The Illuminations at the British seaside resort of Blackpool were turned on for the first time.

The Illuminations, which continue to be an annual light festival, have grown considerably since their inception. Now stretching for 6 miles along the Promenade, and featuring over one million bulbs, the very first illuminations consisted of just eight carbon arc lamps that were used to light the Promenade.

The lamps were positioned 320 yards apart, and were powered by 16 Robey steam engines that drove 8 Siemens dynamo-electric machines. Described at the time as ‘artificial sunshine’, the first Illuminations were turned on almost a year before Thomas Edison patented the electric light bulb. At the time the streets of Britain were lit by gas lamps, assuming they were lit at all. Since the eight Blackpool amp lamps were each equivalent to the light of 48,000 candles, their installation was an incredible novelty and it is estimated that over 70,000 people travelled from all over Britain to see them.

The Illuminations didn’t become an actual display until May 1912, when Blackpool was visited by a member of the British Royal family for the first time. Princess Louise opened the Princess Parade section of the Promenade, and her visit was marked by “festoons of garland lamps” that used more than 10,000 bulbs. The spectacle was so impressive that the local Chamber of trade urged the council to stage them again in September to mark the end of the season.

The Illuminations were such a commercial success that they were turned on again the following year, but the Promenade stayed dark throughout both the First and Second World Wars. The Illuminations were staged again in 1949 and have been an annual event ever since.

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© Scott Allsop