Thursday, 27 April 2017

Red Letter Day - Celebrating 150 Years in Blackpool

This is a very exciting year for The Imperial Hotel, Blackpool: on Thursday 22nd June, the most iconic seafront building will turn back the clock to celebrate its 150th Birthday with a grand ball and a banquet, lovingly recreated from the menu that was served at the prestigious opening in 1867.
It was the new idea of bathing in the sea that first brought visitors to the Fylde Coast towards the end of the eighteenth century, beginning with a private road to bring in stage coaches from Manchester and Halifax, resulting in a few small hotels being built. Soon the coastline boasted a bowling green and in 1837 an assembly room. In 1867 Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood paid for the railway line to extend from Preston to Fleetwood bringing tourists and opening travel routes to The Lakes and Scotland via steamboat passage. Once the railway line extended over Shap to the north, the demise of Fleetwood resulted in his bankruptcy but the railway brought prosperity further down the coast.  Blackpool became a boomtown. 
For one week each year, mill owners closed their factories for maintenance and repair of machinery. The weeks were staggered through the summer months and the workers prescribed leisure time became known as the 'wakes weeks'. The seaside was a desirable place to spend a holiday and Blackpool willingly expanded to meet the demand of a steady stream of visitors. 
The North Pier was completed in 1863, drawing elite visitors to the Claremont Park Estate in North Shore. The focal point of the estate was a temperance hotel called The Imperial. Built to a French Renaissance design by Clegg & Knowles of Manchester, the hotel aimed to attract the aristocracy, gentry and the clergy. 

The Golden Mile expanded towards the South Shore and with a change in policy on alcohol soon saw The Imperial Hotel become the venue for major municipal events. The Winter Garden's opened in 1878 and the Lord Mayor of London brought mayors from all over Britain to stay at the hotel. There was also a gala dinner at The Imperial to celebrate the laying of the foundations of Blackpool Tower in 1891. Soon The Imperial expanded to a 'Hydro', boasting a Turkish, Russian and sea water bath in the basement. There was a ballroom with a glass ceiling, a grill room, a palm court and a grill room. 
In 1912, Princess Louise, sister of King George V, visited Blackpool to open 'Princess Parade' and 10,000 light bulbs were illuminated in celebration.  Mary, Princess Royal stayed at The Imperial when she came to switch on the now famous illuminations, staying in room 311. Both Princess Margaret and Princess Anne have stayed in the same room, renamed The Balmoral Suite.

During World War I, the hotel was  commandeered as the Atlantic Military Hospital for shell-shocked officers and during World War II it served as The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, only returning to its owners in 1951. 
All through the 1950s and 60s Blackpool was the most popular British seaside resort, with nine theatres showing twice a day. Many popular stars of the day stayed at the hotel including Petula Clark, Charlie Drake, Bruce Forsyth, Tommy Steele and 'Our Gracie.' Hollywood stars also stayed at the hotel including the original blonde bombshell, Jayne Mansfield, swashbuckling Errol Flynn and Fred Astaire. A photograph of The Beatles, taken in 1964 still has pride of place in The Derby Room where John, Paul and Ringo sprawled on one of the sofas before going on stage at The Winter Gardens to introduce the film 'Hard Day's Night'. 
As Blackpool's show business status grew, the resort also became a top political conference venue. Winston Churchill was the first serving Prime minister to use the Imperial as a conference HQ and an mirror etched with his name was the first to grace the walls of the No10 Bar. Other serving PM's followed; MacMillan, Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major and Blair.

After all this history, you may wonder at my connection to The Imperial. When I was born in 1958 my father, Freddie Robinson was Head Cocktail Bartender at the hotel.  He invented a cocktail for Lady Dorothy MacMillan called the 'Blue Primrose'. Three years ago, my mother responded to an appeal by Alison Gilmore, the General Manager of the hotel for people with memories of celebrities who stayed there. Mum produced my father's photographs, Christmas brochure collections, newspaper cuttings and his much prized autograph book. Dad's photograph is now proudly displayed on the wall in the No10 Bar and the current bartenders frequently shake a 'Blue Primrose' for visitors.

Alison had big plans: She was turning The Derby Room into a tribute to many of more than 500 celebrities, royal, politicians and pop-stars who have stayed at the hotel. The bookcase is filled with their biographies. We decided to collude on a series of poetry pamphlets with other members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets. The list that Alison sent us to select from was very impressive. Charles Dickens himself was an early visitor.  I chose to write about Jayne Mansfield because my father told a particular story about her visit;

Jayne Mansfield Slept Here
Platinum blonde and buxom,
the beaming Broadway babe,
bomb-shelled into Hollywood  
aboard “The Wayward Bus”.
Typecast by the studios,
in a string of dumbed-down roles,
Jayne was exploited willingly,
despite her intellect, her violin, her arts degree.
“Promises, Promises”
was an overnight sensation
naked on the screen,
she was a total revelation
leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination,
and she became a Playboy centre- fold
wearing only staples and a smile.

When she came to Blackpool
she lit the Golden Mile.
At the Imperial she made a splash,
bouncing down the stairs
in a flash of brash bikini,
turning heads and steaming glasses
of the afternoon tea set,
jaws all dropping at the thought
of Mrs Mansfield getting wet -
swimming in the hotel pool,
and when she left her Royal suite,
bartenders rolled between her sheets,
so they could boast, or so it’s said,
they’d been in the lady’s bed!

Jayne died at thirty-five
on the road to New Orleans,
two children by her side,
her beloved Chihuahuas
tucked in for the ride.
Black and white stills 
scream in a Technicolor dream,
brutally exposing her final scene.
So the legend mangled
into urban myth,
but we can reveal that
both alive or dead, 
Hollywood star, Jayne Mansfield
always kept her head.

Thanks for reading.  Adele

 Tickets for the Imperial Hotel's 150th Birthday Ball are available by contacting or by phone - 01253 754612. All proceeds to local charities.



Steve Rowland said...

Very interesting Adele.

Jayne Mansfield truly believed she might be taken seriously as a violin player in English workingmen's clubs. I guess she was 50 years ahead of her time.

Anonymous said...

Good to read that the old Hydropathic Hotel is still flourishing ;-)