I suppose most people visit Blackpool for its beaches, Illuminations, Pleasure Beach and boozers. I know that before I moved here a couple of years ago, I associated the town with the Tower and little else. But there is so much more to the place, and a check on the calendar reminded me that it was Heritage Open Days weekend – what better time to find out more?
I determined to grasp the nettle and further my unending quest to see another side to the place I now call home, so I wended my way townwards and joined the queue waiting for the Grand Theatre to open its hallowed doors to the public.
I’ve been to many shows at this chocolate box of a theatre, and was fascinated to learn something of the place’s rich history. Thankfully, brilliant guide Linda had all the facts at her fingertips and she kept us enthralled with her informative patter.
So, what did I learn? Built in 1894, it is one of three Frank Matcham creations that survive today in Blackpool (the Tower Ballroom and Tower Circus are the others). No seat is further than 55ft from the stage, there are no pillars to impede your view, and although today’s ‘elf and safety’ regulations set the capacity at 1,100, it attracted a staggering 3,000 punters on opening night.
The Grand had electricity from the beginning – something which must have seemed jaw dropping to the visitors of the period, whether they were the hoi polloi in the pit or the high rollers in the dress circle and boxes.
The place was saved in 1980 when theatre lovers set up a charitable trust and set to work transforming the then bingo hall back to its original glory. They deserve a medal, in my opinion!
We visited the gallery (where you almost need oxygen – it seems so high!) and took a seat on one of the boxes, where I discovered the view of the audience is much better than the view of the stage!
Sadly, on the day of our visit the backstage area was off limits due to a performance later that afternoon, but full-scale tours are run monthly and I’m definitely coming back to do one of those – see the Friends of the Grand website for details.
After coffee and cake in Matcham’s Bar, we set off to catch the bus home – only to be attracted to an array of fuchsia pennants bearing the telltale H for Heritage, fluttering outside the town hall. Another spot of behind the scenes snooping was on the cards!
I’d never been in this Victorian building before and was gobsmacked by its sheer beauty. We toured the old Council Meeting Room, Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour and were regaled with snippets of information as we went along. Did you know that Blackpool’s first crest, which can be seen in one of the Town Hall’s gorgeous leaded light windows, had to be abandoned because it was rejected by the School of Heraldry? Or that a piece of one of Nelson’s flagships is to be found in the Mayor’s Parlour? We also learned that the ceremonial mace is laid a different way when the Queen is visiting and that the town hall is home to a fine array of silverware, including a model of Blackpool Tower, a baby’s cradle and two trophies from the BBC series It’s A Knockout.
I set off back home feeling that I’d learned a great deal about Blackpool’s rich heritage – and determined to set the whole weekend aside when Heritage Open Days come around again next year.
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