During the Second World War the Imperial Hotel was taken over by the government, as were many of the other Blackpool hotels; when the directors regained possession 11 years later many costly improvements were required (including over 7 miles of carpeting!) These improvements were carried out at a total expenditure of over one hundred thousand pounds.
With renovation and regeneration, the Imperial re-established itself as a first-class hotel and venue for social events and conferences; every bedroom in the hotel now had its own bathroom suite, each with telephone, television, radio and fire alarm. The old banqueting hall at the north end of the basement, which was created in 1904, was transformed into a full Masonic suite with an appointed temple. In addition to the temple this suite comprised a dining room, lounge, bar and two changing rooms, and a few years later another dining room (the Rutherford Room) was added.
The unused old Turkish baths in the south wing of the basement were dealt with in two phases: in 1956 the area was cleared and equipped as a children’s play area and in 1962 it was changed into five stock rooms called the ‘Ducal rooms’ which had direct access to the car park. In 1965 two further well-furnished meeting rooms were added behind the site of the old Turkish baths. The end of 1958 saw the whole of the hotel provided with central heating, the old coal-fired boilers in the basement being replaced by modern oil-fired boilers. Another added bonus was the installation of a new modern passenger lift for the guests.
More changes happened quite rapidly within the walls of the Imperial - 1958 ladies powder room, 1961 new cocktail bar, 1963 the old billiards room and bar known as the Old Snug were amalgamated to form a new bar called the Oregon.
With the passage of time more and more visitors were arriving by motor car and the more than 200 parking spaces were ideal; in former days this land had been used for lawn tennis, croquet and bowls.
It is worth recalling that the Imperial in its early days as a hotel often found its guests and visitors coming to stay for a month, or even 7-8 weeks. These early holidaymakers would often would arrive with a large entourage of staff, including ladies’ maids, nurses for the children, coachmen, carriages and horses. They were often people of great wealth and the private nature of Claremont Park where the hotel was situated provided a distinctive charm for them. Those who wished to visit Claremont Park found toll gates by Carlton Terrace and by the Gynn, with a charge made to pass through. The toll houses were abolished under the Blackpool Improvement Act of 1899.
In 1961 the first meeting of the George Formby Society was held at the Imperial with just 56 members, moving later to the Winter Gardens and then going back to the Imperial in 1990; the meetings are still held today and are very popular.
By the 1970s the Imperial had its own night club called Trader Jacks (the author remembers this vaguely!) It ran until the mid-1980s and even boasted Polynesian theme nights and early 2am breakfasts. I seem to recall this taking place around a swimming pool and worrying that if people got drunk they might fall in. In 1977 AC/DC played at the Ballroom on 20 February as part of their High Voltage tour of the United Kingdom, some say their first proper tour.
In 1987 the Imperial underwent one of her biggest face-lifts, with a £700,000 clean-up involving re-pointing brickwork, windows and guttering replaced, and 14 new bedrooms created in old staff quarters on the top floor. A £5m revamp took place in the early 90s, including a new health and fitness club.
Around 10 years ago work was carried out on the hotel to restore it to its former glory, including work on the front façade, the stunning carved ceiling in the Washington Suite, and the oak panelling and fireplace discovered in the Churchill Suite.
Over the years there have been a whole host of famous faces staying at the Imperial. They have included various politicians and prime ministers – Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and John Major, Fred Astaire, the Beatles, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne. Royalty such as the Queen Mother stayed here, not to mention film and pop stars including actress Gracie Fields, at Christmas 1955, and singer Harry Belafonte.
In 2015 Blackpool Civic trust volunteers started work to uncover the hidden tiling in the former Turkish Baths. The ornate ceramics have been revealed, which in their heyday were a magnet for well-to-do Victorian holidaymakers wanting to partake of the benefits of Blackpool seawater. Today tours can include a visit to this area of the hotel to give visitors a glance at what guests would have enjoyed.
The Imperial hotel is a true reminder of Blackpool’s Victorian heyday, combining 19th century opulence and glamour with contemporary style and modern facilities, popular restaurant, health club and conference facilities. This historic hotel has done much to put Blackpool on the map.