Blackpool Tower and it’s Connection to Lifeboats
Why has Blackpool become so popular over the years? Looking back to Victorian days, there were three main reasons why so many visitors were attracted:
1. Its nearness to large-centres of population-Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands, the dark satanic mills referred to in Williams Blake’s famous poem about English northern mill towns.
2. The development of rail transport from the 1840s onwards, which enabled passengers to travel more easily and quickly. Before then the majority of working people rarely ventured more than a few miles from their homes.
3. The natural attractions of Sands, Sea and fresh air, especially to town dwellers. Ss. Many of them worked in harsh conditions in factories and mills and lived among depressing industrial surroundings.
Families flocked to the resort in their thousands. When the electric tramway was opened it provided the most useful method of local transport in dispersing the large numbers arriving by train stations. Trams running frequently were able to carry railway passengers very conveniently to the local destinations North, Central and South and this explains the rapid growth in guesthouses and cheap hotels in these parts of the towns. Right in the centre of it all, for over 100 years stands the Iconic Blackpool Tower. At 518 feet 9 inches tall, it certainly is above all.
The idea for the building of the iconic Blackpool Tower was begun by the by a chap called John Bickerstaff, but more of him a little later.
Firstly I would like to talk about Robert Bickerstaff he was John’s father and Coxswain of the first Blackpool lifeboat. He had a number of other interests as the resort was growing in popularity. He bought property to build a boatyard and the Wellington hotel, near the central pier. He took over the central pier, which at first had been financially unsuccessful, and introduced entertainment and attractions for the visitors. The lifeboat Robert William built by Bickerstaff in his boatyard was launched on 20th July 1864. During the period it was in service, from 1864 to 1885, it was launched 21 times and saved 81 lives.
Its most famous rescue was on 26 February 1880 in heavy seas and with a severe north-westerly gale, the Robert William saved four men from the distressed Fleetwood Schooner Bessie Jones. On the way back, the sea anchor was lost and the lifeboat almost capsized coxswain Bickerstaff still managed to bring the lifeboat safely to shore and for this outstanding rescue he was awarded the Silver medal for gallantry by the UK’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Robert Bickerstaff helped form the first Blackpool lifeboat band in 1884. It raised large sums of money for charity.
In 1885 a new lifeboat, the Samuel Fletcher of Manchester was named by the Mayor of Liverpool in a ceremony which was combined with the opening of the new Blackpool electric tramway.
In 1886 there was a disaster involving three other lifeboat which were launched to assist the distressed German barque Mexico in a gale and very rough seas of Southport. The Lytham lifeboat saved 12 people from the Mexico, but both the Southport and the St Anne’s lifeboats capsized, and the crew less two men tragically lost their lives.
The Blackpool and Lytham lifeboats put back out to sea to look for the missing St Anne’s boat. In the rough seas coxswain Bickerstaff was washed overboard from the Samuel Fletcher, but managed to hold on to his rudder yoke lines and was dragged back on board.
When coxswain Bickerstaff retired in 1887 he was awarded a second silver medal by the RNL I for his long and distinguished service in the lifeboats.
As has already been mentioned John Bickerstaff claim to fame was that he was the main driver behind the building of Blackpool Tower. He was of course one of Robert Bickerstaff’s sons. He was involved in local politics and other enterprises, and was mayor of Blackpool when the foundation stone for the tower was laid in 1891.
He became chairman of the Blackpool Tower company, and was confident that the town would become successful. He put a large amount of his own money into the project and encouraged others to do the same and was able to raise initial building cost of £42,000. After the town was opened in 1894 he built up the company, and its faith that it would become profitable was eventually justified
To show their appreciation the original shareholders of the company presented him with a handsome silver model of the tower, which can be seen today in the towers “memory Lane” room. He was knighted by the King in 1926. The sailor’s cap he wore on most occasions indicated his family’s connections with the sea, the most important of course his father’s contribution to the local lifeboat service.
After Sir John Bickerstaff died in 1930, his younger brother, Alderman Tom Bickerstaff, became chairman of the Blackpool Tower Company. He died four years later and his body was cremated. His ashes were scattered from the lifeboat between Central and North Piers as was his personal wish.
Sir John’s son, Robert Bickerstaff was the next chairman, and carried on the family tradition during the Second World War until he retired in 1945.
Tom Bickerstaff’s son Douglas was the last member of the family to become chairman of the property. Shortly after he retired in 1963 the Tower Company and its property was sold which ended the Bickerstaff family’s connection of support for the lifeboat and involvement with the Blackpool Tower after almost 100 years. As of today, it is understood there are no remaining relatives of the Bickerstaff family living in the Blackpool area.
That is not to say that the Bickerstaff family are not appreciated in the town as they are. The Town Hall to this day commemorates the work the family did for the town with stained glass windows. The Tower which incidentally is undergoing another re-invention by Merlin Entertainments and will open in 2011 as an attraction to rival other great entertainment venues managed by the Company such as Alton Tower and the Millennium Wheel by the Thames and Parliament in London.
Why not come and visit the town and enjoy some of this history close up. There are many Cheap Hotels in Blackpool to choose from.