A wooden rollercoaster of 1923 by William H Strickler and John A Miller, altered by Charles Paige in 1935, Joseph Emberton in 1936 and Felix Samuely in 1953, and with later modifications.
Reasons for Designation
The Big Dipper, a wooden rollercoaster of 1923 by William H Strickler and John A Miller, altered by Charles Paige in 1935, Joseph Emberton in 1936 and Felix Samuely in 1953, and with later modifications, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date and rarity: as the second-oldest in-use rollercoaster in Britain (after the Scenic Railway at Margate (Grade II*, National Heritage List for England 1359602), and one of only 37 pre-Second World War wooden rollercoasters worldwide (of which four are at Blackpool Pleasure Beach);
* Engineering interest: being the first under-friction rollercoaster in Europe, to the designs of John A Miller;
* Survival: despite replacement of fabric and alteration, the essence of the ride remains, and has been complemented and enhanced by many of the later additions, in particular those by Charles Paige and Felix Samuely;
* Historic interest: as an important and evocative aspect of the popular seaside heritage of Blackpool, one of the foremost English seaside resorts, and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, its internationally-significant amusement park;
* Group value: with the other early rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, especially with the other major wooden rollercoaster, the Grand National (Grade II, NHLE 1436382).
Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the best-known permanent amusement park in the country, and with five wooden and five steel tracks has been called the rollercoaster capital of the United Kingdom. Evolving through a partnership between two operators who first brought rides to this shoreline in 1894 and 1896, the Pleasure Beach has always been at the forefront in rollercoaster technology and development, and has successfully renewed its offer over the last 110 years. However, there is no other park that still reflects so much of the history of this industry.
The Big Dipper was constructed in 1923 at a cost of £25,000, and is one of the oldest extant rollercoasters in the world. It is the second-oldest in-use rollercoaster in Britain (after the Scenic Railway at Margate of 1920, listed at Grade II*, NHLE 1359602). Renowned rollercoaster engineer John A Miller (responsible for over 100 patents) designed the first rollercoaster named the Big Dipper, at Krug Park, Nebraska in 1918. Miller had also built the Dip the Dips (Clyffside Park, Kentucky) of 1909 and the Tango Dip (Roton Point, Connecticut) of 1914, and appears to have developed the name from these examples (rather than, as has been suggested, basing it on the constellation known in the US as the Big Dipper and in Britain as the Plough). Miller designed several similar rollercoasters between 1919 and 1920 including Deep Dippers at two parks in Baltimore, and the Deep Dips at Olympic Park in Newark, New Jersey. His ‘Noah’s Arc Corporation’ of Philadelphia provided the plans for the Blackpool Big Dipper.
William H Strickler, also a noted rollercoaster designer and engineer, built the example in Blackpool, arriving in December 1922. This was the first ride in Europe to use Miller’s under-friction system in which wheels beneath the track held the car on to the ride (patented 1912), to which the owner of Blackpool Pleasure Beach had bought the rights. It was in complete contrast to previous rollercoasters due to the greater speeds and steeper crests, giving passengers ‘air time’ of negative G forces which would have been unsafe using the previous side-friction system.
Following local outcry at the cost (a full shilling per ride), a suitably luxurious marble and mahogany paydesk was added to the station, on an Italian terrazzo floor. Above this was a circular roof with a clerestory, a glazed circular tower and a skeletal ogee dome, through which the cars passed as they descended from the top of the lift hill into a very tight 180 degree turn, before descending the first big dip. The route originally comprised two initial dips with a full-height crest between, followed by a high-level sharp left turn where the track reached the original southern boundary of the park. This was followed by a third big dip and a smaller fourth dip which led to a mid-level 180 degree left turn, and then a further two small dips leading to a rising, banking right turn that brought the track back through two undulations to the station.
After additional land was purchased by the Pleasure Beach in 1935, the ride was altered in order to open up the centre of the park for other attractions, by Charles Paige (another leading rollercoaster designer). The high-level turn and the third and fourth dips were replaced by a third, turning dip, an arch over the S entrance to the park, and an aeroplane bend at the new southern boundary. The mid-level return loop and banking turn were adapted, and linked to the original undulating station return by another new dip, this time going under the new access road leading from the S entrance; altogether the ride was extended by 200ft. In 1936 Joseph Emberton (a leading Modernist architect in Britain) designed a new station interior and altered the tower.
Following a fire in 1953, the station was rebuilt although it retains the 1936 concrete arcades. The enclosed tower above the station was replaced with inclined latticework legs designed by renowned engineer Felix Samuely, and Emberton designed a concrete dome at the base of the legs. A further fire in 1975 damaged some of the structure, and modifications have been made to allow the passage of various other coasters through and around the structure, and concrete foundations were installed to some of the legs in 2010. Continual minor safety improvements have taken place, including the replacement of nailed details with coach-screws and through-bolts, additional bracing between timbers, changes to the rail design, and increased automation.
A rollercoaster of 1923 by William H Strickler and John A Miller, altered by Charles Paige in 1935, Joseph Emberton in 1936 and Felix Samuely in 1953, and with later modifications.
MATERIALS: timber with steel reinforcements and concrete station structures.
PLAN: orientated broadly N-S, with a horseshoe-shaped open tower at the N end and the station immediately S of this. From the station a short curve to the W loops under the main tracks and returns, to the bottom of the lift hill, which rises from S to N, to a height of 65ft. At the S end the track turns to the NE, with a wide return curve to rejoin and run alongside the outward track, and returns to the station after an overall run of 3,300ft.
EXTERIOR: sited to the W side of the southern half of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, surrounded by and intertwined with other rollercoasters and rides.
The main track sits atop two parallel vertical grids of timber, whose varying height causes the track to rise and fall. The two grids are connected and braced by horizontal timbers at the same intervals, and diagonal timbers running from each corner to its opposite on the other side. Additional bracing is found on the face of each grid, running diagonally but not always between corners. Raking shores also support the grids at high level. The rails comprise layered timber boards, the top layers being wider than the others to retain the under-friction wheels. Along the top of the boards is fixed a shallow metal strip on which the running wheels rest. Similar strips run along the inner face for the side friction wheels, and along the soffit of the top boards in areas where negative-G is achieved and the under-friction wheels are employed.
A tower at the N end comprises latticework legs inclining inward from the bottom, with a concrete dome c20ft above the ground, lined underneath with sheet metal. The tops of these legs support the track as it loops round from the top of the lift hill in a tight left-hand curve, to head S. Beneath the track here is a concave dome comprised of flat sheets of timber. The first outward leg comprises two steep dips with a crest between. Beyond this the track rises again and then turns 40 degrees to the left through a third dip, passing under the Big One steel rollercoaster. It then arches over the former S entrance to the park before rising (the Big One passing through its structure at this point), diving and rising again through a 115 degree left hand turn to pass under the Big One again. After a short mid-level straight it falls gently through a left-hand turn of just over 180 degrees, passing under the Steeplechase steel rollercoaster. Another dip, passing under the Steeplechase again, leads to a rising, banked 120 degree right-hand turn. This brings the track back to the outward stretch, with which it now runs parallel, diving below the service road at the S entrance, rising through the structure of the Big One, turning 40 degrees to the right, and gently dipping and rising twice more, before passing over the loop at the foot of the lift hill, and descending between the outward leg and the lift hill, into the station. To the E of the lift hill a wooden cabin houses the motors for the lift chain. ‘Coasters’ diner* is situated to the E of the ride, but extends underneath the lift hill with windows looking through the station arcade.
INTERIOR: a modern steel access ramp* runs beneath the tower. To the S of the tower, the station comprises a concrete barrel vault with slender arcades to each side that reach high into the vault, the arches of the western arcade allowing access for passengers. The platforms are of timber, with timber and metal queue railings* on the W side. A glazed wooden control house* stands to the S of the station. The lifting mechanism is housed in a wooden cabin to the E of the lift hill and comprises a looped chain which runs up the centre of the lift hill, propelled by an electric motor driving geared sprockets.
MAPPING NOTE: some sections of the ride pass beneath other structures; these sections are described in the text above and are included in the listing, but are not mapped.
*Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the aforementioned items are not of special architectural or historic interest.