Blackpool’s historic collections

The Blackpool’s historic collections are at the very heart of the Museum Project. In many respects it was the collections, their beauty, their significance and our desire to unlock their enormous potential, which inspired us to embark on this remarkable journey.

Heather Morrow, Head of Heritage, Blackpool Council

The significance of Blackpool Council’s historic collections cannot be over played. They are of national, if not international, importance. Together they give an unparalleled view of the development of Blackpool as the world’s first and biggest mass seaside resort and as a world renowned centre for popular entertainment.

Blackpool’s historic collections include:

The Tower and Winter Gardens Archive

Acquired when Blackpool Council purchased Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens in 2010 – this remarkable archive is the largest collection of entertainment history in Blackpool, and one of the Britain’s most significant entertainment archives. It contains over 40,000 items from the late nineteenth century onwards including objects, business records, posters, programmes and photographs from the Tower, Winter Gardens, Palace Theatre and the Grand Theatre. It also contains a remarkable record of the Blackpool Tower Circus from 1894 onwards. In 2017 Blackpool Council Heritage Service and Blackpool Museum Project was awarded £97,000 from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund to develop the Tower Circus Collection, which will ultimately feature in the new Museum.

The Illuminations Collection

Blackpool Illuminations Collection is unique. It is the historic working collection of the Blackpool Council’s Illuminations department. It includes material created in the process of designing, manufacturing, and installing the annual Illuminations display. The collection covers from 1925 to the present day, and contains over 20,000 items including the historic ‘Switch on’ switch as well as original artwork, models and photographs of Illuminations displays. In 2012 Blackpool Council Heritage Service was awarded £49,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund which improved the access, storage, documentation and use of the Illuminations Collection.

The Tourism Collection

The Tourism Collection dates from 1912 to the present day and includes over 19,000 items put together through the daily work of the Blackpool Tourism Department. It illustrates Blackpool’s story as the UK’s iconic seaside resort through beautiful graphic artwork and images. It includes an unbroken run of holiday brochures from the 1920s, posters from the 1930s onwards, and thousands of photographs commissioned by the Council. It is a stunning visual record of how Blackpool has presented, and represented, itself to the world.

The Cyril Critchlow Collection

The Cyril Critchlow Collection is an extensive collection of printed material relating to the entertainment industry in Blackpool. It was collected by Cyril Critchlow (1923-2008), a magician and founder member of Blackpool Magicians’ Club and author on Blackpool’s entertainment past. For sixty years he promoted, collected and recorded all aspects of Blackpool’s entertainment heritage and at one time had his own museum in Blackpool. It contains 10,500 items including Cyril’s research notes, programmes, handbills, posters and photographs of the stars who performed in Blackpool. It also includes a significant collection of material from the estate of composer and music publisher Lawrence Wright (1888-1964).

The Local History Centre Collection

The Local History Centre Collections include books, maps, images newspapers, registers, directories, indexes and ephemera collected by Blackpool Central Library that relate to the history and heritage of Blackpool and its wider area. The collection includes thousands of postcards and photographs including a remarkable set of saucy postcards stamped ‘approved’ and ‘disapproved’ by the Blackpool Postcard Censorship Board.  The Local and Family History Centre is located at Blackpool Central Library and also houses the Cyril Critchlow Collection and the Tourism Collection.  Details of opening times can be found here

Blackpool Museum Project

The new Museum will enable Blackpool to display, research and use more of Blackpool collections for learning, engagement and enjoyment. This in itself is very exciting, however research undertaken during the development phase has revealed an opportunity even more significant and far reaching.

There is currently no dedicated museum collecting, researching and displaying British popular entertainment and dance. Some of this heritage is at immediate risk of being lost. In addition research into this area is still in its infancy and there is an opportunity for the Museum to champion research on these topics.

Consequently the new Museum aims to become a museum of national significance exploring the history of British popular entertainment. It will:

  • Build on Blackpool’s existing heritage collections and develop new object collections and displays focusing on variety, social and ballroom dancing, magic and circus
  • Champion the history of British popular entertainment by working in partnership with related museums, universities and organisations to share research and expertise
  • Work with performers and their families to capture and document their unique stories to create a nationally significant Digital Story collection on popular entertainment
  • Capture the memories of people who worked in Blackpool’s entertainment venues and visited Blackpool on holiday

If you have an object or story related to British entertainment history that you would like to share with Blackpool Museum Project we would love to hear from you. Please contact the Curator at museumproject@blackpool.gov.uk