Victorian Homes

Blackpool Illuminations history: a lightbulb moment of the Victorian era

Blackpool Illuminations

The Blackpool Illuminations draw millions of people to the Lancashire seaside resort each year, but few realise the plan for a spectacular light display was first conceived during the Victorian era.

With the advent of cheap railway journeys, seaside towns like Blackpool expanded rapidly in the late 1800s, but their attractions were generally restricted to the summer season and they reverted to ghost towns during the autumn and winter. That’s why Victorians decided to create the Blackpool Illuminations.

Blackpool Illuminations
Blackpool Illuminations

The Blackpool Illuminations aimed to extend the tourist season

In an attempt to extend the tourist season, local businessmen and the town council decided to experiment with newly developed electric lighting to attract new, out-of-season visitors to the town.

The first rather modest light display was switched on in 1879 when the council devoted a sum of £5,000 to the Blackpool Illuminations experiment. Incredibly, that first display was a full year before Thomas Edison patented the electric light bulb.

The first display consisted of eight arc lamps on 60ft poles along the seafront.

In a time when most Victorian householders were still lighting their homes with candles, the installation was quite a spectacle and it brought tourists flocking in. They described the lofty arc lamps as “artificial sunshine.”

However, unlike today’s illuminations, which showcase modern technology, the lamps used to go out as the tide came in due to water leaking into the cast iron wiring conduits.

Blackpool Illuminations

Blackpool Illuminations: “the world’s largest free light show”

The Blackpool Illuminations have now turned into an annual event, creating magical memories for countless generations, children and adults alike. It is billed as the world’s largest free light show.

Today, the illuminations cover 6.2 miles and use more than a million bulbs, complemented by microcontrollers, LEDs, lasers, and video at a cost of around £2 million a year. The display stretches along the Promenade from Starr Gate at the south end of the town to Bispham in the north, and the wiring for the lights stretches for more than 200 miles.

The Blackpool Illuminations attract more than three million visitors to the resort each year, with many travelling across the UK to see the lights from the end of August to the beginning of November. The lights have become one of the UK’s most enduring tourist attractions.

Most visitors drive through the Illuminations by car, coach, or bus, but there are also open-top trams and horse-drawn carriages available to take in the sights in style.

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Blackpool Illuminations bring in £250 million a year

So did the Victorian scheme bring any tangible benefits and extend Blackpool’s tourist season? You bet it did. It is estimated that visitors now spend more than £250 million when visiting Blackpool Illuminations each year.

And once the Blackpool Illuminations are turned off and taken down, they are sold and exported abroad to be reused in cities as diverse as Barcelona in Spain and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

When do the Blackpool Illuminations run?

In line with its original purpose, the Illuminations run during the winter months. This year, they will run for free between 1st September 2023 and 1st January 2024.

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