Salvation, Blood and Fire in Blackpool


The Blackpool Grammar School building

One of Blackpool's most famous landmarks is the stately Edwardian building tucked away in a quiet-ish part of the town centre. Wedged between busy Church Street and the residential Leamington Road, just past the Antiques Centre. This large rectangular main building with its distinctive coppery dome, stone reliefs and mass of tall windows currently houses the Salvation Army and, on its north side next to Cobains, the solicitors, Winstone House.

At the front a 1904 foundation stone testifies to the names of the local dignitaries and craftsmen who planned, built and opened this imposing structure of brick, stone and glass. My guide on the day of the tour, the knowledgeable Carole Dumbleton who is a Corps Sergeant Major with the Salvation Army, explained the links to which the plaque names testify regarding the different sections of the early 20th century Blackpool community: Ebenezer, Blundell, Loftos etc. Today these are as familiar from local road names as they identify specific areas or religions.

The old Blackpool Boys Grammar School, in this building from 1905, is now the Collegiate High School at Highfurlong. The building was taken over by the 'Sally Army' in 1983, who have taken on the improvements and renovations visible today. The Salvation Army had, as the Christian Mission, lived on Coronation Street from 1885, so this renowned religious movement had been a part of the church building boom across the North West during this period, which in Blackpool had peaked with the 1860s Austen and Paley churches on Talbot Road and St. John's Square.

The Salvation Army's original building on Coronation Street 1901, from the Albert Eden Collection

Winstone House has seen a multitude of usages over the years, including a suite of offices and a shelter for the disadvantaged. Unlike next door, from which it is clearly separated by a dark drainpipe, exterior renovations have been minimal so that it is still possible to see some original features on the top floor are tall double-sized studio windows, a balcony and some original stained-glass patterns.


Once through the main entrance with its arched stone canopy supported by ionic-type columns and topped by a one of the building's many cherubim or puttis, we are inside the Salvation Army. It is a surprising warren of cavernous meeting rooms, tiny storerooms, minute offices for staff, kitchens with a café, a shop and colourful cheery classrooms. Brimming with toys, furniture, games, appliances and unidentifiable objects, the inside is nearly bursting. As Carole proudly opened each door on every floor, unexpectedly peaceful airy rooms floated into view. Colour schemes of original chunky wall cupboards are painted to identify usages or locations. Sturdy oak doors are dotted throughout. Some surprising granite or marble columns edge the top of the oak and iron balustrade to the first floor where the patterns edging a rotunda are delicately traced in relief.


Stonework over newly-pointed brick endures throughout the building. Thickset sandstone gateposts at Winstone hide the very same rose in sharp relief to each face as south side gateposts which appear to be in smoother Portland stone, which is known to have been used regularly on buildings in this part of town right up to Stanley Park. Passers-by might still pause to look at the lovely stone portico there with its giant keystone and the unusual relief on the wall just above; the meanings of its blind shield, cornucopia, scrolls and drooping floral schemes are lost to us today.

Once through the main entrance with its arched stone canopy supported by ionic-type columns and topped by a one of the building's many cherubim or puttis, we are inside the Salvation Army. It is a surprising warren of cavernous meeting rooms, tiny storerooms, minute offices for staff, kitchens with a cafe, a shop and colourful cheery classrooms. Brimming with toys, furniture, games, appliances and unidentifiable objects, the inside is nearly bursting. As Carole proudly opened each door on every floor, unexpectedly peaceful airy rooms floated into view. Colour schemes of original chunky wall cupboards are painted to identify usages or locations. Sturdy oak doors are dotted throughout. Some surprising granite or marble columns edge the top of the oak and iron balustrade to the first floor where the patterns edging a rotunda are delicately traced in relief.

Along the ground floor walls are black and white photographs of groups representing moments or specific achievements in the last century. In the stairwell are oversized photographs of founders William and Catherine Booth.

Apart from present worshippers and staff, who are the present users of this glorious building? The Bridge Project to assist disadvantaged young people was opened by Princess Anne in 2002 and is commemorated in the lobby by a prominent photograph on a column also holding the Blackpool coat of arms in polychrome relief. This popular project seems to require a large amount of space and is very successful. To the rear east side a secondhand clothes shop is open most days. To the south side is a nursery with play area. Visitors and staff support the bright café, and the well-used meeting rooms include an enormous mezzanine lecture room.

This heritage writer was very fortunate on that day as the wonderful Carole explained each detail of the iron crest on the front façade; its scroll contains the Salvation Army motto 'Blood and Fire' - the blood that was spilt by Jesus and the fire that of the Holy Spirit. Colour is used to refer to specific religious characteristics: yellow for the Holy Spirit, red for the blood of Jesus and blue for holiness. Sunrays radiating from the main disc indicate the Light of the World. The crown at the top is the crown of life which “is needed to get to heaven”. Within the disc, the letter 'S' is for the salvation of the Salvation Army and Christianity generally and the two swords of the spirit mean that the sword of God is mighty and powerful. The bullet dots along the bottom refer to what Carole terms 'gospel shots': gospel shots were fast concise verbal reactions, spoken by Salvation Army or Christian Mission representatives, which each encapsulated a Bible truth.

Today this Salvation Army Citadel stands sturdily, formidable against the traffic; it is no empty fortress but rather a stronghold of religious faith. In a town that has its share of social deprivation, the Salvation Army is a vibrant force which offers both social engagement and enduring commitment to community development.

Lynne Charoenkitsuksun, BA(Hons)

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