Book review: Blackpool Tower: A History by Peter Walton

Blackpool Tower: A History byPeter Walton

Blackpool Tower: A History byPeter Walton

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The words icon and iconic tend to be so overused these days as to make them almost worthless.

Yet how else would you describe Blackpool’s grand old lady… that 518ft 9in seaside structure whose first sighting has thrilled generations of visitors whether they arrived by charabanc, excursion steam train or – as is more likely today – by coach or car.

True, its stature – currently ranked the world’s 103rd tallest freestanding structure – might have diminished in the eyes of the record book compilers yet the promenade attraction remains a firm family favourite and seems set to do so for decades to come.

Incredible then to think that Blackpool Tower has been teasing hard-earned cash from the pockets of the resort’s holiday crowds, season in, season out, since 1894.

Inspired by, and modelled on, the much taller Eiffel Tower in Paris, Blackpool’s more down-to-earth version has always sold itself as much on what is on offer below the stunning steelwork as the spectacular views atop.

When it was being built, many people predicted its failure and it did end up costing twice the original £150,000 estimate.

John Bickerstaffe, the driving force behind the Victorian venture, and a key figure in Blackpool’s civic life, almost went bust building the unique attraction.

But his faith in the project was well placed and once the turnstiles started spinning, his company made a profit every single year that the venue existed as an independent public entity.

In this fascinating history, author Peter Walton has definitely reinforced publisher Amberley’s reputation for an entertaining and authoritative take on nostalgia.

There is not a hint of textbook dryness in Walton’s style and his accounts of progress and challenges, notably during the earlier decades, paint as many pictures in the mind’s eye as the 16 pages of sepia photographs in the centre of the book.

And accuracy seems fairly assured in this particular tale well-told as Walton readily acknowledges his debt during research to ‘the stalwarts of Blackpool history’ for their goodwill and active collaboration, including the ready access he was given to the Tower archives.

Anyone who has ever been on the edge of their (restricted legroom!) seat, while hooked on the thrills and spills of the subterranean circus or marvelled at the grace of the dancers swirling across the polished floor of the ornate ballroom housed above, should find plenty to interest them in this ‘bricks and mortar’ account of the iconic – there goes that word again – entertainment emporium.

(Amberley, paperback, £14.99)