From the Archives: The Imperial Hotel, part II

From George Formby to AC/DC and Gracie Fields to the Queen Mother, local heritage photographer and historian Juliette Gregson shares the interesting modern history of the grand Imperial Hotel.
Read part I of this article here.

Along with many other Blackpool hostels, during the Second World War the Imperial Hotel was taken over by the government for office accommodation. When the directors regained possession 11 years later many costly improvements (including over seven miles of carpeting!) was carried out with a total expenditure of over £100,000.

The renovation heightened the Imperial’s appeal as a first-class hotel and centre for social events and conferences. Every bedroom in the hotel now had its own bathroom suite, each with telephone, television, radio and fire alarm. The old banqueting hall at the north end of the basement, which was created in 1904, was transformed into a full Masonic suite, with an appointed temple. In addition to the temple, the suite comprised a dining room, lounge, bar and two changing rooms and a few years later another dining room known as the Rutherford room was added.

The unused old Turkish baths in the south wing of the basement were dealt with in two phases. In 1956 the area was cleared and equipped as a children’s play area. In 1962 its used changed again into five stock rooms called the ‘ducal rooms’ which had direct access to the car park. In 1965 two further well-furnished meeting rooms were added behind the site of the old Turkish baths. The end of 1958 saw the entire hotel provided with central heating and the old coal-fired boilers in the basement were replaced with modern oil-fired boilers. Another added bonus was the installation of a new modern passenger lift for the guests.

More changes happened quite rapidly within the walls of the Imperial: in 1958 a ladies powder room, in 1961 a new cocktail bar, in 1963 the old billiards room and bar known as the old Snug were amalgamated to form a new bar called the Oregon.

By the 1970s the Imperial had its own night club called Trader Jacks. This ran until the mid 1980s, boasting Polynesian theme nights and early 2am breakfasts.

As more guests began using cars to travel about, the land used to play lawn tennis, croquet and bowls gave the Imperial the advantage of being able to accommodate over 200 cars.

It is worth noting that the Imperial in its early days as a hotel often found its guests and visitors coming to stay for a month or even seven to eight weeks. These early holidaymakers often would come with a large entourage of staff which included lady’s maids, nurses for the children, coachmen, carriages and horses. They were often people of great wealth.

Claremont Park had a distinct charm for these monied guests as it was a private area. Those who wished to visit found Toll gates near Carlton Terrace and the Gynn and a charge was made to pass through. The toll houses were abolished under the Blackpool Improvement Act of 1899 but can still be remembered by older residents.

In 1961 the first meeting of the George Formby society was held at the Imperial with just 56 members. They later moved to the Wintergardens but around 1990 returned to the Imperial. Meeting are still held there today and very popular among the society’s 800 members.

By the 1970s the Imperial had its own night club called Trader Jacks. This ran until the mid 1980s, boasting Polynesian theme nights and early 2am breakfasts. Around this time the hotel’s history comes into my living memory and I seem to recall these nights unfolding around a swimming pool and worrying the drunk people might fall in. It became quite the destination for nightlife and on 20th February 1977 AC/DC played at the ballroom as part of their High Voltage UK tour. Some say it was their first proper tour.

In 1987, the Imperial underwent one of her biggest face-lifts, with a £700,000 clean-up involving re-pointing brickwork, windows and guttering replaced. Some 14 new bedrooms were also created in old staff quarters on the top floor. The figure was topped in the early ‘90s, with a £5m revamp which included a new health and fitness club.

Around 10 years ago, work was carried out on the hotel to restore it to its former glory – which included work on the front façade, the stunning carved ceiling in the Washington Suite, and the oak panelling and fireplace discovered in the Churchill Suite.

Over the years, there have been a whole host of famous faces staying at the Imperial, including various politicians and prime ministers. Harold Wilson, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and John Major may well have stayed in the same suites as Fred Astaire and the Beatles. Royalty to have passed through includes the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Princess Anne. Not to mention film and pop stars including actress Gracie Fields, in Christmas 1955, and singer Harry Belafonte.

In more modern times, in 2015, Blackpool Civic trust volunteers have been working to uncover the hidden tiling in the former Turkish Baths at the Imperial. Now one room of ornate ceramics has finally been revealed, and work is well underway on the other two rooms, which in their heyday were a magnet for well-to-do Victorian holidaymakers wanting to reap of the benefits of Blackpool seawater.

In 2017 The Hotel Collection, represented by Savills, sold the Imperial Hotel to Singapore-based Fragrance Group for £12.8 million, and now the iconic hotel is undergoing a sympathetic renovation expected to last two to five years.

The Imperial Hotel is a true reminder of Blackpool’s Victorian heyday, combining 19th-century opulence and glamour with modern facilities. It has certainly done much to put Blackpool on the map with such a historic background and its new lease of life should ensure it stays on it for decades to come.

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  • Show Comments (1)

  • graham shaw

    Oh Memories of my time in this history. Star Date October 1993, Maggie was in residence and the Thursday Night before her conference Speech, she had left the End of Conference Party to write her final speech. At 1am I received a phone call at home from John Herdman The Hotel Manager, that Mrs Thatcher Required a Table Lamp on her desk in her bedroom because the room was too dark. Luckily I had some at our stores on Devonshire Road. So Went to pick one up. That Year as always I had Home Office and Special Branch Clearance. So on Arrival I went straight down to the lower Promenade Security Compound to Collect My Security Badge. Once Cleared I drove to Imperial Garages Behind the hotel as instructed. And then Gained Access via the Back Gate Delivery Yard at this point I was frisked and checked what I was there for. Then instructed to go to Maggie’s Suite on the South East Corner. I went up in the service lift and proceeded down the corridor with Table Lamp in Hand only to be confronted by 4 armed persons shouting “Get On The Floor”. Once I had been checked again it turned out the clearance message hadn’t reach them. Until they contacted Maggie that she had order special room service !. I was surprised how grateful she was and thanked me for the trouble and left her to carry on what I assume was her “From Impossibility to Victory” Address at the Winter Gardens on the Friday. I will never forget how lucky I felt when 12 Months Later the IRA Struck in Brighton. But having said that if you believe story’s and hearsay it could of been that very same night.

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