Little Bits of History

Light Show

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 19, 2015
Blackpool Illuminations

Blackpool Illuminations display

September 19, 1879: The first Blackpool Illuminations begin. During this first year, there were eight arc lamps bathing the Promenade and the show was called “Artificial sunshine”. The arc lamp produces light by an electric arc between carbon electrodes in the air. It was invented by Humphrey Davy in the early 1800s and was the first practical electric light. It was widely used by the 1870s for lighting up large buildings as well as streets. This event predated Edison’s patent for an electric light by a full year. The show continues to be held each year in the seaside resort of Blackpool on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire, in the northwestern part of England.

The lights stay on for 66 days. They start now in late August. It is the time of year when most English seaside resorts are closing for the year and the holiday season is coming to an end. The shows first took on the look of modern day displays in 1912 when lights were switched on in May to mark the first Royal family visit to Blackpool. Princess Louise came to open a new section of the Promenade, Princess Parade. At the time, the place was described as being festooned with garlands of lamps and there about 10,000 bulbs lit for the experience. The locals wished to create the same display in September of that year as the end of the season event. The next year, the same request was made.

Then World War I broke out and there were no further displays until 1925. Not only did they once again light up the night skies, they lengthened the area involved. New displays were added in 1932 with animal tableaux placed along the cliffs. The length of lights was again increased, now running from Starr Gate to Red Bank Road at Bispham, about six miles, and the show was ready for the 1939 season, but World War II broke out and the skies remained dark. Today, there are over a million bulbs used to brightly light up the area. The 66 day rule was altered in 2013 and 2014 with both years leaving the lights on for 73 days. The plan for this year is to have another 66 day season, which began on September 4 and is scheduled to end on November 8.

The event begins with The Big Switch On where a specially built arena is used for a celebrity to pull a switch and turn on the lights along the entire six miles. The first of these ceremonies was held in 1934 when Lord Derby was the dignitary. The Switch On has been broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in 1993 and is now broadcast on GMG Radio. Today, the visual paradise is usually seen as visitors drive slowly past. There are open top trams which also go by and allow passengers to view the sights. Horse-drawn landau are also available for hire. There are some large displays set up at the Bispham end. The lights cost £1.9 million each year to stage. After these lights go off in early September, a new display of Christmas lights are set up to begin later in the month.

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. – Helen Keller

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. – Og Mandino

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. – Plato

Also on this day: Lord Haw-Haw – In 1945, William Joyce was sentenced to death for high treason against the British Government.
Buy a Vowel? – In 1983, Wheel of Fortune began evening broadcasts.
Sportsman of the Year – In 1988, Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board at the Olympic games.
Equal Rights – In 1893, women got the right to vote in New Zealand.
Farewell – In 1796, George Washington published his Farewell Address.

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