Following the successful reception of Blackpool’s first pier (opened 1863 and now known as the North Pier) a second pier, originally called the South Jetty, opened in 1868. The South Jetty was situated in a part of town frequented by excursionists, and rather than attracting a middle-class audience, as the North Pier did, it soon became known as the “People’s Pier”.
In 1870 former coxswain Robert Bickerstaffe became pier manager and introduced cheap steamer trips to Southport. The trippers, upon their return, were welcomed back with entertainment from a band, and were thus encouraged to remain on the pier and spend their money there. Music and open-air dancing throughout the day became a feature of the Central Pier, and were an integral part of its entertainment offer until well after the Second World War.
A low water jetty was introduced in 1891, followed by a Pavilion in 1903, an electric Railway Grotto in 1904 and roller-skating rink in 1909. Entertainment included aquatic displays and high-wire walking as well as regular shows from seaside pierrots in the Pavilion, including Wylie Tate’s Super Pierrots and the Royal Follies.
The 1920s and 1930s saw a number of new attractions, including racing car rides, guess your weight machines, jolly darts and a rifle range. Shows continued in the ‘White’ Pavilion, attracting big names such as Arthur Worsley (1945), Morecambe and Wise (1955, 57, 59) and many appearances from Jimmy Clitheroe. There were also performances in the open-air theatre, where Peter Webster made a name for himself as a children’s entertainer performing to huge audiences.
In 1966 the theatre was replaced with the much larger Dixieland Palace and Golden Goose Bar and later Maggie May’s Showbar. It now attracts weekly crowds with its tribute act Kings & Queens of Rock, Pop and Roll. In 1990 a 108ft big wheel was added to the pier, offering panoramic views of Blackpool’s impressive skyline. With amusement arcades, family bars, game stalls and fairground rides the pier continues to attract holiday-makers.