades. He agreed to be Chairman of the new Blackpool Tower, when the London company was unable to produce the necessary funds Bickerstaffe released £20,000 of his own shares and without this surge of finance the construction would never have reached its height of 500ft above the ground. There are two other similar towers in existence constructed in Great Yarmouth and Moscow.

The next worldly claim to attractions in Blackpool came in 1893 in Chicago. The Americans had celebrated the 400th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus during the Columbian Exposition of that year. The flamboyant buildings of the exhibition painted in a white ‘staff’, a kind of stucco, giving it its name of ‘White City’. Next to the exhibition had been the Midway, one of the first of the amusement parks of the future. There an amazingly high Ferris wheel of 264ft in height displayed for all to see.

A British engineer called W.B. Bassett built a smaller wheel of size for the Oriental Exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1895. The Winter Gardens encouraged a new company commissioning Bassett to construct one on its own land in Blackpool in 1896 and proved successful as a big crowd puller instilling a lucrative investment for the Winter Gardens. Salt wind caused effects of a corrosive nature creating higher overheads and the venture of the wheel became overall expensive along with what it would have cost to dismantle it in 1901. It remained a feature to see for the next twenty-seven years. In 1896, the Winter Gardens took on further developments of its own, realising mass entertainment was the future of the fast rising popularity of the seaside town.

The resident population by 1891 had doubled to 47,346 by that year’s census and the 1891 housing stock had risen by 50% to 10,323 by 1901. From 1897 to 1898 2000 houses built over that time and the Manchester Guardian printed Blackpool as ‘The Eldorado of Investors’.

The corporation had to control the influx of large visitors, the lease of the Electric Tramway Company ended in 1892, they were unwilling to renew on the terms put forward by the Corporation and in default the latter ran it themselves, creating new lines, run by other companies. These lines encompassed Lytham in 1896, Fleetwood in 1898 and went inland by 1901 and 1902, the holidaymakers not confined to the Promenade or the areas immediately around the two stations with new byelaws passed in 1893 ruling over commercial practices on Blackpool beach. Tout, trickster, fortuneteller had been able to ply their trade quite openly and without consequence. The fairground performers that had travelled the mill towns followed the yearly emigration of the workers to Blackpool. The Corporation now enabled to whittle down their number and limit trading of an ‘unwanted’ nature.

The houses on the Promenade, in the gardens at the back of them, private property, the owners slowly allowed their use to a mass of showmen, fortunetellers and traders of all kinds in the nature of the entertainment business. So much that towards 1900 the Central Promenade filled with a stream of these people frequenting the thoroughfare and creating the origin of the Golden Mile in the thick of this activity in those latter day seasons of the nineteenth century. Taking in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in North Shore and the sand hills of South Shore, others attracted the flock of day-trippers and holidaymakers as Blackpool expanded widely receiving acclaim for its fun.

The Corporation solely afforded the risk of large sums of money coming from taxpayers’ and the residents of Blackpool. In 1898, the development had caused the doubling of the numbers of councillors to 36 and Alderman to 12 underlining the situation and future consequences of the town. Alderman John Bickerstaffe and his younger brother Tom created the alderman, expanding the body in that same year.

Another new company called the South Pier Company erected the Victoria Pier in 1893 at the south end of the Promenade. The South Shore houses, the owners of which, claimed opulence of an esteemed nature much as the Claremont Park occupants, they enjoyed steadfast entertainment true to their ways for the select class of visitors banning open air dancing on the new pier like minded to their neighbours of the North Pier area.

Further, on from the point of the Victoria Pier, it is now South Shore Pier, there was empty open space of sand hills, interest of its future was already in demand. Presently a funfair, its stalls, primitive games and a switchback under the new restrictive controls of the Corporation were nestling in the built up area growing in trade amongst the congregation of gypsies living in tents directly on the sand and its hills.

Out of this lacklustre scene develops a monolith of vast fortune accumulating in world renowned acclaim and is ranked the greatest amusement park in Europe, it rose in power above all other business ventures in the town, the only exception that of the Tower Company. It remained a giant and the newest leading business consortium in the whole of the Fylde coast in its development for the next fifty years. Its investment increased year after year, until it was on a level beyond any other body, including that of the Corporation. Its control would stay with one single family, a solid private industry for the whole of Britain to be proud of with knowledge that it is a mainstay of the meaning of a funfair. It is a foundation for Blackpool giving a rigid history steeped in hard work and the aim to acclimatise to its ever-changing future. The study of the humble beginnings of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach in South Shore and its first hundred years is fascinating leaving one further statement to make that of welcome it.

ONE HUNDRED YEARS: ALL THE AMUSEMENTS OF THE FAIR.




William George Bean was influential in the growth of the fairground enterprise around seaside resorts in England and during the town’s pioneer years leading to the launch of the Pleasure Beach. It is easily believed and imagined that Blackpool at the turning point of the twentieth century was up and coming, rough and ready, much like the old American West frontier towns, as it is a common descriptive term used by writers in authoring books about its early beginnings.

Bean was born on June 6th 1868 and on the birth certificate, written is his father a Thames River Pilot, stating he drove steamboats through the ancient lochs on the most famous of all rivers in England. Bean considered himself a Londoner foremost and at the point of his career when he had been living in Blackpool thirty years, still made the habit of managing his business from the offices he maintained in London, visiting them every five or six weeks. He was no academic but worldly read and was later to astound Blackpool councillors with his self-acquired knowledge and learning from books.

In 1887 aged nineteen Bean left London to seek fame and fortune in the United States, as did many others at that time. He worked in advertising for a while on Madison Avenue. He had the makings of a designer but when questioned by his daughter Lillian Doris as to why he turned his interests elsewhere, he replied, “Well I would have gone on with it but I wasn’t eating very well. So I decided I had to turn my attention to something else.”

Bean went to Philadelphia and was involved in manufacturing for the then growing amusement park industry. Coney Island was just starting out with the tram companies of the major cities developing their own interest in amusement parks finding the market profitable. His interested would have culminated with the enthusiasm of the day in the Chicago 1893 Columbian Exposition in White City.

There Bean would have seen Arthur Ethelbert Hotchkiss’s design, the man rumoured to be a relative of the inventor of the Hotchkiss machine gun, a ‘Bicycle Railroad’ on display in the Midway. A railroad with bicycles propelled mechanically along a track by way of an operator perched on a fence at the side of it with the patrons sitting astride the bikes as it amusingly removed all the legwork involved ordinarily for the rider.

The ride bombed in its first outing to the public at the Exposition, grossing $185.00, Hotchkiss having patented the device by December of 1892 in London stating he was a resident of Mount Holly, New Jersey. He had convinced H.B. Smith Manufacturing Company of Smithville to build single and tandem bicycles to run upon a fixed track. It had intended to be a serious design for the future with the Smithville Bicycle Railroad opened to travel citizens of Mount Holly to jobs and back home again. The improved safety of the bicycle soon made it an obsolete idea and worthless franchise. Six years on the bicycles and the line dismantled, Hotchkiss tried operating systems elsewhere usually in seaside resorts but all of his aims dwindled to nothing with its practice.

Amazingly, Bean returned to England bringing with him the sole U.K. rights to build and operate Hotchkiss’s idea believing there was a brighter future in British seaside resorts. Being a Londoner Great Yarmouth and Brighton were the first places he tried his apparatus on the unsuspecting public.

Bean’s elder brother, Alfred Charles Bean, was a stockbroker in the City. A Company was set-up in London called, using a more presentable sounding name, The Hotchkiss Patent Bicycle Railway Syndicate, Limited for the English market on the 25th April 1896.

Out of the 3,000 original £1 shares, Bean took 1,500, while his brother Charles’s accepted 400. The remaining six shareholders were members of the London Stock Exchange and believed to have been associates of Charles Bean. The responsibilities of the new company mainly consisted of the manufacturing and leasing of several designs of bicycles used in Hotchkiss’s railway system. There are special references in Company articles to tracts of land in Great Yarmouth and the Devil’s Dyke near Brighton, as Bean had a formal agreement to lease, opening and operating his Bicycle Railway in these towns.

Bean was already formulating where next to take his business entrepreneurial ideas as a Bicycle Railway was erected and running in Blackpool in July of that same year in 1896 at South Shore with a Mr T.W. Potts as its manager, as it appears Bean remained in London keeping his interest on his businesses from the hub of his enterprise.

Limited financial success may have been his reason for coming north to Blackpool. It may have something to do with the ‘frontier atmosphere’ of the town in those times reminding him of what he had left behind in the new world. Bean always emphasised his American way towards his brand of entertainment, making no bones to conceal his rare but sometimes used drawl he had picked up during his time in the States.

He did keep one link with Great Yarmouth, in June 1902, Bean married Lilian Crossland, a daughter of a Yorkshire family residing there and in 1903, his only daughter Lilian Doris was born in their residential home in the town.

In amongst the sand hills over by the southerly most part of Blackpool and nestled within the gypsy tents early in 1896 a funfair was already growing with one of the first switchbacks, a camera obscura with fortune tellers resident in the clique of the gypsies. A certain ride would have been of great curiosity to Bean, Outhwaite’s American Merry-go-round and this is consequently, where he rented an area of rough ground beside the roundabout erecting his Bicycle Railway.

John William Outhwaite, a wholesale meat and cattle dealer from Shipley in Yorkshire, his wife suffering from ill health, arrives to settle in Blackpool and finds his attempts to reopen a butchery business is not successful. His father in law, Edward F. Long pays them a visit at this point. Long’s brother manufactured carousels in Philadelphia. Long convinces Outhwaite to try the trade, providing him with a brand new furnished carousel. John Outhwaite began trading in the amusement business on the sands of South Shore in Blackpool in 1895.

Bean and Outhwaite operated side by side with American rides for a number of years with South Shore packed with an immense amount of visitors to the town. The Blackpool Tramway was ten years old and with the completion of the Victoria Pier in 1893, it brought an ever-greater throng of people to the sand hills.

A supplement to the Blackpool Times noted, “A walk to the Gypsy’s tents is almost a necessity on the part of some of our visitors. It is very amusing to see a young lady - yes and sometimes an older one - of highly uncertain years, furtively proceeding to the Gypsy’s tents, as if half ashamed of it. She sits down occasionally as if contemplating the scene, but really to reconnoitre, and at last she, greatly daring, ventures near one of the tents, and has her “fortune” told. The Gypsies are an institution in Blackpool.”

All expenses paid Outhwaite’s roundabout was bringing nearly £800 in the season of 1905. Bean’s Bicycle Railway at 2d a ride brought £400 in the same year and he was running a ride at Southport. It was in 1902 Bean and Outhwaite came to an agreement in working together.

The Blackpool Gazette covers the arrangement made between the Blackpool Corporation and the owners of Watson’s Estate in 1902, stipulating the area running for 100 yards south of South Shore of the South Promenade was to remain undeveloped. “This agreement was actually suggested by Mr W.G. Bean who at that time was concerned in the purchase of the land.”

In a partnership in 1903 the showmen bought over 30 acres of rough ground known as Watson’s Estate, it went inland to the railway and covered 500 yards of sea frontage taking in all the foreshore between high tide and low tide. A mortgage of £30,000 undertaken, the land valued in accounts for 1905 at £34,000, if this was the deal, consider the two men were paying more than the regular price for building land on South Shore.

The Royal Liverpool Friendly Society lending them the money had to have been convinced of the two men’s plans, as The Blackpool Gazette reported at the end of 1903, “they are said to be proposing to develop a portion of the land as a huge entertainment resort. ….. (They) are not disposed to be very communicative about what they intend to do.”

A permanent fairground in existence, new companies asked to install rides and forms of entertainment; they would pay rent to the landlords, Bean and Outhwaite. They would submit a contribution of a percentage of all gross takings, presenting the major attractions for the holidaymakers in visiting Blackpool.

1904 there were 49 stallholders, 9 ran more than one stall as concessionaires, two years on the number had risen to 83, 18 operated more than one as concessionaires and in advertisements for the very first time in 1905 the title for the new permanent funfair was displayed for all to see. The permanent fairground officially designated as The Pleasure Beach. Finally, the humble beginnings of The Pleasure Beach had arrived in the South Shore of Blackpool.

THE PLEASURE BEACH: AN ILLUMINATING FUTURE FOR BLACKPOOL.



The American idea for an enclosure of rides in an enterprise on this scale was a success with the public. Bean was visiting the major amusements parks of the United States and in 1912 advertisements were hailing “England’s Premier Amusement Park”, as the description of funfair was a poor word in Bean’s estimation for his project, Bean had plans for a far greater Blackpool Pleasure Beach than first ever surmised by anyone’s educated guess in those early times.

Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim was a true eccentric, a brilliant American inventor with his first patent granted in 1878, followed by a stream of ideas for inventions over the next thirty-eight years. He was in Europe in 1881 as Chief Engineer of Edison’s United States Electricity Lighting Company, two years later in 1883 he began developing and manufacturing his first automatic gun in London.

The British government were reluctant to notice Maxim’s abilities, though every battalion in the regular army had two Maxim guns in 1891, however, his technical brilliance certainly did not equate with his business acumen, eventually brought out by the extremely up and coming Vickers & Sons in 1897. Onwards from that year to 1914, the company went as Vickers, Sons & Maxim, yet Maxim, though of American birth, received a knighthood from the Queen in 1901.

Maxim fascinated by flight and aerodynamics was involved with wind tunnels right up to engines in the 1890s. In 1894, he created a machine with a wingspan of 104ft powered by a 362 horsepower steam engine of his own design. It had two 17ft propellers, fore and aft. All of it weighed three and half tons. It would also carry three engineers aboard during its transport. At Baldwyn’s Park, Dartford, he erected a railway line track 600 yards long, overtime stretching it to half a mile and it had safety rails on either side for stopping risk of flight from its course in its duration of travel along it. July 31st of that year came and it powered over the track but his lift measurements were out of alignment, the thing broke loose early from its restraining barriers, it did lift flying for 600 yards unaided, nine years before Orville Wright completed his measured course with a smaller, less heavy machine. Maxim’s efforts ploughed into the ground, crashing as a total right off.

Vickers obtaining the rights to his designs, interested in airships and flying machines, declined entertaining any ideas of Maxim’s in this area of expertise but he endeavoured with his insistence and belief in flight.

In October 1902, Maxim commissioned to design a car (carriage) for Stanley Spencer’s airship, Alderman Tom Bickerstaffe, his eye keenly on publicising and furthering the commercial side of Blackpool’s endeavours, convinced Spencer to give a demonstration within the closing ceremony of the Blackpool Music Festival. High winds frustrated the attempt. It was over a fortnight before the airship eventually lifted from the ground. Maxim saw the potential of raising capitol for his flying experiments in demonstrating “captive flight” at amusement parks.

Having tailored the test rig he used to measure the lift of aerofoils, in the spring of 1904 at Earl’s Court, he had erected a steel pole 62ft high with supporting arms, hung from these were carriages in the shape of fish. In revolving, they spread outwards reaching a diameter of 66ft, in earlier attempts, the carriages fitted with wings, proved reckless. One engineer described how he passed out under the pressure of 6.47 G.

The Earl’s Court design took £325 on its first day and by end of the short season £8,000, having agreed to adopt wingless carriages for the purpose of encouraged safety. Maxim created a new Company to operate these rides at Crystal Palace in London, Blackpool and Southport. The cost of the assembled machine in Blackpool was in the region of £7,000.

Maxim came to Blackpool in July 1904 to a ‘luncheon’ in the Metropole Hotel given by the Town Council, amongst the many guests were Bean and Outhwaite, during speeches Maxim intimated, “Blackpool will eventually become the greatest watering place in the world.”

August 1st 1904 the Captive Flying Machine flew for the first time at Blackpool with ten cars maintained head to head on to the airflow by propellers. They seated twenty passengers at 3d. a flight totalling £25 profit for one full car, £250 in conclusion all cars were filled. It did not do well the first day, the season a heat wave, too hot for the holidaymakers. Overall, it was successful and hugely profitable, Bean and Outhwaite accepting the rent for that season at £450.

Two weeks later the Gazette stated the Flying Machine “has already become the craze… Gypsies and others at the Fairground have to thank Sir Hiram for putting so great an attraction in their midst, drawing thousands to the sands beyond the Victoria Pier.”

Four weeks later another machine was revolving at Southport and eventually a third in New Brighton. However, the Blackpool ride was not taking the profit found at Earl’s Court, it took £4, 652 in 1905 and gradually its popularity slowed that by 1914 it was paying a rental of £75. In 1921, the Pleasure Beach bought it for £750.

In 1909 during the groundbreaking Air Show of those times, Maxim paid his last visit to Blackpool.

In 1906 another a new London Company of promise of an American invention of a different nature to Maxim’s idea and design came noticed, a water ride described as “the rage of America in 1904.” An American engineer displayed it to the public for the first time in Britain at Earl’s Court, shipping the concept of it from Coney Island. It graced the name “River Caves of the World.” He brought it to the Pleasure Beach at Blackpool.

Tickets cost 6d., ten people to each of fifty boats scurried along by the current, while the passengers viewed intricate underground caverns extending one and half acres of the amusement park complex with miles of timber, tons of cement, plaster and corrugated iron consisting of the material used in the construction of the ride costing over £3, 000. The water circulated repeatedly at the rate of a thousand gallons a minute using powerful gas engines fuelled by the town’s main gas supply. George Bernasconi, lit by incandescent electric and arc lights cabled thickly and heavily, designed eleven picturesque scenes, all purveying a scenic and cavernous theme.

The caves were the Cave of Emeralds of Ceylon, the Coral Cave of the South Sea Islands, the Mysterious Dripping Well of Arizona, the Blue Grotto of Capri, they all marvelled the public, while outside in the daylight the great Waterfall had them flocking to see its cascades of torrential water.

At this time, an important landmark comes to Blackpool and the amusement park, a Helter-Skelter Lighthouse at the entrance beside the shore for the public to see when they walked over the railway sleepers used as a makeshift path leading into the Pleasure Beach after getting off the trams. In 1908, the same company began to build a second River Caves on the foreshore at Southport.

A miniature railway constructed on a large area of sand and brought from Eaton Hall in Chester, used to ferry coal to the great house since 1895 came to Blackpool in 1905. Its engine coated in London & North West livery rose two feet in height trailing three coaches over a 15-inch gauge track of 500 yards and a 3d. ticket gave its passengers a pleasant journey by the gypsy encampment alighting gracefully at Gypsyville station.

A busy day it could make its journey 120 times, it was called The Little Giant but struggled with the sand, it is said a serious hazard the sparks from the engine could ignite the Edwardian hats worn by the ladies and in 1909 the engine with carriages got ‘shunted’ to Sunny Vale Park Gardens near Halifax.

In 1907, a company was organised to build another water ride, this time erecting a bigger and more sophisticated one than of the water chute that had appeared at Earl’s Court. The Blackpool design rose 65ft and could release 55 boats an hour, each controlled by a gondolier, as in Venice standing upright, down its 267ft incline into the lake at the bottom, landing his passengers on a bank, he having to carry his boat back up the lift to start again with more customers awaiting his arrival.

It was a huge success, still operating in 1932 and taken down that same year to accommodate the building of a new road in Blackpool. It had cost near £12, 000 and a ticket had been 3d. a ride with the net profit in 1907 of £1,203 less the £500 rent paid to Bean and Outhwaite.

The same year, 1907, another fortuitous result for Blackpool during the Whitson Holidays as the first rollercoaster arrived on South Shore.

In 1884, LaMarcus Adna Thompson built his first Switchback Railway in Coney Island and when competitors began assembling the more exciting coasters, he developed a complicated Scenic Railway, where in sections of the ride, the cars ploughed through tunnels and would switch track into illuminated scenes.

In 1895, The L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company launched and his rides marketed worldwide. Found in a catalogue of 1901 he states, “Many of the evils of society, much of the vice and crime which we deplore, comes from the degrading nature of Amusements entered into. To inveigh against them avails a little, but to substitute something better, something clean and wholesome, and persuade men to choose it, is worthy of all endeavour.”

L.A. Thompson sold the British rights to his empire to J.H Lles. Lles response straight away oversaw the first one built in Britain installed on the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool. The cars travelled at 35mph, over the 40ft wooden skeleton and it was more costly at that time than any built in America in the region of £15, 000 sucked up in its progress on South Shore to actually opening in the park.

The set pieces the cars ran through comprised inclusively of Dante’s Inferno, 20, 000 Leagues under the Sea, Mixed Bathing and Off to the Derby. Further to this no problems arose, off putting the fun of the fair at Blackpool, when another built in 1908 at the Franco-British Exhibition at White City in London was launched to the public, patronised by Queen Alexandra and her children, for that same year the Blackpool Scenic Railway had the fortune of half a million passengers at 6d. making a clear profit of £7, 498, subtracting the running costs and £1, 428 to Bean and Outhwaite, while creating unavoidable success for the Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Lles, declared bankrupt in 1919, sold his Scenic Railway to a Blackpool Pleasure Beach company for £8, 000, it was steadfast in giving an immense profit, until a road widening scheme forced the ride to be dismantled in 1933, laying claim by the Pleasure Beach a record number of 15, 000 passengers in one day the summer of July 1909.

By December 1905, the Blackpool Pleasure Beach had a rival, the Blackpool New Fairground Company positioned on the Starr Estate, south of the Pleasure Beach.

In February 1907, new regulatory powers brought into force tightened up the running of ‘new’ fairgrounds. There was a requisite for fire precautions, sanitation built in, gypsy accommodation vigilantly controlled and Sunday activities restricted with bans toughened on gaming, fortunetellers, mock auctions and tricksters. The end of the year brought a triumvirate of Borough Surveyor, Medical Officer of Health and Chief Constable intentionally ensuring the byelaws enforced to the letter. It took a few years for the New Fairground to pack up its machinery and move on, though Bean remained throughout.

Bean decided he had to protect the interests of his amusement park from within the Council, the coming of April 1907 he stood as Conservative candidate for the Waterloo Ward in South Shore. Local journalists made comments in headlines on “The Battle of Waterloo.”

Bean lost by 7 votes, the Liberal candidate, Ernest Lawson, took the seat and later gained a reputation as a regular contributor of civic matters given to the Blackpool Gazette.

A second campaign blew up with Bean scorned as “The Fairground Candidate.” The opposition publicity voiced its opinion loudly, “The picturesque sand hills are now in the hands of speculating showmen and company promoters. In place of what was once a glorious picture of fine clear sand and waving Starr grass, we now have all the crazy contrivances which American cuteness has been able to discover can get money out of the pocket of the easily amused tripper.”

Bean replied in a broadsheet in defence of his enterprise. “In a place of such rapid growth - such growth arising from public demand - I regret there may have been undesirable features, but I can assure you there has never been a keener critic than myself, as is evidenced by the policy which I have systematically pursued in the introduction of new and popular forms of amusement and recreation, some of which are superior to any in England, not even accepting those of the well known of Earl’s Court, London.”

Bean won by 271 votes and kept his seat consecutively until 1925 when elected an Alderman. The council for years gave him opposition, the Bickerstaffes’ without question, had particularly hit him. Winning the election meant he could rise shoulder to shoulder with his inquisition of the day. Bean gained positions onto a number of Committees over the years, culminating in Advertising, Health, Tramways & Electricity, Building and Planning, ultimately the Watch Committee and Finance, awarding his American style amusement park recognition, along with the respect he had gained and wished for it.

The Gazette wrote two years after Bean’s death of his lifelong feud with Tom Bickerstaffe. “Precisely what it was that made the antipathy of these two so bitter and so relentless will probably never be fully explained. But it went deeper than the clash of business interests and the personal rivalries of two ambitious men. The clash was elemental and fundamental, and the cleavage was deep and wide as the ocean which they both loved in their different ways. The two men were poles apart in every aspect but one, determination to succeed, and a capacity for getting their own way. And wherever one turned in Blackpool he found the other - baulking and hindering. It was a case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. W. G. Bean with his acid tongue and sardonic wit; Tom Bickerstaffe with his hearty good-fellowship and bluff manner - these men of iron resolution and inflexible will were always “up-against” each other.

Twenty years of struggle saw these two figures gradually assume the leadership of their own particular sets. Each had his followers, each took tactical advantage of every position as it rose, each sought to be dominant; and in the ensuing dust of conflict it was sometimes difficult to see where was public policy and where vendetta. Not that Blackpool suffered. On the contrary, the two stimulated each other to the public good. It would be unjust and inaccurate, therefore, to liken the local position to a kind of gang war between two widely different Al Capones…. The outcome of that conflict was as inevitable as the causes which gave it life. While the one man gradually worried himself into sickness and an early grave at sea, the other, after his habit during nearly forty years of public life, could forget all his troubles and enjoy the good things in life.”

THE GYPSIES: REMEMBERING THEIR PART IN THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF THE PLEASURE BEACH AND THEIR MOVING ON.


Since the early 1800s Romanies resided in Blackpool, they congregated on North Shore, especially near to the Gynn Inn by the cliffs but with serious erosion, drastically so at the point of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a large amount of the gypsies moved to the sand hills of South Shore and this became their main encampment from 1885.

In summer, their numbers swelled with more of them arriving from Liverpool and Manchester. In an early periodical The Blackpool Graphic, a picturesque paper of 1889, a description of the gypsies is as follows, “an orderly little community….. their motley encampment is regarded as one of the sights of Blackpool.”

Long-term residents from the gypsies living on the beach had great acceptance, the ‘strays’, the incoming ones, returning each year for trade with the middle class holidaymakers is what troubled and embittered the locals in South Shore.

One example of the peoples respect here in Blackpool to the gypsies is with the Boswell family, exalted as aristocracy of the Romanies living at South Shore. Sarah Boswell, maiden name Hearn, died in 1904 aged 98 with the mourners at the Blackpool Cemetery becoming overwhelming in their number. Sarah originated from Kent, married Ned Boswell and headed north, later settling at South Shore in 1836. Alma, her son, one of nine children, breathed air on this planet for the very first time on the sands in 1855, literally born on the sand hills and of record lived on the Starr Estate as late as 1910.

The roving gypsy visitors were the ones less welcome to the locals, considered suspicious, regularly inhabiting the magistrates courts, the reason given ‘internal disharmony’, believing to administer unacceptable, even a harmful influence to those vulnerable to fortune tellers and crystal ball readings. This animosity took its course by 1906 for there were fewer of the ‘less thought of gypsies’ in sight around South Shore at this time. In any event in 1907 the council ruled, “no gypsy’s tent, shed, caravan or encampment shall be permitted on any part of the land set apart as a fairground.” The majority of the permanent encampment resided on the Pleasure Beach land.

In 1906 a plan was drawn for Bean, etched in were twenty tents or caravans erected behind the Bicycle Railway, River Caves and the Switchback, occupied by Noah Young, Oscar Young, Bill Townshend, possibly misspelled for Townsend or Townend, Noah Townshend, James Smith and Bendigo Lee having lived there with their families from the 1860s. Two Boswell families also owned six tents. A few of these were concessionaires, while others helped operate the Switchback and the Aerial Ride.

In 1908, two families recorded are on the Starr Estate, seven others in a different place, while twelve tents are on Bean’s estate. Their varying occupations listed are of quite some curiosity, a bookmaker, Professional Bowler, suggestively in the Northern sport of Crown Bowl’s, Waiter, two Scissors-Grinders, a magnitude of Fairground Attendants, at least ten licensed Pedlars and Hawkers, a Labourer and a Charwoman paying up to £20 rent a year to the landlord.

Some made a modest living out of their efforts, while others enjoyed a more fortunate income depending on their earnings over the seasons and the frequent spending of the holidaymakers to Blackpool on a higher or lesser degree of popularity of the rides at the Pleasure Beach over time.

The problems with officialdom wishing to remove them from Blackpool met its hiatus in 1909 but not before and within the ensuing time, recordings of court minutes boasted the Chief Constable of having said words to the effect that females, appearing for the misdemeanour of fortune telling, could make £12.00 a day, quoting it as proof of their ‘wrong doing’.

In 1909, one of the gypsies, a Mrs Franklin, sent an appeal to King Edward without success while Bean, advised to remove them in 1907, though strictly speaking they were legal tenants, did not relinquish his objection of doing this until the very end of 1909 and was congratulated by the Blackpool Herald in his actions quoting, “by pacific means.”

In memory of the gypsies Frank Cass, born 1907, and regardless of the eviction in 1909, herded the pigs keeping the Pleasure Beach clean of grass and weeds. Reg Young, born 1908, worked on the Grand National for years and was still going into work after he retired, while in 1988 he and his family did attend an appointment with the Queen for a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, specifically driven to London in a Company Rolls Royce for this occasion.

THE BLACKPOOL PLEASURE BEACH: A GROWING CONCERN.


Tom Bickerstaffe’s goal for publicity, highly influential on the town’s advertising committee, ever persistent to raise the enthusiasm of those needing the promotion of Blackpool, supported by the 2d. rate of tax and by this time neither was it limited to the UK.

In 1905, people returning from visiting the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium had an interesting anecdote to tell, as across the gable end of the Hotel and Museum beside the battlefield was a huge banner.

“Blackpool, England. The unrivalled seaside resort. Health, pleasure and glorious sea. Finest entertainments in the world. Apply to Cook’s Tourist Office, Brussels and this Hotel.”

Three months after Bleriot flew across the channel in October 1909 an Air Pageant, sponsored by the Blackpool Corporation took place, the first on the shores of Great Britain with land made available at Squire’s Gate for the purpose. The weather not good a throng of 50,000 people congregated to watch, this steeping up interest for a second display in 1910.

Central Blackpool inhabitants disliked trade moving to the south end of town and consequently they faired not much better with the Pleasure Beach prospering ever higher as each year passed the annual growth of profit to Bean and Outhwaite rising from £5,333 in 1905 to £12,214 in 1910 with the deliverance of permanence made rock solid in 1907. “The Spanish Street” appeared built on the ground of old shops and stalls in the area, prettying it up to the colourful standard of Bean’s intention for South Shore.

The street paraded from the reaches of the Helter-Skelter lighthouse taking in the shoreline, there was some defence of shelter from bad weather courtesy of seasonal damage, yet of risk to the gales intermittently hitting the Fylde coast. It was an example of early relations to the themes attached to the parks of today well before they came into existence.

Another first in Britain, in 1908, for Blackpool, as a Canadian Toboggan Slide arrived at the Pleasure Beach, while in that same year, a Brooklands racing track constructed with three lanes of tracks to run the same number of cars made its presence known but only temporarily, dismantled soon after. September came with Bean coming home from another trip to American, this time furnishing the Gazette a column of stories regarding amusement parks over the Atlantic remaining quiet to the planning of rides he intended to bring to Blackpool.

Early 1909 brought William Homer Strickler from Philadelphia to construct a new rollercoaster, the cars running over maple tracks for three quarters of a mile on an oval course, giving the passengers the smoothest rides on velvet seats, logically christened the Velvet Coaster, the fare 3d. a ride. Its price in building was around £8,000 remaining at the park up to 1932, removed to rebuild sections of it into the present Roller Coaster used in present times.

B.L. Tweddle furnished the bigger resorts from Aberdeen to Brighten. Early on in 1909, he constructed the largest Roller Skating Rink in Blackpool at that time, there were eight in total, installing American maple for its floor with two sides as revolving shutters for opening in good weather, though used in summer and winter for social occasions, carnivals and exhibitions, while also utilized as a Ladies’ Hockey Club.

During 1914, competition for Roller Skating Rinks in Blackpool met its peak, the others closing through lack of business and Bean purchasing the rink in 1916, keeping a custom up to 1936, closed that year for building the greater sized Ice Drome on its plot of land.

In 1910, the local reaction to the Pleasure Beach as reported by the Gazette, “Out of the noisy chaos of old fashioned stalls, roundabouts and such things as are generally known as “all the fun of the fair”, Messrs. Bean and Outhwaite have evolved an orderly and most attractive exhibition ground, containing many of the latest novelties and inventions of the showman’s world.”

The Billboard, a publication of the American amusements industry, had this to say of grand interpretation in keeping with their own parks for comparison, “This huge open air combination of shows is as near reproduction of Coney Island as one could imagine in England.”

That year Bean and Outhwaite took out a new private Company, Bean Chairman and Managing Director with nominal capital of £70, 000, above half of this paid, written off to profits, as was one third of the mortgage of £30,000, the business flourishing new companies were presently created to run the newer arrival of rides expected at the Pleasure Beach. In this year, 1910, the Pleasure Beach became a limited company, “The Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ltd.”


WORLD WAR I: PREFACING THE WAR YEARS AND BEYOND (I).

Further in 1910 yet another company was created in May, Bean, Outhwaite and Strickler named it Monitor and Merrimac to build a Ferro-concrete “spectatorium” with costs running over £30,000, seating 500 at 3d., frequently re-enacting the Battle of Chesapeake Bay for the viewing customers per day. This was a battle between the ironclads Monitor and Merrimac during the American Civil War.

In 1914 additionally staged was the Coronation Review at Spithead, this ending with a patriotic rendition of Rule Britannia, in 1922 the American battle deemed outdated was scheduled instead for the British attack on Zebrugge.

1910 the Joy Wheel was brought to Blackpool, featured most popular ride of the Brussels Festival, also known as the Social Mixer, a low conical disk visitors paid to sit on, the circular dais speedily revolving, customers attempting to remain sat on their backsides without centrifugal force dragging them to the edge and off as quick as a whisker. Most got on it, few stayed on it, the majority chucked off it as consequence.

John Outhwaite died in 1911. Outhwaite’s death sudden, his share of the business as well as his shares in the companies he and Bean produced went to his two sons and two daughters. Bean ran the business alone, as when Outhwaite lived.

In this year, two amusements added to the growth of Blackpool Beach were a hall of mirrors called the House of Nonsense, along with a ride known as the Bowl Slide.

In 1912 investment of £3,000 in the Rainbow Wheel, an illusionary ride giving the impression of being adrift at sea without leaving the ground, the wheel spun with passengers given delightful consecutive illuminated scenes to view from all sides and in this one event comparable to the Scenic Railway.

The Witching Waves arrived in 1913 similar to the design of Dodgems, wicker-cased cars pushed by steel plates, strictly keeping them to their tracks while in motion and the final pre-war ride to come to the Pleasure Beach was the Whip, a machine spinning passengers about in small cars suspended on long arms.

This is the time of the ‘original’ Casino of 1913, grandiose in architecture, positioned near the trams and on the seafront, looking oriental in theme, again made of Ferro-concrete and whitened for the blazing sun of summer. It had an odd slanting look towards its North side decided by the boundary line of Bean’s land, strongly built, demolished in 1937 it took dynamite to rip the twenty-four year old construction apart.

Ideally, its name not meant to conjure thoughts of gambling, made strictly illegal on the Pleasure Beach, mainly in contrast to inspire the mood and origin of the oriental tea house, stimulating recuperation of mind and soul.

The Casino had a billiard hall with ten tables, the ground floor, while flaunting on the outside immense and intricately ornate verandas, inside accommodating a restaurant, a grillroom, boldly drawing its attention to their “chops and steaks from the electric grill”, along with a shop. Company offices on the first floor, a cinema installed too, seating 700 people.

£13,352 it took to complete, years before the illuminations of Blackpool on the Promenade, Bean had the outside of the building laced gracefully around window arches, porticos, pillars and its cupolas adorning the roof with electrical wiring for light bulbs attracting at night in their glow the holidaymakers from the seafront.

The Casino strategically placed in Bean’s new brochure to eye catching intensity with its elaborate design, evidenced his determination in a permanent rigidity of his grand mission for South Shore.

Bean’s frequent trips to the United States made interesting enough news in those times for the local press, as in January 1913, a popular feature writer made great mince of his outstanding efforts. He wrote, “Behold, who is this that strideth along like Blackpool’s motto (“Progress” - the motto of the Corporation) personified, progress in pants and a bowler hat, though sometimes it taketh turn in a trilby? Who is this with the slick, smart ways, the brisk manner, and the decisive speech; who cometh along like electricity in a hurry, and sayeth as he passeth the Tower and giveth it a commiserating glance, “Ha, Ha! Come down to the other end of the stamps, but how to lick creation, gee-whizz!” Lo, it is the Pleasure Beach Bean, the Napoleon of the Dunes, Bean of the Fairy Beanstalk, the man who hath made the desert bloom as a rose, who, with a magician’s wand, transformed the sand hills into shekels; the man who skips merrily across the water to Coney Island and bringeth back all the latest show devices, and a touch of nasal twang.”

WORLD WAR I: THE WAR YEARS (I).


1914, 23rd June, fear of civil war breaking out in Ireland, the government of the day perhaps hinged to fall were the only whispers in the Blackpool headlines, not until 31st July a mention of a critical problem in Europe, four days before war broke out propelling Britain into the mouth of terrible conflict.

There was a lull in the holiday traffic, picking up days afterwards with spending as good as ever, the illuminations planned to go ahead as normal, government and local authorities in Blackpool clueless of the calamity to follow, the preparations necessary to undergo a world war.

Barrow shipyards shrouded in a blackout over a range of fifty miles, while Blackpool given special exemption from the ruling allowing all lights bright until ten p.m. The decision changed with a full threat of German U Boats spotted offshore cried a definite reality of what could happen in times of war. The senseless intentions with the illuminations dropped in haste of the possible dangers from the sea.

Problems struck the Pleasure Beach, young men called upon to fight, women, for the first time worked in their place, parts for the new machines not available, difficulty in repairing the older rides. Yet the entertainment expectantly grew regardless of the war, a pastime most needed with Bean running each season as the deteriorating terms of world war demanded, putting on him the likeliest of restrictions.

In the meantime, Blackpool inspired growth of its economy by harbouring refugees, giving medical care to convalescents, the seaside more relaxing of mind and accommodating troops in the boarding houses, while their training took place in Lancashire. A photograph exists of a line of soldiers lying on the beach holding rifles at the ready, it would be reckless to suggest weapons aimed and fired, speculating the use of firing practice on the sand. However, it beats the picturesque scene of the home guard recruits drilling with sweeping brushes as is popularly renowned in the publicity of the time.

In the first month of war cheap excursion trips enabled visitors to come to the town as in previous seasons but as news of deaths in action from the frontline reached home, the successful extension of the season as in past years gained problems arising from taste and morality. This resulted in the cancellation of the September Musical Festival by its voluntary promoters. The illuminations proved a more awkward decision to lose in time of war, as in the beginning of that month the Corporation voted 37-6 to go ahead with usual plans, commercialism foremost to the business community of Blackpool, ignoring a request from the Admiralty for the lessening in seaside lighting output. The township wrongly assuming the dangers were to the south and east coasts nearest the ‘frontlines of war’ offshore towards France, as the threat of attack deemed most likely from the sea in these regions.

Leading council members attributed and argued the policy in keeping the lights during wartime with words of patriotism and morale boosting, however, they were defeated in the November municipal elections with strong adverse opinions in the voting resulting in Councillor Lawson’s removal from office. He lost his seat as consequence of the overwhelming reasoning towards the war. Yet the growth of the seaside resort and holiday attractions grew regardless, though initially it appeared the war had affected Blackpool unfavourably. Beach traders asked for a reduction of their rents, this refused, a result of non-payment of rent arose with just 23 of 101 stallholders continuing to pay in full up to the following March, yet the B+Bs of the town benefited remarkably.

Firstly, the arrival of Belgium refugees towards the season ending, followed by the billeting of British troops, 8,600 came in November 1914, the peak of the 1914-15 winter brought another 10,000 troops and 2,000 refugees significantly bringing in financial relief for the struggling seaside businesses of Blackpool. It relieved too the unemployment in the area, as fortuitously 1,500 men found work over the first five months of the war following the immediate departure of the town’s German waiters and musicians.

This at least was an infusion of help in the bleak times of war, its stretches of beach offering spacious areas for military training and exercises, the compensation of this increasing as war drew ever on. The bombardment of Scarborough in the first winter made the east and south coasts risky for holiday excursions, though Brighton proved to have had a reasonably good financial time of the war too, throughout threats of invasion from those stretches of coastlines. Blackpool became a regular choice of visiting in view of its agreeable safety.

The steamer services abolished at this time in Blackpool caused the need to take in the flux of holidaymakers from the Isle of Man, the island having no access to its regular visitors from northern England and Scotland with a terrible economic upset ensuing for the Manx people because of it. The Clyde estuary also had their troubles, the paddle steamers out of commission. Blackpool became popular with the Scottish visitors’ because of these dire consequences, wartime travel restrictions kept the usual town trippers’ loyal and the Lancashire working class continued to come to the resort, even with a sharp rise of train fares in 1917.

Seasonal excursions to Blackpool throughout the war increased in popularity with people making difficult journeys to the resort by tram or foot when trains not running and a rise in the working classes spending became more noticeable in times of tight labour markets. Earning opportunities for women with the need to increase output for vast production, overtime rates incurred, while rationing limited expenditure on goods already scarce, making them available for holidaymakers and beer restricted in its strength reducing the usually expected public disorders induced by too much drinking of it.

The demand for billeting increased for the armed forces, assuring continued prosperity for the landladies of Blackpool, yet rates of pay declined as the war progressed, at its end dislike grew up in boarding soldiers at the height of season. Lucrative army money by comparison of the British, spent by Americans and Colonial troops brought sizeable incomes to the entertainment companies of the town in any event. In October 1915, a large convalescent hospital opened at South Shore.

The end of the war showed prosperity for Blackpool, though in the closing months of 1918, the Chief Constable’s Clothing Fund gave clothes and footwear to around 2,000 needy children, as widespread poverty in the town not cured by war, the low-level allowances for soldiers’ dependents and war widows did not help matters either. Help in rent controls, further rationing too because of wartime inflation and shortages did not encourage a turn around for the stricken poor of Blackpool.

However, circumstances of the war did uplift heads, normally quiet ones, of the groups within the Blackpool labour force into taking militant action to improve pay and conditions.

Arthur Laycock, Blackpool’s first socialist councillor, 1906-9, reported little progress for the local labour movement when the Trades Union Congress held its first official Blackpool conference in 1917. The next summer, labour disputes made a successful strike on the holiday industry, as Sceneshifters, stagehands and related workers at the Tower and Winter Gardens gained union recognition and pay rises just as the season began in July 1918.

The dispute resolved fast in the strikers’ favour after arbitration by the mayor, a leading employer in the building trades and more used to this kind of action, his fellow aldermen, respectively anti-unionists, on the boards of the entertainment companies. Great changes arrived overtime with further strikes aimed right at the heart of the entertainment industry.

Towards war’s end the gross income of the Pleasure Beach peaked at £13,000, a steady drop from £15,932 in 1913, in 1918 it rose to £23,379. The first year of peace, 1919, it practically doubled its earnings with inflation and rising prices from 1917 to 1920. The looming of 1920 proved extremely lucrative with record proceeds in most businesses around Blackpool.

The Pleasure Beach took the lead over all entertainments but for the Tower Company run by John Bickerstaffe, as from 1899 no evidence of enterprises with great magnitude in the town gained any footing in Blackpool, alterations to existing buildings certainly made, a few cinemas had arisen, while private investors remained uncertain of the town’s future.

WORLD WAR I: THE FORTITUDE OF THE PLEASURE BEACH IN THE WAR (I).




Harold Blackburn, a Yorkshire man, visited the town in 1914 with his 80 horsepower Avro bi-plane, flying it from the sands at the Pleasure Beach, Bean one of the first passengers, whereas Bean’s wife later that week became the first woman to pilot a plane in Blackpool.

The novelty of flying by 1919 had worn thin yet remained a great attraction to the public. A.V. Roe had a fleet of aircraft stored in Manchester, his first visit to Blackpool in the 1909 Air Pageant flying his three-decked Yellow Peril. Roe offered Bean a free South Shore Aerodrome beside the Pleasure Beach for six weeks, the council tried to intercede, objecting to Roe not paying any rent to Bean but Tom Bickerstaffe did concede the land belonged to Bean. It was Bean’s decision, not the council’s, thus unfavourably acknowledging Bean had legal freedom to do as he wished with it.

Roe brought four bi-planes from Manchester to Blackpool all licensed to carry two passengers at a guinea a time for a ten minute trip flying over the town, two guineas for a flight over a further distance covering St Anne’s, charging another two guineas for looping the loop.

At the grand opening 30,000 people attended and at the end of July the aircraft had recorded 10,000 flights. At the end of August, a gale caused damage to the plane, Roe replacing the engines with 130 horsepower Bentley Rotary Engines and given a license for four passengers per craft.

Mid September recorded passenger flights of 500 a day in three aircraft, they flew for many seasons but stopped in 1921 when construction work began on the great swimming pool on the shore, deciding in time the sands too dangerous for these joyrides, the safer airfields at Squire’s Gate and beside Stanley Park adopted for use instead.

Private investment drying up in the town, the last stronghold of commitment, the taxpayers’ of Blackpool came into consideration with public expenditiure growing at a highly critical rate in the 1920s. In 1926, the town celebrated its Golden Jubilee.

In 1913, the Corporation established a settlement with the Pleasure Beach, confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1917 forcing Bean to surrender 500 yards of sea frontage but not the rights to the foreshore between high and low tide. Bean agreed to the extension of two roads through his land, creating major problems in 1928.

However, Bean resolved this agreement by purchasing more land near the amusement park but the Corporation reclaimed it in the construction of the new promenade, absolving Bean too from any need to seek planning permission for work done on the latest addition to the boundaries of the Pleasure Beach prior to Bean losing it again. He had to reapply annually for permission to continue to maintain these temporary structures, classed as such by the Corporation, up to 1913.

After the Great War an extension of the South Promenade via the Pleasure Beach to Squires Gate, an open air swimming pool at South Shore, an improved road system, an intricately landscaped municipal inland park, an annual display of illuminations along the Promenade, instigated by plans of the Corporation, gave rise to a fast departing Victorian outlook of the town. Modernisation prepared its headway in Blackpool, the B+Bs architecture blending a background to the town’s changing façade as the years marched on, the Pleasure Beach becoming grossly ever popular.

In 1914 Bean formed a new company known as American Concessions, its function to take over the running of the Rainbow Wheel, the Canadian Toboggan slide and in 1921 Maxim’s flying machine. This latter year saw Pleasure Beach Exhibitions created to control the running of the Scenic Railway, Cable Chutes, another company, ran the Water Chute. Bean had brought this ride from the Receivers for £1,750 in 1919, as each independent company holding a concession lost interest or ran into difficulties Bean purchased them to absolve into one of his many franchises, yet most of the smaller stalls and rides staid as concessions.

George Valentine Tonner, a great example of a concessionaire at the Pleasure Beach in those years, his interesting career well documented at his hearing for bankruptcy in 1932, born in Ireland in 1885, went to the Boar War as a drummer boy, eventually to settle in America for a while to ride as a jockey. Tonner was also a manager of a laundry. In the Great War, he served with the rank of Sergeant in the Canadian Army in France, after he worked as an amusement caterer in America and in Australia.

In 1920 he came to the Pleasure Beach investing £10,000 in concessions, in 1926 Tonner had fifteen concessions including the Dodgems and he actually introduced them to the Pleasure Beach in 1921, the year he made his first patent. He had two Kentucky Derby Races, two Photographic Shooting Ranges and two Dart Stalls

In 1922, Tonner set up an extremely successful Skee Ball competition inviting large numbers of competitors, offering a seasonal prize, those with the highest score by the end of the season came to Blackpool for a final shoot-out, a good catch for trade. The winner in 1922 went home with a motorcycle, in 1923 an Austin Seven given as the prize to the winning contestant. In 1928, the only winner out of 417 finalists accepted the cash alternative of £200.00 for the top prize, as the man was unemployed.

Tonner made a worthy success of his concessions at the Pleasure Beach, so much he should have been a millionaire. His problem any number of ‘white elephants’, ideas that went nowhere, too many crippling ventures, such as attempting to introduce the French to dog racing in Paris owning and running 168 dogs, backing pantomimes without success, a licensee to some public houses. Tonner lost everything and headed back to the Pleasure Beach as the concessionaire of the Kentucky Derby until his death in 1958.

William Homer Strickler made his presence known again at the Pleasure Beach in 1921 and this time his first commission was to build a Noah’s Ark, a funhouse, of course, in the shape of the biblical Ark, surrounded and decorated ceremoniously with mechanical animals, based on an original design in America in 1917.

Sadly, on returning to Southport to construct another Noah’s Ark in Pleasureland in 1930, Strickler fell from the structure, midway to its completion, dying a few days later in Blackpool, buried in the Blackpool Cemetery.

John Miller and Harry Baker of Chicago made a breakthrough in rollercoaster construction in 1914 with adding under-track friction wheels along with side friction wheels keeping each car fast to its track, enabling designers to use a much steeper and accelerated course, allowing for tighter bends in its design too.

Bean acquired the UK rights to this patent and set up a new company, Millerride, to run the first coaster in Britain with the system. Strickler helped with the design of Miller’s Big Dipper costing £25,000, opening it in August 1923, erected on the site of the old switchback, that ride not reopened after 1914.

In 1924, Bean took his wife and daughter to the States for the first time, touring the most important amusement parks the country offered for spectacle and entertainment. He made speeches of his success with the Pleasure Beach in Britain, a notable figure to the Americans, in the early twenties and regardless of his British origins, helped founder the National Association of Amusement Parks.

Bean’s son-in-law, later, posthumously acclaimed and included in the Hall of Fame, his grandson Geoffrey Thompson became President of the revamped National Association of Amusement Parks, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) with Geoffrey Thompson the first Englishman to hold the office.

In 1925, the figures arriving in Blackpool by train escalated by the midsummer period. There is record 473 special trains had run on one particular day, another quarter of a million travelling by train in October to see the illuminations and the roads stretched with hundreds of charabancs, cars reckoned in their thousands filled the town.

In 1926, beside the railway station in Blackpool displayed a large sign 200 yards long solely proclaiming the Pleasure Beach and welcoming the record number of travellers visiting the town for their summer holidays.

In 1932 during the Easter Weekend 28,000 vehicles entered Blackpool with the Automobile Association claiming the Preston to Blackpool road the busiest in the country.

In 1937, an estimation of two million visitors came to the resort at the end of the season for the five weeks of the illuminations.

In 1919, the Corporation had 129 trams working continuously throughout the season along the Promenade. The open-air swimming pool arrived on reclaimed land beside the Pleasure Beach in 1923, drawing around 60,000 swimmers or onlookers with the amusement park unable to claim its position directly on the edge of the sea as it had done in its early days of the 1890s and 1900s.

The famous illuminations and landmark for Blackpool commenced in 1925 taking in three miles of the Promenade, extending the season too, bringing it to a close some weeks later, the lights initially beginning as an experiment, the South Shore Baths followed suit with a display of their own, a little number known then as, “Venice in Blackpool.”

Bean from the start had illuminated the Casino on its opening, while the major rides constituted an array of lights too on their stalls, attracting and displaying the knowledge of what lay ahead for the tourists at the end of the tram track. Consequently, in 1927 the destination THE PLEASURE BEACH became visible on the front of the trams for the first time.

Amenities were a necessary attribute sufficient for the use of the masses arriving in Blackpool, so as early as 1907, a 12-inch sewer, resulting from demands put on the Council became installed in the amusement park linking the town’s drainage system. Two sets of lavatories had been prepared for the public prior to this time and in 1925 a new palatial set of lavatories in the centre of the Pleasure Beach were erected at the cost of £7,576 with the interiors putting some of the more eloquent London Clubs in the pale.

Other than the Casino restaurants, three major cafes and several stalls, along with twelve outlets for ice cream, manufactured on the premises, were on the Pleasure Beach grounds.

Every thought, aspect, ride, stall, amusement, even rude postcards, to entice further visitors for the next year’s season, were considered to hold the attention of the visitor, including their family and friends not yet in the town as consequence. Bean had nearly twenty specially designed lewd postcards on sale between 1921 and 1925.

In 1924, the Manchester Guardian published an extravaganza regarding the visitors to the post-war Pleasure Beach.

“Their grannies asked for no more than clogs and a fiddle and their great-great-grandfathers sucked straws and went about in smocks. While they, the little hussies, will smoke cigarettes as they ride upon the “Rainbow Wheel”, and some of them, perhaps, will flaunt it in red heels, and your London girls will not be able to teach them much about hats, and the boys with them will be tremendous fellows of the world. And Mr. Paul Pry and Mr. Militant Moralist will turn an honest penny as usual by showing them up. But no one will heed those gentlemen. For the charabanc driver will once more be the charioteer of romance and the showman will be playing pander to the little gods of laugher and all over the false tones of vulgarity, pretension and bad taste there will be audible for them that have ears to hear an underswell of melody, sounded only when the hearts of the people are still light. That is how I see the Pleasure Beach. It is not a small thing that this melody should be heard in post-war Lancashire. For, from time to time, though never in England, it has fallen silent and then a country has been going to the dogs.”

The new Promenade for the first time cut the Pleasure Beach off from the sea giving total protection from the Irish Sea, unfortunately, though shifting sands could not swirl around the amusement park, the end of October 1927 arrived and the Fylde coast had gales of up to 90 miles an hour, described then as a tidal wave. Six people died, the Pleasure Beach submerged under water for a while, the new sea wall, however, stopped the force of the waves from sweeping away the South Shore rides and stalls along with the outgoing tide.

Bean’s last ingenuity for the amusement park, The Big Dipper, arrived in 1923, though other concessions did find their way into the ever-growing Pleasure Beach. The Jack & Jill slide of 1926, a Caterpillar, 1,001 Troubles with its distorting mirrors, in 1927 a Custer Car Track and Autoskooters, an alternative to the dodgems in 1928. Again, in 1927, the Spectatorium the Attack on Zeebrugge gave its own reason for removal, as the world and the Pleasure Beach were moving on.

The Spectatorium, however, continued as a Theatre, its first show the Indian Temple of Mystery, Amir Box and his troupe entertaining with wire-walking, tumbling, juggling, balancing on bamboo poles and displays of intense duelling. Bean had discovered Box touring the parks in the Southern States of America bringing the whole troupe to Blackpool.

Bean’s very last edition to the Pleasure Beach a massive boating pool between the new promenade and the Big Dipper during 1928 but with Bean feeling tired and sick from the endless wrangling in trying to stop the Council driving a new road through the centre of the park. In 1929, Bean left on his final voyage to America.

THE BLACKPOOL PLEASURE BEACH: BEAN’S LIMELIGHT.




The war over, Bean continued his position with the council, in 1919 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and became more active in local politics but kept to his reputation of being controversial, particularly on matters concerning the Pleasure Beach.

That same year as Vice-Chairman of the Watch, he became embroiled in a distinctive row over a new Chief Constable, Tom Bickerstaffe amongst the opposition, Bean delivering a volley of an attack on “The Gang” in the event of attempting to condemn them in a conspiracy over property in pre-War deals. Later Bean and some of his colleagues supporting him in his actions resigned from the Committee.

In 1920, Bean made national headlines following correspondence in the Daily Mail, as Bean, in a letter, launched a scathing attack upon the general apathy of the time.

“The supercilious attitude which so many ratepayers, immersed in their own private concerns, adopt towards municipal affairs, is bad citizenship……. The personnel of a great many town councils is appalling. It is safe to say that the greatest intelligence is found among the most extreme Labour and even Bolshevist elements and the least among the representatives of the old orthodox Liberal and Conservative parties. Local councils have too long been made the cockpit of party political struggle and petty local trade jealousy. What is wanted is that the best brains of the community should be offered, in a patriotic spirit of self-sacrifice, to the public service.”

In 1921 following a stay in hospital, Bean took a convalescent cruise in the Norwegian fjords, joined by his Financial Director, George Palmer, so when the Prince of Wales made a whistle-stop tour of the Fylde, Bean not present, Mrs Bean met and was officially introduced to the royal personage.

Later that year Bean had recovered enough to go on his usual visit to America, though word reached him during his voyage that his supporters wanted him to become a candidate in the mayoral elections. Bean cabled his rejection to their wishes, while still at sea on the Aquitania.

Southport, their Corporation, June 1922, completed a major project of land reclamation on their foreshore, in the near future, however ramshackle; it continued with its tenants of a council-run amusement park named Pleasureland, while Bean and Outhewaite had ran a number of rides and machinery at Southport through their company Helters. Bean formally opened the funfair with its new plush name of Pleasureland at Southport and with his usual eloquence; Bean gave a huge tribute to the vision of the local councillors.

The improvement scheme began in 1921, as in 1917 an Act of Parliament agreed that new roads were to be built beside the railway and along the promenade. The open-air swimming pool cost well over £80,000, the landscape architect Thomas H Mawson was to supervise.

Mawson planned a new scheme for the residents of Blackpool, a large municipal park with a lake and sports areas extending over hundreds of acres inland of the Irish Sea, the land bought some years previously by John Bickerstaffe, from this project Stanley Park was born. Mawson also designed for Bean a romantic, ornate frontage for the Pleasure Beach, consequently never built.

Tom Bickerstaffe continued to come up with brighter ideas to bring in even bigger numbers of visitors to Blackpool and in 1923, Bean a part of that group, took a committee to Nice investigating the running of a continental Carnival. Unsuccessful, though liked by millions of visitors, Blackpool’s attempt at such a venture, showed a deficit of £5,700, yet in 1924, against Bean’s advice, the visitors’ most likely day-trippers, spending thriftily overall, again tried. It lost £6,067 with Bean quoted as saying, “Told you so…” while Bean irreverently received complaints of vast crowds flocking to the Pleasure Beach during the time of this folly.

During a council meeting of that year, Bean heavily criticised the financial management of the Borough for its lavish expenditure. Bean’s previous opponent in his rise to politics over two earlier elections, until Bean won, Ernest Lawson, backed him in the Gazette with a commanding statement.

“The running flow of conversation amongst the Members of the Council was instantly silenced when Councillor Bean took the subject in hand. He was all too brief, but every word he uttered was sound common sense and logic. He struck one of the highest notes sounded in the Town Hall for many a day when he appealed for better treatment of the “living ratepayer” against the orgy of spending for posterity. He held the view that we were providing too much for posterity with schemes that were costing millions and throwing an intolerable burden on the “living ratepayer”. Councillor Bean’s manner of speech is telling and convincing. You can feel that the sincerity, the disgust and the clever sarcasm only too truly points the truth. Yet here is a man with all the attributes for public life, for leadership, gifted with the power of speech second to no man in the Council, and with an analytical brain which marks him out for a high position, without either a vice-chairmanship or a chairmanship…… Members of the Council are wilfully neglecting to play their full strength in not placing Councillor Bean in a position of which the importance would be worthy of him. There cannot be any denying that the town wants leadership. The hour has struck. Here is the man. For the sake of the “living ratepayer”, use him. I hold no brief for Councillor Bean, he needs no one, and least of all myself, who, on a bleak day in 1907, succeeded in keeping him out of the Council - for a brief period only, let me say.”

At the beginning of 1925, Bean became Vice-Chairman of the Finance Committee and in August elected an Alderman. Four years on, he strived to control public spending and to keep the rates to rises of 1d. and 2d. The Gazette in 1926 gave praise to Bean’s efforts in publishing a pen-portrait.

“One of the acutest brains in Blackpool’s amusement and municipal activities, possessor of a quick wit, and a gift for apt and sometimes caustic criticism. Upon occasion his speeches scintillate like the brilliant lights of his own magnificent creation, the Pleasure Beach.”

June 1926 Bean gained fame once more in the national papers, Bean had read a paper at Southport to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, advocating younger efficient men of financial ability to control affairs, stopping the gross waste of time at Council Meetings. Bean’s proposal of professional managers for each city provoked cries of “Dictator” and “Cromwells and Musolinis.”

Bean attacked by several mayors in the papers for his comments, replied, “We knew there was plenty of corruption in the public life of England but they would not admit it.”

1926 the year of the General Strike, tempers were easily provoked and Alderman Tom Bickerstaffe, Mayor of Blackpool, disillusioned his attempts to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Borough in any orderly or proper manner. A Ministry of Mines Order banned the use of limited electricity for the autumn’s illuminations.

The visit of the Earl of Derby to open the South Promenade with the great park presenting his family name of Stanley dampened too, a year in which Bean refused any mention of his standing for Mayor, respectively turning his colleagues down again.

In 1927, Bean found reward in London. He became a member of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers and a Freeman of the City of London, honoured and extremely welcomed appraisals for Bean with London his birthplace.

In 1928 with Bean as Chairman of the Finance Committee, in April, he read out his Budget. Later accusations of bribery met the Council Chamber in October, Lawson speaking firmly in Bean’s favour, telling that, “Alderman Bean is there by sheer merit.”

In 1928, the road scheme threatened to split the Pleasure Beach, dividing Bean’s land into two further sections. The end of the year brought illness for Bean, Bean’s doctor ordering him to take a long cruise and he sailed January 10th 1929 on the S.S. Arduna, a three-month cruise of South America and the Pacific.

Seven days later Bean died onboard and buried at sea off the coast of the Canaries. The news rocked the Fylde coast, Bean passed away aged sixty, the sole master of the Pleasure Beach with no heir-apparent, no provision made for a successor, the managers preparing for the new season.

The Gazette, an anonymous writer, gave a brief and telling account of the man’s true strength of character.

“In the privacy of companionship, the charm of the man was irresistible. .…He could talk of men, of books, and of places with unaffected enthusiasm and a sense of fun that was all but boyish. He could not stand humbug or pomposity, and he had a penetrating insight into the foibles of human nature; but he would reveal quite sincerely and unconsciously, unexpected depths of kindliness and thoughtfulness, tinged with an infectious humour which took the sting out of all his epigrams.”

Ernest Lawson praised his political thinking and stance,

“He desired more than anything else to devote his energies to the making of Blackpool the most modern, up-to-date and attractive seaside resort in the world. He told us recently that Blackpool had a great industry, the industry of providing health and pleasure for the people. And yet, silently, for several years, he had been a great sufferer himself.”

THE BLACKPOOL PLEASURE BEACH: THE LEGEND RISES.



The most popular, successful and powerful amusement park in Europe found stalemate, stuck without its owner to organize its everyday running, as Bean, Chairman and Managing Director, now deceased, left a business of such magnitude in turmoil, frustration and at a loss in its direction to the future.

Bean very definitely a historical figure even of his day, a man of great character surely missed, sadly by all in the town of Blackpool at that time and a legend in his passing. Yet his venture was to grow stronger and with solitude in its dominance in its particular industry, along with the encroaching years developing into something even bigger than the wondrous memory of the man that started it all in the 1890s.

At South Shore, for the Pleasure Beach was the company secretary, Oscar Haworth, its Director since 1926, in London the Financial Director, George Palmer, once Bean’s accountant at the start of the business in 1896. Palmer negotiated the pre-war settlement with the Corporation, a Director since 1913. The Outhwaite family closely involved with the running of the business from the start too.

In America, prospects had become bleak, in the early twenties the popularity of travel by automobile wrecked business on the trolley lines, the result massive closures, the failure of many amusement parks followed as consequence and with the Wall Street crash in October 1929 the threat of financial ruin in the United States presented itself all too clearly.

In Blackpool, everyone connected to or interested parties in the Pleasure Beach hoped for a share in its enumerable wealth, it a private company, however, left them guessing in truth to its financial affairs. Yet records state that in 1919, the net profits for the year covered £19,784 and in 1929, the year of Bean’s death, an accumulative income showed profits of £82,272. At the time builders offered sales on a modern detached house for £500.

Bean died without an official heir. Doris Bean, Bean’s daughter, and her mother played a big part in her father’s social life in Blackpool, attending charity affairs with him, mostly attached to the South Shore Parish Church. They supported him in his tiring crusades with the council but had no credence on the daily running or managerial side of the business at the Pleasure Beach. Doris Thompson, married to Leonard Thomas by this time, spoke of her father at some juncture on his untimely passing,

“I don’t know what he had in mind. Well, to start with, he wouldn’t have in mind that he would die at sixty. I’m surprised in a way he didn’t do something. I think my father was very much the sort of man who thought he really didn’t want a lot of women mixed up with the business at all, and he didn’t have any women working in the office until the First War, and then he had to have some, and be pleased about it, but no women before then. Well, you know, he was a bit Edwardian in that respect.”

Bean had drawn up a will, however, though not concerning his company, providing well for his family, leaving his wife a comfortable income for life, the whole of his substantial estate, all his holdings to his Pleasure Beach too, to Doris, Doris later intimating an unease over his decision.

“It’s the one thing I’ve always not quite agreed with my father because I think it’s a very dangerous thing to leave any member of the family in too much control of the others - although there was only my mother to deal with - but he said, “I know Doris will always look after her mother” - well so I did. But supposing I’d been led away to think of something else, you never know what’s going to happen to people. My experience with everything, one way or another, is that you should always have safeguards.”

In March 1928, Doris married Leonard Thompson, a resident of Fylde too, bright, young, ambitious, educated at Manchester Grammar School, had been School Captain. He read Natural Science at St. John’s College, Oxford, went to America Mid West on a travelling scholarship reading Economics at Maddison University, Wisconsin. He spent a year at Upsalar University in Sweden learning Swedish, later joining the Swedish Match Company.

After their marriage, Leonard and Doris moved to London, where Leonard worked at the Match Company. Bean’s death was a shock to all those concerned with the Pleasure Beach, for Leonard and Doris tragically disturbing. Advice was a plenty for the handling of the business, deriving mainly from George Palmer and Oscar Haworth and offers came in from those prepared to take over the essential running of the Pleasure Beach.

On hearing of Bean’s death, the Thompson’s took the night train North to Blackpool to console Doris’s mother, while decisions awaited the business, Leonard having little to do with business and none whatsoever with the Pleasure Beach. Doris confronted Leonard asking him what he wanted to do, his reply, “Well, I think your father worked very hard at this. He built it up.”

On a mutual agreement Leonard Thompson took over the running of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, he had full responsibility of all its affairs, had the power of the yea and neigh on everything concerning its day-to-day running from that point on. Oscar Haworth became the Managing Director and George Palmer Chairman for a time.

Leonard Thompson, clearing up his affairs in London, sat a course for accountancy at night school for a few months, a change happened, as the London accountants Palmer, Haines & Inkson were replaced by Douglas Kidson of the Manchester firm Kidson Taylor, resulting in Leonard becoming Director and Company secretary, Doris, the major shareholder, a Director.

The early months of 1931, the Outhwaite’s, swayed by Oscar Haworth, sold their share of the business to Leonard and Doris Thompson after months of conflict about the valuation of the Company, the depression wreaking its painful evil on companies and industry in Britain, though the value of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach Company proved higher than Leonard expected. Doris Thompson said in recollection of this time,

“First of all my husband was introduced to the Chairman of the District Bank in Manchester by Douglas Kidson. On his own ability, because he wasn’t going to touch a penny of my money, he borrowed a tremendous amount of money from them at that time because they thought he was an able young man and he could do it.”

Leonard Thompson became Chairman and Managing Director in 1933, while Charles Burrell joined the Company as Secretary, an arrangement remaining the same until the men died in 1976.

In August 1929, Doris and Leonard attended the annual Conference of the National Association of Amusement Parks, that year in New York, Doris having joined her father on the Conference of 1924, Bean acclaiming success at a time of decline in the American industry. Doris and Leonard’s first visit matters had worsened giving Leonard a gloomy impression of the difficulties facing him.

Strickler attended too, introducing them to people of influence in the amusement parks, Leonard making no great achievements on this particular occasion, a situation to change during the 1931 Conference by returning to England with an American architect, encouraging at a later stage two American engineers to introduce newer groundbreaking rides to the Pleasure Beach.

Bean had notably struggled with the Council regarding an extension to Bond Street, one of South Shore’s main roads leading to Squire’s Gate and at its final phase of development by 1913, the planned construction work in a straight North-South line, consequently parting the Pleasure Beach in two, dividing it into four separate partitions if successfully achieved and agreed upon. Doris Thompson said of this,

“My father fought against it, very much. But at that time he was in ailing health, he wasn’t well. He’d been told to go away for a sea trip and he more or less abandoned it. He said, so far as I can remember, something like, “Oh well. I shan’t worry my head any more about it. If they want to drive it through, let them drive it through.”, and went away, and then of course he never came back. But of course when my husband came in, he was a young man so he was ready to start the fight again and he did, and got it turned round.”

Alternatively, its route began with a massive bow in the way it laid, causing it to run along the line of the railway but swallowing land of the Pleasure Beach at the start of the Water Chute, the end of the Scenic Railway and the Velvet Coaster.

The Water Chute, though prosperous, likely to earn money for sometime to come had to be demolished, the two coasters over twenty years old, benefited from their removal and consequential redesign in another spot in the park.

The newly suggested route in the Blackpool Improvement Act of 1932, voted on in a referendum by the town’s people, Leonard’s proposal won by a majority of five to one with Parliament accepting the revision that summer, a stipulation, however, inclusive of the Council, the Pleasure Beach should have clear and attractive boundaries to its estate.

Leonard and Doris had visited one of the smaller amusement parks in Philadelphia during the summer of 1929, Willow Grove Park, Doris recalling it said,

“Mr Alexander had then started to beautify the park with nice buildings and he got in a local architect called Sheppe, a young, thriving architect. And he designed some buildings for Alexander, and my husband was very taken with that and he thought, “Now, that’s a very good idea. I could do with this young man to come over and do something for us in Blackpool”. So he came during 1931 and designed the front of the then Velvet Coaster. And he made some designs for the different stalls in Watson Road.”

Sheppe also redesigned the sea frontage, including a six hundred-seat News Theatre, paling Mawson’s splendid Stanley Park design of 1926. The Gazette described Sheppe as a “modernist architect from America.”

In the summer of 1932, Leonard realised the format he wished to make of the Pleasure Beach, having achieved ultimate control of the Company, despite the depression no evidence is chronicled the amusement park suffered unduly, while thwarting the intimidating plans of the Council, his ability shone. However, rumour had it he had plans to give the park an overall modernistic look, Blackpool’s architecture obviously contrasting that of late Victorian and Edwardian buildings.

Leonard warded off sycophants, glory seekers, trying to give themselves a name off the Pleasure Beach in association with false alliances, such as in September 1932 and the Reverend H. F. Davidson, Rector of Stiffkey, claiming to the support of the amusement park, Davidson, however, notably defrocked for his misdemeanours of paying for sex with prostitutes from Soho.

In the event of raising funds, Davidson exhibited himself standing in a large barrel in the centre of Blackpool’s Golden Mile, consequently arrested for obstruction having upset the clientele of the Central Promenade. In court, Davidson announced the Pleasure Beach had since presented him with facilities to display himself as a sideshow in the grounds of the park.

Leonard Thompson, outraged, gave this public statement, “We deny most emphatically that this company has at any time made overtures either by letter or by word of mouth to the reverend gentleman from Stiffkey or any of his showmen associates. The Company would, under no consideration, permit exhibitions in its Amusement Park such as that of a prominent clergyman in a barrel.”

Joseph Emberton worked in exhibitions, creating stands at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 and in Paris 1925, doing a lot of work for Olympia, there he completed the New Empire Hall in 1930, though the building most popular involving Emberton, built in Burnham in 1931, the royal Corinthian Yacht Club.

In 1933, Leonard Thompson commissioned Emberton to build a modern style look for the Pleasure Beach, covering the smallest of stall exhibit to the vast ornamental white circle of the Casino, Emberton the official architect to the amusement park, until his death in 1956.

One of Emberton’s earliest connections remembered the promotional work of a client of Kidson Taylor, Austin Reed, Reed dominated the market of ready-made clothing and the tailoring trade. Reed busy in the twenties of negotiating a chain of modern shops displaying his products to best effect giving rise to the opening of the famous store on Regent’s Road in London in 1926, Emberton involved at a time of readiness to set his own business up in designing.

Notably, one other designer, Tom Purvis, the man persuasive in promoting the line of Austin Reed English Gentleman to the public became a revered set of designer clothes accumulating in huge popularity for their day.

In America, the rollercoaster, the main paying attraction to the public, the designers endeavouring to build hair-raising rides to out do their earlier counterparts, one name standing out tremendously, Harry G Traver. However, the sudden economic downturn with the depression looming in the States, affected the industry catastrophically, the coasters became too expensive to produce and demanded a far-reaching array of overheads for their maintenance causing parks to shut completely all over the vast continent.

In 1929 operating in America were 1,300 roller coasters, mostly “Woodies” traversing a track situated inside a wooden skeletal design, though in 1947, only 200 were in use, yet the Great Depression developed advantages for Leonard Thompson, regardless of its consequences reaching Britain in its worldwide devastation of financial chaos.

The depression hitting America left many designers acquiring work, Leonard Thompson, finding the available funds, could reap a harvest of the best inventors and designers by modernising or usurping the newest rides in the industry, while giving prospect to the ideas he had in mind for changes to the buildings surrounding the park.

At the end of 1932, Charlie Paige, an American engineer, came over from the Californian office of John Miller, Paige continuing to work at the Pleasure Beach until he moved to Australia when World War II broke out. Harry Traver finding difficulty earning a living in the States commenced work in Blackpool at the South Shore amusement park in 1933.

The summer of 1932, the new Blackpool Improvement Act passed through Parliament, causing its calamity of disruption with the extension to the road, removing one ride and disturbing the running of two others giving rise to further extensive planning of the Pleasure Beach. Compensation did exist with Leonard purchasing seven acres of land from the Council south of the park. Also, stretches to the foreshore reclaimed by the new Promenade, Leonard was able to add the acreage to the Pleasure Beach too.

Scheppe had made a difference to the frontage of the amusement park, Leonard wanting someone to create an overall reshaping in design to give the Pleasure Beach an outstanding and prestigious look.

Joseph Emberton’s Royal Corinthian Yacht Club on the Essex coast at Burnham found immense popularity with the thirties English societal clique, claiming it to be a revolutionary concept of white and swirling staircases.

The end of 1932, Emberton worked on his first design for the Pleasure Beach, a station for a new miniature railway, one with a miniature Forth Bridge running alongside the Big Dipper and the constructor of the design, Charlie Page, the designer of roller coasters, the American who had worked in John Miller’s coaster company.

In 1936, Leonard Thompson addressed the British Association in Blackpool telling them,

“I have engaged for some years Mr. Joseph Emberton, one of the well-known leaders of the English modern school of architecture. His work has been to present all these machines and devices in such a way that they look interesting to the English public and at the same time to tie all these devices together by a certain continuity of architectural form so that the place looks like an Amusement Park and not like a factory.”

The miniature railway was an instant charm to the public. It had a 21? gauge track, its coaches pulled by diesel-powered locomotives with one a one-third replica model of a 4-6-2 L.N.E.R. Pacific-type express, the other a replica of a 4-6-4 Baltic-type engine and named after Leonard’s two daughters, Mary Louise and Carol Jean, built by Hudswell, Clarke & Co. of Leeds.

One year later in 1934 a chip stall behind the Indian Theatre, then the Chinese Theatre, caught fire. It spread causing destruction to the new station and its rolling stock but the railway, reconstructed, adding to its design, interior decorations, murals, by Margaret Blundell, an artist Emberton invited for the project around this time, the coaches ran again in all their miniature glory of the steam era continuing to attract customers from the visitors to Blackpool.

An interesting curiosity of the incident the Blackpool Corporation gave their Fire Brigade recognition making them fully professional in this year.

A third locomotive, built in 1936, its naming planned to coincide with the birth of the newest addition to the Thompson family, Geoffrey, the idea undone by Lord Lascelles and his younger brother as they visited the Hudswell Clarke Factory at Hunslet, the company deciding to name the engine after the mother of Lascelles, the Princess Royal. Quoting Geoffrey’s mother,

“They wrote to say ….that they would take it off and put William Geoffrey. But then, when my husband heard that he said, “Oh, no! If you put the Princess’s name on you can’t take it off. It must remain”. So it was the Princess Royal, Carol Jean and Mary Louise.”

In 1933 Charlie Paige replaced the Velvet Coaster, part of it removed for the extension to Bond Street, putting in its place, situated beside the Pleasure Beach Express, a new ride, the Roller Coaster, keeping the original pull-up, while Emberton designed a station for it with a magnificent tower costing around £10,000. The ride proved to be a success.

On the empty lake of the torn down Water Chute, Paige built The Fun House, Emberton designing a huge, empty hall, creating the largest fun palace in the world, Paige filling it with a number of moving platforms and stairways, revolving cylinders and a Social Mixer, reminiscent of the Joy Wheel in 1910.

Its approach was through a darkened corridor heading towards a number of devices, Paige supplying the Crash Bumper, Grating, pictorially forsaking a blast of wind up Marilyn Munroe’s skirt, another the Rocking Floor, the Ice Walk, the Drop Floor, the Shaking Floor, a Sahara Desert and Shuffleboard. It went on into the massive space of the hall, inside of which were three slides and two centrifugal drums.

On the outside Emberton had used electrical lighting to full effect on the front of the building with the letters of Fun House rocking in sympathy.

In 1991, The Fun House burned in a fire, destroying everything.

A Little Dipper was erected for the Children’s Park in 1934, a park supplied for quite some years by this time, allowing parents to enjoy the larger rides of the Pleasure Beach, while the kids had ‘nannies’ to watch over them, they had a sand pit, a paddling pool, a slide and a few swings. They had their very own amusement park, in 1927 a “Brownie Coaster” became installed for them too, under the control of Bingle and Bob, an early promotional ‘hook’ designed in the form of PR wizardry, putting it into terms commonly used today.

Harry G. Traver, bankrupted in the States, came to the Pleasure towards the latter end of 1933 but his participation with Charlie Paige over the next four years is not confirmable. However, at the end of 1936, Traver, given all acclaim in his work, designed a new ride, the Cyclone Coaster, made for viewing at the Exhibition in Paris.

Also in that year, Doris Thompson got her wish in building a fully equipped crèche for babies and small children, Joseph Emberton designed it, while the L.M.S Railway agreed to provide facilities to parents with small children, stipulating the condition they purchased return tickets, though the crèche was not around after World War II.

This was the start to the close association of the Pleasure Beach and the L.M.S. Railway, which bridged the way to the building of the new Casino.

In 1935, Charlie Page worked on the site of the Scenic Railway, producing a replica of a new ride from the States, Harry Traver’s Cyclone Coaster, originally he had opened it at Long Beach, California, in 1930, that coaster demolished in 1968.

Page’s model a figure eight construction with a ‘double line’ track, really two lines appearing as two for the same number of trains hurtling towards one another, assimilating a rush to a head on collision for the customers travelling on the ride, the Grand National. Designed to the same dimensions for length as Traver’s, around 3,400ft, in height 72ft to Traver’s 96ft.

Paige also designed an innovative feature to the Grand National, using the Mobius principal, a switch track, diverting trains from one track to the other at the end of each ride, the station again designed by Joseph Emberton.

The ride lasted for nearly two minutes with three cars, six passengers to a car, while having capable operators the ride could manage 2,160 passengers per hour, charging each passenger one shilling and 1935 proved a particulary busy season with a record August Bank Holiday and the park never closed before midnight the whole of the weekend.

Sometime during this lucrative spell, a memorable novelty lasting to present day came to the park in the guise of laughter.

Leonard Thompson, in Paris at the Christmas sales, noticed outside the Galeries Lafayette throngs of people gathering on the pavement, as the laughing clown moving inside the window display to the popular Bing Crosby’s Laughing Record fascinated them.

On impulse, Leonard went inside and purchased it, when the sales finished, the clown found itself at the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, standing outside the Fun House to more happy crowds, though unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1991. However, material aspects survived, its two heads for example, undergoing repair at the time of the fire, he still stands, restored, to this day, heartily, cheerily laughing to Crosby’s original laugh, now, due to miracles of modern technology, on a digital sound system.

In the new planning stage of the Pleasure Beach, two rides disappeared. Firstly, the Rainbow Wheel, constructed in 1912, though not very profitable had been an impressive landmark for the park, while the Helter-Skelter Lighthouse, one of Bean’s first rides, kept on the beach since 1905, also dismantled. The top section, however, preserved, became part of a nostalgic house owner’s house on the Norfolk Broads on the banks of the River Thurne.

The winter of 1935, Paige and Emberton went to work on the Big Dipper, one of the most exciting rides in the whole of Europe during 1923, though since the building of the Grand National deemed inferior. The extra land obtained from the Corporation gave rise to a different tracking system, while Paige integrated two extra dips, one with an aeroplane bend, also constructing an archway too over the south entrance.

The Big Dipper modernised, 3,300ft long, 65ft high, carrying eight passengers a car of the three in each train with the ride lasting two minutes and forty seconds, the fare one shilling. Emberton redesigned the station with three trains running on it, it could carry 1,440 people an hour and it remained at the Pleasure Beach until it burnt down in 1953.

Strickler’s Noah’s Ark came under scrutiny, Emberton bringing in a distinguished designer from the States, Percy Metcalfe, though Walter Bernasconi, a resident artist, had retouched the animals on a previous occasion in 1930.

Metcalfe had received acclaim for the detail in the minting of the new Irish coinage and the Jubilee cottage of 1935.

Metcalfe reworked the 24 detailed animals in a flat cubist style. He continued working for Leonard Thompson and as late as 1957, Metcalfe designed costumes for the Ice Shows.

The Ghost Train came to the Pleasure Beach in 1930, introduced by Kamiya, his nationality Japanese, the ride then known as the Pretzel Ride. The word pretzel lost to the English speaking in habitants of our country, the name changed to Ghost Train, after the stage play, recently filmed with Jack Hulbert.

In 1935, Kamiya left the Pleasure Beach to work on the growth of the Luna Park at Central Promenade, while Emberton rebuilt the Ghost Train creating a bigger ride of it on a new site in 1936.

In 1936, Leonard Thompson introduced the first Eli Wheel to Britain, 70ft tall with sixteen cradles, seating two persons to each, giving an overall view of the Pleasure Beach and the coastline.

Leonard had erected a second one in 1938 beside the original wheel and October of the same year the development of the Octopus arrived, while another ride manufactured by his own new company Lusse Bros, the Moonrocket, came to Blackpool in 1939.

Emberton transformed the Cresta Café, which had opened in 1931 as the News Theatre, later changed to the Odditorium, Emberton’s work intended as a spacious café for use of the holiday patrons and Margaret Blundell decorated it with murals.

June 1937, Beverley Nichols, wrote of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the Cresta Café in the Sunday Chronicle,

“With a clear conscience I can proclaim that Blackpool Pleasure Beach has Coney Island beaten to a frazzle. Blackpool is gayer, more brilliant, and oh how much cleaner. And in that Pleasure Beach are buildings of real beauty. You do not expect beauty in a seaside tearoom but there is one airy, white building there which ought to be taken over to the Paris Exhibition to prove that the English are not quite such barbarians in the matter of interior decoration as the French would like to imagine. It has excellent designs on the walls and a cool, subtle colour scheme. Even the presence of a lot of men in bowler hats eating pink ices could not quite destroy its perfection.”

In 1932 Leonard Thompson had won his first argument with the Blackpool Corporation over the rerouting of the road across the Pleasure Beach, though, unlike his father-in-law, Leonard never sought interest in politics, yet his wife, Doris, had been an active member of the Women Unionists (Conservative) Association for many years and represented them as their Chairperson.

However, Leonard did consider the activities of the Blackpool Council Chamber, watching the concerns of Tom Bickerstaffe and his colleagues, Bickerstaffe remaining the Chairman of the Tower Company, until he died in 1934, although the Alderman did not attend any Council Meetings, nor was he the head of the Attractions and Publicity Committee at this time.

The Depression, contrary to its meaning, actually brought commerce for the holiday seasons with the Council ensuring visitors kept coming to Blackpool.

In 1930 a Cotton Queen Pageant took place, while complaints stated it took business away from the shops and sideshows. In 1932, the council tried an experiment to increase the number of overnight visitors publicising a Guest Week for 1933. Those with return tickets and a night’s accommodation given books of vouchers for cut-price entertainments found amongst the amusements Blackpool could provide them and Easter 1933 did prove successful.

In that time, 139,000 came by train, 31,790 by automobiles, also carrying passengers, while The Guest Week in June produced 38,000 visitors requiring accommodation, a period reputation normally judged a quiet week.

All records broken during the August weekend, 210,000 came by train, 43,153 by automobiles, motor coaches and motor bikes conveying the visitors to Blackpool.

The cotton mills the hardest hit, August 1936, a journalist for London Life wrote about Blackpool and the Pleasure Beach,

“This is the Blackpool of today. Its joy is the joy of deprivation, and its pride the pride of poverty…. The myriad visitors were, and are, in the grip of poverty.”

In 1935, the council offered a number of new attractions in Stanley Park, some of them carnivals and processions, heading from the Promenade to the park, a distance of a mile inland, while others took place in its grounds. Again small retailers and amusement caterers complained of losing trade.

The argument contested these attractions created by the Council not only did not bring new visitors to the resort but removed the old ones away from their usually expected venues. An outcry immediately rose again when the Council wanting to celebrate Blackpool’s Diamond Jubilee in 1936, having missed the Golden Jubilee due to the general strike of 1926 planned to put aside £7,500 with the insistence of holding greater attractions for this in Stanley Park.

The amusement industry reiterated angrily the Council was setting up rival attractions, the rides and stall owners claiming they often lost profit during the Whit and the Wakes weeks but now expected to pay for their loss too as consequence of the Stanley Park ventures.

Leonard Thompson warned that in letters to the Council and newspapers, making it known he was the major critic involved in the protest, while calling the plan of the Jubilee, “a costly frolic” he would refuse to open the Pleasure Beach, so as not to run it at a loss on the behalf of the Council.

At the time of the Guest Week, the Pleasure Beach did not offer concessions vouchers, it closed for four days, Leonard’s employees turning up for work, doing general maintenance tasks to the rides, resulting in the Stanley Park venture drawing 32,000 visitors from the Promenade, as thunderstorms clouded the skies, earning £1,650 over the week. The experiment not repeated the Attractions and Publicity Committee ditched part of its title becoming the Publicity Committee.

However, Alderman W.S. Ashton persisted for other entertainments in direct competition to the Pleasure Beach, run solely by the Corporation, like the managing of the baths at South Shore, remaining a great attraction to the people, Ashton’s response to the defeat in the Stanley Park fiasco, “whether Pleasure Beach facilities were needed in an up-to-date resort. There were a number of people who would say the town would be better off without that element.”

Ashton supported the suggestion the Council build a rival Stadium in Squires Gate developed by an official team.

The Pleasure Beach before this time and later on in years had seen attempts for rival businesses to coincide with the success of the amusement park, as in 1903 a bid made to build a rival fairground at the Gynn, North of Claremont Park, floundered, rejected by the Council.

In 1913, a suggested building of one at Bishpam, North of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, interest waned.

Future plans in years long after Ashton’s plea were Billy Smart’s idea of a 350 acre theme park on the old airfield opposite Stanley Park in 1962, as well as in 1964 with Billy Butlin considering a holiday camp and an amusement park further inland near Marton Mere. Neither of these ideas came to fruition.

Created in 1926, its responsibility for the mill towns of East Lancashire, the Diocese of Blackburn, Dr Herbert installed as the first bishop came into being. It was in 1936 Dr Herbert, immersed in completing the reconstruction of the Parish Church into a new Cathedral, the Pleasure Beach furnished a kiosk with a proposed replica model of it, collections for the Building Fund commenced in the area and onwards from that year, the Bishop continued to visit Blackpool every May.

Dr Herbert preached annually in the Monitor and Merrimac building a service to open the season at the Pleasure Beach with all the employees attending, a congregation over 1,000 people. To this day it continues, although modified over the years.

In May of 1938, the newly crowned King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Blackpool for the first time meeting in the Town Hall the civic dignitaries, among them Robert Bickerstaffe of the Tower Company and Leonard Thompson of the Pleasure Beach.

Bean’s funfair of over forty years, building to a serious business concern worldwide received momentous recognition from the royal family.

WORLD WAR II: PREFACING THE WAR YEARS AND BEYOND (II).



An international exhibition planned in Brussels in 1934, Leonard Thompson’s Pleasure Beach already the world’s leading amusement park, developed by the best engineers using the designs of America, Leonard invited, helped plan and organise the operation of the European funfair of that year.

Joseph Emberton designed the layout and the temporary buildings, while Charlie Paige constructed a brand new Cyclone Coaster, 60ft high with 10 dips.

When the exhibition closed, the cyclone dismantled, taken to Southend-on-Sea in Essex for reconstruction in the Kursaal, continuing to operate there, until large chunks of land got sold off and in 1974, Pleasure Beach workers demolished it bringing equipment to Blackpool for use on the Woodies.

Leonard Thompson celebrated his success in Brussels with chartering a forty-two seat Imperial Airways Handley Page Horatius, the flight beginning at Squires Gate, keeping the Thompson family aloft, among various VIPs and some of the Pleasure Beach staff, landing at Croydon to meet Joseph Emberton and others, continuing on to the European capitol.

One month earlier Leonard had gone to America on one of his usual visits to the World’s Fair in San Diego, California. Leonard previously elected as the non-American member of the National Association of Amusement Parks, Pools and Beaches, the updated name for the N.A.A.P., which Bean, Leonard’s father-in-law, had received significant acclaim with and in 1936 Leonard founded the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Amusements to take care of the British end of things.

A firm link with the States in 1933 for Leonard Thompson came with the meeting up of the Lusse Brothers, consequently setting up a new company in the grounds of the Pleasure Beach, the Lusse Brothers having originally designed automobile parts Philadelphia.

The two concentrating on amusement devices, particularly the Autoscooter, a form of Dodgems, the rides opened in the Pleasure Beach in 1927 with Leonard Thompson becoming Chairman of the new company in 1933, building Autoscooters as well as other devices for sale in Britain and Europe.

The Lusse Brothers were passengers of Leonard’s flight to Brussels, the two of them were dead by the end of World War II.

Cinematic films in the late twenties were made of the Pleasure Beach, providing unprecedented publicity for the resort and mostly offered as a picturesque backdrop to the producers at no cost.

In 1928 a circus film, The Three Kings, was filmed, its circus scenes shot at the Tower Circus, while others were taken in front of massed crowds at the Pleasure Beach.

Arnold Bennett’ story, City of Pleasure, used the Pleasure Beach, along with a sound movie, No Lady, starring Lupino Lane in 1930.

In 1934 J. B. Priestley’s, Sting As We Go, contained extensive scenes of the Pleasure Beach, including a great chase through its rides and stalls, the internationally famous, Lancashire born, actress and singer, Gracie Fields headed the cast.

Predominantly, Stanley Houghton’s story, Hindle Wakes, repeatedly influenced the Pleasure Beach with the early film industry, primarily as a silent movie in 1926 and in a sound version in 1931, a further adaptation followed in 1952, the scenes of the amusement park consequently re-enacted in some way on each occasion.

Radio did its bit too, the publicity given to the Pleasure Beach reached peoples’ homes en-masse, as the medium enjoyed its heyday, the sounds of the outside broadcasts extremely popular before the arrival of television.

In a series, Weekends at Work, broadcast in July 1936, interviews aired with a showman from the Indian Theatre and a female waiter from the Casino.

In August that same year, an American programme about Coney Island, Leonard Thompson spoke audibly to the world of the Pleasure Beach.

In 1937, as the spectacular Ice Drome was due to open, Joseph Emberton took part in a conversation piece about “Architecture at popular seaside resorts” .

There was a series run called “Top of the Tower” and over the years, including 1937, Leonard Thompson presented a programme broadcast from the new Ice Show.

Children’s Hour had its day too at the Pleasure Beach in 1939.

In September 1936, the British Association for the Advancement of Science had a conference in Blackpool and Leonard Thompson invited to speak to the engineers chose his words like this,

“American inventors and engineers, with their great fund of mechanical ingenuity, have played the most important part in the development of amusement devices.”

The scientists afterwards went to the Pleasure Beach causing a photo shoot of eminent scientists riding the roller coasters and the dodgems.

Psychologists found room to make comment too adding to Leonard Thompson’s publicity for the Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

The crowds revelled in the place enjoying the rush of fame at that time for the amusement park, while just down the road at the Golden Mile resided a show of ‘wanton’ disgust, ‘abnormality’ and ‘confidence trick’ in the form of fat ladies, Siamese twins, deformed mutants and memorably vicars in barrels.

In 1936, Leonard Thompson asked to present a ride for the amusement park in the Paris Exhibition and needed preparation for the 1937 show with Joseph Emberton building the station, though Harry Travers created the ride.

Travers designed the Cyclone Coaster, not as exhilarating as his American creations but still the fastest in Europe.

It coursed the whole complex of the amusement park on the Esplanade des Invalides with a 140ft archway that gave an exciting entrance to the park. The ride rumoured 80ft high, three quarters of a mile long, producing speeds of up to 70mph.

It was built in France by Charlie Paige’s team in January 1937, though of most of the labour force were French and problems were rife with no two tier work force, not essentially a worry, however, one of the French workers at prominent times of the day wheeled a wheel barrow around for refreshments. This did not encourage the satisfactory hard work expected of them from Leonard Thompson, some faltering in their work from a source bottled to cause light-headedness.

Leonard attempted to stop this, consequently his actions only substituted industrial strikes instead of the work he wanted from the French workers and beneficially Leonard had to admit defeat on his quest.

When all the work was finished, Travers reportedly had a nervous breakdown, heading to Russia for recuperation, eventually returning to America in 1938, though his Cyclone Coaster did come to the North West coastline, unloaded at the docks of Heysham Harbour, transported on to Morecambe Pleasure Park on March 2nd 1938.

Leonard in the process of reconstructing Morecambe’s Pleasure Park had purchased land from the L.M.S. Railway Company.

Travers’ ride stayed at Morecambe, the park changing its name by 1986 to Frontierland with an American Western theme, the Cyclone run in a different configuration in 1939, though in later years known as the Texas Tornado.

Frontierland Western Theme Park officially closed on the 7th November 1999, though it began to ‘downsize’ as a theme park in 1998 when the back section of the park was closed off with the Pinfari steel roller coaster Stampede removed along with the other attractions that lay in the upper section. Stampede now resides at Brean Leisure Park in Somerset, England.

Other rides closed in 1998, the Flying Eagles ride, a basic flying scooters type design, now at Knowlsley Safari Park in Merseyside near Liverpool. Small attractions at the back of the park moved to the front of it, include the junior Ferris wheel and a children’s sky bomber, helicopter type ride. The Opera House that was in front of the Texas Tornado coaster demolished and the two mentioned above rides put on place of it.

The Frontierland ran into financial difficulties in the 1990s, the prices for riding on the park extremely cheap in an attempt to attract custom to it, a wristband costing 5.99, while 70p covered an individual ticket.

The upper section closed in 1998, beginning the closure of Frontierland. In the 1998 season, many of the original attractions at the park were not operating at all, standing idle. These include the classic Noah’s Ark, designed by the legendary William Homer Strickler and moved to Morecambe Pleasure Park in the 1970s, the name changed to Frontierland in 1987 having closed for a year and then given a western theme.

Many of the parks original rides closed in 1999, the Ghost Train, Noah’s Ark and Haunted Silver Mine amongst them, the Polo Tower moved in 1995. The Runaway Mine Train coaster dismantled, moved to its sister park, Pleasureland in Southport and reopened as King Solomon’s mines.

The Frontierland continued to run into financial difficulties in the 1990s, the main park closing at the end of season in 1999, reopening summer 2000 with some travelling fairground rides operated by showmen, opposite the Log Flume, while it was renamed Frontierland ‘Family’ Theme Park.

The bottom end of the park still opens but only occasionally with various small children's rides, so it has never actually completely shut down, though the actual ‘considered’ or ‘assumed’ total demise for the Frontierland was in 2000.

A Morrison’s shopping centre planned for 2003 now in progress of building on the old grounds of the Frontier Park with 8 acres of land for use by the shopping mall and 2 acres for the funfair. some residents protesting it should be the other way around, as the rides at the seaside resort are ideal for attracting visitors to Morecambe, where as the shopping precinct may cause neighbouring shops difficulties in trading against the huge conglomerate. The future holds all answers to the dilemmas facing Morecombe and its residents.

The international status of the Pleasure Beach received great sounding in the press and in May 1938 The Scotsman published,

“Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach would be vulgar if it were timid or tried to be other than it is. But so frank and open, so patently sensational and ingenious is it, that there is no real vulgarity, even magnificently done! On the other hand, there is gaiety that is international in extent and experience. To this park the experts of Atlantic City come every season, searching for new ideas. Enterprising showmen of Continental towns are always paying visits, and always going away with something new to try out in their own venues…........ In design, in colouring, in spaciousness and in interest Blackpool leads the entertainment world, as Paris leads the world of fashion.”

Following this the Sunday Times remarked,

“Even Coney Island, which has some big thrills, cannot compete in dynamics, architecture or cleanliness.”

The Spectatorium of Bean’s time had drawn crowds in a dark hall with its theatrical reconstruction of naval battles, accompanied by the sounds of explosives and flashing lights but in 1927, there was a downturn of interest from the public, the Pleasure Beach replacing it with the Indian Temple of Mystery.

Every day for the next four years Amir Bux and his troupe gave a series of short acrobatic and balancing acts, while in 1931 another replacement came with the Chinese Theatre. Five years ensued from this as a German entrepreneur managed a Chinese company of 24 men, women and children, exciting the crowds with acts of diving through knife-edged rings, suspending themselves by their hair, throwing knives, contortionism and displays of oriental magic.

In 1936, Amir Bux returned for another season with his Indian Troupe, he stayed for one season before deciding to join Kamiya at Luna Park on the Central Promenade.

Gogia Pasha, known to those that watched him as “The Gilly-Gilly Wonder Man” came next with his troupe of Singalese devil dancers.

Gogia Pasha had great skill in enthralling venues of public with his floating lady and disappearing elephant act, though while just completing their third season in the Indian Theatre the war broke out in 1939.

Leonard Thompson had always been interested in winter sports; in the thirties, he took his family to Switzerland on numerous trips, while America enticed him with Ice Skating so much that in the corner of the Pleasure Beach, the old Roller Skating Rink, once busy, deteriorating in 1936, he had Joseph Emberton design the Ice Dome in its place.

Specifically devised to have a double purpose to house an audience watching the ice display, supporting a large ice-skating rink for the public, its architecture magnificent standing in the spot of the Roller Skating Rink of 1909 with Emberton constructing another spectacular building, capable of holding up to 2,000 spectators, looking on to an ice rink of 6,480 square feet.

Claude Langdon, the Managing Director of the Brighton and Richmond Sports Dromes brought a cast of 80 in his Ice display, “Marina”.

It opened in July 1937 with the Ice Drome soon becoming a great success for the Pleasure Beach, a new show each season followed, continuing unhindered throughout the war years, though the ‘Leonard Thompson presents’ became ‘Geoffrey Thompson presents with the production credits reading “produced by Amanda Thompson”, the fourth generation of the family.

The summer shows became extremely popular, exported to Germany, Belgium, Thailand and the States.

Out of season, it closed, though a Christmas pantomime on ice often shown for the kids.

The Managing Director’s daughters usually took part in a charity performance, Mary Louise and Carol Jean participated, as well as Amanda and Fiona Thompson thirty years later.

For most of the winter months, the front row of seating removed to make way for an enlarged rink of 11,250 square feet of ice once that portion was uncovered, while two or three days a time there were public skating sessions, including ice hockey games.

The Blackpool Seagulls Ice Hockey Club began in February 1938.

Leonard Thompson offered music to the public too and before the Ice Drome opened, he appointed himself as Director of Music over all the loudspeakers at the Pleasure Beach. This is what he said about it,

“Every week I shall compile a programme of classics, popular classics, and jazz, and, I believe, it will be a very welcome institution.”

Tom Purvis, another of the artists used by Joseph Emberton, produced a small brochure advertising the Pleasure Beach in 1937, also Purvis designed posters and programmes for the Ice Drome for when it first opened and did so for years afterwards.

One of his most successful creations was Ice Drome Jack.

Forty years later Purvis recreated it, the public requesting it nicknamed Mr Funshine; as a result it became the symbol for the Pleasure Beach.

In 1990, a collection of Purvis’ works from his studio, preserved intact by his widow, came under auction in London, three banners, including scenes of the Casino and the Ice Drome, with Ice Drome Jack, went for around £3,000, which was five times over the estimate for the sale. They now hang in the Visitor Centre; Amanda Thompson purchased them at that auction bringing them home to where they belonged for everybody to see and appreciate befittingly.

Joseph Emberton, three months before the Ice Drome opened gave an interview regarding his architectural beliefs,

“My designs are evolutionary, an inevitable product of the times, expressing in my own medium, as other men express in their own media, contemporary inclinations……..

“But these new designs are not divorced from reality. Actually they are contributing to a greater efficiency in the services - in this case it is the amusement and entertainment of the people - which they are primarily intended to advance.”

Next, the Casino went under Emberton’s keen eye. The original Casino had operated for twenty-four years and built in the style of opulence expected of Victorian England but showing a waning of interest with the public, considered too small for accommodating the ever-thronging crowds of visitors.

The Improvement Act of 1932 freed up more land from the Corporation with Emberton designing a large white concrete drum 30 ft high and 185 ft in diameter, domineered by a tower 90 ft high and served as a pinnacle sign for visitors at the end of the South Promenade.

The original roofline a circle of concrete, broken up only by the tower in its features, erected in the shape of a corkscrew with an advertising frame, this in one corner unhinged a wheel. The white cladding of the exterior prefabricated in Holland and shipped to Blackpool on a barge.

The old Casino built of reinforced concrete, the contractors expecting to demolish it in days in November 1937 found after several attempts they had to use gelignite to blast it down to the ground for removal.

The new Casino furnished with modernistic styles, rarely tried prior to Emberton’s masterpiece but come March 1938, the worst tragedy to shake the Pleasure Beach disturbed Emberton and his team, as a large section of the concrete staging, intended for the first floor collapsed killing four workmen and two others were seriously injured. In the inquest following the incident, a verdict of misadventure was ruled and by the end of 1938, the work on the exterior of the new Casino finished but overall in effect with reminiscences of the old.

The basement remained a billiards room, housing the original tables, the ground floor opened on to the Park grounds, giving on to a grillroom and a large American style soda fountain and snack bar.

The Pleasure Beach hired three American girls, shipping them over for the training of English women in their slick American ways in working in the luxurious, spacious restaurant with patrons of the Savarin restaurant, named after the French chef Brillard Savarin.

Brillard famous for his circular puddings, yet the name Savarin also reflected the unique shape of the building in which the visiting diners would sit, as on the first floor a long, curving Banqueting Hall that would seat 700 guests existed, on the far side away from the sea, this area contained the company offices away from the main thoroughfares.

Up above, decked out in burr maple panelling of the thirties, the Chairman’s flat, its elegance, design and period still around to view to this day.

In fact, the building, not intended for the higher classes of visitors to Blackpool, meant for the working classes from Scotland to the Midlands, the ordinary rail travelling public. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway created in 1923 in a time of post-war amalgamations, its natural links with Blackpool strengthened by the appointment of a new Chairman in 1926.

Born in 1880 in London, Josiah Stamp, a remarkable statistician and administrator, had given up further education at the age of 16, his father’s ill health the reasoning behind his decision and entered the Civil Service as a boy clerk.

Stamp worked for twenty-three years in the Inland Revenue, part of which in Blackpool, his duties included handling the assessments of the occupants of the Pleasure Beach, at this time Bean beginning his expansion.

At this time, Stamp also studied for an external degree at London University, at the age of 31 achieving a First Class Honours degree, so highly distinguished in his field the London School of Economics offered him to continuing his work with them.

In 1919, he left the Civil Service, in 1920 awarded a Knighthood and for seven years he was Company Secretary of Nobel Industries becoming a major influence in I.C.I. and in 1926 appointed the Chairman of L.M.S. Railway. In 1938, he became Baron Stamp of Shortlands, his home in Kent.

Stamp’s economic theories in high demand made him wanted as a speaker, consequently heaped in public recognition, received honorary degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard, likewise awarded a further twenty honorary degrees by other academic institutions too.

Stamp’s influence returned to Blackpool with the turning on of the illuminations in 1936 from a tiny station called Oxenholme, above the town of Kendal, using remote control.

Stamp next supervised the opening of the new Casino, seemingly in partnership with the L.MS. Railway, as plan to offer facilities of the Casino was included in the price of a rail ticket, Blackpool and the Pleasure Beach twenty years ahead of the package industry concept.

The large grillroom and long Banqueting Hall able to accommodate parties from entire mills but war loomed at the end of 1938, with the outbreak of it, 1939 came rationing, after the conflict five years hence, nationalisation came to the railways. The idea sank of trade between L.M.S. and the Casino, as local arrangements with private companies became politically unacceptable.

On the 26th May 1939, the Casino formally opened in Blackpool with concepts unheard of locally and even for Britain in those times, the building fully air-conditioned. Three hundred and fifty guests looked on in astonishment sitting down to dinner in the grillroom, converted for that evening into a grand restaurant on the ground floor, while upstairs the Banqueting Hall looked magnificent lit up in modernistic light fittings, swamped with miles of curtaining, one whole section of the floor raised to create an extension of the stage.

Doors opened automatically in response to a selenium cell.

Joseph Emberton designed the staircase, encircling a central pillar within the glazed cylinder as similar to the one outside the building.

In all it cost £300,000 with no match for it anywhere in Britain and as the pinnacle for the whole of the Pleasure Beach in those ‘modern times’ it too was considered unequalled anywhere in the world.

Doris Thompson, the day of the opening of the Casino, celebrated her new appointment as the youngest magistrate to sit the Blackpool bench and the following day Stamp received the Freedom of the Borough of Blackpool.

In April 1941, a German bomb landed on Stamp’s house in Kent, killing him, his wife and his eldest son.

William Beveridge, wrote an obituary for Stamp, writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, he tributes him with,

“By this direct hit the Germans did more harm to their chief enemy than they could have realised. In the difficult aftermath of war, Stamp would have been an ideal negotiator between Britain and the United States which he knew so well.”

The Casino remained a piece of architecture to behold and in 1975, Keith Ingham of the Preston based Building Design Partnership, spoke highly of the building, as he prepared to renovate Emberton’s design, he wrote,

“The Casino building is an incredible exercise even now, in the integration of structure and services, not only heating and ventilation, but a full range of lighting effects together with flexible planning of moveable screens and stagings, emerging electrically from cavities and floors; all this combined with some pioneering reinforced concrete structure, and cladding with pre-cast concrete panes...”

In 1938, Leonard Thompson created a new company, Morecambe Pleasure Park Ltd, taking over the leases from his associated company, Helters, which he was the sole director of this new company and immediate plans made ready for further development.

In 1939, Strickler’s figure-of-Eight coaster taken down and replaced with Traver’s cyclone from the Paris Exhibition.

Joseph Emberton designed another modernistic Casino and a grand opening planned for 1940, the war stopped it, the idea abandoned.

In 1947, Leonard Thompson bought the land for £57,925 from the L.M.S. Railway, right before the nationalisation of the railways.

Bean had opened The Pleasure Park in Southport on its foreshore, run by the Southport Corporation since 1922 but now the local politicians considered it an archaic proposition for a civic authority to continue to run a business from the income of taxpayers’ and so ordered the implementation of a privately commercialised enterprise.

Their profits, less than £10,000 a year, lucrative but considered inadequate.

In 1939, Leonard Thompson negotiated a deal, contracting it under Helters, to take over a lease from the Corporation for 35 years, at £35,000 a year rising to £7,000, plus 10% of his net operating profits.

While Joseph Emberton was in the news, describing their plans for yet another Casino, he intended to create “a beautiful garden, fitted up as an amusement park.”

When the war arrived, the lease not taken up, deferred indefinitely, the Pleasureland closed to the public throughout the war, used as a park for aircraft awaiting despatch.

The Pleasure Beach, the only private business to invest on large scale on the Fylde since 1899, as the war approached in 1939, there were many other major players coming on to the scene with the Odeon Cinemas building the largest cinema in Europe to seat 3,000, beside the North station.

The Tower Company, bought out the Winter Gardens in 1928, built an enormous opera house behind the façade of the Winter Gardens, this costing £125,000, seating 3,200.

The Corporation invested new money in a covered swimming pool, Olympic size, costing £270,000 and built on the old Claremont Park, named the Derby Baths, after the great Lancashire landowner.

All opened in the summer of 1939.

This time people knew war was coming, train passengers for the season 20% over the record of 1937.

The preparations for the war had started even before the previous year, following appeals for the public to join the Civil Defence services.

In September 1938, the Mayor had spoken to Leonard Thompson’s employees in the Indian Theatre, encouraging them to join the Air Raid Precautions services and the reserves of the police, the Fire Brigade and the Ambulance Service.

Doris Thompson became noticeable in A.R.P work and Centre Leader of the Women’s Voluntary Service for Civil Defence.

The fire-fighting reservists soon found their work cut-out with the Indian Theatre burning to the ground within a couple of hours on September 27th 1939.

WORLD WAR II: THE WAR YEARS (II).



Black Friday - September 1st, 1939, headlined the Blackpool Gazette reporting the news Germany had invaded Poland and within forty-eight hours, Prime Minister Chamberlain informed the British public once more they were at war.

September 3rd 1939, a national ban on all entertainment, the season came to an abrupt end, the illuminations stopped for the duration of the war, some concessions to the running of things, however, were reneged to some degree about a week later, so it was not all doom and gloom.

For sometime plans for evacuating children from the big cities, scheduled months in advance of the declaration of war, went into action with thousands of evacuees coming to Blackpool and the Fylde coast. Their accommodation paid for by the government at the rate of eight shillings and sixpence a week, the landladies complaining at the cheapness of the authorities.

Considered a “phoney war” encouraged wellbeing of security, the majority of the kids returning home, until the Blitz hit at the end of 1940.

More government plans took up huge amounts of the accommodation to be found in Blackpool and whole departments of the Civil Service were housed in the area with most of the large hotels commandeered, remaining in the hands of government until 1951.

Accommodations, in private houses, paid for the government at the rate of one pound and five pence per week.

The Royal Air Force took over huge areas of the centre of Blackpool, including spacious areas of entertainment for use of an initial training base.

At any given time during the war, as many as 45,000 airmen lived and trained in Blackpool.

The Winter Gardens was their centre of operations and had a double purpose, in the day lectures and training films in the theatres and “erks” struggled into fitness to the shouts of Physical Training instructors in the Great Ballroom, while in the evening the entertainments opened up as usual.

Again, as in the First World War, the East coast became viewed as dangerous for holidaymakers with the exception of Brighton, all resorts between Berwick-on-Tweed and Dorset remained closed until the end of the war.

In 1940, the Wakes Week ceased to function amongst most of the traditional weeks to the season but after continued as normal but it did create further problems, as in August major complaints arose regarding enough accommodation for visitors to Blackpool with too much billeting taking place on a permanent basis by the Civil Service and the Air Force.

The Pleasure Beach overrun by new customers, a semi-resident population in Blackpool replaced on a regular turnover, while a greater portion assessed to have visited the resort for the first time and eventually 20,000 American troops came to stay in the town. Polish airmen came in droves, all notices in the park Leonard Thompson had displayed in both English and Polish.

Another problem arose on staffing, keeping a regular entertainment industry running during wartime. Expected high levels of unemployment in Blackpool during the winter months, an almost scheduled acceptance, disappeared, recruits constantly needed for the Armed Forces.

The Pleasure Beach hoped to achieve employment of numbers of women on the park but by August 1940 3,700 of them listed as unemployed diminished to 184, there were jobs for them in factories and Blackpool had several of them associated with the air force, the largest at Squires Gate, where Vickers-Armstrong built Wellington Bombers.

One of the smallest was at the Pleasure Beach; components produced for the bombers made in the workshops of the Pleasure Beach Express.

The operation of the Pleasure Beach had to change for the war, expected to open at least throughout the weekends during the winter months, closed at the end of season, normally a time when full maintenance achieved but for the next five years materials were in short demand with priorities for an amusement park extremely limited in importance.

The rides now in continuous use throughout the year, the end of the war bought considerable wear and tear to the machinery.

The Ice Drome stayed open, producing its usual annual show throughout the war, the new facilities of the Casino proved immensely popular with the restaurants in full use.

There were frequent dancers, even illuminations on the Pleasure Beach but switched off during the scheduled hour of the blackouts.

Shops closed early in winter because of the blackouts and lightproof sheeting sold in local stores, such as RHO Hills in Bank Hey Street.


« Last Edit: January 19, 2011, 10:30:20 PM by PETER MOWBRAY »

BelleVueShrew

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Re: Blackpool 100yrs of Fun..!!
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2011, 04:31:56 AM »
Blimey Peter, I'll read that all when I have got a spare weekend!!  ;D


Proud Salopian (With a part of the heart in Blackpool)

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Re: Blackpool 100yrs of Fun..!!
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2011, 01:11:59 PM »
Blimey Peter, I'll read that all when I have got a spare weekend!!  ;D

Sorry its a bit long..but very comprehensive.. :D

cliffc

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Re: Blackpool 100yrs of Fun..!!
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2011, 10:18:51 AM »
Hi Peter

Well done on this post it is indeed long but also very comprehensive, it must have taken you many hours of research as well as writeing.

Regards

Cliff C

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Re: Blackpool 100yrs of Fun..!!
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2011, 05:56:34 PM »
Hi Peter

Well done on this post it is indeed long but also very comprehensive, it must have taken you many hours of research as well as writeing.

Regards

Cliff C

Thanks Cliff.. 8)