Blackpool is famous for its Illuminations, a fantastic light display which yearly draws crowds from all around the country. Since the mid-1920s Blackpool Council has amassed a vast collection of related artwork which has been digitally archived for the future. In 2013 Blackpool Council, together with Heritage Lottery Funding launched the Illuminations Collection Project.
The aim of this 12 month project was to photograph and catalogue everything. This involved some minor cleaning and placing the items into protective covers to preserve them for the future. All relevant information about the pieces was entered on a database, which is now accessible to the public via the History Centre Website. There are over twenty thousand pieces in the collection, so it was no mean feat!
In 1879 Blackpool experimented with electric lighting shows on the Promenade and this proved to be a popular move. However, the start of the modern Illuminations came with the visit of Princess Louise in May 1912 when the go-ahead was given for an extravagant show of lights along the Promenade decorating masts and arches, tram shelters and, for the first time, the trams too. Bigger and brighter than any other seaside resort!
It was a huge success and the Autumn Illuminations began later that year and continued until war intervened. The Lights did return after the First World War in 1925 with further brilliant displays, growing in size and developing. In the late 1920’s the first tableaux were introduced on the north shore cliffs and illuminated pylons became a popular feature along the Promenade.
By the 1930’s the Illuminations had become a huge attraction with thousands of visitors swarming to resort. The lights were great for giving the town fantastic publicity. Unfortunately, the Lights came to an abrupt end with the onset of war in 1939. The Lights returned after the War in 1949 reusing pre-War features.
As restrictions on finances eased, Blackpool Council set about establishing “The Illuminations” in the 1950s as the biggest and best lighting display in the country. The Lights went from strength to strength. Famous stars were used for the Switch-on ceremony, a tradition that has continued to the present day and 2013 saw the Switch on spread over an entire weekend.
When the Council set about building these brilliant lighting displays designers would work on the creative side, coming up with ideas of how they would look. Initially this would be contracted out, but from 1950 in-house designers were employed. In total there have been seven, the current one being Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen.
After the Second World War themes were introduced into Illuminations road sections, and the designers had the task of creating artwork around chosen themes. The process was quite long and detailed and often several sketches preceded the final artwork. So our collection consists of thousands of drawings, artwork, slides and photographs. We even have street lighting plans that show in great detail where all the lights and themes were positioned in particular years. It’s a wonderful and fascinating heritage for the people of Blackpool.