Lytham St.Annes Coat of Arms
Lytham St.Annes, Lancashire, England



Sir John Bickerstaffe JP died in Blackpool on 5th August 1930 aged 82 years.  Freeman, Alderman and Ex-mayor of the town, Chairman of the Blackpool Tower Company from it's inception until his death, he was also connected with many local companies and undertakings including the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co. Below is an obituary.


Sir John Bickerstaffe, J.P., father of the Blackpool Town Council and one of Blackpool's pioneers, who saw the resort grow from almost a little fishing village into a great pleasure centre, died at his home in Hornby-road, Blackpool, late last night, at the age of 82.

Recently Sir John had a rather serious illness, and was confined to bed for time, but he had apparently completely recovered. He was able to drive about in his car, and visit the Central Conservative Club and the offices of the Tower Company. Even yesterday was in good spirits and seemed to be improving in health, but later there was a relapse, and he died as stated.

Sir John’s lifetime had been one devoted to work not only in a private capacity but also on behalf of the town of which he was a native and which he loved well. In spite of his advancing years, his virility was amazing and his business acumen unimpaired. He made Blackpool his hobby, and its prosperity was his dearest wish. If things were not going well in the town the result was written like a barometer on his face. He was gloomy when business was bad; overjoyed when a recurring tide of prosperity advanced the resort one stage further on its wonderful career.


He was known as Mr. Blackpool to many people, visitors as well residents. With his yachting cap crowning a head of snow-whitehair, and his nautical-cut blue suit—he was never dressed otherwise — Sir John in his later years lived his simple, unassuming life, content to be amongst the holiday crowds, answering the questions of visitors with buoyant friendliness that sent many away with smiles of appreciation their faces. As his life was simple, so were his habits.

went away on world tours, but he was never happy until arrived home again. It was years before his friends could prevail upon him to buy a motor car. He was far more content to walk when carrying out his daily round of visits. He would call at the Palace Theatre, which with the Tower, are two monuments of his enterprise. Then as regularly as clockwork would walk unostentatiously into the Mayor’s Parlour read the morning papers, sitting in a corner alone. Then on to the Conservative Club for game of dominoes, of which he was passionately fond, and at 1-15 precisely arrived home for lunch. Shopkeepers kept their watches by him in his later years. He was never a minute late in passing a particular point nor a minute before his time.


The story of Sir John's rise affluence is one of stern self-denial, enterprise, and sacrifice. He, together with his brother, Alderman Tom Bickerstaffe. J.P., were born in a little cottage in Caunce-square, a place which has now disappeared with the passage of time. The little dwelling was situated on site now occupied by a large bazaar at Hounds Hill, near the Central Station. He was thus born within the sound the sea, and it was the sea that he most dearly loved until his death.

From this humble beginning ho was chiefly instrumental in building up a great amusement undertaking. Like Dr. Cocker, the first Mayor of Blackpool, who was his personal and devoted friend, he realised early in his life the immense possibilities that lay before Blackpool a pleasure resort. But his youthful days were spent in atmosphere of unremitting toil—the toil that the lot of those who make the sea their calling. His experience as boatman left behind an undying appreciation for these men, and until his death he and his brother were always ready to assist their old friends.


During his boatman days he served as a member of the crew of Blackpool’s first life- boat, the Robert Williams, under his cousin, Robert Bickerstaffe, the coxswain, and he went with his mate to the assistance of the brig St. Michaels on September 18th, 1864, when fourteen lives were saved from a tempestuous sea. For years he occupied a place in the crew, and participated in several exciting sea rescues.

Later he became licensee of the Wellington Hotel, on the front, near Central Pier, and it was there that he laid the foundation of his fortune. He was known one time as "The Rev. John" by reason of the part he took in replying to sermons the Rev. J. S. Balmer, strong critic of the meetings of the Licensed Victuallers. It was a worthy battle between two strong men, both believing their cause was just. The bitter controversy ended in lifetime friendship. That was the charm of Sir John. He was a fighter, but fighter without rancour, who abhorred personality but loved a battle.


As time went on Sir John’s interest alternated between the Town Hall and the Tower, which he loved like a child and which he continued to love until his end. He would stand at the doors of the building watching the turnstiles moving mixing amongst the Northern holiday-makers, delighted when he heard expressions of appreciation of his "Wonderland,” as he called it.

But he was a shrewd business man also, with abilities that were willingly put at the disposal of the Corporation. He had completed 50 years' service as a member of the Blackpool Town Council, and was known by all parties as the Father of that body.

He was returned to the Council as a representative for Brunswick Ward on November 1st, 1880, and served in that capacity until March 1st, 1887, when he was appointed an alderman. He was Mayor for two successive years—1880-1890 and 1890-1891—during which he called a meeting to discuss a scheme which resulted in the building of the present Victoria Hospital in Whitegate Drive, which is soon to be substituted by more modern and up-to-date building. His interest and solicitude for the hospital was instanced a few years ago when he gave £1,000 for the endowment of a cot, followed later by further substantial donations.


He acted as chairman of the Town Council Parliamentary Committee for many years, and won commendation for the able manner in which he successfully piloted through the committee stages in the House of Lords several of Blackpool’s most important Improvement Bills. Special mention should made of his patriotic work on behalf of the Territorial movement. He was member of the 5th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers for a long time. When "Terriers" were regarded with good deal of good-humoured contempt Sir John was a staunch believer in this voluntary branch of the Army.

He was convinced that a world-war was imminent, and never ceased to impress that fact He had a chance to do some useful work in this direction, for was a member of the County Association—the organisation appointed by the Territorial Forces Act, 1907. such he was present when the King inspected a great parade of Territorials some years before the war. When the war broke out he took the work of recruiting with enthusiasm, and it was duo greatly to his propaganda that recruiting in the Blackpool district was rapid.


As chairman of the Fylde Water Board from its formation in 1897 to June, 1925, when he retired with the regrets of all his colleagues, he saw the rise of another great undertaking. During his association with the Board he attended 1,533 meetings out of a possible 1,597, besides visiting the officers of the Board on hundreds of occasions for consultation with the officials.

Sir John had been chairman of the Tower Company since its registration in 1891, when he secured the Old Beach Hotel, where Charles Dickens stayed, then being used as an aquarium and a menagerie, for £72,000. The foundation stone of the Tower building was laid by the late Sir Matthew White-Ridley, then M.P. for the Blackpool Division, on September 29th, 1891.

He was a Conservative in politics, but a Conservative of the old type. His policy was quite clear—loyalty to the party and above all to the King. When he felt his time had passed for making speeches, he was content with a seat on a platform, but no meeting, political or otherwise, was felt to complete without Sir John’s appeal for "three cheers for the King.” He was a devoted admirer of the Royal family. Never a birthday of his Majesty, the Queen, or Prince of Wales passed, but Sir John sent a telegram of congratulation, and regularly received reply of thanks.


He had held the position chairman of the local association, but his services the Conservative cause were more than local, and he was held in esteem by the party leaders in the days when his enthusiastic work helped to keep Blackpool firmly Tory. When some years ago Blackpool went over to the Liberal side for 12 months his distress at the result of the poll, which declared the late Colonel H. M. Meyler the winner by a large majority, was obvious.

But in spite of his busy life the dead knight confined business shrewdness with remarkable amount of idealism. "He tried to make the world a better place, especially in his native town" was the tribute of an old friend to-day, and this epitomised correctly his attitude on life. He had ideals for the uplifting of the poor, and many working people received from his hands kindnesses that were never recorded. He visualised the day when every child should have a decent education and a chance in life, realising the shortcomings of the times in which he was born.

Education, therefore, played a big part in his public life. The Victoria Schools, Tyldesley Road, now the local Employment Exchange, which were opened on December 11th, 1888, were built chiefly through his generosity, and he was a member also of the Education Committee for a number of years. He co-operated later with the then vicar of St. John’s Church, Blackpool, in the erection of a Church of England day school, for which there was need in the Brunswick district. That school was closed on August 31st, 1923, after many years of usefulness.

Sir John had a remarkable store of anecdotes regarding his native town. It was said that he knew every corner of even modern Blackpool. He had amazing memory, and never, it was said, forgot a face. Sir John was knighted in the King’s Birthday Honours on July 3rd, 1926, for his distinguished services in development Blackpool and to the Conservative Party. The flags at all the public offices in Blackpool and at the Tower and Winter Gardens were at half-mast to-day.

Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 06 August 1930