Happy Birthday Big Dipper: One of Britain's longest-running rollercoasters celebrates 100 years

The Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was first constructed in 1923. Credit: Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Video Report by Granada Reports Correspondent Tim Scott

One of Britain's longest-running rollercoasters, which is also one of the oldest's in the world, is celebrating its 100th birthday.

The Big Dipper at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was first constructed in 1923 costing £25,000. It was then reconstructed and extended in 1934.

The wooden ride spans 3,295 feet, reaches speeds of 56kmph and lasts for around three minutes.

It was designated as a Grade II listed building in April 2017.

Point of view video shows what it's like to ride the Big Dipper

A brief history of the Big Dipper

The Victorian era saw a boom within the pleasure and leisure industry, and a plethora of new wave entertainment activities began to crop up everywhere.

Blackpool was no stranger to the enlightenment, with the coastline and sandy shores attracting holiday-goers from the length and breadth of the country. 

With the desire for entertainment in mind, relocated Londoner William George Bean set up Hotchkiss Bicycle Railroad on the sand dunes at South Shore in 1896.

Inspired by his time in Coney Island, he started to build his empire of seaside entertainment, which quickly became an epicentre of pleasure. 

As its popularity grew, the Lancashire amusement park attracted visitors from every corner of the country.

An aerial view of the Pleasure Beach, taken in 1923. Credit: Blackpool Pleasure Beach

By 1923, Blackpool Pleasure Beach was an established amusement park, with a number of exciting rides and attractions including the newly opened Big Dipper.

Devised and constructed by William H Strickler and John A Miller, the wooden rollercoaster is oriented north-to-south, rises to a height of 65 feet and spans 3,300 feet in length, with one cycle of the ride taking approximately two minutes and 30 seconds.

In 1934, Big Dipper was reconstructed by American Engineer Charles Paige, which saw the extension of the track.

The ride roughly transports 672 riders an hour and reaches a maximum speed of 56kmph

Blackpool Pleasure Beach had entered its golden age by the 1930s, and by this time Big Dipper was a famous structure in the park, sitting alongside some other notable favourites such as Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machines, River Caves and Noah’s Ark. 

The Pleasure Beach was in its golden age in the 1930s. Credit: Blackpool Pleasure Beach

But what makes this particular coaster so special and appealing? Aside from the rollercoaster’s iconic onion at its peak, it operates on two lift hills and one simultaneous chain, which is a unique mechanism.

Andy Highgate from Blackpool Pleasure Beach said:"It is one of the first roller coasters to have upstop wheels which means it can have sharper turns and steeper drops. that makes for a thrilling ride and that's why 100 years later people still want to come and ride it"

Big Dipper holds the title as one of Britain’s oldest in use rollercoasters and is one of the oldest rides at Blackpool Pleasure Beach - it is still regarded as one of the best in the world.

Although Big Dipper is rich with history in her own right, the coaster has also been an observer to some significant moments in time.

The Second World War put a temporary halt to progress at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

However, during these challenging times the park remained open enabling thousands of evacuees, service personnel and the British public to escape the reality of war.

The Big Dipper survived a fire in 1975. Credit: Blackpool Pleasure Beach

After also surviving a fire in some years later in 1975, Big Dipper is a wooden history book, frozen in time, and a stark yet endearing reminder of what life was once like. 

Today, Blackpool Pleasure Beach is globally recognised as one of the world’s leading theme parks.

The influence and reputation it holds in 2023 is thanks to those first few monumental coasters that started it all 127 years ago.

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