Where would you find one of Peter Kay’s old suits, make your own hand disappear in front of your eyes and discover a washed out summer season was the reason Blackpool Illuminations were started?

The answer is at Showtown, which opens to the public on Friday, March 15 inside the Sands building on Central Promenade.

The £13m project has been 10 years in the making but will proudly be the only museum in the UK celebrating circus, dance and entertainment.

Visitors will walk through six colourful galleries celebrating Seaside, Magic, Circus, Illuminations, Shows and Dance.

Expect to come across sparkling clown costumes lent to Blackpool by the V&A museum in London which have never before been on display, Stan Laurel’s hat and even a spanner used in the construction of The Tower.

An old suit once worn by Bolton comedian Kay forms part of the collection. The Phoenix Nights star's name has been synonymous with Blackpool since his “Live at the Top of Tower” stand-up gig in 2000, which was recorded for VHS and DVD. 

Children may jump at the chance to design their own illuminations as part of interactive displays, but older visitors will be more interested to realise the dance section occupies the old Palace Nightclub, and includes the DJ stage from the former Mecca on Central Drive where Northern Soul once ruled.

Meanwhile, fascinating documents include a letter from Walt Disney thanking the resort for publicising his animations by transforming Disney figures into displays for the Illuminations.

Elizabeth Moss, chief executive of Showtown, said: “We have reimagined how a museum should be, through our innovative displays of Blackpool’s own rich collection shown alongside key loans from international institutions and the performers themselves.”

Perhaps most interesting of all is just how much history Blackpool can boast – from pioneering electric street lights to virtually inventing mass tourism with 25 live shows a night to entertain visitors in 1955.

Tristram Hunt, the director of the V&A, said: “Iconic objects from our Theatre and Performance collection will join Showtown’s permanent display, from Tommy Cooper’s magic tricks to costumes worn by Morecambe and Wise, and our rare Whimsical Walker clown costume, dating from the 19th century.”

Council leader Coun Lynn Williams said as well as boosting Blackpool’s cultural office for visitors, she hoped Showtown would be a source of civic pride.

She said: “Our town holds a unique place in the nation’s heart, and I know the museum will be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors alike.”

Tickets cost £15 for adults and £11.50 for children, with all tickets being valid for a year. Residents who pay council tax to Blackpool Council can log onto the council website to access free tickets.


October 2013 – The idea was first put forward by former council leader Coun Simon Blackburn and a feasibility study was carried out.

May 2014 – The Pavilion Theatre inside the Winter Gardens was allocated for the museum, and a £1.24m grant was secured from the Lottery Heritage Fund towards development costs.

July 2017 – With the estimated cost of the scheme now £26m, it was axed because sufficient funds could not be raised.

November 2017 – A scaled-back project was unveiled to be located in the Sands Hotel being built on Central Promenade.

2018/19 – The funding package was assembled including £4.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £1.75m from the Coastal Communities Fund, £4m from the Northern Cultural Fund, £1.5m from the Lancashire Economic Partnership Growth Deal and £1m from Blackpool Council.

January 2020 – Showtown unveiled as the new name for the museum but setbacks caused by the Covid pandemic and hold-ups in the construction of the Sands Hotel delay the opening.

March 15 2024 – Opening of Showtown to the public.