125 years of Blackpool Pleasure Beach – a unique family business
by Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Blackpool UK
We invited Blackpool Pleasure Beach to tell their story on the occasion of their 125th anniversary and being honored in 2021 with the Thea Classic Award.
“Who would have envisaged my great-grandfather’s dream would last 125 years and beyond!” Keeping up a long and honorable family tradition, Blackpool Pleasure Beach Managing Director Amanda Thompson OBE followed in the footsteps of her father, grandfather and great-grandfather to build Blackpool Pleasure Beach into the amusement park it is today.
In 2021 the famous amusement park celebrates 125 years of fun. Amanda says, “We have 42 acres of fabulous fun here – with everything from amazing rides, world-famous shows and two incredible hotels, the Big Blue and the Boulevard.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is still to this day a family concern with Amanda’s brother and sister both very hands-on with the running of the park. Deputy Managing Director Nick Thompson is heavily involved in bringing new and exciting concepts to the park, including Nickelodeon Land and the UK’s first double launch coaster, ICON. Sister Fiona Gilje is an architect who designed the Big One station and the Avalanche, among many other ventures.
It’s not just rides that Blackpool Pleasure Beach is famous for, as from its very beginnings the park is home to numerous entertainment venues that host shows and events year-round. The undisputed queen of these shows is Hot Ice, the ice show which has been wowing audiences for over 80 years with amazing choreography, stunning costumes and some of the world’s best skaters. Amanda Thompson produces and directs Hot Ice each year. It is presented in the Pleasure Beach Arena, a purpose-built ice theatre. It is the only remaining ice theatre in the world and has been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records.
From 1896 to the present
Looking back on the journey from the opening of Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1896 to the present, the story begins with William George Bean. Influenced by travels around the world, he founded Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1896 and purchased the 42- acre site on which the Pleasure Beach now stands. Bean’s aim was to develop the site using the very latest innovations in ride and leisure technology and incorporating the cutting edge architecture and design of the times.
The mission of WG Bean is still as relevant today as it was back then: “We wanted to found an American style amusement park, the fundamental principle of which is to make adults feel like children again and to inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent character,” he stated.
At Blackpool Pleasure Beach we consider our park to be the world’s most ride-intensive amusement park, but with so much to offer there’s something for everyone: shows, events, restaurants, bars and cafes and unique attractions plus two luxury hotels. There are 10 unique roller coasters to choose from. Younger thrill-seekers can enjoy the Nickelodeon Land, loaded with 12 rides and attractions from the ups and downs of the Blue Flyer to the soaking good fun of SpongeBob’s Splash Bash.
Thrills and memories that will last a lifetime are assured and there is plenty to keep all ages amused. Blackpool Pleasure Beach is constantly changing, improving and developing to meet the tastes and demands from each new generation and it would be no surprise to see the park celebrate many more milestone anniversaries in years to come.
Here are some major milestones over the course of 125 years:
Sir Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machine is the oldest continuous working amusement park ride in Europe and is Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s oldest ride. Opened in August 1904, it remains popular today.
The outbreak of the First World War caused many traveling fairs to close but seaside amusement parks, such as Blackpool Pleasure Beach, remained open. This period did slow up development at Pleasure Beach but the end of the decade saw activity pick up once more.
The 1920s saw a period of great investment in the park. The first in 1922 were Noah’s Ark and Virginia Reel followed by the classic Big Dipper wooden rollercoaster which opened on 23 August. The Big Dipper, which is still in operation and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2023, was fast and modern for its time, and offered the holidaymakers of the 1920s a unique experience.
In the 1930s, Leonard Thompson succeeded his father-in-law to become Managing Director of the Company. This decade saw the introduction of many new rides including The Rollercoaster, the Pleasure Beach Express and the world-famous twin tracked coaster, the Grand National.
The Second World War put a temporary halt to the progress of Pleasure Beach; however, during the war the park remained open. For thousands of evacuees and services personnel this provided a temporary respite from the reality of war.
The Derby Racer carousel opened in 1959. It has 56 horses, each carved at the Pleasure Beach.
This decade saw a collection of rides open including Alice in Wonderland, the Grand Prix, the overhead Monorail, Tea Cup ride and the Log Flume.
Geoffrey Thompson became Managing Director in 1976 and exciting rides added included the Steeplechase, opened by the racehorse Red Rum in 1977. The “Mr. Funshine” logo was introduced and became an iconic symbol across the park. Two years later, Europe’s first 360 degree looping coaster, the Revolution, opened.
In 1988, the year the British bobsleigh team were competing in the Winter Olympics, a dazzling new ride, the Avalanche, opened and carried over one million passengers during the first year.
1994 saw an investment of £12 million for the Pepsi Max Big One, which when it was constructed was known as the world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster. At 235ft tall, The Big One changed the skyline of Blackpool’s seafront forever.
2000 saw the biggest investment to date of £15 million when Valhalla opened. 2003 saw the 157-room Big Blue Hotel open its doors by offering luxury accommodation.
In 2004, Amanda Thompson OBE became Managing Director and invested £5m in the park with re-theming and refurbishment. £8m was invested in 2007 with the opening of Infusion, a uniquely designed rollercoaster suspended entirely over water.
In 2011, a six-acre area of Pleasure Beach was transformed into Nickelodeon Land consisting of 12 rides, Nick shop, game stalls and famous Nickelodeon characters.
Continuing with family favorites, 2013 saw the opening of the world’s first Wallace & Gromit ride, Thrill-O-Matic. Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic was voted ‘Best Indoor Attraction’ in the 2020 UK Theme Park awards. It transports riders into the colorful world of Wallace & Gromit traveling though scenes from “A Grand Day Out,” and “The Wrong Trousers” to “Curse of the Were-Rabbit.”
Red Arrows Skyforce landed at Pleasure Beach in 2015 and allows riders to take a 360-degree spin in the sky. In 2018, the double launch roller coaster ICON opened – an investment of £16.25m with advanced technology providing two powerful thrusts of acceleration during its exhilarating two-and-a-half- minute ride.
The £12m Boulevard Hotel opened in 2019 and is situated on Ocean Boulevard next to the park’s existing Big Blue Hotel. It boasts 120 rooms with views of the seafront or the park, a 90- seat restaurant and state-of-the-art conference facilities.
2021 saw Blackpool Pleasure Beach honored by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) with the prestigious Thea Classic Award which recognizes the park’s excellence and longevity. The Thea Awards Judging Committee wrote in its official remarks that Blackpool Pleasure Beach “…stands as one of those venerable, classic destinations in the world of themed entertainment, connecting the industry’s past and future. This seaside amusement park has survived two world wars and welcomed guests through more than a century of cultural, social and technological change…. Providing family fun and thrills for generations, Blackpool Pleasure Beach is an iconic destination that has stood the test of time.” More information about this award, including the official credits list with information on suppliers and partners, can be found in the 27th Annual Thea Awards Program. • • •