Blackpool Pleasure Beach: A complete timeline

Big Dipper, Blackpool Pleasure Beach

As Blackpool Pleasure Beach celebrates its 125th anniversary, RideRater has compiled a comprehensive year-by-year timeline for the park.

Compiled over several months, we believe it is the most comprehensive year-by-year timeline of the park’s history online.

We have also had the excellent Theme Park Time Machine help construct this documentation of Britain’s biggest, most famous, and of course oldest, amusement park.

1896After considering a number of more southerly locations, the park is effectively conceived when relocated Londoner William George Bean sets up the Hotchkiss Bicycle Railroad on the sand dunes at South Shore. It is a ride he imported from America.
1897Bean returns from one of several trips to New York, and continues to be heavily inspired by the amusement parks in Coney Island.
1898Travelling rides continue to be added to what is still a relatively small and informal fairground on the South Shore beach itself.
1899Blackpool begins advertising itself as a tourist destination to those living along the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway.
1900Blackpool Central railway station is rebuilt and expanded. When it reopens the following year, it enables millions of tourists to visit the town every season.
1901Bean teams up with John William Outhwaite, who was operating a steam carousel adjacent to him on the sand dunes.
1902The promenade tramway is extended up to the vicinity of Bean and Outhwaite’s operations, and the following year the trams are dropping people off close to the rides.
1903Bean and Outhwaite now own a 42-acre area of land on the seafront, although it is truncated somewhat by road. Bean’s daughter Doris is born on 12 January, she goes on to be the park’s chairwoman and a key influencer for over 70 years.
1904The Flying Machines open on 1 August. They are the work of American engineer Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, who is reportedly disappointed with how they turn out.
1905The park is first advertised as the ‘Pleasure Beach’. The River Caves open along with the Helter Skelter Lighthouse.
1906The European-inspired Spanish Street of buildings appears, as three million people reportedly visit the Pleasure Beach. The Flying Dutchman and Haunted Cabin are advertised.
1907The Scenic Railway wooden rollercoaster opens along with the Water Chute. A voyage in a submarine boat is advertised as “this year’s sensation” as the parks opens from 9 am to 11 pm.
1908The Canadian Toboggan Slide opens. Bean returns from another trip to America and begins plans for a bigger rollercoaster.
1909The William Strickler-built Velvet Coaster opens at Easter. A roller-skating rink also opens this year. The River Caves receive “extensive alteration” and new scenes.
1910Bean and Outhwaite found the company Velvet Coaster Limited, registered at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
1911Outhwaite dies, leaving Bean as the park’s primary leader. Blackpool Central railway station is now the world’s busiest, and the tourists continue to come in their droves.
1912A drop known as ‘Devil’s Dip’ is added to the Scenic Railway. Rainbow Wheel also opens. Spanish Street is re-themed to become Ye Olde Englysche Street. Sideshows include snake handler Togo.
1913The original Casino building is built by R.B. Mather in an oriental style, but it hosts food and entertainment including billiards, rather than gambling.
1914The First World War begins and Blackpool’s illuminations are suspended. The Pleasure Beach remains open along with the rest of Blackpool throughout the war.
1915The war has by now put a stop to the flow of new rides being imported from the United States, but the park continues to add new entertainment and shows.
1916Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim dies. As well as the Pleasure Beach, his Flying Machines were at Southport, Earls Court and Crystal Palace. Blackpool’s endure to be the last remaining example in the world.
1917Many day trippers to the park are women and children, as a large proportion of men are away at war. A military morale-boosting band provides backing to those using the Roller Skating Rink.
1918The First World War ends late in the year but comes too late for a significant summer holidaying boost from the public.
1919The Spanish Flu pandemic takes hold in Britain, with Blackpool virtually deserted of tourists. The Mirth and Mystery sideshow attempts to keeps guests coming into the park.
1920The Whip ride is advertised as ‘the season’s feature’.
1921The Dodgems open. A showman is fined for causing unnecessary suffering to cockerels made to perform in a sideshow at the park.
1922The spinning Virginia Reel rollercoaster opens along with the walk-through dark ride Noah’s Ark – both designed by William Strickler. The park is now largely asphalted under foot.
1923The Big Dipper opens after being designed by William Strickler and John Miller. Land reclamation puts more solid ground between the park and the sea. A man is killed after falling from the Rainbow Wheel.
1924Bean takes Doris to America, where she is introduced to the American amusement parks which inspired her father. The Velvet Coaster is partially blown down by 100 mph winds. In late December a storm surge sees waves beating against the Big Dipper.
1925Blackpool illuminations return for the first time since the war, giving the Pleasure Beach a tourism boost. The Swish ride is new for this year, but a woman is injured when she falls from it after apparently standing up.
1926In a tragic sign of the ride restraint-free times, a man dies when he stands up and is thrown from the Scenic Railway.
1927The Indian Temple of Mystery, 1001 Troubles and Bingle and Bob’s Kiddies Amusement Park are all added.
1928Doris Bean marries Leonard Thompson, taking his name but ultimately ensuring unbroken family ownership of the park. Custer Cars and the Auto Skooter are listed as features. Glacier Ride is also listed among the park’s attractions.
1929William George Bean dies of pneumonia at the age of 60. His daughter Doris inherits the park and her husband Leonard takes charge of operations. Cuddle-Up is added. The original cars on the Flying Machines are replaced by ‘bi-planes’.
1930The Ghost Train opens. Initially it is called Pretzel, which causes some confusion.
1931The Outhwaite family sell their remaining stake in the park to the Thompsons.
1932Watson Road is built from the former Daggers Hole Lane, which dates from the 1760. The conversion of the road to a major route effectively cuts the park into two halves, forcing the closure of some rides.
1933The Velvet Coaster is re-built as Rollercoaster. It will later become Nickelodeon Streak. Architect Joseph Emberton, whose influence will become key to the Pleasure Beach, begins working at the park.
1934The Pleasure Beach Express is added but is caught up in a large fire. The Fun House, an enlarged version of the House of Nonsense, opens. The miniature wooden rollercoaster Zipper Dipper is also launched.
1935The Grand National opens after being designed and built by Charles Paige and Harry G Traver. Paige also makes adjustments to the Big Dipper. The infamous Laughing Man animatronic is installed outside the Fun House, after Leonard was impressed by one during a trip to Paris.
1936The Ice Parades – which later go on to become the Hot Ice Show – begin for the first time. The Big Dipper receives Art-Deco treatment from Emberton. The Mr Funshine logo is launched and a creche is added to the park. A convention of psychologists study the park’s guests.
1937The Ice Drome opens after design work by Emberton. Today the Ice Arena, it is the first purpose-built ice theatre in the world and has 2,000 seats. The Casino building is demolished to make way for an Emberton-led remake.
1938Emberton completes design work on the new Casino building but an accident during construction kills four workers and injures two others, as the structure partially collapses.
1939The new Casino building is completed in an Art-Deco style. The spinning ride Dive Bomber opens. The Indian Theatre is completely destroyed by fire. The Second World War begins in September.
1940The park remains open despite the war, but Blackpool’s illuminations are again halted.
1941Blackpool survives the Blitz relatively unscathed due to its western location and also the reported orders of Adolf Hitler, who allegedly wanted the park preserved as a downtime leisure attraction for his forces.
1942During its opening weekends, Allied soldiers and members of the Polish Air Force make up many of the park’s visitors as they take leave. The Ice Parades remain in production.
1943British troops and war evacuees are using the park for rest and recreation at this time. New investment is now virtually non-existent, but the park goes on.
1944The Pleasure Beach continues to serve as an available morale booster for the British public after more than five years of war.
1945The park sees a surge in visitors at the end of the Second World War, and is soon open again during weekdays.
1946The twice-daily Ice Parade shows become key to bringing families back to the park, as more conventional investments are still not viable in the aftermath of the war.
1947Following critical acclaim, the Ice Parade show is commissioned for a production in Falkirk, Scotland for the first time.
1948Doris and Leonard’s eldest daughter, Mary Louise, is killed in an aeroplane accident.
1949The illuminations return, but a fire at the Ice Drome destroys large parts of its roof and dressing room facilities.
1950The Dive Bomber’s two capsules collide, injuring five people.
1951Repairs to the Ice Drome are completed and the Ice Parades return, this year titled ‘An Italian Travesty’.
1952The Flying Machines are fitted with rocket-style carriages. The Ice Parades continue to be pushed as a headline attraction, this year titled as ‘Literary Frolics’.
1953Following a large fire, the Big Dipper receives restoration work led by Felix Samuely.
1954The Haunted Swing opens. This year’s Ice Show is themed on the Beauty and the Beast.
1955The Pleasure Beach begins to draw up plans for a custom-built wooden rollercoaster, which will prove to be its last added to date.
1956Architect Joseph Emberton dies. Much of his work remains to the present day. A 14-year-old girl dies when she falls from the Grand National. Goody Two Shoes is the title of this year’s Ice Show.
1957The Ghost Train is completely re-built by resident designer Jack Ratcliffe. A freak hurricane gust topples one of the park’s Ferris wheels, but no one is injured.
1958The Wild Mouse opens after being built in-house by the Pleasure Beach, in a project led by general manager Frank Wright.
1959The 56-horse Derby Racer carousel opens, being a copy of Prior & Church Ride. Its Belgian organ has 72 keys.
1960The Turnpike, today’s Grand Prix, opens. Sideshows begin to be phased out as the park moves to operate all of its entertainment offerings in-house.
1961The psychedelic dark ride Alice’s Wonderland opens. The Dive Bomber is removed.
1962Geoffrey’s daughter Amanda is born, she later goes on to be managing director of the Pleasure Beach.
1963Some of the Flying Machine’s mechanical components are renewed, ensuring the ride’s continued longevity.
1964The New Beat Ice Show features house band The Dippers.
1965Ski Jump and Calypso open, but the latter sees an accident that hospitalises two girls.
1966A roof is placed over Watson Road, making it unnoticeable to guests in the Pleasure Beach and unifies both halves of the park. The Monorail opens after being relocated from the 1964-65 Worlds Fair in Lausanne, Switzerland.
1967The Log Flume opens as the world’s longest example of such a ride.
1968The spinning flat ride Monster opens.
1969The Astro Slide is imported from America. Astro Swirl, later the Millennium Bug, is also added. Doris is made a CBE.
1970A drunk guest steals an air rifle from the park’s shooting gallery and is later prosecuted. The Pleasure Beach Express’ current station is built.
1971The iconic Gold Mine dark ride opens. It is designed by Maurice Ayers, a special effects director who had worked on several high-profile films.
1972The Magnolia Café opens. Every floor in the Casino building is taken up by a large convention of magicians.
1973Tom Sawyer River Rafts open. The ever-popular Flying Machines get an overhaul, with the retail kiosks beneath also being expanded.
1974The park’s first steel rollercoaster, Cyclone, opens. The park sells off 600 costumes from past Ice Shows.
1975The Big Dipper is partially damaged by another fire. Monthly jazz nights begin at the Casino building’s Horseshoe Bar.
1976Leonard Thompson dies aged 73. His son Geoffrey is made managing director by Doris.
1977The horse-themed Steeplechase is opened in the presence of the racehorse Red Rum. A second storey is added to the Casino building, now bringing its number of floors to four.
1978The Planetarium opens; later hosting the Black Hole, today it is the disused Planet Rock Entertainment venue. The Wonderful World of Entertainment is housed in the Casino building, through which the Monorail now passes.
1979Revolution opens as Europe’s first inverting rollercoaster. It is tested by Doris, who now in her late 70s. Country and Western singer George Hamilton IV officially opens the new version of the Water Chute, saved from demolition at Manchester’s Belle Vue park.
1980A fire damages the Grand National’s motor house. The Starship Enterprise and Tidal Wave pirate ship are added. Boy Scouts famously eat packed lunched on the Revolution for television.
1981300 costumes from the Hot Ice Shows are sold off, as a special late-year run of the show takes place in the final two weeks of December.
1982The Virginia Reel rollercoaster is removed after 60 years; it was the last full-size example in the world. The Thompsons acquire full control of Pleasureland Southport.
1983A picnic area is launched – picnics would later be strictly prohibited by the park due to space limitations.
1984The indoor rollercoaster Space Invader opens. Blackpool escapologist Karl Bartoni performs in what is billed as his final appearance at the park. The park’s annual attendance is put at between 6 and 7 million.
1985The Horseshoe Showbar continues to host the long-running Viva Connection Show, produced by Geoffrey.
1986The park begins distributing profits among staff when they exceed £1 million. Geoffrey opposes council plans to bring ice skaters Torvill and Dean to Blackpool, saying it will damage trade at the Ice Drome.
1987British Rail Station ‘Blackpool Pleasure Beach’ opens on the Blackpool South Line. Cyclone leaves the park.
1988The bobsled-style Avalanche rollercoaster opens. John Wardley, later famous for his work with Alton Towers, consults on the Mystique magic show. The park features on soap opera Coronation Street.
1989The park is accepting credit card transactions, then a relative novelty in the UK. Live Big Band music plays at the Palladium Theatre on Sundays.
1990The Grand National receives a new ride station in a £1 million makeover. The Ocean Boulevard shopping promenade is completed. The Greatest Show on Earth confidently tops the entertainment bill, despite actually being a ride.
1991The 50-year-old Fun House building is destroyed by fire. Ripley’s ‘Believe it or Not!’ is brought over from the United States. The Superdrome is built on the site of the Rainbow ride.
19921974-built Space Tower is removed to make way for the Big One. UK Rollercoaster Club chairman Andy Hine gets married on the Grand National. The world’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster is confirmed as coming to the park.
1993The Pleasure Beach takes aim at its biggest rival, saying it will accept newspaper vouchers for Alton Towers.
1994The £12 million Pepsi Max Big One opens in May as the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world. In July, 26 people are injured when two of its trains collide. There are also significant accidents on the Alice Wonderland and Space Invader rides.
1995Monster is removed. The Imperial Russian State Circus performs at the Superdrome. Double act Little and Large perform at the Paradise Room.
1996The Pleasure Beach celebrates its centenary. The Casino building is painted a striking pink. The Go Karts are added.
1997PlayStation: The Ride (now Ice Blast) opens and is tested by 95-year-old Doris alongside members of Boyzone. The park has a record day for revenue, with over £500,000 being taken at closing one night.
1998The famous ‘Pleasure Beach’ BBC documentary is broadcast. Pasaje del Terror opens. American rollercoaster enthusiast Richard Rodriguez sets a world record when he rides the Big Dipper for over 1000 hours.
1999Trauma Towers opens, combining the Haunted Hotel and Tagada rides. Wristbands for unlimited ride access are introduced. The park claims to receive about 7.5 million visitors per year at this point.
2000The £15 million dark water ride Valhalla is opened by Jonathan Ross. 20 people are injured when two of the Big One’s trains collide.
2001An inquest rules that an 11-year-old boy died accidentally on the Space Invader rollercoaster the previous year.
2002The Ghost Train features on an episode of television’s Most Haunted, with the ghost of former employee ‘Cloggy’ apparently present. Spin Doctor, Impossible and Convoy all open.
2003The 157-room Big Blue Hotel opens. Doris is made an OBE and she rides the new Spin Doctor on her 100th birthday. An F1 car mock-up travels the Big One track in a publicity stunt, nearly stalling in the process.
2004Doris and Geoffrey Thompson die at the ages of 101 and 67 respectively. Amanda becomes managing director, with brother Nick becoming deputy. A large fire damages the Grand National. Bling opens.
2005New trains are added to the Grand National. The Mr Funshine logo is retired. Amanda begins working for the Mack family as a show producer.
2006The Log Flume closes to make way for a major rollercoaster addition.
2007Infusion opens. Although relocated from Southport Pleasureland, it is the first rollercoaster addition since 1994 and is build entirely over a custom-built pool.
2008Space Invader 2 and the Whip are closed.
2009Two of the Big Dipper’s trains crash, injuring 21 people. A park entrance fee introduced, as free walk-on admission ends after more than a century.
2010Beaver Creek closes to make way for Nickelodeon Land, which is supported by a £5 million loan from Blackpool Council. Prince William attends the park as part of a friend’s stag do.
2011The new themed area Nickelodeon Land opens, with Rollercoaster painted a striking orange and renamed to Nickelodeon Streak. Bling closes.
2012Valhalla reopens with a new façade and Revolution is painted grey. Richard Rodriguez returns to break a world record of 102 days of rollercoaster riding – this time he chooses the Big One for his challenge.
2013Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic opens following collaboration with animator Nick Park. The ride utilises the original Gold Mine system.
2014The Pleasure Beach posts losses of £1.5 million in its latest company accounts.
2015Skyforce opens under the sponsorship of the RAF Red Arrows. Later in the year, the aircraft squadron perform a display over the park.
2016The Pleasure Beach celebrates 120 years with a Red Arrows display and late-night riding. Two teenagers break into the park at night and take a 30-minute joyride on the Blue Flyer. A launched rollercoaster from Mack Rides is confirmed as being in the works.
2017The Wild Mouse rollercoaster sees its 60th and final season. Several other rides become Grade II listed buildings.
2018The £16 million Icon rollercoaster from Mack Rides opens to rave reviews from rollercoaster enthusiasts.
2019The four-star, 120-room Boulevard Hotel opens. Valhalla closes for ‘reimagination’ and work to increase its sustainability.
2020The COVID-19 pandemic severely curtails the park’s season, the first enforced closure in its history. In the national media, Amanda criticises the government restrictions placed on the north of England compared with those seen in the south.
2021The Pleasure Beach stands ready to reopen when government rules allow, which could be as early as 12 April.