Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Creative Tourist
Blackpool Tower Ballroom by Michael Beckwith

Blackpool is not what you think it is. Granted, its golden mile has lost a little of its lustre, but there is more to Lancashire’s Las Vegas than “fun” pubs with glass dance floors and rock that has long lost its novelty. Hidden at its very heart is a place that seems to sit outside of entropy and decline, a pocket universe of jarring beauty: the Tower Ballroom.

The prose of the Tower Ballroom’s history falls short of the poetry of its singularity, but it bears repeating. Opened in 1899, the contemporary hyperbole proclaimed it “at once a palace and a work of art…the most magnificently decorated ballroom in Europe” and, while this description is a tad excessive, it captures something of the ballroom’s radical democracy. For this is a Versailles fit for a dilettante princess – but which has been thrown open to the working classes.

Indeed, there’s an argument that the ballroom is the masterpiece of its creator, Frank Matcham. This prolific designer, although never qualified as an architect, was responsible for the distinctive appearance of scores of Victorian theatres, among them The Palace in Manchester and Buxton’s much beloved – and lovingly restored – Opera House. The Tower, however, was to be his only ballroom, and it is magnificent proof of both Matcham’s artistry and his technical skill, a space designed for the pleasure of the senses that nevertheless conveys a secular awe; a terpsichorean cathedral, a “superclub” long before the inelegant noun was first bandied about.

From its sprung floor of mahogany, oak and walnut to its retractable skylight, designed to admit the light of distant stars, the Tower Ballroom’s extravagances are finely balanced so that their cumulative effect evokes the sublime rather than the merely kitsch. It is an effect whose sensations can be described or illustrated, but – in order to be fully appreciated – require first-hand experience. So for all the sacred decadence of its painted ceilings, for all the mirrorball glamour of its chandeliers, for all the literary gilding of its proscenium, the ballroom would be no more an object of beauty than a pinned butterfly without the music and the dance that regularly fills it.

When the Wurlitzer rises from beneath the floor, when the couples – whether amateur or professional – take to it, that’s when the Tower Ballroom suspends the tyranny of time and the oppression of space. It becomes an earthbound working class heaven, the heart – and the soul – of Blackpool.

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