Sir Hiram Maxim's Captive Flying Machine


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Ocean Boulevard, Promenade, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY4 1EZ


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Statutory Address:
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Ocean Boulevard, Promenade, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY4 1EZ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Blackpool (Unitary Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A static amusement ride of 1904 designed by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, comprising a raised timber boarding platform around a central vertical drive shaft supported by a steel lattice tower, with cars suspended on wires from timber booms radiating from the shaft. In 1934 Joseph Emberton added a stepped concrete canopy around the outside of the platform, with retail concessions beneath. The ride has been continually renewed and altered throughout the C20.

Reasons for Designation

Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machine at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, built in 1904 with additions of 1934 by Joseph Emberton and subsequent alterations, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Date and rarity: it is the oldest static amusement ride in Britain, the only example of its type in the world, and the oldest fairground ride in continuous use in Europe; * Designer: the ride has strong associations with Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (1840–1916), embodying his interest in and attempts to popularise the experience of powered flight; * Engineering interest: as an example of early use of mercury-arc rectifiers, invented in 1902, for powering a public amusement; * Survival: the essence of the ride remains, supported by the almost complete survival of the original power-train; * Historic interest: as an important and evocative aspect of the seaside heritage of Blackpool, one of the foremost English seaside resorts, and Blackpool Pleasure Beach, its internationally-significant amusement park; * Group value: the alterations by leading Modernist British architect Joseph Emberton integrated the Flying Machine into Emberton’s plans to give the park an overall ‘Moderne’ streamlined aesthetic, the zenith of which was the Pleasure Beach’s evocative Casino (Grade II, National Heritage List for England 1389506). The ride also has group value with the Noah’s Ark, another early C20 ride nearby (Grade II, NHLE 1436474).


Blackpool Pleasure Beach is the best-known permanent amusement park in the country. 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 amusement 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.

Sir Hiram Maxim's Captive Flying Machine was devised in 1902 and first exhibited in May 1904 at the Italian Exhibition at Earl’s Court. The flight-themed ride was a development of Maxim’s test rig for measuring the lift generated by various wing designs, and premiered just after the dream of powered, controlled, manned, heavier-than-air flight was finally achieved by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Safety concerns over the G-forces generated by a wing attached to each car led to the omission of this element, with lift solely resulting from centrifugal force. Modified machines were built at Blackpool (opened 1 August 1904, at a cost of £7,000), Southport, Crystal Palace and New Brighton (Merseyside), as well as Willow Grove amusement park in Philadelphia and Dreamland at Coney Island, Brooklyn. Installed shortly after William Bean and John Outhwaite went into partnership and bought the Watson Estate on Blackpool’s South Shore, the ride predates the first known use of the title Pleasure Beach (1905). It was excitedly described in an article in the local newspaper the Gazette-News of 29 July 1904 as, 'Our New Toy'. It has operated continuously in its current position, and is the oldest continuous working amusement park ride in Europe. It is the only extant example of this ride in the world.

The original cars at Blackpool resembled propeller-driven submarines, rather than successful aeroplane designs (the cars at Earl’s Court were fish and the 1905 US patent recommend aerodynamic shapes similar to birds or fish); however, in 1929 the original cars were replaced by ‘bi-planes’, although these actually only had an upper wing. Such was the pace of development in flight however, that by 1952 cars resembling rockets were installed to reflect the space-race. Originally a timber fence with metal overthrows carrying a lamp at the gate to each car surrounded the platform. In 1934 Joseph Emberton designed the stepping, concrete canopy that now surrounds the access platform, and the concrete concessions beneath this. Photographs show that in 1963 the drive-shaft, booms and cables were all renewed and the lattice tower replaced to an altered design, and in 1973 the retail kiosks were enlarged and the ride overhauled. Repairs were made to the canopy and concessions in 2004-05 following damage incurred during the Grand National Arcade fire. The timber booms are now replaced every 8-12 years, and the timber stairs and platform were renewed in 2003. The drive mechanism is however largely original with some modifications, principally the change from mercury-arc rectifiers (invented in 1902) to electronic converters, for the conversion of AC power to DC to run the motors.

Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim (1840-1916) was an American engineer and inventor. In 1889 the British Army adopted his automatic gun, and he subsequently investigated powered flight; during a trial in July 1894 a test-rig powered by a compact steam engine of his own design achieved a short (but uncontrolled) flight despite weighing more than three tons, and he solved many of the problems to be overcome in achieving practical powered flight. He was knighted as a naturalised British subject in 1901.


A static amusement ride of 1904 designed by Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, with additions of 1934 by Joseph Emberton, and subsequent alterations.

MATERIALS: steel, timber and concrete.

PLAN: the ride comprises a circular access platform c12ft above the ground, centred on a vertical drive-shaft supported by a square tower. Ten equal arms radiate from the drive-shaft to a diameter of 45ft, just wider than the platform. A concrete canopy projects from beneath the platform and retail concessions are located under this canopy and the outer edge of the platform.

EXTERIOR: the ride is arranged around a tapering steel shaft just over 60ft high, supported by a square, steel-lattice tower approximately half this height. From the top of the tower, ten equally-spaced timber booms radiate, rising at an angle to approximately the same height as the shaft, and a diameter of 45 ft. Steel wires run from the shaft to fixings at various points on each boom, and from each boom-tip down to the cars; each boom supports half the weight of two cars, and each car is supported at both front and back by two booms. A square inspection platform* stands at the top of the tower. The access platform is of timber covered in roofing felt. A timber deck* stands on top of this as the modern working surface and timber rails* control the queue and run around the inside of the decked access to the cars. Access to the platform is gained via a timber stair from the ground on the NE side, and stairs lead down at the NW via a small wooden hut* over them. The control cabin stands on the access platform within the tower, and contains the (now redundant) tram controller that originally controlled the ride, as well as the modern electronic control mechanism*.

Below the access platform projects a circular concrete canopy. This steps up at regular intervals to either side of the NW former entrance. The canopy now has a plastic fascia* and has been extended on the S side with a glazed canopy*.

INTERIOR: below the external canopy are several retail units*. A floor* of metal grids partially overlain with timber has been installed within the central area of the ride to provide safe working access to the drive components. The motive power comes from two identical 50hp electric motors made by Lister of Dursley, mounted on large cast-iron pedestals, one to the N and one to the S. Cogs on the rotor shafts of each motor turn a first gearing wheel, which transfers the power via a shaft across the pedestal, to 990mm diameter drive wheels. These deliver drive via six ropes to the two main 3.6m diameter fly wheels, which sit in large metal castings and are decoratively painted. The ropes* were originally made of cotton, but are now hessian. The fly wheels’ axles turn drive shafts fitted with pinions which engage with the toothed crown wheel at the base of the drive-shaft. The N drive shaft is fitted with a small pulley wheel, which might have been the original means of powering the lighting for the ride. This is now performed by slip-rings on the central column. The foot of the drive-shaft rests in an oil bath. The heavy castings are by Robinson & Cook of St Helens.

*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.


Books and journals
Bennett, Peter, Blackpool Pleasure Beach - A Century of Fun, (1996)
Brodie, Allan, Whitfield, Matthew, Blackpool's Seaside Heritage, (2014), 82-9
Image of ride installed at Earl's Court, 1904, accessed 20/05/16 from
Pastscape entry for Blackpoool Pleasure Beach, accessed 18/05/16 from pleasure beach&rational=q&recordsperpage=10
US patent details, accessed 20/05/16 from
Heritage Assessment by Professor V Toulmin, 2016


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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