Blackpool Tower

Year:1894

Duration:3 years

Cost:£290,000 (about £35m today)

Country: Blackpool, UK

What did this project achieve?

In Victorian times build a landmark metal tower modelled on Paris’ Eiffel tower

Blackpool Tower is a tourist attraction in Blackpool, Lancashire. Opened to the public in 1894, the 518ft (158m) tall structure is the 120th tallest freestanding tower in the world.

Blackpool Tower is also the common name for Tower Buildings – the red brick 3-storey entertainment complex at the foot of the tower. The complex contains the Tower Circus, the Tower Ballroom and an aquarium.

Blackpool Tower and Tower Buildings were built by a company headed up by former Blackpool Mayor John Bickerstaffe. The tower itself was inspired by the design of the Eiffel Tower which had opened 5 years earlier.

Usually painted dark red, the top of the structure was painted silver for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 1977.

The Blackpool Tower and Tower Ballroom are both Grade 1 listed buildings.

Difference the tower has made

Blackpool Tower has been a successful attraction since it opened in 1894, creating both employment and revenue for the town. The company behind the complex made £30,000 profit (about £3.5m today) after only 2 year of operation.

The entertainment complex continues to boost Blackpool’s tourist industry. The Tower Circus alone played to around 400,000 people in 2017 – employing about 50 performers and other staff.

As well as having a financial impact, the tower has become a symbol of Blackpool both in the UK and overseas.

How the work was done

Designed by architects James Maxwell and Charles Tuke – who both died before the project was finished – the Blackpool Tower is 158m high to the top of its flagpole.

Engineers used 2,533 tonnes of steel and 94 tonnes of cast iron to build the structure. The tower itself has 4 legs - each of which is made up of a further 4 legs.

Engineers braced these further 4 legs with lattice girders. A lattice girder is one where the load is carried by latticed metal – often in a criss-cross pattern.

The main legs are braced horizontally every 9m.

The tower has 2 lifts going to a floor 17m above ground. From there the main lifts carry passengers to an observation platform 146m up.

The lifts were originally designed to be operated by gas engines, each with 2 cylinders. The engines have since been replaced by electric motors.

Workers used 5 miles (8km) of cables to power the 10,000 light bulbs that illuminate the tower complex.

Theatre designer Frank Matcham created the interiors of the circus and the ballroom.

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A magnificent Victorian engineering masterpiece.

Simon Entwistle

BBC website contributor

Fascinating facts

Blackpool Tower has been used as a location for several movies. One of the earliest was ‘Dick Barton Strikes Back’, a 1947 detective thriller. The 2016 Tim Burton fantasy film ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ has its final scenes in and near the tower.

A live episode of the BBC’s top rating entertainment series ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is always broadcast from the Tower Ballroom. In 2013 in ITV’s drama soap ‘Coronation Street’ characters Roy and Hayley Cropper visited the ballroom.

Project engineers buried a time capsule under the building’s foundations during early construction work in 1891.

People who made it happen

  • Client: John Bickerstaffe
  • Architects: James Maxwell, Charles Tuke
  • Structural engineers: Richard Froude, Hammerley Heenan

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