History of Blackpool Central Pier • take a look with Live Blackpool
Entrance to Blackpool Central Pier in the 1930s

History of Blackpool Central Pier

Blackpool Central Pier is the one with the Big Wheel and fairground rides. But do you wonder about its past? Take a ride in our time machine and explore the history of Blackpool Central Pier.

It was always designed to be a place of fun! In its early days that meant dancing and steamer trips. The modern amusements and rides were added much later.

We went for a walk around Central Pier in autumn 2020. Take a look –

Amusements and fairground rides at Central Pier
Amusements and fairground rides at Central Pier
Blackpool Central Pier with the Big Wheel
Blackpool Central Pier with the Big Wheel

The History of Blackpool Central Pier

Nick Moore is a local historian who’s collected together information about all of the history of Blackpool. His free to access online resource is calledBlackpool Chronology’. Nick’s very kindly provided the following information about the history of Central Pier.

On 30 May 1868, The South Pier Jetty Company opened what we know as Central Pier, with the name ‘South Jetty’.

It was the success of Blackpool North Pier which encouraged the formation of the Blackpool South Jetty Company.

The new development obviously caused raised eyebrows in the town! Major Preston’s name was rapidly erased from the foundation stone of nearby North Pier because of his support for the new pier. And there was no public opening ceremony.

Blackpool seafront, seen from Central Pier. Photo: Historic England Archive
Blackpool seafront, seen from Central Pier. Photo: Historic England Archive

South Jetty was 1118 feet long when it was built, with an entrance hall, two shops, several kiosks, and a pier head lounge. It’s now 1,112 feet long (or 339 metres), shorter than it was when it originally opened. An extra 120 metres of landing jetty was used at low tide. Steamboat excursions once left from here, just as they did from North Pier (more about that below).

The People’s Pier

The pier was unsuccessful at first, but in 1870 Robert Bickerstaff introduced steamer trips and open air dancing on the pier head. It soon became known affectionately as the “People’s Pier”.

Blackpool seafront, seen from Central Pier
Blackpool seafront, seen from Central Pier

A new tollhouse appeared at the entrance in 1878. On the pier itself were shops occupied by photographers, confectioners and fancy dealers. Plus a floor for dancing, and refreshment rooms.

From 1878, the Central Pier Company’s steamers “Wellington” and “Nelson” ran to Southport, Llandudno, Lytham, Barrow, Peel and some other places.

Blackpool Excursion Steamer, Queen of the North
Blackpool Excursion Steamer, Queen of the North

More interesting information about the Blackpool Excursion Steamers

By 1888, Central Pier was featuring Professor Taylor “eating, smoking, and writing underwater” and acts such as the “White Coons”. Pierrots were first seen on the pier in 1907. Beginning with Adeler and Sutton, they were succeeded by Fred Allendale’s Premier Pierrots, then by Wylie-Tate’s Super Pierrots in 1922.

In 1891 the old wooden jetty was replaced with a 400-foot long iron pier extension for the steamer boats. You can see the extension in the next photo, taken in 1920.

Blackpool Central Pier from above in 1920. Photo: Britain from Above website
Blackpool Central Pier from above in 1920. Photo: Britain from Above website

A central dancing platform was also added, which became an open-air theatre from 1949. The steamer jetty was washed away much later, in 1964.

A Change of Name

In 1893 Blackpool’s third Pier, South Pier, opened. What was originally called ‘South Jetty’ was renamed Central Pier to avoid confusion. It’s had that name ever since, for more than 100 years.

Here’s another familiar name for anyone who is interested in Blackpool’s history – Robert Bickerstaffe. He was the first manager of Central Pier and also coxswain of the first Blackpool lifeboat. Now, he’s remembered in the redevelopment of Bickerstaffe Square (the area around Sainsbury’s) at Talbot Road and the Council offices (Bickerstaffe House).

In 1903, the eastern-style White Pavilion was added at the landward end, but that was demolished in 1966.

Entrance to Blackpool Central Pier in the 1930s
Entrance to Blackpool Central Pier, seen here in the 1930s

Changing History of Central Pier

  • The Electric Grotto Railway was built by Messrs. Meinhardt in 1904, but it was removed following objections from the Corporation in 1907: the building housing it was retained.
  • In 1909, the pier unveiled its “Rollerator” ride, an innovative mix of skating and switchback. It still kept its own Roller Skating Rink however.
  • The Joy Wheel opened in 1911, with speed boats and racing car rides following in 1920.
  • In 1913, a suspected Suffragette bomb was discovered on the pier, just before a visit by the King and Queen.
  • Redman’s Café was opened on the pier on the 1st of December 1914, after the original premises had been converted into the Church of England Temporary Social Club for Soldiers on the 27th of November.
  • In 1932, an “Automatic Chip Dispenser” was unveiled on Central Pier. Along with a new photograph booth, and a guess-your-weight machine.
  • In 1945, the pier mounted a display showing a V1 and a V2 rocket which had been dropped on London. It cost 6d to enter. The pier later displayed a replica German U-Boat conning tower.

Arriving by Train

Central Pier was also close to the site of the long closed Blackpool Central Railway station.

From the pier you’d have crossed the tramway and promenade, walked a little way along Chapel Street (the road heading to the Courts and former police station) and there was Central Station, on your left.

Tens of thousands of holiday makers arrived there every year and spilled out of the trains for a day at the coast. Now, plans are unfolding to redevelop the Central Station site once again.

An age of modern entertainment

In 1949 skating stopped on the pier, and an open-air theatre was created. The theatre at the beach-end continued to have shows. Morecambe and Wise topped the bill in “Let’s Have Fun”.

History of Blackpool Central Pier, approx 1951
History of Blackpool Central Pier, approx 1951

Peter Webster first appeared at the open-air theatre on Central Pier in 1951, playing to 1,000 people twice daily – mainly children. “Uncle” Peter Webster went on to star in over 5000 shows.

In 1965, the Circlorama Cavalcade 360 degree cinema appeared on Central Pier. It had been backed with cash from Harry Talbot de Vere Clifton after the success of the London original, made by the firm of Harkness Ltd. When the London show closed, it was erected on the end of the pier ready for the summer season. It was a total failure, as it kept breaking down due to the salt air. At the end the season it was dismantled and removed/reassembled in Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.

New Amusement Arcade and a New Theatre

The Central Pier Theatre was demolished in October 1966. Now, the building at the front of the pier was rebuilt, to house the Golden Goose Amusement Arcade. A new theatre was also built on the site of the old dance floor, opening in 1967.

In 1967, the Dixieland Palace replaced Central Pier pavilion, above the Golden Goose Arcade on 31st May. It had the “official biggest bar service” in Britain. The pier head’s open-air dance floors became the New Theatre, dancing was moved to the White Pavilion, and the Venetian Bar was opened in the centre, to cater for both public and the pier’s theatre artistes.

The Dixieland Showbar opened in 1968 along with the Golden Goose amusement arcade. The Dixieland had its own Golden Fry Restaurant – specialising in “chips in a basket”. Further out, before the theatre, was the Venetian Bar – frequented by performers during intervals. Fire destroyed the Dixieland on the 22nd of September 1973, but it was soon reopened.

The Golden Age of Central Pier

Dixieland was refurbished in June 1986, becoming Maggie May’s Showbar. Linda Nolan played nine consecutive summer seasons there, following this with two summer seasons on South Pier. Maggie May’s was later renamed “Peggy Sue’s Showboat” and then “Legends”.

  • The jetty at the end of the pier was removed at the end of 1975, the low water jetty already having been demolished in 1968.
  • On February 24 1979, a security guard was on the pier doing his rounds and reported seeing a UFO. “A ball of orange light rushed past with a roaring noise, leaving a lingering smell of ozone”. The Ministry of Defence was notified, deciding to take no action.
  • Cinema 180 opened on Central Pier in 1979. By 1981 it had changed into Cinema USA, and by 1983 to Cinema 3D. It was housed on the centre of the pier in a giant geodesic dome.
  • Oz nightclub opened on the pier in 1989. It changed to Sequins in November 1990, then Legends Showbar, Club 1-11, and finally, to Wicked.

More Old Blackpool Photos

Love old photos? You’ll enjoy our ‘Old Blackpool’ Pinterest BoardWhen we find any interesting historic photos around the internet, we pin them here.

Old Blackpool Pinterest Board from Visit Fylde Coast
Old Blackpool Pinterest Board from Visit Fylde Coast

Recent Chapters in the History of Central Pier

Still as popular today as it ever was, Central Pier is now known as the one with the fairground rides. It’s a heady jumble of sights, sounds and smells, where loud music mixes with seagulls, and candyfloss with sea air.

The Big Wheel

The Big Wheel opened on Central Pier on 13 April 1990.

It’s 108 feet high, holding up to 216 people in 26 carriages. Burton’s Wagon Wheels were the original sponsors.

Looking along the right hand side of Central Pier
Looking along the right hand side of Central Pier

At the same time, the Wheel House Bar and Disco, and the Super Waltzer also opened.

Maintaining the Big Wheel on Central Pier

It’s a familiar landmark on Blackpool seafront. But, built over the sea and beach, the Big Wheel is very exposed to the weather. So it’s taken to pieces every few years, cleaned, inspected, maintained and replaced to turn again for another season.

It’s quite a strange site when it’s dismantled. The circumference disappears bit by bit, until all that’s left is the frame of the legs that hold it up.

Starlings on Blackpool Piers
Starlings gathering on the Big Wheel frame while it was being maintained.

The local starlings love the Big Wheel though! It’s one of their perches for the thousands and thousands of them that fly in Blackpool’s famous starling murmurations each year.

No doubt there will be many more chapters to unfold in the history of Central Pier over the years to come.

Fire at Central Pier

At 3am on the morning of Friday 17 July 2020, a fire broke out in a workshop at Central Pier.

Thankfully, fire crews managed to put it out quite quickly. It wasn’t as bad as it might have been. We went to take a look a few days later –

Watch our walk-around video at the top of this page and you’ll see that the fire damage wasn’t anywhere as bad as it might have been!

While you’re here…

Go to the homepage of the Live Blackpool website for the latest updates.

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9 thoughts on “History of Blackpool Central Pier

  1. I did summer season at the Dixieland in 1970 in a duo called Strange Brew, we also were appearing at other top venues in Blackpool and Morecambe. We then went on to top the bill at most of the big Clubs in the U K and did radio some T V and recordings at Strawberry Studios. Dixieland was a good venue to play, always packed with a very receptive audience and lots of good looking girls several of whom we went out with. Any of you ladies who knew us get in touch.

  2. Roger T. Marshall

    When did Tommy Burton and his Sporting House Quartet appear at the Central Pier’s Dixieland bar? I believe that it was around 1971. Whop was on the Bill with him?

    Roger Marshall

  3. Erica Mcnaughton

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the piers.
    As a child before moving to blackpool aged 8. Mother and father and i used to come to Blackpool every year for a holiday. I remember tractor thingys going into the sea to a boat and bringing passengers back to the sands. This would be roughly 1965 ish. I didnt really pay much attention as i was always buisy building sand castles with my once yearly new bucket and spade and a bunch of paper flags. Such happy times one ice cream and one donkey ride per day. we sat on the beach all day until back to our digs for evening meal, then change into a new frock and off to see a show. As far as i remember i dont think we went on the piers, just sat all day on the beach. The beaches were packed solid, we had to rush after breakfast to get the spot of choice for the day. Usually south shore area by the windmill for the toilets and the lost childrens bus. Where i would inevitably be found sobbing. How good it was to see my fathers smiling face as he came to collect me. Thank you Jane, so interesting

  4. GEOFFREY PLANT

    Can anyone shed light on the question I have regarding boats sailing from the piers in an evening in the holiday season in the late 40’s early 50’s. I seem to remember them as sailing out into Morecambe bay for an evening cruise. You could get a drink on board and I think you could dance too.

    Regards GEOFF PLANT

    1. Geoff, the last steamboat was scrapped in 1928, but the Blackpool Steam Shipping Company – a separate business from the pier – ran their own for about 15 years after that.

  5. Hi
    I am trying to trace the group a touch of velvet they played in the central pier in 1976/77 and know that they won opportunity knocks
    I am looking for photos of the band if you have any
    I became friends with the band but lost contact

    1. Hello,
      I played drums and was a member of Touch of Velvet from 1972-1975. The original members of the band that did the season in 1974 at the central pier in Blackpool were: me, Stuart Wilson drums, Alan Nicklin guitar, Bill Gilbert, bass, Steve Brown keyboards and Kay Kennedy lead vocal.

      We went to Portugal to tour in the Algarve for around three months after Blackpool.
      Bill, Steve and I left the band in 1975.
      Unfortunately, Kay passed away in 2013 and Alan in 2018.
      Bill, Steve and I are in the process of putting a band together.

      Do Take Care, Stu .

      1. Hi Stuart,
        I was touch of velvets drummer after you left. Hope you’re well. Say hi to Bill and steve for me.
        Chris Barrows

    2. Hi Billy,
      I was the drummer with A Toucb of Velvet at that time. Kay Kennedy was our singer who was married to Alan Nicklin the guitarist.
      I’ve got some photos
      Chris

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