A little background
Each Autumn, just when most seaside destinations are thinking of closing for the winter, Blackpool comes alive with multi-coloured lights, illuminated displays and thousands of visitors each day.
The Blackpool Illuminations are switched on.
Way back in 1879 visitors to Blackpool stood in awe as just 8 arc lamps bathed the Promenade in what was called at the time, artificial sunshine. You have to bear in mind that electric lighting of any type was a novelty; oil lamps and candles were the norm and even gas lighting was considered a luxury. And the electric light bulb wasn’t patented by Thomas Edison until the following year. So we shouldn’t be surprised that people had never the seen the likes of this before.
Jump forward to 1912 and lights were erected on Princess Parade near to the Metropole Hotel to mark Blackpool’s first royal visit when Princess Louise officially opened this new section of ‘the Prom’. So impressive were they that in September that year the council staged them again and thousands visited the resort. The most iconic of annual British events was born.
The outbreak of war in 1914 paused the event and it was not until 1925 that it was restarted until, in 1939, they had to be paused once more for the same reason.
The number of visitors has grown year-on-year and now around 3,500,000 people come to look at the Blackpool Illuminations each year.
The start of a tradition
The First World War had meant that the light celebrations were put on hold but when they returned in 1925 they did so with the very decorative Gondola tram and the age of the illuminated tram was born.
None of the illuminated trams at this stage carried passengers other than maybe some invited guests and, in a few cases, an orchestra which played as the tram made its way along The Prom.
Various designs have come and gone since. Initially they were just for display purposes but it was soon realised that the public would be happy to pay to be taken through what had become known simply as ‘The Lights’; especially when it was on a tram that was itself illuminated.
The 1980’s saw the space race come to Blackpool in the form of the Rocket tram. It was actually a much altered tram number 732 and is still in storage at our Rigby Road depot. Regrettably, the practicalities of having a sloping floor and using it safely with a high passenger load means bringing it back into service raises quite a number of practical and safety issues which are proving difficult to overcome.
The Illuminations now last for around 66 days, or more accurately evenings, and for each of those we continue the tradition of Illuminations Tours with our three current Illuminated Trams.