How Blackpool Pleasure Beach has changed over the last 125 years

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Blackpool Pleasure Beach will open its gates on Monday – here’s a look back at the theme park over the years


How Blackpool Pleasure Beach has changed over the last 125 years (Image: Andrew Teebay/Liverpool Echo)

Interest in theme parks has surged online by 65 per cent in the past three months amid the third national lockdown – showing that people are eager to get back to the thrill of rides.

One renowned north west attraction that’s been sorely missed is Blackpool Pleasure Beach, with its fun of the fair and its host of entertainment and interaction experiences.

It’s set to reopen its gates on Monday, April 12 after outdoor attractions were given the green light to welcome back visitors as part of Step Two in the roadmap.

And while it’ll be a big day for Pleasure Beach, it will also be celebrating its 125th anniversary.

A lot has changed at the theme park over the years, and there are even more new experiences launching in 2021, reports LancsLive.

This includes Walk the Woodie, which is an escorted, guided walk of the track and lift hills of one of the park’s classic wooden roller coasters.

Skipping ahead to autumn, there will be a new ‘it’s Friday night’ event, which will see the park open from 4.30pm-9.30pm.

While the hub is also a new centre for park entertainment located in the middle of the grounds near the fountains, which will also welcome Oktoberfest in September.

To allow visitors next week, the amusement park has put in place a number of robust Covid-secure measures, such as limiting the number of guests, compulsory masks and temperature checks.

Here, our sister site LancsLive takes a look at the iconic history of the family-owned Pleasure Beach and its 125 seasons.

Vision of an American-style theme park

1890 – 1910

Alderman William George Bean founded Pleasure Beach in 1896 after being inspired to build an American-style amusement park.

He had ambitious plans to build a world-renowned attraction “to make adults feel like children again”.

In conjunction with partner John Outhwaite, A.W.G. Bean bought a 42-acre plot of land where the park still stands today.

The local businessman travelled extensively to bring new rides and ideas to Pleasure Beach.

He introduced the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railroad to the site in July 1896 and Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines and Noah’s Ark – which still stand today.

The Infamous Flying Machines are not only one of the oldest continuously working machines in the Blackpool Pleasure Beach but also in Europe.

125 years later A.W.G. Bean’s Creation has brought joy to millions of visitors of all ages and backgrounds.

Still thriving through the first World War

1910 – 1930

31st March 1936: Men painting the pleasure boats at Blackpool Boating Lake, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire, in preparation for the Easter holiday visitors

The outbreak of the first world war saw Pleasure Beach face many challenges.

The exporting of rides from the United States eventually ground to a halt and investment in the park stopped as a result of this and the mounting difficulties faced.

Always resilient through hard times however, Blackpool found a way to overcome problems.

Against the odds and due its unwavering popularity, the amusement park’s profits soared and it became one of the most prolific employers in the North West.

Escapism from war and handing down of the business

1930 – 1950

13th September 1939: Young evacuees from Manchester and Salford enjoying themselves on the aeroplane ride pretending to bomb Berlin, at Blackpool pleasure beach

Throughout the war years, Pleasure Beach remained open all year round.

Thousands of servicemen, evacuees and a wider population would come through its gates to briefly escape the burden of the world war around them.

So much so, signs around the park were written in Polish due to the number of Polish air force bases around the town at that time.

Once again, despite the turmoils of the external environment, this proved a great time of development for the park which started with the opening of Noah’s Ark and The Virginia Reel.

1923 also saw the introduction of a fast and modern ride like no other in the park. This was the Big Dipper which still operates today.

At the end of this prosperous decade for the theme park, W. G. Bean died in 1929. This is when Blackpool’s most well-established attraction was passed on to his son-in-law, Leonard Thompson.

Disney Inspiration and influx of rides

1950 -1960

Walt Disney himself came over to pay a visit (Image: Publicity Picture)

The company saw continued success under Thompson when there was an intensive period of development, including the building of the then modernistic Casino Building.

Inspired by Walt Disney’s penultimate amusement park, ‘Disneyland’, Leonard concentrated on introducing several groundbreaking rides including The Rollercoaster, The Pleasure Beach Express and the world-famous, twin-tracked coaster, The Grand National.

Returning the compliment, the Pleasure Beach became so world-renowned that Walt Disney himself came over to pay a visit.

The entrepreneur and animator came over to see it for himself and stated that he liked the fact it was a family park and that it was “a higher class of resort”.

This resulted in him granting permission for the company to use Alice in Wonderland as inspiration for a ride.

The second world war had seen a temporary holt in terms of the rides and attractions development however it soon saw a return to prominence with the opening of the highly regarded Wild Mouse wooden rollercoaster in 1958.

This was then followed by The Derby Racer in 1959 which carousel has 56 horses, each one hand-carved at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

Britain’s first commercial monorail and influx of popular rides

1960- 1970

During the 1960s, Britain’s first commercial Monorail was built along here with an explosion of new popular rides including the Monster, the Astro Swirl and the world’s longest Log Flume.

Visitors were also wowed by an enchanting trip through the Looking Glass on Alice in Wonderland; the Grand Prix and the popular Tea Cup ride .

Europe’s first 360-degree looping coaster and the UK’s only bobsleigh ride

1970- 1990

Geoffrey Thompson became Managing Director in 1976 and added several exciting and iconic rides to the pleasure beach.

These include the Steeplechase, opened by the racehorse Red Rum in 1977., then two years later, Europe’s first 360-degree looping coaster, the Revolution, which received huge acclaim.

This time also saw the introduction of the infamous The Big One – the tallest, fastest rollercoaster in the world at the time of its creation and the Avalanche – the UK’s only bobsleigh ride.

This remains the only bobsleigh rollercoaster in the country and in the year the British bobsleigh team were competing in the Winter Olympics, 1988, Avalanche opened and carried over one million passengers during the first year.

The world’s tallest, fastest rollercoaster

1990-2000

(Image: Graham Young)

In 1994 the Pepsi Max Big One opened at 235ft tall, meaning it was the world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster of its time.

This was part of Geoffrey Thompson’s great legacy after he invested £12m in the gigantic ride.

The Big One changed the skyline of Blackpool’s seafront forever and attracted roller coaster superfans from all over the world.

Another UK first was also established around this time, the £2 million Ice Blast, which catapults riders 210 feet vertically into the air.

Expansion

2000-2020

Millions continued to be invested in the Pleasure Beach from the 2000s and beyond.

Over £3m was invested in new rides, enhancements and attractions.

The notorious Valhalla ride opened in 2000 after a massive £15m investment, the biggest amount up until that point.

This thrilling new ride was hailed as the biggest, most spectacular dark ride ever to be constructed by mankind.

The Big Blue Hotel opened its doors in 2002 offering luxury accommodation which also saw the 100th birthday of Chairman, Mrs L.D. Thompson. The 157-bedroom hotel has now established itself as one of the most popular hotels in Blackpool.

Sadly in 2004 Mrs L.D. Thompson M.B.E. J.P. and Geoffrey Thompson O.B.E. passed away and the company was passed to the Managing Director.

Amanda Thompson re-themed and refurbished the park and there has since been the introduction of Infusion – the world’s first rollercoaster suspended entirely over water, Nickelodeon Land, Red Arrows Skyforce and ICON – the UK’s first double launch rollercoaster costing £16.25m.

In 2019, the £12m Boulevard Hotel opened with 120 stylish rooms with views of the seafront or park, a 90-seat restaurant and state-of-the-art conference facilities.

The future and beyond

2021

Now the team at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is hard at work in order to re-open the gates on April 12 after a tumultuous 12 months.

Staff have used lockdown as an opportunity to improve and enhance visitor experiences for its well-loved guests down to replacing rollercoasters wheels and old pieces of track.

They have also implemented, and will maintain, a new unprecedented and enhanced deep cleaning regime to keep visitors Covid safe.