A BLACKPOOL PIONEER.
DEATH OF SIR JOHN BICKERSTAFFE, J.P.
“FATHER” OF TOWN COUNCIL AND A FORMER MAYOR.
CHAIRMAN OF TOWER COMPANY SINCE 1891.
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
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
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.
FROM A HUMBLE BEGINNING.
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.
SERVICE WITH LIFEBOAT.
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.
SIR JOHN AND THE TOWER.
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
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.
WORK FOR TERRITORIAL MOVEMENT.
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
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.
TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS CHAIRMAN OF WATER BOARD.
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
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.
SERVICE TO CONSERVATIVE CAUSE.
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
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