Blackpool Tower is one of Britain’s most famous landmarks and tourist attractions, familiar to millions of seaside holidaymakers.
As it celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, general manager Kenny Mew told Murray Scougall the Honest Truth about the iconic structure.
What is your background?
I’ve been general manager of Blackpool Tower for the last three years.
I’ve worked here for 24 years, from working in the fish and chip shop to being operations manager.
The tower and the resort as a whole has played a huge part in my life.
I’m originally from Dumfries and came to visit Blackpool with my family when I was seven.
I vividly remember being in awe of all the lights dazzling on the beautiful building.
That’s when I knew my future lay here.
It’s the best job in the world.
Who decided to build the tower?
The idea was presented by William Darker Pitt, a businessman. He’d seen the success of the Eiffel Tower and proposed that holidaymakers would be willing to pay to ascend a tower in Blackpool.
In order to fund the build, he approached other businessmen to sell the idea and raise capital. After an initial struggle, John Bickerstaffe stepped up as chair of the Tower Company and increased his own contribution, which was key.
What was local reaction like?
Support for the plans was overwhelming.
When the foundations for The Blackpool Tower went down in 1891, there were thousands of people there to catch a glimpse.
The people really got behind the project and that’s never really changed.
How long did it take to build?
It was a three-year process. As you can imagine, building on the coast of England can be a challenging environment, especially when you consider it was more than 125 years ago.
It cost £300,000, or the equivalent of £40 million today.
Five million Accrington bricks, 3,478 long tons of steel and 352 long tons of cast iron were used to construct the tower and base.
It was built to withstand high winds.
We do regular checks of the metal structure to ensure it is still in tip-top condition.
What were the scenes on opening day?
There was a real buzz about the resort. It was the talk of the region with lots of coverage in local, regional and national press. Scores of people lined the street outside waiting to get in.
What has changed?
We had to adapt over the years but kept some things the same. For example, visitors can still enjoy the world-famous Tower Ballroom and Tower Circus, just as they could 125 years ago.
We also have our Tower Eye like back in the day, but have added in a new 4D cinema experience to enhance the customer’s visit.
There was originally an aquarium at the base of the tower but all of our sea creatures were moved to the nearby Sea Life Centre to accommodate our new dungeon attraction.
Any notable incidents over the years?
There was quite a serious fire in the ballroom in 1956 caused by a lit cigarette.
It caused £500,000-worth of damage but, thankfully, the team were able to restore it to its former glory.
Any unusual stories?
We had a replica of King Kong swinging off the side of the tower and we even had an escapologist get married in a cage hanging off the side. Just this year we had Good Morning Britain weather presenter, Laura Tobin, cleaning the glass on the outside of the building – the poor girl was terrified!
How has the 125th birthday been celebrated?
With a year-long programme of activities. I’ve made it my personal goal to have every child living in Blackpool visit the top of the tower for free.
Starting next year, we are taking our ballroom on the road to care homes across the UK so members of the public who perhaps visited years ago can get to enjoy it once again.
We’ve also given free lifetime access to the tower to babies born on our 125th birthday.
Any future plans?
We are always looking to future-proof The Blackpool Tower to ensure it is here for the next 125 years and more. We’re just about to open our latest offering, the Fifth Floor, a multi-purpose entertainment venue.
If you haven’t been to visit The Blackpool Tower recently, it’s definitely worth it.