Meet The Man Leading The Historic Transformation At This Iconic Building
The world-famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom is today a step closer to re-opening its doors following a £1.1M refurbishment project.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom, located in the Grade 1 Listed Blackpool Tower, is now looking forward to re-opening on June 21st, providing the Government’s latest road-map out of lockdown goes to plan.
And as visitors return they will see the magnificent ballroom looking its very best!
The venue, which dates back to 1894 and is home to Strictly Come Dancing’s annual ballroom special, has under-gone the most extensive programme of work and deep clean in over 60 years.
Some of the most highly skilled craftspeople in the country have been involved, led by Project Manager, Keith Langton, from Hayles and Howe, specialists in ornamental plaster work and scagliola.
Keith, who has been in the trade for more than 40 years, said today the refurbishment of The Blackpool Tower Ballroom has been the highlight of his career.
Keith has led a team of over 30 specialists, who have dedicated more than 21,000 hours, over a period of six months, climbing an average of 85 flights of scaffolding each day, to restore the famous ballroom to its original glory.
The team has discovered signatures underneath the breath-taking ceiling murals which show the last time anyone was in this space was in 1957!
These historic works were required after a fire in the building caused damage to the ballroom. At this time the works were estimated to cost over half a million pounds and took 17 months to complete.
Keith, 59, from Essex, said: “My career has literally taken me to all corners of the world and to some of the most prestigious buildings world-wide – but I have to say, there is absolutely nothing to touch The Blackpool Tower Ballroom.
“I previously worked at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace – now that was impressive and certainly had the wow factor! But when I walked into The Blackpool Tower Ballroom it literally blew me away – and that is no under-statement! I would say this project has been the highlight of my career.
“I am obviously coming close to retirement and they say you should always go out on a high – perhaps this may even be the high I will go out on!”
Keith is, however, keen to inspire more young people to join the trade of fibrous plastering before he finally says good-bye.
He added: “Fibrous plastering, which is the main skill which has been used on this refurbishment project, is now becoming a rare art and it is so tragic to see.
“Without more young people coming forward to study in this area, buildings like The Blackpool Tower Ballroom would be forced to close as there would literally be no-one with the skills to refurbish them.”
Keith has made it his personal mission to teach and inspire younger generations to ensure this trade continues, volunteering at colleges and universities across the globe.
“No matter where I have been in the world, I have always tried to pass on my learnings.
“I want to inspire a new generation of young people to follow the trade of fibrous plastering – it really does have some incredible rewards.”
One of Keith’s team members, Lucas Withey, is two years into his apprenticeship as a fibrous plasterer and won Apprentice of the Year in 2020.
He is also keen to see more young people coming forward to follow in his footsteps after he was inspired by his late grandfather.
Lucas, 22, from Bristol, said: “My grandfather was a true inspiration. He was multi-skilled and worked in so many different trades.
“I am so pleased I chose to pursue this route – it has been an incredible experience for me working at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom. I can’t wait to return with my family and show them all of the work which I have done. I think it has been made even more exciting by the fact that I am also a huge fan of Strictly! I really hope the dancers like my work too!”
The restoration has involved all of the original skills which were used by the tradespeople when the ballroom was built in 1894, being replicated today, including:
• Skilled scaffolders, artists, decorators, structural engineers, joiners, plasters and conservators all pooling their skills.
• The rare art of fibrous plastering.
• More than two tonnes of plaster being mixed.
• Organic hessian being imported from India to mix with the plaster to make a special formula allowing intricate repairs to be carried out to the ornate plaster work adorning the ballroom ceiling.
• A team of over 30 specialists on site, working a combined 21,000 hours.
• Skilled craftspeople working daily in tiny roof spaces to inspect and restore the ornate plasterwork from behind the ceiling.
• Specialist oil paints being colour-matched by the naked eye of experts on site to patch up murals damaged by water ingress and nicotine over the years.
• Several hundred litres of gold paint being mixed to ensure the gold leaf paint is restored to its former glory.
• Deep cleaning behind all of the ornate models which adorn the ceiling, with dozens of dust filled bags being removed from site every day.
• Murals being removed from the ceilings to allow cleaning to take place behind them and water damage and nicotine damage to be repaired before the murals were fixed back into the ceiling space.
• Intricate and detailed research work being carried out to establish exactly how the work was originally done to ensure all the works which took place during this latest refurbishment were carried out to the exact same standards. This involved drilling more than 12 square spaces in the roof space to enable this “methodology” as the craftspeople call it to be carried out.
The work has also uncovered some incredibly rare and unusual finds – all discovered in the angel figures adorning the ballroom ceiling.
These have included newspapers dating back to 1911, old cigarette packs which would be museum pieces today and even an old walking stick, believed to date back to the early fifties.
Keith added: “These finds are just incredible. We have just not known what we are going to come across next!”
The work has been made possible thanks to a lifeline grant of £764,000 as part of the Government’s unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, together with funding from Blackpool Council, taking the total investment to £1.1M.
The grant, awarded to Blackpool Council by Historic England, has supported the venue to carry out comprehensive repair and restoration work on the ballroom’s period plasterwork ceiling.
It is one of the most “significant” projects Historic England has been involved with to date.
Tamsin Cooke, Heritage at Risk Projects Officer at Historic England, said: “This is an extremely rare and precious building. Only one in 40 Listed Buildings are given Grade 1 Listed status.
“Blackpool Tower is a real icon of the British seaside. And the ballroom is a jewel in its crown!
“The Culture Recovery Fund grant awarded by Historic England for the repair work has been a great opportunity. This is a huge grant for Historic England to award but we are extremely excited about the opportunity to make a difference to such a well-known and well-loved location – not just for today’s visitors – but for generations to come.
“It is so important to preserve buildings such as this. It’s a ballroom which dancers and families world-wide enjoy so much!”
Kenny Mew, General Manager of The Blackpool Tower, said: “The works which have been carried out really are something very special. This is a once in a lifetime project that I feel incredibly fortunate to have been involved in.
“We cannot wait to reopen our doors and invite the public to experience the splendour of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom first hand, whether they are taking to the dancefloor, enjoying afternoon tea or simply taking in the incredible surroundings.
“Due to the Coronavirus pandemic the ballroom has now been closed for over 12 months. We are hoping to re-open on June 21st, if the Government’s continued road map out of lockdown goes to plan!”
Councillor Gillian Campbell, Cabinet Member for Tourism & Culture at Blackpool Council, added: “We are thrilled to be awarded this grant which will help bring the ornate ceiling of the magnificent Tower Ballroom back to its former glory. The ballroom has provided entertainment for generations of people for more than a century and is a national treasure, not least because of its relationship with Strictly.
“We are enormously appreciative that its importance to the cultural heritage of this country has been recognised in this way.”
Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage added: “The Blackpool Tower Ballroom has been at the heart of British dance for more than a century, annually hosting the Strictly Come Dancing Blackpool special.
“I am delighted that, thanks to the Culture Recovery Fund, the ballroom has been fully restored and is getting ready to reopen and host fantastic dances and events once more.”
Robin Harrison, Managing Director at Hayles and Howe, added: “The Blackpool Tower project has been one of the most challenging projects we have undertaken.
“It has allowed us to continue to learn and develop our methodologies to restore historic plasterwork.
“This project is a very iconic one for both myself and my team and is definitely one of our flagship pieces of work. One of my favourite parts of looking after buildings like this is being able to give something back to the public to enjoy safely for generations to come.”