Joe Longthorne Theatre (former North Pier Pavilion)
An Art Deco pier pavilion in Blackpool dating from the 1930s, now one of only six operating pier theatres in the country.
The Blackpool Pier Company opened the North Pier in 1863 and it is now the oldest of the surviving piers built by renowned promenade pier architect and engineer Eugenius Birch. The current pavilion, in the Art Deco style, dates from 1939. It is Grade II listed, one of only six operating pier theatres in the country, and one of only four operating on the seaward end of the pier.
The owner of the North Pier also owns the neighbouring Central and South Piers. Together with the neighbouring Central and South Piers, the North Pier was included on the World Monuments Fund’s 2018 World Monuments Watch list.
Why is this theatre at risk?
The Joe Longthorne Theatre has been on the Theatres at Risk Register since 2014.
In December 2013, the North Pier was severely damaged by strong winds. This caused the seaward end of the pier to close for health and safety reasons. During the storm, damage was also caused to the theatre. The pier reopened in April 2014, however, there are still concerns relating to the safety of parts of the pier structure.
During the winter of 2015 / 16 Blackpool Council undertook a structural survey of the pier to help engage with the owners on a structural repair programme. A review to examine options for the pier structure followed. The review was led by the council, working in conjunction with the pier’s owner, and involved the support of Historic England, National Piers Society, The Victorian Society and Theatres Trust. The work has yet to complete.
Following a successful bid supported by Theatres Trust, Blackpool’s three piers were placed on the World Monuments Fund 2018 Watch list.
The Joe Longthorne Theatre is a popular local venue that forms part of Blackpool’s overall cultural offer.
In summer 2020, the North Pier Theatre was renamed the Joe Longthorne Theatre in memory of the popular entertainer who lived in Blackpool, performed more than 20 seasons at the theatre, and described it as his all-time favourite venue. A museum of memorabilia has been set up within the pier’s tea rooms.
In 2023 reports emerged that a decline in sand levels could start to threaten the pier footings at all of Blackpool’s piers. Levels of sand loss have accelerated since 2008, with a loss at the base of the North Pier of up to 1m. Engineers have stated that they do not believe this to be an immediate threat. The council has received £57m from the Environment Agency for the Blackpool Central Area Beach Nourishment Scheme, which will look to ensure beach levels are maintained and includes the construction of sea defences.
In July 2023 3D imaging was carried out to survey the steelwork of the pier. The Blackpool Pier Company has confirmed that work will be undertaken to replace some of the trusses and main support beams beneath the pier. Scaffolding will be used, but it has been reported that engineers will also have to prop up the theatre with temporary beams while the repairs are carried out.
It is intended that the 3D imaging will be updated every few years to ensure the data is current and allow the owners to prioritise repairs and schedule maintenance.
Despite the theatre being open, it is still deemed at risk due to the condition of the pier and its extreme vulnerability to climate change.
Exterior image: Joe Longthorne Theatre, Theatres Trust