Blackpool in the 1850’s; Kickstart to the modern town
THE BIRTH AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF THE FIRST PROMENADE, THE DEFINITION OF THE TOWN, THE FIRST PARLIAMENTARY IMPROVEMENT BILL, THE CRIMEAN WAR, THE BRIDGE OF PEACE
Blackpool is my home town. My patronymic arrived during the frantically patriotic days of the First World War, as thousands of recruits arrived to fill up the available accommodation and to train on the beaches here. It has been recorded (and probably still relevant) that Blackpool has the least indigenous population in the country so we’re a mixed bunch here, really. And that goes for Britain as a whole though perhaps not to the extent of Blackpool. 90% of the information provided here has come from the newspapers. Any other, external sources of information to add to a prior understanding of British and European 19th century history, some years in archaeology and my own, family history research, that I have used to fill out or confirm detail, I have acknowledged at the end. Often it’s not new information, but it is how the hundreds of newspaper articles of the middle decade of the nineteenth century (and a little before and after it) have viewed Blackpool for better or worse.
The story of the modern town begins in the 1850’s though the place has existed in geological and climatological time for long before that. The human geography has also been around since before recorded time but kicks in as a holiday place when the very first door in the area considered as Blackpool was opened to accept a visitor for hospitality or profit. From that time, generations of people that have come not only for the fresh and health giving air, but also to experience the vast open space of the sea, to enjoy the entertainment, to throw off the cares of living, (which doesn’t always include getting blind drunk) and at times to escape from the horrors of warfare or political oppression. They have all given the town a reason to exist. As well as in the savage conflict of war, it has also served as a place to train the soldier on the expanses of its beaches as well as providing a place to heal the same physically and mentally broken soldier on his return. In a time of need, every door has been thrown open, and every bit of space made available for the cause of the nation.
In the 1850’s it had even been a place of refuge when the end of the world was nigh, as a comet hurled its destructive way towards the earth. It missed, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.
The geographical position of the town is the reason why it had begun ultimately as a place to have a break or take an extended holiday, or later, a place where you could go to fill the choked up lungs with air of a vibrant freshness that the dirty cities could not provide, elements no doubt that created the belief that sea bathing was the panacea for all the ills of the human body and its psyche. While it was this coastline that had provided for Blackpool in the first place, it was the railway that had created the path towards the modern town. Many places had come into existence or had been modified by the arrival of a railway line into their midst and the carriages which trundled along those lines were carrying whole populations into the future. From this time, a necessity to extend and develop Blackpool arose as it had to effectively accommodate these much larger numbers of visitors. But before the modern town could successfully come into existence, the coastline had to be secured, and by 1848 if Blackpool was to be considered a town, it would have to abide by the Health of Towns Act of that year, and before that, it had to have an elected administrative body to legislate within those boundaries, taking responsibilities, including the raising of funds to do what it had to do. From 1848 the existing Watch Committee made up of the gentlemen of the town and co-opted among them, and which controlled the area known as Blackpool in the parish of ‘Layton-with-Warbrick’ , would be expected to include a Board of Health with powers created in Parliament and endorsed and controlled by it.
The coast has always been here, though regularly modified throughout a geological and climatological timescale. Blackpool’s name, derived from its dark, peaty topography, had been planted for posterity on this coast by those who had given it that name in an undefined moment of history. But the first train has a definite date of arrival of the 5th June 1846. It had come all the way from Fleetwood, which already had a rail service of a few years’ standing due to the vision, enterprise and of course, contributory money, of Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, the large landowner of the north of the Fylde. The train brought the directors, shareholders and interested parties of the Preston and Wyre Railway Company. They arrived at the new north station, built by a Fleetwood contractor, and situated opposite the Talbot Hotel on the road built by Talbot Clifton, the large landowner on the south of the Fylde, in 1843. (He would of course, have actually ‘caused’ it to be built, since a team of skilled engineers and beer-swilling labourers would have actually done the work).
Large landowners might not have been very big in size that is but large in their ownership of land, of course.
When the train arrived, the district of Blackpool, on this north west coast of England and which wasn’t very big at all, was in expectant, celebratory mood, an energetic excitement that would be replicated with increasing values as the town progressed and found more good reasons to celebrate. The train should have arrived in March but there was a delay due to a collapsed culvert at Hoo Hill. So the decorations had to be kept in storage until the train was a reality. The hotels were bedecked with colour and flags and the processions of schoolchildren waving their own little flags welcomed in this first train to their home town, regarded far and wide as that favourite watering place of the north-west. There was a party afterwards thrown on the bowling green of the Talbot Hotel. I guess, this had to be in the days before bowling and bowling competitions had reached the zenith of their prestige and the green wasn’t then considered as hallowed as a churchyard.
Until the date that this first train had arrived, access to Blackpool had been by coach, latterly from Poulton, when the Preston to Fleetwood line had been opened and, prior to that from Preston, when there was no railway line at all. A coach could convey a handful of passengers, whereas a train could take thousands. A coach of four horses would travel about six miles an hour on average so the journey from Preston alone would have taken more than three hours. On arrival there would be a passenger load of sore bottoms and a queue for the toilet. A train all the way from Manchester would take less than two hours and you could be straight into the sea on arrival and, once these large numbers of folk began arriving, the town became busier, noisier, dirtier, and much more anarchic. As a consequence, much, much more needed to be done before the town could adequately cope.
This busy place, lacking sufficient infrastructure to deal with large numbers of people, was what the provisions of the 1848 Health of Towns Act were directed at by the middle of the 19th century. But if Blackpool was to keep its status as the successful watering place it had been for a long time– and now proving to be on a much larger scale – then, as well as complying with the specific requirements of the Act of Parliament, the sea, where it met the land, would have to be somehow controlled or contained in its aggression. The destructive storms that had mercilessly swept across the Fylde coast since time immemorial and often recorded since inhabited times, submerged both land and properties, and had always been a begrudgingly accepted hazard of life for the coastal dwellers. The storms of 1850 wreaked their own havoc, but after a very wet autumn of 1852 when much of the land remained under standing water for long periods (nationwide and worldwide, too), the storms of Christmas Day of that year, further convinced that handful of property owing men who would soon constitute the local Board of Health in Blackpool, that a serious, collective attempt should be made to bolster the coastline against such incursions and thus protect the property that was their home and their livelihood. Since these facts led ultimately to the creation of the first Improvement Bill and resulted in the development of the first Promenade, it could be argued that in the moment of that decision, the modern town of Blackpool was conceived.
If it hadn’t then I would probably be sat in a puddle writing this, about a mile inland.
Before the railways arrived, it was the popular, fashionable place for the more well-to-do, a place to convalesce or take in the health-giving properties of the sea air and these folk arrived by stage coach from Preston on a bumpy road. You could walk the high glacial clay cliffs of the north or take or a more leisurely stroll in the gentler and lower lying geography of the south, and the sands stretched for miles between and beyond the two. These walks had the space that the cities didn’t have. They were without the restrictions of the home streets of the cities and towns of these escapee urban or countryside dwellers who were denied a view of the sea that surrounded the island nation.
So the 1850’s saw much change in Blackpool. The town had to keep pace with the events that were creating its future status. Houses, quaintly called cottages, to accommodate the much greater influx of visitors were being built at a furious rate. Land was increasing in value as it function from spare land and farming to the more profitable usage of visitor accommodation changed. The land south of the Manchester Hotel with a sea frontage and the half way point between Blackpool and the separate entity of South Shore lost its old fashioned name of Tullet Hey and was renamed New Blackpool. Here, it provided prime land for building and an enticing name for the investors and developers. There was a street plan for 130 houses with the proviso that no house facing the sea front should be a shop. Blackpool was now a popular place in the eyes of many more people, accessible to all and now captured in the new kind of public imagination in songs like ‘Did You Ever Send Your Wife to Blackpool?’ The very male orientated sentiment of the song title, nevertheless reflected the attitude of the day and the fact that Blackpool was a definitive destination where you went for a good time and, perhaps, even could have a better time if the wife was away. Equally today the song title could be ‘Did You Ever Leave Your Husband Behind in Order to Have a Good Time in Blackpool?’ The plentiful hordes of today’s single sex female groups might vouch for that. I haven’t found the rest of the words and haven’t much of an urge to do so. Mr Porter may possibly have had the words in one of his items for sale. In the 1850’s he was a bookseller with premises on Central Beach, Blackpool and in Fleetwood and had published quite a comprehensive guide to Blackpool and its environs in 1857 at a ‘moderate’ price to those many visitors who would want to know more about the place they were visiting. The varied natural, geological and social history in his guide begins with St Paulinus baptising ‘thousands of the Fylde folk in the Ribble’, and proceeds to the era of Rossall’s Hotel.’, (now, after a couple of name changes, the Metropole). Maybe the prolifically proselytising and baptising bishop Paulinus did reach these shores and dip a few thousand folk on the Ribble and maybe, too, they reverted to paganism when he left. The baptising, in the moderated from of ritual dipping under the sea did happen later on, but it did not replicate the religious practice. It was more the belief of the moment in the ritually therapeutic value of sea-bathing, with or without your clothes on, away from the dirt and grime of the industrial landscapes, and in that sense, it became a much practical, rather than spiritually based application.
Before 1850, this bit of shoreline, in the memory of the living in their written records or the artist’s painting, was a steep grassy bank, and this grassy bank was a freedom to roll down for the young boys with a few days’ breathing space from their townscapes or later, from the claustrophobic and unhygienic living conditions of the heartlands of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire and beyond. The limekilns situated here and there on the foreshore, which supported the sporadic and continued building of properties along the coastline, didn’t bother any of these early holidaymakers, nor did they bother the birds which nested in the natural shrubberies in the high cliffs to the north.
As far as sea defences were concerned, what fence or walling that was placed between the sea and land from time to time before the 1850’s, had always been the responsibility of the owners of properties on the shoreline. Sometimes this fencing or walling was there only to define the property boundaries, and sometimes it was hoped that the stone walling, when it consisted of hefty, half-ton weight stones, and pinned and stuck together with iron rods and cement, would hold the sea at bay. This heavy defence could, and did, hold up admirably against a pleasant and gentle, summer zephyr, but not against an angry winter storm with or without a high tide to push furiously in front of it.
When these storm-envigourated seas washed ashore with fury, the doors of the exposed buildings had to be desperately protected with puddled clay, a material naturally provided in quantity in the geological timescale under the surface landscape as a glacial deposit. Sometimes the sea could get in to these buildings and sometimes it couldn’t with the clay packing providing as much desperate protection as a modern sandbag could afford in today’s flooded regions.
The owners of these sea front, private properties, were subject to quarrels, disputes and litigation regarding rights to the frontage. In 1850 Cuthbert Nickson had to publicly apologise with an insertion in a newspaper for assaulting a Mr Henry Truscott after the affair had been settled financially out of court. Henry Truscott doesn’t feature in the town and is possibly a non-resident visitor. The nature of the assault is not recorded but in 1852 Cuthbert and a few mates, all names connected with the property owners of Blackpool, were fined 5s (25p) and costs for drunkenness and, with a preferential for drinking lots of ale comes the need to thump your opponent to resolve an argument since a compromise is ever beyond the capability of someone who has John Barleycorn as a guiding angel.
It wasn’t always clear, however, as to who was responsible for the repair and maintenance to this bit and that bit of the coast, and who was not. The sea of course, loved all this human bickering and division, and was allowed to do just what it wanted, modifying the coastline to its own design and making deep and widespread incursions into the land, decorating it with sewage and flattened haystacks and bricks and rocks and the occasional boat and other, assorted debris while at the same time filling in the freshwater pools, which were a vital source of fresh water, with brine. Drinking seawater was considered healthy, but it can also send you mad, as the evidence of a castaway mariner in an open boat with no rainwater to collect would testify.
The Manchester Guardian of September 1850 has a good moan. It describes the popular watering place of Blackpool as in need of better drainage, lighting and bathing regulations. The Manchester people provided Blackpool with many of its customers and the newspaper, it seems, had taken it upon itself to stand up for them and complain about the poor state of the town. The newspaper emphasises the need for better lighting because at night the town was dark and dingy (and no doubt you couldn’t see what you were treading in or on). Also the town needed a much more reliable and efficient mail delivery. The blame upon this poor service was conveniently placed upon the only postman, who happened to be an old man ‘who is very slow in walk and apprehension and notorious for his blunderings’ and he took hours to deliver the post especially to the north of the town and district. The postman at this date was Esau Cater. The post would generally arrive at 11am and he would begin his round at 12.30pm, every day in Summer and three days a week in winter. However, as slow as the newspaper complains that the delivery is, it is an improvement on the case in Blackburn a few years earlier of a female ‘footpost’ being found dead (but alive, dead) drunk in a ditch with all her letters upon her.
Even today I always get a certificate of posting for my important mail, not just in case a female postie has enjoyed her ale too much, or all the postmen are aged, but because nothing is perfect.
CHEAP TRIPS ON THE RAILWAYS
The success of the railways all over the country in transporting large numbers of folk created the desire in many rich people to invest in them, (William Wordsworth initially didn’t like the railways because they destroyed his daffodils, but eventually came round to agreeing that they were really a good thing and invested a bob or two them I believe). A direct line to Blackpool from Preston was mooted from an early age. Landowners were approached about the sale of the land and how profitable it would be for them. Once the railways were up and rolling, such was the demand for excursion tickets from Yorkshire to Blackpool and the west coast that it caused disruption on the railway routes, on which the goods from Liverpool exacted a very large demand, and a headache for any transport manager especially as the rolling stock was limited in numbers.
So, once the railway had arrived, Blackpool could be positively advertised in the press to bring in the investors as, ‘Blackpool is accessible from every part of Yorkshire and Lancashire by Railway, – its beach is unsurpassed for the firm, smooth and safe character of its sands, – the promenades along the coast afford views of the promontory of Furness, the mountain ranges of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmoreland, the Isle of Man and the mountains of North Wales.’ Cheap tickets were provided for travel to the holiday resorts and this resulted in the large numbers of folk who took the opportunity to travel, largely previously denied them and they flocked off the trains at their destination stations.
After 1846, when visitor numbers increased, the fashionable image of Blackpool was modified by those plebeian commoners, whose rough manners and habits created an upwardly curved nose in the more well to do, but whose hard work, rough manners and miserable living and working conditions, had nevertheless nurtured and supported the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent wealth for the few privileged to enjoy. However, they could nevertheless be seen ‘disporting among the shallow waves’ and ‘far too happy to invite critical censure’. This working class of people who for ‘ten hours a day inhaled the oiled impregnated air of the factories’ arrived in the town in quantities, to disport in a sea they had never seen and to take the unique experience of a donkey ride vicariously as ladies and gentleman might ride horses. Or as the Era publication of the summer of 1853 reports with Liberal orientated opinion, in contrasting the ‘rough and ready’ travellers with those of the more materially privileged classes, ’No doubt, some pretty faces, which are allied with empty heads and cold hearts, sneer at the cheap trip and its excursionists, and some thoughtless and fastidious fools, perhaps begrudge the use of the railway for such travellers. No doubt the gentility of the watering place shudders and flies from the crowd who promiscuously unclothe and bathe from the beach on their arrival; and would faint at the horrid sight we once witnessed, of two ladies and a gentlemandescending together into the sea from a bathing machine. We grant that the manners of our cheap excursionists are occasionally rude and their habits exceptionable. But if the privileges of the silver fork are to destroy the charity of our hearts and the philosophy of our heads, may the next mouthful it gives us be a choker. If we can ourselves lounge in a well-padded seat of the “Express” train, and not rejoice at the sight of so many sons and daughters of toil enjoying a cheap trip, we deserve to run into a luggage train in the next tunnel we enter. In short, if we do not recognise as a prime benefit of the railways, that they facilitate communication betwixt members of the human family who must otherwise dwell apart, and so tend to refine all by inducing more general intercourse, it is certain that we are still as ignorant of the subject as the untutored artisan, who, we are wishing, would stay at home; and it would serve us right were we forced to do his work for our want of consideration and kindness’.
In the summer of 1850, there were so many visitors that the hotels could not accommodate those staying longer than a day, and the railway company found spaces for them in the railway carriages. Those unfortunate enough not to be provided with at least a railway carriage, would have to walk the restricted sea frontage or the beach all night, in the days before the piers were constructed which could have provided a little bit of privacy for either a bit of sleep or the acute desperation of rude things.
To others, these throngs provided the ‘revolting’ scenes witnessed on the beach by those with more inhibitions regarding body exposure. It was now only a distant memory for the old folk to recall the times when the women had an allotted time on the beach in which to change and bathe, and if a gentleman was either unfortunate enough or careless enough to break this prudent privacy rule, they would be fined a bottle of wine. Only gentleman drank wine. Everyone else drank beer. So, it seems that only gentlemen could be accused of being voyeuristic in watching bathing boobs and bottoms or, if not the full monty, then nevertheless eliciting interest even if the view consisted of voluminous bathing suit, lacking in compliment to the wearers who were temporarily deprived of their external, promotional attire. But this was in the old days before the beer swilling proletarian hordes arrived. By association then it was only a crime for a gentleman and not a lad from a metal foundry or some other common industry or employment. It was also now quaintly out of date to heed the advice on sea bathing, which was to ritually bathe three times and dip the head under the water three times. The bathing attendant did it for you if you were too timid or unsure of how to do it yourself. An incident in the late September of 1852 could be described equally as tragic or foolish. An un-named woman had allowed the bathing attendant to dip her child in the sea for the three traditional times but the struggling little toddler didn’t know what was happening to it and, screaming and writhing in fear which both the mother and the attendant ignored as an unreasonable objection by the child, it filled its tiny lungs with water and drowned. That’s of course if it hadn’t died of fright beforehand. The scene on the beach at the time must have been one of dire confusion, consternation mixed with horror, compassion and condemnation. That tradition for the triple dip was now for the more demure folk or those that didn’t take too easy to change. Times had advanced and had changed the rules to different things, and different people. Now it was, ‘just get in there’, and splash away the dire incarceration of factory life for the few moments of a single day! It was Blackpool offering its important contribution to progress. Bathing became dictated by the need not the rules. Women’s and men’s bathing machines gradually nudged themselves closer, to the interest of many or to the horror of others, and objectively described as ‘promiscuous’ bathing. Women could be seen dressed in flimsy, clinging, garments intimately giving away the detail of shape and form otherwise denied to the gaze of the world while the men, with whom they engaged in splashing fun could be dressed, if not in unflattering drawers, then in nothing at all, though perhaps those of more demure or retiring nature or the careless inevitability of the ithyphallic might keep the depth of the rolling waters above their waists when ridicule or horror might subvert the excitement of pride.
A visitor from Liverpool saw the town in 1856 in the following, contrasting way (which was after it had been cleaned up a little); ‘Blackpool presents every comfort, combined with cleanliness and economy, and it is not going too far to state that its private lodgings and hotels will bear comparison with the best-conducted in the kingdom. The stranger cannot be wrong if he stops at Rossall’s or Birch’s; the Lane Ends, Beach, Albion, Wellington, or Adelphi hotels; goes to Robinson’s, Duke’s, Brewers, or Craggs, besides others arranged in descending ratio to accord with the pocketology of the visitor. Pater-familias, anxious to get rid of his superfluous cash, may beat it occasionally – get blood horses from Noblet or Hayes – traps drawn by single or double ‘tits’ – canter on Jerusalem ponies –give fourpennies to hurdy-gurdyists, accordionists (the Liverpool street boy the best), black faced minstrels, harpists, violinists, banjoists, ad infinitum ad nauseam; or go to Viener’s or Eccleston’s bazaars – buy horses for Fred fit to run for the Bellinger – or Boomerang toys fit for the Black-ball ships; or if Ma looks uncommonly well, as she always does at the sea side, go to Preston’s Temple of Arts and have her portrait taken, the centre of the family group with Pa and Charles on the left and Dick and Polly on the right, with Frisk the active sea-side dog, on little Polly’s knee, if he will only be still – vain hope. It need only be added to set all the Dicky Sams on the qui vive, that a beach is a mile and a half long (thanks to the improvement committee) that Fleetwood, puny and significant as a port, is within an hour’s drive; that there are lots of opportunities for the Liverpool merchants to argue and bet bottles of champagne with the Manchester men on the town dues question; that the Lime Street folk (good souls) are sending some three or four trains a day, at about third class fares, with first class carriages, bring choice of 14 days to return in – and everything has been stated here to introduce into Blackpool more people during the next month of October from Liverpool than have been there for the last 50 years.’ Liverpool Echo 1856.
Note; a Dicky Sam is someone from Liverpool (had to look this up); nowadays a scouser. The Black Ball ships are variously shipping lines that operated between Liverpool and both USA and Australia. A 55 day voyage would get you to Australia with all the mail from the homeland sailing on the 5th of each month from Liverpool. The Company were proud of their ships, being well-equipped with comforts and amenities– including a cow (I guess so no-one would have to miss their cups of tea) and the fastest of the fleets. Weblinks in the end pages. Rossall’s is now the Metropole, Birch’s Clifton Arms, Mr Robinson’s Royal Hotel, Noblet probably John Noblett, livery and stable keeper of Albert Terrace. Hayes is probably John B Hayes from Lytham. The Temple of Arts built in 1847 (blue plaque) was occupied by John Eastham, photographer and up for auction in 1854 as a suitable premises for an inn or public building, before John Preston, photographer, acquired it. I assume the ‘double tits’ to be a pair of mares, though this could be a somewhat prejudicial assumption.
In September 1859 a former visitor to Blackpool who was experiencing Southport, but making reference to Blackpool, compares the towns in a somewhat verbose language;
…’And then, again, there are the hucksters and vendors of night caps and nutmeg graters, mussels and marbles, toys and tea cakes, toffy and tripe and Ormskirk gingerbread, with all the other little trifles that are always hawked about in every crowd, who seem to have got extra powers here … and they persecute visitors in such an impudent, graceless, merciless style of tyranny, that the sight of a policeman is a luxury that cannot be indulged in too often.’ This of course is a somewhat middle class view of a less affluent group of folk in the same society who mostly have to survive by their wits, and less by their privilege, whether they are an annoyance or not. The cheaper, private accommodation, affordable by the same social group is also criticised as being low grade with an unimaginative décor and service of a basic and naïve quality. Hot water at tuppence (2d. less than 1p) a head and sixpence (6d; a bit more than 2p) for an uncomfortable bed. The correspondent also complains of the donkey drivers who ‘impose upon their patrons and hammer their donkeys’ but do it in Southport more than their ‘Blackpool friends’ without regard to what anyone might think of them.
Or another, cheap trip train journey (Bury Times Saturday august 1859) describes the reality of the trip with a little bit of cynicism, in getting out of bed at 4am, dressing and packing up to make the journey to the railway station where you wait for an age to be packed into a dirty, ill-ventilated carriage in which you endure a four hour journey (Bury to Liverpool in this case) and then you hustle and bustle in a crowd of hundreds before you can get off the train, making sure you have all your packages and children with you. And then you have to get out of the station in a crowd of thousands keeping valuable members of the family together, (a bit like, today, leaving a football stadium after a match). And once out of the station, the crowds continue and fill the markets where you have to hustle and push to get close to the stall if something might take your interest. Or you would continue on with the crowds as they walked along the front being harassed every few steps to buy this, that or other trinket or petty morsel of food. You might queue for a bathing machine and even wear a costume as you dip under the health giving waters which have recently accepted some of the sewage that you and the same crowds in which you are mingled, have produced by drinking the beer and eating the pies on offer and the public toilets are as rare as a policeman. And buying the healthy sea water for drinking and taking it home in a bottle unaware of where the water had come from before being bottled in old gin bottles, watch the Punch and Judy from a distance because you can’t get near and hearing the strains of an organ grinder who probably hadn’t a wash for several weeks.
Blackpool was plebeian, almost philistine and uninteresting, to the imaginative or artistic mind, but who wants to contort their mind with the strictures of artistic appreciation, when the need to blast out from the mind for a day or two, the dirt and the dust and the noise of the oppressive working conditions that have been left behind for the day. There’s time now to observe the girls and the boys and time to get close, or very close or very, very close, or so close it becomes dramatically life–changing and the future is a different place to the one looked forward to on the crowded morning train. During WW1 the poet Wilfrid Owen didn’t like Blackpool and reluctantly visited the town from his hotel accommodation in Fleetwood. However the intellectual content of the RAMC stationed in the town included many poets and artists. He could have nipped in there for a pint and a discourse. The same human emotion was played out on the Blackpool Prom as in the further reaches of the poetic mind, delivered only in a different language.
And the correspondent continued to observe. The early morning rise for the journey meant a hurried breakfast and on the crowded station, the cruel parting of friends, final words perhaps prevented from reaching the ears by the loud hissing of steam from the engines and the noise of the crowds. And the crowded return carriage back home might be full of pleasant conversation, or of unselfconscious broad jokes which would make the ears of a sensitive person curl up. There might be an old lady in green bombardine with three boxes, two bottles, a warming pan and snuff box. An old man with a cold and a bad chest who had a kitten under his jumper to keep his chest warm. A young man with a clay pipe and who was self-consciously whistling a tune. A chap who was continuously telling boring stories and expecting everyone to laugh and react. And hours of this! Bless the inventor who made train journeys shorter! And a young girl, pretty in pink, but who had a dirty neck. You contrived to be in largely good humorous mood, whether you liked it or not since you had these people around you for several hours on the longer journies. Pastries might be shared while the carriage rocked and shook for the all the hours of the journey till home was reached, and the one day off in six for the worker had reached its conclusion.
Arriving at Blackpool, mid or late morning, you would walk on the sands, if you didn’t mind getting your shoes wet or dirty, and it could be an energetic exercise since there was so much of it and there was much to look at. You would be in the company of many strollers who were watching the many more active folk. The ladies in modest blue bathing dresses focussed the eyes as they demurely dipped themselves in the waves. Gentleman in drawers that perhaps didn’t adhere to a sense of the aesthetics of the human body who dived into the waves with less inhibitions than the women. And plenty of over-sized folk on donkeys which look underfed, and whose accelerator to produce movement or speed was the repeated thrashing of a stick by the driver, who would have to keep a supply of sticks after they continually snapped with the beatings, walking alongside. With their equine cousins the horses, ribs protruding, pulling carriages which looked none too safe, they did not have the benefit of the definitive rights of care that they possess today. That’s what it seemed to the outside observer, anyway, and it was a while before regulations would come in to the animal’s favour.
And there were children building castles in the sand, old people, with less energy, becoming redder in the face as the sun burnt them, or squinting out of eyes looking out to sea with poorly focussed glasses, wondering what was that on the horizon, a three-masted tall ship or a disgustingly wobbly bottom, boatmen competing and continually plying for custom, hawkers, trying to look the part, dressed to look good to reflect the quality and authenticity of their wares, but not making a very good job of it as the sceptical observer could note. And there were concertina and accordion players who ‘murder popular airs, and excel in impudence’, sentimental serenaders fuelled with the confidence of gin.
There were Afro-American singers who spoke with Irish accents and the black of their faces didn’t cover every inch. They were called negroes or worse, with impunity. Black was cute, they were those lesser beings who could be ridiculed and patronised and caricatured. There are still camp followers today who sycophantically trudge behind the invading armies of Hengist and Horsa unable to determine the quality of the colour black. And there were ostlers in striped jackets and always chewing straws waiting by the carriages. Generally the dress was very dour, if not black then brown or an unadventurous tweed, while the ladies might be a little more colourful. If not, they would be hidden beneath all-covering dark dresses and further covered with brightly coloured shawls and the sun kept further way by the little parasols that they held.
But it was noise and it was the freedom of a day from the necessary function of virtual life as a machine part for the day tripper from the industrial heartlands of the North West and beyond, if perhaps a little of inconvenience for those who could afford to patronise the posher hotels but nevertheless take the advantage of the cheap tickets on offer.
And there were the bathing machines. The sea was an unknown quantity to the first time dipper. Undressing inside a machine was like the apprehension of a climbing roller coaster, waiting for the g-force of the drop. Once contortedly in costume, or for the men at least, occasionally without anything at all before bye-laws were brought in to ensure all bathing machines provided their male customers with suitable ‘drawers’. For those fortunate enough to have a bath facility at home, it was still a rude wakening to be immersed in the vast quantities of water of a seemingly endless sea, unlike the few gallons of a bath-tub. The first time for you in public. The bathing machine attendant would dip you the three standard times under the water and then you would, theoretically anyway, feel much more healthy, and then have the even more awkward and cramped effort of getting dry and dressed. There were bathing disasters and tragedies as well as horses shying and running away with the bathing machine. And there many drowning tragedies over the years too. And it wasn’t just the bodies of unfortunate and often unknown mariners that were often washed ashore.
The correspondent who provided much of the information above was staying at the Wellington Hotel, abode of the Bickerstaffe’s though he may not have known that at the time, and was one of the very few correspondents on any line of work or modern film that actually went to the toilet, after which he had tea and gazed out of the open window of his room across the evening beach, where today’s central pier would be constructed in less than a decade’s time, (but called the south pier then) and where the throngs of visitors were eking out every last moment of the limited few hours of their day’s holiday escape.
After tea, this correspondent and his travelling companion then decided to walk through the town, to the extent that it was a town. The buildings didn’t represent a design to excite the imagination or enquire after the architect. While the hotels showed some style they were a little overdone in decoration, the smaller, private cottages and houses were mostly the same old functional stuff with little imagination about their construction. St John’s Church of 1821, and its further improvements, was nevertheless an uninspiring brick building at least until the 1870’s re-build and, in 1859 only the new, Pugin-built Catholic Church in the town came in for his praise. The market house was a ‘low, dark and insignificant building’ as was the fish market. He was pleasantly surprised to find Viener’s bazaar, recently located to new premises on Talbot Road. Here you could get everything that was ‘neat, elegant, useful and ornamental’, from books, bags, work boxes, jewellery, Jew’s harps, bracelets, desks, drums and more. Back at the hotel at the end of the evening they called for the bootjack, chambermaid, slippers, candles and, with a swig of brandy, retired for the evening, and were soon ‘soundly asleep betwixt the snowy sheets.’ Perhaps they shared the same bed but were only ever interested in sleep. Beds were shared as was the norm.
The morning was a rush as they were up late as the sea air, the exercise and the brandy had been conducive to a good sleep and the breakfast of tea, coffee, eggs, ham, beef and bread was quickly eaten after which they jumped into a rackety carriage to take them to the railway station.
Cheap Ticket rides 1858
By November 1859 a new express train would run between Manchester and Blackpool and Manchester and Lytham and would take one and a half hours.
The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, the private company operating in the North West and Yorkshire, advertised its cheap rates in the newspapers to any of the popular holiday destinations on the line run by the company, ‘members of institutions, mill hands, conductors of Sunday-schools, and others will be liberally treated for day excursions.’
These day trippers arrived in great numbers often as those organised work parties, charities or societies. Each group could number thousands in their parties especially on a weekend, Sunday being particularly the busiest on occasion.
But the trips didn’t always pass by without incident to dent the potential enjoyment. There were accidents, deaths, delays and court cases and the insurance companies get in on the act as part of their business. For a single journey an insurance of £1,000 could be taken out at 3d (bit more than 1p), for first class, 2d for £500 in second class and 1d for £200 in third class.
And to take advantage of the cheap, block tickets, individuals or small numbers of friends themselves advertised in the papers to any group that had spare tickets.
This paper being the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of Wednesday June 16th 1858. Perhaps they got their tickets or perhaps not, but the following week three young ladies were advertising again in the same paper.
An agent in Heywood in the summer of 1857 had advertised a trip to Blackpool at 2s (10p) for men and 1s (5p) for ladies. However there was great confusion on the platform as the stock of tickets, especially the 1s ones ran out and then there was further confusion as the scheduled train rushed through the station without stopping, leaving a packed station of hopeful travellers waiting another three hours for another train to Blackpool. You had to go to the station to get a ticket. It wold be another hundred years and more before one cold be ordered by phone via the Internet. The railway officials gave the excuse that not enough tickets had arrived at the station and they were also short of carriages since the day coincided with Doncaster races and they were needed for that. By late morning however a train of 30 carriages arrived and actually stopped and took the passengers for a much shortened day out at that favourite watering place, the Brighton of the North. A bit of a blip. Nothing can forever run smoothly. Today’s ubiquitous ‘f’ word of universal meaning of contempt, popularised I think by American troops of WW2, might well have been popularised nearly a century earlier on that day had it already had a popular existence. In the same summer season the hundred mile return trip from Manchester was conducted without incident at the same price and thousands of 1s ticket holders enjoyed a full day out.
It wasn’t the only time that there wasn’t the capacity to take the number of passengers that wanted a day out in Blackpool. Tickets had to be refused to some of the 4,000 people who were packed onto the platform of the Trinity Station in Bolton because there were not enough carriages to accommodate them all. Ticket touts flourished before the greater price that you could get for a ticket outweighed the desire to go to Blackpool for a day. You could wait for another cheap deal another day and have plenty of spare cash to spend at the seaside destination. The train with the lucky, or out-of-pocket passengers on board, had set off early morning and had returned by 11.30 with no doubt a lot of tired passengers in its carriages. £1,000 was taken in ticket sales on that day.
Some people however, did not get home at all. In June of 1857 a man was travelling back to Manchester and put his head out of the window and sadly, catching it against a bridge was killed. ‘His brains were dashed out and he was killed instantaneously’.
In June of the same year a school party of 700 ‘excursionists’, as the paper describes them, travelled to Blackpool for a day out. They were from the Hope Chapel School in Salford and presumably supervised for most of the time. On the way back however, a few young lads clambered up onto the canvas roof of the carriage they were travelling in, despite the warnings of other passengers. They were having a bit of a lark and travelled in that manner out of Preston. One of the lads became distracted and waved his handkerchief to some people on a bridge who were egging the lads on. For some reason he didn’t think to duck before a bridge, and his head collided with the structure collapsing him into the arms of the lad next to him and he was seriously injured, losing ‘a good deal of blood and probably two or three teaspoons of cerebral matter.’ He was not expected to live.
30 year old John Cassell was also killed at the end of a day out by train. He was going to back to North Dean (which I guess is the Keighley one) and the train had stopped at Black Lane Station between Bolton and Bury. He was a man of stable character it seemed, and he was in the company of friends one of whom was his girlfriend (‘a young woman to whom he was particularly attached’) and he was well liked. He had stepped out of the carriage at the station to get some water but on his way back onto the carriage he slipped and fell between the platform and the train. Presumably the train could not be stopped as all the carriages passed over him as the train was moving. When his body was retrieved by some platelayers ‘his head was frightfully mutilated, and his arms almost severed from his body. Death was instantaneous.’
And of the passengers it was then and it is now, not unusual for at least one of them to be drunk on one journey or other. On the way back from Blackpool to Mytholmroyd after a day trip a Mr John Suthers, described as a reedmaker and in a drunken state began to abuse a young female passenger in the same carriage but he had to deal with a Mr Samuel Whitehead who was a sack agent for a railway company and who jumped up to her defence though was greeted with a thump in the face by Suthers. There would have been quite a kerfuffle in the carriage before things calmed down and the assailant was later arrested and fined both for the assault and for being drunk. He had to pay £2 and £1 5s 6d (£1 30p) costs for the assault and 30s (£1 50) to pay for the insobriety.
Also in July of 1859 James McCullum was on his way back to Belfast from Manchester and, with much of the hard stuff in him, got in a Blackpool carriage instead of a Fleetwood one for the steamer back home. He became aggressive when asked to leave and his mate, William Neill, a Manchester man, got in on the act and aggressively obstructed the guards when they had asked him to leave. They were both fined 20s (£1) and the magistrate warned that drunkenness would not be tolerated on the railways. July was not a good month for railway workers as a porter was kicked in the face by a man recorded only as Eccles on the station at Accrington on the cheap excursion night train back from Blackpool to Burnley. He admitted the charge straightaway and was fined 10s (50p) and costs.
And there were fare dodgers, sometimes hiding behind the contrived innocence of ignorance. In the late season of 1854 George Hill, a wool stapler of Luddenfoot took his son to Blackpool in June of that year and, as his son was under three years of age he did not need to buy a ticket for him. He had left his son at Blackpool for some weeks, I guess with relatives, unless of course he had already packed off his wife to Blackpool, and in the meantime his son had passed his third birthday so when he was collected by his father, he should have had a ticket. Inspector and railway police were present on the trains and one of them had collared George Hill for not having a ticket for his son. He claimed he had enquired about whether a ticket was needed or not and was told that it was not. This does happen all the time. One person says one thing, you think it’s genuinely right but find out that it’s genuinely wrong, because another person says so. George White resolved to appeal his case but whether he did so or not is not known but in the meantime he was fined £2 with 14s 6d (72½p) costs.
In mid June of 1857 there was an unusual reason for an influx of visitors to Blackpool in the form of a comet that was about to hit the earth and the people of Preston had become particularly alarmed. Fire proof safes had been in large demand as the ‘end’ might have been nigh, a cataclysm which could be survived by the privileged and their valuables retrieved if they were some of the lucky ones. Similar I suppose to the building of private underground bunkers in the event of a nuclear war reflected the fear of some people during the Cold War of the 1950’s. People immigrated to Blackpool in panic in the belief that the comet, if it should strike the earth would not have as big an effect there for some reason. Blackpool was already then a place of refuge from the ills of life, or somewhere you would want to send your partner if you wanted to be rid of them for a few days and it would not necessarily be just away from the horrors of war ‘far away from the Zeppelins’, of WW1 or the harshness of living and working conditions. It was the mother who was always there to whom you would rush in a time of need, clinging to her skirt with your thumb in your mouth as a comforter. Businesses were sold up at a loss in order to get away from the approaching Armageddon. One ‘gentleman’ a pig dealer, sold all his stock of pigs at the market in order to retreat from the approaching comet and Blackpool provided that maternally endearing escape from it. He didn’t make any friends on the pig market as there were so many pigs it caused a drop in the price of the animals. Good for the buyer who didn’t believe the comet would strike Preston and bad for the sellers whether they believed it would strike or not. Booksellers were the ones to profit besides those who bought cheap pigs. A 1d (one penny, and less than 1p) copy of the description of the comet made a good profit. Many people in Blackburn stayed up all night watching the skies and in Darwen many people went up to the coal pit at Blacksnape for, if the comet should fall, they could nip down the coal shafts for safety. Somebody in Swansea was flying a kite with a lantern attached to it and caused a panic since many folk thought it was the comet. Perhaps just a bit of Welsh humour, maybe. An Irishman being burnt out of his house in Scotland and probably not for the first time and thoroughly sick of the Irish land laws even persisting in Scotland, merely stated that ’so what?’ If the comet is going to strike then he was going to be burnt to a cinder anyway. A little bit of stoical Irish humour.
Though the Oddfellows had their Wellington Lodge in Blackpool, in Ethan Carter’s Adelphi Hotel, there were those from out of town who would have come by train. The ladies get in cheaper again.
But these swarms of cheap ticket riders vacating the inland towns and mixing with the first and second class passengers and enduring their contempt, for a day out at the seaside were a cause of concern for the economies of the towns they were deserting. At a cost of 3s (15p) for the day out including the fare, (could be as little as half a crown; 2s 6d or 25p in the 1850’s) and the stationmaster of Blackpool North claiming that on an August Saturday in 1851, 12,000 people visited the town on the cheap excursions, a single town would lose out an estimated £1800 of expenditure, despite the fact that these people would bring their own provisions with them, spent in the town they were vacating for the day. But the canny shopkeeper would fight back. The Duke of York Inn on Friargate in Preston assured the cheap day trippers that it would be ‘very much to their advantage to purchase their wines and spirits’ at the Inn before leaving. Sensible competition. By 1853 proposals and share applications for a direct route from Preston to Blackpool through the increasingly popular watering places of Lytham and South Shore were advertised.
Beginning of the season costs to Blackpool from Wakefield in April 1859. A 28 day return ticket was now available. In June of the same year a special train from Manchester to Blackpool via Preston was advertised at a cost of 1s 2d (8p). It would set off at 9.30am and return at 7.05pm, though no luggage was allowed.
And everyone came. Workers’ annual trips and religious groups and conferences, and the poor were given trips by charitable organisations and in 1854 this included the poor people from Preston, one of whom was 103 years old and the other 99, both from the workhouse and they probably didn’t take off their clothes and rush headlong into the inviting sea, revealing their wrinkly bottoms. The Oddfellows were also responsible for bringing parties to Blackpool. In 1858 in connection with the Widows and Orphans Fund, such a trip was brought to the town. Even today in an age of public social security, there is still a great reliance on the magnanimity and the generosity of volunteers to keep the sentiment of charity alive. Hospitals and heritage rely heavily upon the generosity and the time of the volunteers.
The trips of course, were cheap and because they were cheap, (1s; 5p day return for a child under 15 and the same price for adults with an offer) the railway companies packed as many fare paying passengers as possible into the carriages. Occasionally a well-wishing employer would offer cheap trips to the ladies to the ‘famous sea bathing place of Blackpool’ but, if the men wanted to go too, then they were very welcome but had to pay a little extra for the privilege. It was never a smooth ride, bumping and clanging and swaying and starting and stopping in carriages that could be open to the elements and devoid of seating, ‘not even a strand of straw to sit upon’ bemoaned one unfortunate traveller.
The carriages, closed or open contained a variety of folk mostly in escape from their working and living conditions. But you can’t wear your work clothes for a day’s holiday. You have to get somewhere near your Sunday best and this would be old or borrowed clothes worn with a certain amount of pride, in a solecism of fashion statement and mixed with the discomfort of strangeness. Some, in their dirt and grime have been described as more like the Australian diggers from Bendigo or Ballarat, towns also known for their frontier lawlessness, so it was a further dig at these innocent travellers who just wanted the privilege of a day out to behave for 24 hours like human beings rather than an impersonal extension of a machine process for the greater percentage of their daily lives. And the language was crude, not in its content but in its projection and expression in the ears of those rich enough to be able afford the time and cost of more regular travel. And this mix of people which included families and groups of single sexes fine-tuned with an excitement that would dispel itself in the waves and the sea air on foot or on donkey back (the Jerusalem ponies as they have been called). Or listening to the band that was projected to play on the promenade by the late 1850’s in the contentment of family relationship or the excitement of new found friends in increasing closeness of bodily contact.
And ‘an enemy of cheap travel’ complained that despite pre-booking accommodation, he was nevertheless obliged to spend the night with his wife and family on the stone kitchen floor. Chairs, sofas, floors and even bathing machines, were used as emergency accommodation. The beds themselves were occupied both day and night, in the style of Aldous Huxley’s Wigan Pier, and was not particularly unusual. When the morning came and the occupant got up, those that had been walking the streets all night with distressed and crying children, might have the luxury of a bed to rest in. It would not be to consider the accommodation owners human if they didn’t charge double for the occupancy of the beds, since charity and profit aren’t themselves compatible bedfellows, but perhaps the owners were so inundated with the demand for beds that, if they could make a bob or two out of it in the efforts of their provision, then c’est la vie.
These cheap excursions must have been profitable for the railway companies, or perhaps they were underwritten by the high fares of normal travel, so much so that a group of residents in the Fylde got together to subscribe to a number of coaches to travel the popular out of town routes which would undercut the rail fares. The railway was in danger of taking away the monopoly of the age-old method of coach travel which was fighting back in much the same way as air travel was held under suspicion as a rival when its popularity began to chew into rail and coach profits in the next century. The popularity of air travel was promoted by that friend of both Blackpool and Amy Johnson, William Courtenay, at one time in a plane called appropriately, ‘Blackpool’. But that was for the future. In this era of the mid 19th century, daring and adventurous folk, including many women, who apart from an occasional titillation, kept their clothes on, were confined to balloons, and then airships, demonstrated at Blackpool by Stanley Spencer before the heavier than air machines got off the ground in just over half a century’s time.
The excursionists nevertheless had to get home, and occasionally this could be fraught with danger. In late August of 1855 an excursion train of fifty carriages, having set off at 6pm from Blackpool, was stranded through running out of water in the Summit tunnel at 2am. It was pitch black even if they hadn’t been in the tunnel, and many of the passengers would have been asleep through sheer exhaustion and they would have been startled from any pleasant dreams by a goods train running in to the back of them. Two of the rear carriages were severely shattered and passengers were thrown across the tracks, one of whom suffered a broken hip but fortunately there were no more serious injuries. The Summit tunnel was on the line from Leeds to Manchester and through which the thousands of day trippers from Yorkshire would travel for their day out in Blackpool. It is one of the oldest railway tunnels in the world (Wiki). Of course, at that time, it would have been one of the youngest.
Sadly a cheap day out at Blackpool did not favour everybody. In June of 1857 a young girl, Mary Atkinson and only 23 years of age, hired a bathing machine off Mr John Crookall. He was dipping her in the sea when she began to faint, so he took her into the machine where, it was diagnosed later, she died there due to a weak heart. To be dipped under water might have been a strange and unique experience for Mary, which might have not been without apprehension. Grown men (if they are to be erroneously considered the criterion of stability and toughness) had expressed the nervousness of undergoing such a ritual. The well to do might have had a bath facility at home, the poor didn’t, and it might have been too much of an anxiety for her. Facing the might of the uncompromising ocean is a little different to stepping into the limited dimensions of a bath tub or washing at an outside stand pump.
In 1858, poor old (or young) Sarah Hewitt of Purston Jaglin, (a new name to me; I had to look it up) near Featherstone, should never have thought of going to Blackpool for the day for she was struck by lightning and killed instantly as she was getting ready. She was at home and, since it had begun raining heavily, she went to get her umbrella when suddenly there was a loud clap of thunder and a blinding flash of light. A brick was blown out of the chimney and the clock on the chimney breast was broken by it. Sarah was found on the ladder to the ‘chamber’ (not sure whether this was up or down to the chamber), and one of her boots was ripped open. With difficulty, the landlord and his wife extricated her from the ladder but she had died before she could be offered any medical assistance.
Also in 1858 Martha Swithenbank had had a good day out in the town but when she got back on the train to return to Bradford, she felt faint and became unconscious and remained like that until she had reached her destination where she was found to be dead at the station. Perhaps it was the excitement of Blackpool or maybe the depression of the necessity of returning to the mundane nature of day to day life.
Blackpool was also a place to come to for the health, but it didn’t help everybody. In August of 1858 Mrs Elizabeth Smalley, a grocer’s wife from Accrington came to stay in the town with her sisters. Her illness must have been quite severe and one that could not remedied with the medicine of the day. After several weeks of hoping to get better, she was found on her bed with her silk handkerchief tied loosely round her neck and attached to the bedpost. Even though Dr Cocker attended along with chemist Mr Moore, cause of death could not be determined as suicide, but rather a disease of the heart. Perhaps the doctors were being kind and compassionate.
For those travellers who could afford the first or, perhaps, second class carriages, there would be no cold floors to sleep on at night, but comfortable accommodation and fare provided by those innkeepers who were prepared to please for a price. There would be a regulated dip in the sea rather than a crude surge for the waves revealing legs or garters. They could have their photograph taken, if the photographer wasn’t drunk of course. In 1858 Richard Holt, a photographic portrait taker of South Beach, was found asleep in Preston New Road and when woken up by a constable he became abusive and assaulted the constable. He was fined 5s (25p). He was perhaps unlucky that the only policeman in the town happened to be passing at the time.
And death is the same for all folk, whether you are first, second, or third class or even have to walk all the way. The mayor of Oldham, Mr George Barlow, a long serving and popular chap of his home town for over 30 years, had returned from Blackpool in the September of 1859 and immediately began to feel unwell and, after a short illness, died at the young age of 54. He was expecting to retire from public life at the end of his mayoralty.
It was customary to go to Blackpool for the health giving properties of the air and convalescence and this was considered an important consideration over and above the pleasures of donkey riding, drinking and meeting people essentially as part of being in the town. However if you want to convalesce it is dangerous to bring with you your seventeen year old ward, a niece of your wife’s who has been brought up as a part of the family. Up pops a ‘canny Scotsman’ to sweep the young girl off her feet. Her parents were so concerned that they sent the girl back to Huddersfield their home town but the Scotsman followed her and found her, and they ran off together before the parents returned. The parents got her back, no doubt with the mindset of the day on their side but again the Scotsman, with blind passion or ineluctable infatuation followed. The story ends there, at least in the report of the story. Whether they got together or not is not known. My grandmother was swept off her feet in Blackpool by a Scotsman. Unlike the man above, his name is known but little else is revealed about him. She had come to Blackpool with her husband during WW1 and her husband left for France and never returned and is now just a name on a memorial. Broken hearted she was lured into a relationship to fill the empty space in her life. And the Scotsman filled it for a short while. But he was a bit of a bugger who eventually left for good, leaving my grandmother to nurse my mother, whom they had created together. Neither my mother nor her two half-sisters knew who their fathers were. My mother was told that her father was the chap who let the water into the circus for the seals at the aqua show at the end. But he wasn’t. He was he chap who buggered off back to Scotland never to be seen again. His father had allegedly worked on the construction of the Tower after the completion of the Forth Bridge in 1891, and the Tower construction was started shortly afterwards.
Where the town wasn’t the sole prerogative of the cheap ticket excursionists, there was provision for those of means. In 1858 the brother of Major General Havelock, had come to the town for his health and to visit by day trip from the cotton manufacturing town of Preston. General Havelock was that most revered man, and a typical Victorian gentleman of styled hair and generous, fluffy-white sideburns of Lucknow fame who had taken the city from the Indian rebels, too late to have prevented a massacre of the inhabitants. It was a time at which the church collection boxes of St John’s Church tinkled with the sound of coins for the relief of those suffering in those Indian mutinies (presumably only those Brits and allies who suffered). Once General Havelock had gained access to the city it had itself become besieged by a larger force of the enemy (who were actually the people who lived there and whose heritage they wanted to retrieve) and then he died of dysentery under the severe conditions of siege, before the city could be relieved. He was a good soldier by all accounts and had a charitable, ‘Christian’ heart which put him in good stead in the conservative religion of his homeland. But it was his brother who was visiting the town, not he, though no doubt riding high on his own brother’s fame. Eventually a statue of the general was built in Trafalgar Square, such was the rush of emotion towards him. So it was a good time to be the brother of a hero.
My G5 grandfather was Prussian, a quarter gunner in the British navy, and he was working in Carlisle as a weaver at the time of Waterloo. It would probably have been good to have been Prussian at the time. It was the Prussians who had dug Wellington out of a hole at Waterloo arriving, like the US cavalry in a cowboy film, in the nick of time.
So in Blackpool, there were posh hotels for posh people as much as there were floors and multi-occupancy beds for the non-posh people. In September of the same year, Rossall’s Hotel, quite a posh hotel, which is now the Metropole, accommodated Miss Burdett Coutts and her party, which was probably quite a numerous one consisting of friends and attendants for she was the richest woman in Britain. I guess she enjoyed her stay for she remained for quite a while and, on leaving, she donated £10 to be divided equally between the Blackpool Infant School and the Blackpool Provident Society. Using the online inflation calculator, £10 would be equivalent to a spending power of about £1,246 today. Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts was a philanthropic woman of the Church and in society in general and a friend of Charles Dickens and she conducted much charitable work for the poor and needy in London and under her presidency the NSPCC was founded. (thanks, Wiki). She was in the company of Lord and Lady Sinclair. Thanks to Wiki again, James Sinclair, 14th Earl of Caithness and seemingly Liberal in politics, was also an accomplished inventor. Though concerned with creating and modifying machines using steam with an eye to the efficiency of their future use, he also diversified into inventing a false leg, though presumably not steam driven. While Blackpool was a centre for the assessment of false eyes during WW1 there were many men in need of false legs at the hospitals and large Convalescent Camp. When I worked at Norcross for the then DHSS, a first ‘proper’ job after a few years of chopping and changing, I was on the War Pensions awards and there were men from WW1 who were still receiving their pensions after fifty years of being alive with none, or perhaps, luckily a single leg. Perhaps James Sinclair had seen first-hand the injured men returning from the Crimea. An ancestor of mine, a cousin I think, of my great grandfather lost a leg in the Crimea. He was naval man from Plymouth. Even with one leg though he couldn’t keep away from the sea and got a job transferring personnel by rowing boat from the shore to their ships moored in the Hamaoze. Perhaps he had a false leg and perhaps it had something to do James Sinclair’s inventiveness.
It wasn’t only the day trippers that made the journey to the coast. Birds, possessed with the freedom of flight, and din’t need a train ticket, to the envy of the human being below them. Insects, too. There was a swarm of sand flies one year in 1968 while I was working on the deckchairs after school had finished officially for the last time. They were quite a nuisance and deckchair sales were reduced in number that day. Fortunately however they were not locusts as in late in the year of 1857 when three locusts were found in the town. Notorious for their swarms which blacken the skies in their densities in various parts of the World, these three must have become detached from the trillions of their friends and one, if correctly identified, at last found its way in to the collector’s jar of confectioner, Mr Brown of West Street in the town. It lived for a couple of weeks and then laid eggs, which was perhaps, the evidence might suggest, the original intentions of lady locust’s decision to come to Blackpool with a man friend for the weekend.
In 1858 the railway companies experimented on the Manchester to Blackpool line by using coal instead of coke as the fuel. The cost per ton was less than half the price (5s 3d – 26p – as opposed to 11s 6d -57p- for coke) and the consumption was less, making the total cost of the 48 mile trip only 10s (50p). It seems that it was a successful experiment as far as running costs were concerned. However, the cost of converting existing engines would be prohibitive. The Lancashire test had however, demonstrated an affordable and effective conversion. The problem with the dirtiness of smoke though had not been addressed, and the towns and stations and countryside and passengers had to put up with it. A Parliamentary Bill requiring all new engines to burn the smoke that they use thus preventing the universal distribution of dirty smoke nuisance to places where it shouldn’t be allowed, and liability resting upon the shareholders and owners, had yet to be tested in law. Some towns were threatening to sue the railways. By 1850 in Liverpool there were fines imposed on factory owners and a steam boat owner for not dealing with smoke effectively. The smoke and grime of the cities was in stark contrast to the fresh breezes of the non-industrial, coastal watering places and emphasised their status and increased their charm.
Oh! For the fresh breezes of Blackpool!
So by 1850, it becomes evident that there have been four main elements which were responsible for the development of Blackpool and the creation of the town as it is today. The first, probably in a correct chronological order, is its presence next to the sea, the second is the continuity of the severe storms that visited the coast and carried the sea some distance inland to endanger life and property, the third is the arrival of the railways after 1846 when the town found it had to cater for vastly larger numbers of people than it had been used to and the fourth is the Health Act of 1848 which was responsible for Blackpool creating its first definitive boundaries and a group of formally elected administrators, which ultimately became today’s town Council.
The Storm of 1850
The storm of 7th October 1850 was described as a hurricane ‘the likes of which had not been witnessed since 1839’, which was only 11 years since, and which probably implies a consistent occurrence of lesser, violent marine visitations to the land, and were observed by many folk, inhabitants and visitors alike, though more of a spectacle to the visitors who would not have been used to such dramatic events, at least those that involved the sea too. At this earlier date the whole of the northwest suffered great damage, but the area of the coastal Fylde was particularly susceptible to storm damage. Cottages were stripped of their thatched roofs, windows were blown out of the more substantial houses, slates blown off these roofs with violence and chimney stacks tumbled. Mr Dickson’s hotel lost many of the slates from its west facing roof and Mr Nickson’s Albion a little further south had most of its windows blown out. Many vessels were torn from their moorings in the River Ribble and scattered to Freckleton and Lytham. Even the three ton Ribble buoy was torn from its fixed point and carried as far as Red Bank in Bispham. The Fylde coast shore was littered with the spilled and high value cargo of wrecked shipping which included chests of tea, bales of cotton and other cloths and even, unusually perhaps, elephants’ teeth. It’s known that some of the crews were saved and others lost their lives. Some of the cargos bound for as far away as India were recovered by customs officers, others not, and collected by anybody who could get at them first, and still more cargo was ruined.
During twelve hours of severe wind, thunder, rain and lightning, that ‘electric fluid’ which could kill livestock and did so with one of Mr Thomas Moore’s cows of Blowing’ Sands (sadly Thomas Moore wasn’t one of those successful businessmen who by luck, skill or clever deception made their money since, by 1858 he had become bankrupt.) The storm shook and rocked houses causing the occupants to ‘rise out of their beds’ in case their houses fell in upon them. Chimneys came down and slates were ripped off the roofs.
A vessel, the Portia, on its way from Liverpool to Troon and from there, with the expectations of reaching the Mediterranean with its cargo, found its destiny unexpectedly to be the beach by the Gynn where its crew were saved by those on the shore at first firing a line from a rocket to the wreck. A rocket line had recently been invented by a Mr Carte and a station for firing it constructed and paid for by Benjamn Heywood opposite his mansion where the trials of 1845 had been witnessed by a large crowd. The East coast already had, it is reported, fourteen of these stations, and it was claimed that nearly three hundred lives had been saved since its introduction in 1839. Blackpool was the first town on the west coast to have one. The vessel was later towed to Fleetwood where it was sold at auction. Further north, beyond Bispham, a body was also washed ashore as if the sea no longer wanted to play around with it. The body belonged to a chap called John Hornby and had been in the sea about seven weeks and was surprisingly very little decomposed.
Some buildings did come down. Part of Dickson’s Hotel was a victim, though here, the confined company of guests and employees were inspired to poetry while the violent storm raged around them, in a scene reminiscent of a ‘Carry On’ film. The Brits have always enjoyed the phlegmatic character attributed to them by other nations, but in order to achieve that reputation they have had to rush headlong into other countries full of adrenalin and flashing sabres so they could create a situation where they could claim to be cool, calm and collected. And its later armies consisted of many a regional Volunteer who had regularly trained in their annual camp at the beaches and sand hills of the Fylde coast. Soon it would be the Crimean War…then India, then Afghanistan, then the Zulus, the Boers, the Boers again then, well, anyone, really. The embankment in front of the hotel was considerably damaged, bit by bit as each line and stanza of the poem, no doubt with the assistance of a drop of wine, was completed as bits of the building dropped off and all, like Joan Simms, ‘feeling a little plastered’. But it wasn’t just this bit of natural embankment that was damaged, it was all the way along until it met the naturally low lying land of the south shore beyond the Yorkshire Hotel where the natural embankment levelled out. Poor old John Worthington, a painter by trade, and probably not inspired to poetry after he had seen one of his buildings collapse. It had been blown down the previous year and before it could be completed again this year, it had been blown down again. Perhaps he should have been a builder by trade instead.
The low lying road in the south shore was completely under water and impassable and the waves crashed against the houses and flooded the gardens. (In 1851 an attempt was made to create a pleasant marine drive between South Shore and its neighbour Blackpool but to no avail, it would need a more substantial effort that could not be afforded in cost and materials at the time). The public walk in front of Benjamin Heywood’s country mansion was awash, and gravel and stone were deposited in front of it in large quantities which took some considerable effort and time to clear after the storm. The sea even reached beyond the protecting palisades of the mansion and enjoyed a little bit of a play within its pleasure grounds. The North Beach road was broken up and left strewn with boulders and other debris when the storm had abated. By the Manchester Hotel, the pleasure boats that had been secured high upon the beach for safety, were shown no mercy as the sea exerted its authority upon them. One went sailing down Lytham Road without a crew, a bath-time plaything thing of the storm.
Many houses saw the seas gatecrash through their hallways, forcing the owners to open their backdoors to let it flow straight through into the fields beyond. It didn’t stop for tea however for at the crucial moment the tide retreated at the order of the moon and the stars though the wind kept up and at the next high tide all the residents were on high alert and stayed up all night. But then the sea took for itself the sailing vessel Sarah. It had been ten days at sea and was only three miles away from its destination at Whitehaven when it was beaten back with the loss of its masts and steering and ended up on the shore, a few yards away from the Manchester Hotel, not a very pleasant place to be shipwrecked with the effluent from the dirty and smelly Spen Dyke discharging there, even before the main sewer had been created and diverted into it. The crew were three hours clinging on for dear life in the rigging with the violent waves crashing over them so close to death that those who wanted to swear would have resorted to prayer instead, feeling so close to their perceived Maker before they could be rescued. They were lucky. The four man crew was rescued and given succour at Mr. Salthouse’s. Probably Mrs. Salthouse fussed over them more than Mr Salthouse but the newspaper report only mentions Mr. Salthouse. Shipwreck was an accepted danger of being mariner. In the becalmed waters of the Doldrums in the hotter climates a waterlogged ship could be idle for weeks before being discovered and rescued with the surviving crew lashed to the masts, which were often the only part still out of the water. If you weren’t rescued you ate your dead colleagues minus the eyeballs since the seagulls might have had them first. Possibly three hours off the coast of Blackpool at dead of night in a violet storm would be preferable since it didn’t last as long. A similar fate almost befell the Charlotte proceeding to Wales expecting to collect a cargo of slate. Had it not been empty of cargo and thus shallow of draught, it would have been stuck on the Horse Bank, a notorious sticking point for drifting, out of control, vessels. It seems, however, that because of shallow draught, it had been able to ride out the storm and eventually sail on.
All along the shore there was a great mess and destruction to be cleared up and losses were provisionally estimated of up to £4,000 in total as the tally of damage began to be calculated.
The seas however, gave as well took from those that dwelt by it, and those who gleaned their living from it. In 1851 there was a glut of herring. The usual occupation of shrimp fishery was overtaken by this plethora for a short time. This excess of surface feeding fish was captured by crudely constructed staked, seine-style, gill nets, before the incoming tide which caught 2,500 of the fish in one go, and collected when the tide had receded. It was a boon for a hardworking, low income, group of folk, whose stock-in-trade was the shrimp harvest. The herring sold for 1s (5p) each. Again in 1857 there was a similar glut and herring sold for 2s 6d per hundred.
From the Scotsman September 1855
The storms of October 1850 had violently inundated the shores with the sea and the waves carried themselves over the roofs in many cases. Any sailing vessel that had been traditionally laid high upon the beach where it would have been expected to have been gently floated upon the two normal, daily tides were carried far inland by the unsuspected fury. The main roads were under water and impassable on foot or in any kind of road transport, so it was quite thoughtful of the sea to do such a thing as to lay a boat at the disposal of the prospective traveller who wanted to travel from one house to another through the flood at some distance inland. Robert Bickerstaffe lost a boat in this way, but he probably didn’t see it as the sea being generous. He also lost a good stock of timber and his sea fence which hadn’t been able to put up much resistance to the violence of the sea. Indeed many pleasure boats were deposited upon the flooded roads, except those that had been rigorously secured. The Manchester Hotel was virtually surrounded by water and a boat ended up in the field behind it and the water swarmed around Mr William Braithwaites Royal Hotel in Hounds Hill.
On the higher cliffs to the north, large lumps of the clay that once belonged to the cliffs had been torn away from them and placed inland and the dykes and drainage channels all along the coast had been breached, backed up and blocked.
The Manchester newspaper which had complained about the poor state of the town also strongly argued the case for a lifeboat at Blackpool (it was a bit of Manchester money, via the prosperous Manchester banker Benjamin Heywood that did in fact eventually provide facilities for the first lifeboat in the town). It also stressed the need for a governing body in the town. Manchester could see it, but Blackpool couldn’t. It’s often easier to look from the outside in as the city was doing, but somebody in Blackpool must have read the newspaper since the desire to improve the town, to make it prosper, was eventually realised. But it would need a good get together of responsible people if it was desired that projected investments would be returned. And they eventually did. Within the authority of this elected group, the sea had to be somewhat controlled and the land somehow cleaned up and the darkness lightened. If they were still muttering indecisively between themselves in Blackpool as to what should be done after 1850, then the storms that arrived in 1852 accelerated that process by emphasising an exigent need.
The Storm of Christmas Day 1852
The violent storms of Christmas Day 1852, can in their destruction, be claimed to be the final reminder for the inevitable need for progress. The extensive damage that was done to the coastline was the motive for a get together of property owners to not only provide some effective defence against the sea but also to clean up the town, pursue the expectations of the Health Act, and provide facilities for their town. These facilities like the practicalities of sanitation via a sewerage system of a sort and a water supply, was to create a promenade to accommodate the visitors and consequent profits for themselves, a good motive for anybody’s ambitions, and also to provide some defence against the sea to protect those people and profits. Many local property owners and hoteliers had suffered damage ranging from minor to extensive and the town was gaining a reputation for being dirty. Many day trippers were going to Southport instead. Something had to be done.
By 1852 a Victorian Christmas had achieved some kind of popularity. It was nine years after the publication of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and, long before the writer visited the town in 1867, when he was a guest of Mr Ralph Rushton (late manager of the Raikes Hall Gardens) at the Beach Hotel. Charles Dickens’ death was shortly after the opening of the carriageway in 1870, a further extension of the promenade which had first been created in the 1850’s, though he would not have been aware of it. He died a long way away at his home in Higham, Kent and, in the association of names, the death of little Alice Higham in front of the Peace Bridge on the new promenade in Blackpool constructed as a consequence of the 1852 storms, perhaps would have made a strong, pathetic character to rival that of Tiny Tim in a novel which could have been written by him, but wasn’t. But he did have a character called Stephen Blackpool in his novel, Hard Times, which was about a northern industrial town, I believe based part on Preston (Wiki again). Here, in the town he was able to observe the working people who he wrote about, as they lost the seriousness of living, and indulged in the carefree abandon of filling the injured space within their lives with as much interest and excitement as possible for just a few hours. Blackpool still attempts to fulfil that function.
Mr Ralph Rushton’s elder son, Ralph, had been, born in Paris in 1879 and, along with his other, Blackpool born, son, Harold, and wife Ellen, there was accommodation in the hotel for employees including a Swiss barmaid, Mina. So he contributed to quite a happy cosmopolitan atmosphere in the town, disrupted by later wars when all foreign born townspeople were immediately turned from friends to fiends in the blink of an eye, and German hotel owners vilified. Even dogs could come under suspicion, if they were a German breed and of course a pigeon owned by a foreigner was undoubtedly a spy, and could be put before a firing squad.
The Beach Hotel had disappeared by 1894 and a large iconic structure was in its place towering over 500 feet above the town, but the hotel had left a legacy in easing the transfer of its drinking licence to the newly erected premises, when there were those who had objected to it and wouldn’t have granted it otherwise.
A new tableau on the cliffs at Bispham in 1935 was a portrayal of Charles Dickens’ arrival in the town by stagecoach where he is met by the ostlers of the Beach Hotel where he stayed.
Perhaps most of the characters in the real live story of Christmas day 1852 in Blackpool had had time to eat their Christmas pudding or cook their goose or pork and consume it with a glass of porter or appropriate spirit or small beer. But, any later celebrations that might have been planned were cut short by an insurance company’s Act of God. On that inauspicious day, the heavens opened and the sea, egged on by a severe gale, invited itself in all along the coast from Preston to Fleetwood.
In Blackpool itself, many of the properties at Fumbler’s Hill (present Cocker Street) were damaged. Virtually all the roof was taken off Mr Rossall’s Dickson’s Hotel, (later known as Rossall’s Hotel, Bailey’s Hotel and later still, the Metropole Hotel.) Mrs Jenny Anne Dickson, the original landlady along with her husband Edward (though she was soon widowed) had taken over the hotel from his father Robert who was running the hotel by 1841. Jenny was from an old established, Marton family, the Shaws. She resided in Queens Square after her husband had died, running a boarding house and, when retired, lived off the income from her properties. Born in 1821 and baptised at St Paul’s in Marton, she eventually died in 1903 at the good old age of 83. During the storms of 1852 she would have rued the fact that her former home and business, from which she lived only a stone’s throw away, had had its roof torn off, but was no doubt, as a business woman from a yeoman farmer family, glad she didn’t have to live there at present nor cover the cost of repair. The structure of her former building was left much like a skeleton, and two houses across the road from the hotel in Albert Terrace suffered extensive, collateral damage as a result. Here, the chimney of Mr McGowan’s house at number 6, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth and six young children, the eldest eight years old, fell through the roof, collapsing into the third storey bedrooms as did that of Mr Cookson’s in which his sister lived. Two houses at the end of this terrace, close to Belle Vue Square – which being the northerly part of what is now Talbot Square and staying with that name until Talbot Road usurped the title to the whole square – and occupied respectively by Mr Lowe and Mr Charnley, had most of their roof slates stripped bare and, similarly, a house built by the luckless Mr Worthington near the railway station lost much of its roof. Some of the aforementioned people don’t appear on the census returns for 1851 at those addresses, so perhaps they had moved in recently to their rented accommodation. And possibly wished they hadn’t.
Storms are a continued feature of the weather and a particular hazard to the coast. Around Christmas time once more in 1853 a severe hurricane swept across the British Isles causing much damage and loss of life, especially at sea. But in 1852 in Blackpool, shops were closed and businesses suspended. Houses were blown down, roofs carried away and windows entirely blown out. The sea was encouraged in by the wind and it enthusiastically flooded many a household with devastating effect, so deep in fact that in one case as reported, a pig was drowned in its sty.
The storm began at 3am and largely abated during the daylight hours but in that short time it had, like the storms before it earned the nefarious reputation of a tsunami in the somewhat romantic eyes of some future historians.
One of the houses that was blown down was that of Mr Shaw and also Mr Moore’s new baths suffered the same fate. The storm of Saturday was reprised on the following Monday and the high tide flooded the land and the whole of the beach, sand hills and coast road of the settlement of South Shore were washed away. The high sea threw railings and debris against the houses closest to the shore. It rushed in through the front doors and windows and rushed out again from the back doors without stopping to say hello or enjoy a glass of ale with the occupants. Between the Manchester Hotel and Stony Hill, up to 12 yards of frontage was washed away. The Catons of the Vauxhall Inn were once more flooded in up to three feet (nearly 1m) of swirling sea water. At the extremes of the Fylde, both Fleetwood and Lytham were awash and the roof of the parish church in Poulton was partly ripped off. Mr Sykes, a farmer near Rossall Cottage lost nine haystacks and livestock, including 30 sheep drowned, and the land of Hesketh Fleetwood further north being largely inundated.
Many other properties were damaged to different extents, losing doors and railings and extensive provisions stored in the cellars. At James and Betty Cragg’s Victoria and Family Hotel on South Beach, stone walling on its sea frontage had been severely disturbed and part collapsed and over sixty panels of glass were smashed by the sea hurling pebbles at them as well as losing a chimney, which would have been quite a frightening time for his two young daughters, Jane and Alice. Jane herself died in 1865, aged just 18 years.
Storms came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In 1854 a tornado, described as a whirlwind, was witnessed off the coast. The heavens suddenly went black followed by a sudden rush of wind and a heavy shower of hail and extremely loud thunderclaps. The sea rose into a water spout and made its way to the shore but petered out before it reached it. It seems to have missed Blackpool and wreaked more havoc in Hambleton where the sails were torn off the mill (which might actually refer to Thornton mill) and Rawcliffe in the Fylde, where thatched roofs were torn off. It was feared that a day of hurricane force winds was to be expected but instead the sun came out and a gloriously warm day was experienced. In a year of portentous celestial events a meteor was observed hurtling from the north in a westerly direction. It was a raging ball of flame over the sea about three miles out before dropping onto the sea in a display of coruscating sparks and flames. Similar meteors had been observed elsewhere in the British Isles, but Blackpool had to have the best one, even before it claimed to be the best by having the best of everything.
But back to the storms of 1852 and moving on to the Royal Hotel, with its good stabling and lock-up coach houses, a requirement of a good hotel, as the wind lashed and the sea inundated the coast ceaselessly and even frighteningly, the ingenious Mr William Robinson who liked to serve his ale pure, had taken the taps off his barrels in the cellar and replaced them with corks. So when the cellar was over waist deep in sea water, there was mad panic among the barrels which floated and crashed against each other and bounced off the walls, but the sea water was kept out of them by the sensibly placed corks. He wasn’t so lucky with his window panes. If the sea couldn’t do any damage in one place it got into a strop and called in its mate the violent wind to help out and together they hurled pebbles, which were a feature of the shore, those that hadn’t been collected and sold to Manchester, or picked up by Fylde contractors for road building anyway, at the windows, while the wind took off a few roof slates and threw them too, smashing as many window panes as it could, about a hundred in all. They also took out his sea defence wall and his porch and moved a complete wall on the south side of his property right out into the street. But what did he care? He had saved his ale.
The property of Mr George White, originally a Chesterfield man, who owned the whole of the Queen’s Terrace and lived with his wife Anne and son at number 1, was subjected to considerable damage to the sea wall fencing and similarly losing his chimney pots which also fell through the roof into the upper bedrooms. Mr White was an artist, and an active member of the Board of Health, but who nevertheless resigned his position due to a row with the other members over a subject which is only referred to rather than described in the newspaper article. William Thornber
as a man who was always ready for a fight took his side, against the majority.
Mr James Duke of the New Inn (an establishment locally and colloquially referred to as the Duke of Blackpool) wasn’t as astute as Mr Robinson of the Royal Hotel and sadly he had left the taps on his barrels and the contents were ruined as the barrels floated and crashed against each other in the flooded cellar, costing him about £100. He would no doubt have to travel along the front to the Royal to drown his sorrows with a flagon of ale from the more careful Mr Robinson. James Duke, originally worked at the Inn as a waiter and then had either fallen in love or inveigled his way into the widowed landlady Mrs Sarah Barlow’s heart or property and they were married in the September of 1851.
He was a crack shot with gun and pistol and was a man who enjoyed shooting birds for sport and reward, betting (£5 bet for shooting five birds), or just for the fun of it. In June of 1852 it is reported that he had ‘bagged’ (a euphemism for indiscriminately killing a free living animal), a cuckoo and a good number of dotterels (which he could probably see from his window scurrying along the shore).
In May of 1853 he attended the inquest on the death of Mary M’Cann an 18 year old servant girl living in the hotel. She was travelling back by train to Preston where her family lived in Hawkshead St, to consult a doctor about her health and, while the train was stopped at Lea station, there was an alarm and a panic rush out of the carriages by the passengers. Such was this blind panic that the exit route from the train was over the tracks into the path of an oncoming train, the engine of which ran over two of the unfortunate passengers, one being young Mary and severely mutilating the bodies. The tragedy is that, because it was a mistaken alarm, there was no need for the passengers to have left the train. Mary had a brother who had been killed on the railway and she had had expressed the fear that that would be her fate, too.
It appears that James Duke was a quite a popular chap. In 1854 on his instigation and encouragement he organised a collection fund, a kind of crowd-funding thing, to help towards the replacing of the boat and the nets belonging to John Cartmel and Richard Richardson of Lytham which had been lost in a recent storm. He encouraged his clientele which included visitors to stump up, and nearly £7 was raised. In June of 1854, in the same context, a ship, the Railway King was wrecked off the coast, the crew having to drive blind in the darkness of the night without having a clue where they were, and hoping to reach land. It eventually struck the Crusader bank and began to break up, the crew managing to jump into a boat and with only a single, broken oar and a shirt for a sail, eventually reached the land at South Shore where they may have seen the odd light flickering in the short distance ahead of them. Maybe James Duke was up in the early hours having a final tot of rum before retiring to bed because it was he who was afforded the credit of taking them in (there were five of them) and giving them succour, but it was again, more likely to be the wife, Mrs Sarah Duke, who did all the fussing and hard work in providing them with dry clothes and comfort. The chap who had taken off his shirt to use as a sail would, if it had occasioned that sacrifice, have had it returned, all nicely cleaned and dried and maybe even pressed as well, by Mrs Duke. It’s not hard to imagine Sarah Duke doing all that. As was the traditional relationship with the sea for the shore dwellers, James Duke collected from locals and visitors alike sufficient funds to alleviate somewhat the plight of the seafarers who had lost everything apart from the clothes they had arrived in, and sometimes not even them.
In 1856 at the hotel Thomas Stansfield and James Dawson were sleeping together as lodgers at the Inn. They weren’t gay as there was only one bed and the more you could get in a bed, the more money the proprietor of the accommodation could make. On the Road to Wigan pier again. Thomas Stansfield found that he had lost a £20 note and several sovereigns and, not believing it could be his sleeping partner, blamed James Duke but, back in Todmorden where they had both come from, Dawson admitted to the theft when pressed. He promised to pay it back but before he had the ability to do so, he had committed suicide by hanging himself at his home.
On the 25th June 1857 James Duke died at the very young age of 29. Mrs Duke didn’t last much longer than her husband, dying on the 4th December of the same year.
But they had had an eventful, short life together.
And again, back to the storms of 1852. Central Beach and Hygiene (variously Hygeian, Hygine as optional spellings for census return officers) Terrace escaped much of this acute damage but the Sir Benjamin Heywood feature, a bench contained in a strong wall and fence was completely uprooted, only a single stone being left in place. Sir Benjamin Heywood’s profession was a banker and he was an earlier MP for Lancashire before Blackpool as a town had its own Parliamentary representative. He was a Liberal and an intellectual and gave the occasional lecture on subjects which included archaeology. He owned a summer residence, a ‘marine villa’, at Bank Hey, (called West Hey on the auction announcement of 1854 and the sale of content in 1867) and situated next to the Beach Hotel in the town. It was a mansion indeed, with private ‘pleasure grounds’, kitchen gardens and stabling. The bigger houses had their own kitchen gardens, and essential stabling for their transport, like a house would be advertised with a garage today. With the increasing value of land especially on the sea front, the spare land within the grounds could be sold as building plots, an inducement to a potential purchaser.
Benjamin Heywood was active in the affairs of the town and, in consenting to be treasurer to a committee to tackle the concerns of education on the anniversary of the Church school, he had donated £50 towards funding for the provision of an infant school, as well as at another time, (1864) £100 towards the cost of a lifeboat house. He also held an annual get together of railway workers at the end of the summer season at his home, and all classes were welcome. (There was a precedent for this in 1857 for instance, Richard Cookson, a chief tenant of Squire Clifton at Layton Hawes – site of present Squires Gate Lane – held a Christmas fair for his workers, a little of bit of Saturnalia tempered with Victorian values no doubt.) Benjamin Heywood’s politics were Whig, kind of today’s Liberals and often Whig was a euphemism for a Tory with a conscience, (and socialism can be conservatism without any money in an Orwellian sense, such is the naturally selfish sense of survival of the human being) though it seems that Benjamin Heywood and the family name was flavoured more with conscience than stark pragmatism. There but for the ‘Grace of God.’ He left £400,000 to his many children in his will, when his Blackpool home was sold off. So he was well-to-do and put a lot of effort into the community.
This image of Benjamin Heywood’s House appears to reveal the south facing gable end of the Beach Hotel which James Thompson the licensee promoted confidently, and to his advantage, as being next door to the mansion home of the philanthropic banker.
But the storms raged on. At Robert Bickerstaffe’s newly built Wellington House, the waves were so high that they almost obscured the whole building from view, and thus affording the building a good Christian christening. The Bickerstaffes were already an established and influential Blackpool family at a time when there weren’t that many families in the town. From an old cottage in Hounds Hill (Caunce Square) an influential family empire had been built up. John, son of the above Robert, bought a boat and sailed ‘gentlemen’ holidaymakers along the coast for reward. He was a young boy when these storms raged. His father had bought land to use as a boatyard by the sea but, being a canny businessman, decided to build a hotel there instead and called it the Wellington, after a great general maybe but not too successful as a politician in a changing world. In politics the Bickerstafffes were Conservative, a self-sustaining ideal for people with money, but they were beneficent Conservatives if the adjective can ever be used to legitimately justify the noun but nevertheless risked their money for the ultimate benefit of the town.
And from the Bickerstaffe family we get, with great entrepreneurial skills and spirit, the piers, the Tower and involvement in all areas of public life, (John eventually taking over as licensee of the hotel from his father and later being mayor at one time and even later being knighted) and latterly a street name, or rather a square name, in Bickerstaffe Square, site of the present Council offices.
Robert Bickerstaffe junior, and nephew of Robert Bickerstaffe senior, was the coxswain of the first lifeboat, on which his cousin John also served. A lifeboat had been needed at Blackpool for quite some time. A Beeching boat (recently invented as self-righting by Mr Beeching, who had smuggling as well as boat building in his repertoire) had been stationed at Lytham by the lighthouse, but the distance was sometimes too great for a boat to travel in adverse winds for the more northerly wrecks. The wreck of the Helen of Fleetwood in 1853, where the crowds watched helplessly as one by one the four crew members dropped with exhaustion and drowned was however, not blamed on the absence of a lifeboat on the shore but on the lack of training of the crew to operate the Beeching boat which the Helen carried. The Beeching boat was, however, controversial as the recent loss of eight men in 1852 at Lytham before they had even been able to carry out a rescue, demonstrated. The story is included here at the end.
But that’s another digression, though Blackpool has always been intimately connected with the sea. Back in the storms of 1852, when the sea came onto the land rather than the people went onto the sea, Mr Richard Caton of the Vauxhall Inn, which he occupied with his wife Elizabeth, two sons and three daughters, had just lifted his piglets into the house before the sea crashed down his doorway to gain entry, even lifting the flagstones off the kitchen and lobby floors. It took down the pig cote in the yard, leaving the sow in the sadly true and tragic mother’s role, with her children safe, to fend for herself, struggling for her footing and her life. Richard had taken over the running of the Vauxhall (Foxhall) Inn from his father, also Richard. Before that he had been a coachman in Newton Heath, (I played a couple of games of football for Newton Heath, established for a short time by a few Man Utd fans in the Blackpool Sunday League, but I was never very good, just filled in when the occasional player didn’t arrive after a late night in the pub the previous evening. I’d already broken my leg playing football and then again by jumping out of a tree so I was well below fitness levels required for the kick and run style of football in operation on the field. When I broke my leg I was taken to Lancaster Infirmary. A nun came to see me and said a prayer. We used to call the nuns ‘Fannies’, quite innocently and I guess a long version of the shortened version of FANU, those brave women of any denomination of WW1).
Richard Caton lived until 1885 (when the Foxhall was immediately put up for tender or sale) and was an influential man in the early history of Blackpool. He outlived his wife Elizabeth by seven years and despite his popularity, tragedy was woven through his life. Together, Elizabeth and Richard lost a son, Frederick at 11 months old, Charles at 20 years of age in 1871, a daughter at 21 and another, Sophia in 1876 at 31, but also a daughter, Alice, at the tender age of five years old, burnt to death in 1844 when her clothing caught fire while playing outside. A commodious dwelling with an integral cottage attached and possessing its own well, the Inn was sold at auction in 1860 but Richard remained as the tenanted licensee.
At John Wylie’s cottage (which reads as a ‘Centrebale’ cottage on the census returns) on Lytham Street, a shippon and a mangle house, were completely destroyed and subsumed by sea water despite being built of heavy stonework. It would be a century later before washing machines were commonplace in the household, and both mangles and mangle houses would become a thing of the past (in our household, there was a dolly tub, a washboard and a mangle but no mangle house, just an outdoor washhouse in a post WW2 new build. I used to sleep in it as a lad if I had had late night out or had just returned from wandering off somewhere, and didn’t want to wake up parents and sibs). John Wylie was a small farmer, which presumably means he had a little bit of land on which he farmed rather than that he was of small stature. Anywhere in Blackpool wouldn’t be far from a little bit of open land on which you could farm. In the 1950’s from our house in Bispham you could hear the harvester and play in the cut grass and make dens out of it, hiding there when you you were all called in at bed time. It was only a stone’s throw away from the newly built houses at the bottom of the Knowle Hill. John Wylie was also a lodging housekeeper and I guess that his wife Jane did all the work in that regard. My grandad ran a boarding house on Palatine Road either side of WW2. My grandmother did all the work. My grandfather outlived his wife but Mrs Wylie outlived her husband by 11 years eventually passing away in 1873. Whether Mrs Wylie did or didn’t work her socks off for hardly a moment’s praise, they brought up a family which consisted of twins Richard and Jonathan, one of who began work as a fisherman and the other an agricultural labourer along with younger son Robert. Thomas was a casual joiner and daughters Margaret and Jane found work as domestic servants. The household was completed with the addition of granddaughters Jane and Margaret who were at school.
The road from the Vauxhall, to Mr Anthony Salthouse’s Manchester Hotel, where he lived with his wife Hannah and his two boatmen sons, Thomas and Henry, was inundated and impassable, perhaps only with wellies for the pedestrian and then with great care, and here the bridge over Spen Dyke where it empties into the sea was partly washed away. The Hotel itself lost many windows and heavy stone posts were carried inland and a great number of large timbers reached as much as three quarters of a mile inland. Like Richard Caton, he had rescued his pigs, that most versatile and comprehensive of food sources, but his horses had to put up with standing in eighteen inches of water. A disadvantage of being taller than other animals, in being the last to be rescued in any event. His bowling green, under construction, was turned into a ploughed field strewn with boulders from the torn down walling. The water burst into the cellars and filled it to five feet deep and, though he was able to save the spirits at great risk, he was not able to save the barrels, and perhaps didn’t have a supply of corks to plug them with like the Robinsons. With further effort he emptied the ground floors of carpets and cloths, just in case the sea wasn’t only satisfied with filling the cellars but also sought accommodation on the ground floors too.
Several partly built houses in the area were torn down with a great crash. They stood little chance as both the wind and the sea had plenty of unprotected walls and roof joists to play with. Mr Thomas’s new baths and billiard rooms were completely destroyed in this way and at his own house he lost nearly £40’s worth of spirits as the sea water had breached the taps of their containing barrels.
In a house occupied by Mr Joseph Worthington the auctioneer in Rawcliffe Street, the chimney fell through the roof and, bringing the roof timbers with it, collapsed onto the bed in which Mr Worthington and his youngest child, Jennet aged 7, were sleeping. A large beam had fortuitously fallen across the bed and, though trapping them both, nevertheless saved them from serious injury from the rest of the falling debris, and with difficulty he was able to extricate the two of them. Mr Worthington, a man who unfortunately appears to have invited storm damage to his properties without even trying, eventually, in 1857, sold off much of his property on Albert Terrace and several building plots in and around Brunswick St, Cragg St., and Bonney St.
It was a 24ft tide, by the gauge of the time, and it was the fiercest storm in living memory. It washed away the whole of the shore road from the Manchester to the extreme south of the town and created many inlets and gulleys which had to be traversed by clambering inland at right angles to the sea and back again, and only fit for careful and patient pedestrians.
In the extreme south, the sea had encroached 30-40 feet and had taken some of the sand hills with it, spreading them out like a smooth, flat carpet. But the newly built beer house there called the Seven Stars and occupied by Mr Ball escaped serious damage while the house adjoining it, also a new build, had its northwest corner completely blown away.
Several pleasure boats belonging to the Boating Company, whose several owners are quoted variously, as Messrs Bickerstaffe, Swarbrick, Parr and un-named others, were damaged after being bashed against each other.
And the inland farms from Fleetwood to the Ribble near Preston were flooded, losing root crops, materials and properties sometimes at great financial cost to the occupants.
All in all this damage led to a lot of head scratching. Something had to be done. Much of the repair work had to be carried out by the owners of the land whose properties fronted the shoreline. But it was a matter of getting together to sort the collective town out, and when they did after these severe storms, the idea of the Improvement Bill was born and presented to Parliament by the MP for the relatively new constituency of North Lancashire, Wilson-Patten (who has a street named after him in Warrington but not one in Blackpool). It would not be until 1875 that Blackpool would be incorporated and 1885 before it returned its first member to Parliament in Frederick Stanley, Earl of Derby and an Oxford pal of Wilson-Patten, in the newly created constituency for the town, a man who would take the podium and be celebrated by the crowd on the opening of the next phase of promenade and carriageway in 1870.
There were further severe storms in October 1862 and in January and September 1863, making it a continued exigency to create a barrier to the sea with the proposal of a promenade across the front of the landowners’ properties, whether they liked it or not. To them I suppose it would have been equivalent to having the hordes of footballer supporters re-directed down your own streets today on their way to or from a match.
Board of Health
So, as well as having to continually deal with the storms now, in the early 1850’s, with complaints about the poor state of the town, including the very serious problem of sewage in the streets and in places it ideally shouldn’t be for the salutary status of the town, this sewage had to be combatted with equal energy. There was also the very real fear that visitors were deserting the town for Southport or the East Coast, and Blackpool had to be able to cope if profits were to be made to keep its deserved definition as a favourite holidaying ‘watering place.’ The question now was who was to pay for it. The Public Health Actof 1848 had given local areas the power to control the sewerage and supply of water by determining a definitive area and levying a local rates’ tax within it. If they were unable to do that then the Government would step in and implement the Act.
A well, for instance at the time would cost an average of £30 (nearly £1,000 in 2019) to dig and service. Water came from wells and pumps and the ‘Heavens’ (especially useful for latrines it was claimed.) The money for all this would come from the ratepayers and before that could be acquired, a legitimate committee would have to be elected in order to determine such things. Rich men would get more votes to provide this committee than the poorer rated men, so it was much of an old pals’ act. The whole committee included names such as Caunce, Banks, Thornber, Cocker, Braithwaite, Bagot, Cookson, all names remembered on the streets today. When it had been agreed in principle what steps to take and the methods of doing so, the Board advertised its need for borrowing money in the columns of the newspapers.
BY 1853, Blackpool’s acceptance of the 1848 Act and its commitment to obeying the rules of the Parliament in London, via its Improvement Bill did not go down well with those authorities who wanted to remain independent of outside influences especially from somewhere as far away and remote as London. Just like a small majority of today’s population don’t like to be controlled from Brussels, there were those in Britain who didn’t like being controlled from London. When Broughton was contemplating incorporation with Salford and Pendleton in which it would have to accept control from London, there was a vehement anti incorporation group set up to counteract it and the Blackpool Bill was quoted as a town that had lost its independence in accepting the rule of a foreigner all that distance away. With arguments of false statements and misrepresentations it was a precedent for a Brexit situation through and through, not far off 200 years later in the second decade of the 21st century.
The whole process started in 1850 when the Government Public Health Inspector, with the rather grand name of Benjamin Herschel Babbage, arrived in the town by request, and got together with the elders of the town for a meeting, at least those who could attend, and it was most of them – to explain the nature and requirements of the Act and what should be done in matters concerning Public Health, and how the Health of Towns Act should be implemented. Benjamin Heywood would be the returning officer to conduct the election of the specific Board of Health on 12th December to take charge of and deal with the issues. What was now the Layton and Warbrick Board of Health would initially have its offices in Church Street.
It wasn’t just the streets that flowed with sewage and the empty spaces that contained open middens, open drains and privies, but also the inadequate provision of water to wash and flush the waste along proposed drainage channels and just as importantly, water to drink as the provision of wells was inadequate, and the wells could become contaminated, or be privately owned and inaccessible except at a price. Mr Banks owned a pond next to the church, and from where residents and visitors alike collected their water. Mr Babbage found it not good promotion for prospective visitors to find the pond water which was extracted for all purposes, including drinking, to be inhabited by two dead dogs. Even in the luxury residence of Benjamin Heywood, the closet was next to the larder with only a thin wall between the two, from which foul odours would create an unpleasant experience when you might want a cheese butty out of the pantry. The necessity to provide the first ‘public rooms’ was being discussed by 1857 and since no one on the Board had thought of making great profits out of selling incontinence pants, it could be considered with a little less urgency at this earlier date. Any itinerary, however small, especially for the middle aged or older whose inner body organs have begun to sag and will not listen to the demands of the person possessing them, or very young children who have not learnt to control them yet, has to be constructed around an adequate provision of toilet stops. And if there aren’t any……the streets will flow in abundance. And by all accounts, they did.
Blackpool was not well supplied with water for drinking, washing or cleaning the streets, indeed, it was a very smelly place. The poor as, usual had to make do with nothing or get by with stealing water from anywhere they could – and best at dead of night when it was hoped that no-one was looking. These poor were championed by William Thornber who demanded that any ‘public’ works ie those works that would benefit the men of the committee and the ratepayers, should benefit the poor as well as the rich.
The Act of Parliament, went further than expecting a township to supply water, but considered addressing further, the contributory reasons for a lack of sanitation. Cellars would no longer be allowed to be offered as accommodation and there would be restrictions on the number of people sleeping in a room and every new-build house would have to be provided with a privy. And it could be said that on this day that the proverbial brick built bog celebrated its first birthday.
The problem of the lack of sewerage in relation to Public Health (there was an ever present threat of a cholera outbreak and typhus was a regular killer) was tackled almost immediately. In 1853 the Fylde Waterworks Company was proposing to supply much of the Fylde including Blackpool with their first running water supply, as in the advert below.
And for the provision and laying sewerage;
The first piped water from the reservoir at Grizedale was only turned on in 1864 after an immense financial investment. The original idea for a water source was to use the facilities that Preston had and which would feed the Fylde and its coast in mutual benefit but, for some reason, a Parliamentary sub-committee had inserted obstacles into the contractual arrangement for Preston’s water supply (a supply which already had a long history) and so Blackpool, denied that facility, turned to the Bowland fells, a scheme that was eventually successful. However, it was still a long time before fresh water could be supplied in quantities to the town and an even longer wait for many of the individual cottages. In the meantime, fresh wells had been dug, but how to fully overcome this shortfall in the long term was still being discussed much later in 1866. Ironically perhaps, sea water was in plentiful supply, and sometimes didn’t have to be collected from the sea as the sea would invite itself onto the land without considering the need to be asked.
Anyway, back to the 1850’s. The fact was that the burgeoning town had shown it hadn’t been able to cope with these large numbers of people streaming off the trains at the new North Station, and that the narrow streets were dirty due to a great inadequacy in dealing with sewage and general, street cleaning. Most alarmingly evident was the butchers’ effluent, and most especially on Market Street. The bleeding and dripping carcases of their trade hung up outside their shops so much so that there was barely room for two people to pass without colliding with one of these carcases, and the flagged pavement on which you had to walk if you were to avoid the many dangers of stepping into the road, flowed with blood.
The problem with the sewage in the streets was eventually resolved, for the land anyway, by a pipeline that discharged into the sea by the Manchester Hotel, via smelly Spen Dyke, the natural drainage channel winding its way from the inland mere which, in an attempt to contain it in its lifetime, had been deepened, widened, culverted and finished off with pipework, preventing a tidal bore of raw sewage from fertilising the low-lying, inland fields and farms. In this way, though the fish, the crabs the piddocks and the bathers didn’t necessarily see it that way, the holiday crowds were successfully enticed back to the town the following summer once the works had been completed and the beach was relatively clean, though you still might find yourself in danger of meeting up with last night’s dinner if you were to take a swim.
Discussions about the town’s development and improvement were going on while the Crimean War was raging, though the Bill itself had passed through Parliament a few months before the start of the War. It was passed in the Commons 15th April 1853 and in the Lords on 14th June of the same year. It wasn’t that the Russians, who were the enemy in the Crimea, who might invade from the sea, from which the coastline needed protecting, but it was the sea itself, without any Russians in it that was doing the invading with destructive powers that were far greater than guns and ordnance. It had to be stopped, or at least, kept under some sort of control. And in a fine convergence of coincidences, the foundation stone of the bridge to connect the north and south coast roads to create a continuous carriageway from north to south, an integral feature of the new promenade, was laid at the end of the Peace celebrations for the termination of that war in 1856, and it was simply, and with gracious thanks for the peace, entitled the Bridge of Peace.
So, ‘The Blackpool and Layton-with-Warbrick Improvement Bill’ was formulated and presented to Parliament. Ok you get Warbrick and Warbreck. Language changes through sound before being written down. Orange was naranja at one time in the Spanish but when it came to the UK it changed its name to an orange (a naranja). I was on my way to pick oranges in Spain once after the vendange in the south of France had ended but got diverted and didn’t arrive. I ended up somewhere else. Words change in meaning, too. Awful meant awesome once upon a time. I remember making a giggle out of a hymn in the Hymn book entitled ‘Hark, an Awful Voice is Sounding’ when it actually meant awesome, unless it was me who was singing. In 1850 awful would have meant awesome and there would be consequently no giggling little children in the congregation. So Warbrick then is Warbreck now.
The proposals for the Improvement Bill as announced in the newspapers are quoted verbatim here from November 1852;
….. that application is intended to be made to Parliament in the ensuing Session for an Act for better Lighting, Watching, and otherwise improving the town of Blackpool and the township of Layton-with-Warbrick, in the county of Lancaster, and in which Act provision is intended to be made to authorize the Local Board of Health for the said township of Layton-with-Warbrick, in the said county, of which township the said town of Blackpool forms part, to carry the same into execution, and to enable the said Local Board of Health to prohibit nuisances, obstructions, and annoyances within the said township, and to establish and maintain an effective police within the said township, and to make the necessary bye laws, rules, and regulations for the licensing and regulation of hackney coaches, pleasure boats, flys, sedan chairs, baths and bathing machines, and other carriages , and of horses, asses and mules and of the persons letting or driving the same.
And it is intended by the said Act to empower the said Local Board of Health to construct and erect works for the supply of Gas for the purpose of lighting the several streets, roads, lanes, yards, courts, and public passages and places within the said town and township, and for supplying the various buildings and inhabitants within the same with gas, and to enable the said Local Board of Health to lay down and make pipes, mains and other works and conveniences in the several streets, roads, highways, lanes, and other public passages and places aforesaid, and to erect and construct all such buildings, gas meters, and other works and apparatus as may be necessary for the purposes aforesaid, and also to enable the said Local Board of Health to purchase and acquire by agreement the works of the Vegetable Gas Company, or any other works, for the supply of gas within the said township, and to enable such companies respectively to sell their respective undertakings and works to the said Local Board of Health.
And it is also intended by the said Act to empower the said Local Board of Health to establish a Market or Markets in the said township, and to construct and maintain one or more Market Place or places, and Market House or houses, with all suitable stalls, sheds, buildings, weighing machines and other works and conveniences for the sale of butchers’ meat, poultry, fish, butter, cheese, vegetables, corn, grain, and other provisions, cattle goods, wares, merchandize and marketable commodities, and to prevent the hawking or selling of any articled or goods in any of the streets, public passages or places within the limits of the said Act, and to make and enforce all necessary rules, bye laws, and regulations in respect of the Markets, Market-houses and other works and conveniences.
And by the said Act power will be taken to abolish the present market in the said town, and to purchase by agreement the existing Market-place or Market-House, and to invest the same in the said Local Board of Health; and to authorise the purchase and abolition, or the abolition and extinguishment, of any tolls or duties payable to the Lord of the Manor of Layton-with Warbrick, or to any other person or corporation, in respect of the aforesaid goods or commodities, or any of them, or any rights of holding markets or fairs within the said township; and to alter the existing tolls, rent, stallages, and other dues, and to levy further and other tolls, rents, stallages, or other dues, for or in respect of the same.
And it is proposed by the said Act to enable the said Local Board of Health to make certain regulations as to the carting and taking away of Stones and Gravel from the shore or beach in front of the sea wall or embankment in the said township, and to vary or extinguish certain rights and privileges connected therewith.
And it is proposed by the said intended Act to make provision with respect to naming streets and numbering houses, and the appointment of bellmen and bill-stickers, and other officers of the said township, and to vest the same in the said local Board of Health.
And it is intended to incorporate with the said intended Act all or some of the powers and provisions of “The Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845,” “The Gas Works Clauses Act, 1847,” ”The Markets and Fairs Clause Act, 1847,” “The Towns Improvement Act 1847,” and “The Police Clauses Act, 1847.”
And it is proposed by the said intended Act to grant power to the said Local Board of Health to make, levy, and receive all such rates, duties, and assessments, and to raise all such sums of money on the credit thereof as may be requisite or proper for providing funds to enable them to carry into full and complete effect the objects and purposes of the said intended act; and to make, levy, and collect tolls, rates, rents, duties and stallages; and to confer, vary, and extinguish exemptions from pay-rights and privileges.
And it is proposed by the said intended Act, to grant powers to the said Local Board of Health to purchase, by compulsion or agreement, all lands, or buildings, or rights, or easements therein which it may be necessary to purchase for effecting any of the objects of the said Act, and to take down, divert, alter, or stop up temporarily or permanently, all buildings, streets, roads, highways, or other public passages or places, and to lay down mains, pipes and other works, in, under, over, and across, and for that purpose to break open any such streets, roads, highways or other public passages or places which may be necessary for effecting any of the objects of the said intended Act, and to alter, vary, or extinguish all rights, powers, and privileges, in any manner connected with the lands and buildings to be purchased as aforesaid, or which would in any manner prevent or interfere with the carrying into full and complete effect any of the objects and purposes of the said intended Act.
And it is intended, so far as may be necessary for the purposes aforesaid, to enlarge the powers and provisions of “The Public Health Act, 1848.”
And Notice is hereby further given, that printed copies of the said proposed Act will, on or before the 31st day of December next, be deposited in the Private Bill Office of the Honourable House of Commons.
So as the said Bill in the above said transcription states and intimates, this would give powers to the said Local Board of health and bring an end the said habitual bickering of the aforesaid private ownership over and above the said Public interest. Even the said Lord of the manor was not safe any longer. Nuff said. Well, not really enough said as this was just the beginning of Blackpool and at that date, it had a long and illustrious future ahead of it.
There was a lot of work to be done and though progress was made, there was also a lot of catching up to be done. In August of 1858, a fire broke out in Back Oddfellow Street, in stables belonging to Thomas Singleton. His son had gone in to feed the horses taking in a naked lantern to a building which was full of straw, and he had set the place afire by his carelessness. There then ensued frantic efforts by the Singletons and their neighbours, fearing for their own properties and livelihoods, to douse the fire with buckets of water, from wherever there was a source of water. There was no fire engine in the town yet but one was expected shortly. However it was considered as going to be pretty useless since there wasn’t a supply of water for the prospective fire engine to use. Fortunately, though the building was destroyed, the horses were saved as well as the neighbouring properties, but the loudest cry was for a sufficient water supply. Had the fire been more severe, the fire engine could not have coped any better than a line of people with buckets, drawing water from the nearest well or pond. At the time of the fire, the tide was out, and if the sea was the only source of water at any critical time when the tide was out then by the time any helpers could have been back with that boundless supply of water in buckets, a shed like this would have been nothing but ashes. A water works for the town was the cry on everybody’s lips, especially those that were being whet at the beer houses. At a meeting of the Board of Health in June 1858 it had been agreed to order a fire engine and equipment though that had arrived too late to be of any use to this fire. By 1859 the Board was drawing up rules to govern the firemen.
In 1859 the Board appointed Mr John Todd, the forerunner of today’s Visit Blackpool, as bellman and billposter and he would be paid £6 a year for the position and one of his first jobs was to post bills banning the hawking of bread in the streets. While the parapet of Market Street was cleared of folk selling things on the footpath which hindered passers-by, on the beach, stalls limited in size to 4 x 3 yards (3.6m x 2.7m) were allowed as leasehold from the Board and paid in advance at 1s (5p) a week. And private households were banned from taking water from the market pump unless they would pay the same 2½% rate. It would be another few years before water was on tap to every household.
In the very beginning, before the first journalist had written his article and when all the property owners only considered their own bit of property without reference to anything else, it was reportedly Henry Banks, one of the originators of Blackpool as a resort and in whose name the new stained glass window in St John’s Church was dedicated by his children in 1852, and who provided daughters in marriage to both Dr Cocker, (Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and the Reverend Thornber, romantic historian and pugilistic cleric), who put up the first fencing opposite the Clifton Arms Hotel, a hotel which was both then and now, providing the centre of the modern town. He was paid an allowance of £50 a year for this seemingly very sensible and very practical act. Here on the foreshore, there had reportedly been a cottage and a lawn in front of it and a boathouse, each long since taken away by the storms which regularly visited the coast, and mostly these storms were winter visitors. Also, even earlier, at the turn of the 19th century, a Reverend Breakell, (various name spellings) a man who is rare in the records but no doubt full of vigour and evidence in his own time, raised a subscription at great effort to fence in the promenade walks and to include an ornamental Chinese bridge, another feature taken away by later storms.
William Thornber, one of the celebrated historians of Blackpool, who eventually admitted to making some things up, was evidently stuck firmly in between the spiritual and material aspects of life which were in conflict within him. When Science said yes, God said no and vice versa and his inability to compromise between the two led to his eventual insanity I guess, his physical and intellectual energies eventually overwhelming him. Well that’s what it seems to me but he may have just been a bit eccentrically daft. His intellect and keenness for truths from observation certainly drove him furiously along the polymathic paths of his rational thinking. He would lecture and write on geology, archaeaology, history and all aspects of scientific interest and was active in the affairs of the town, often in conflict with those who had a much simpler and far less complicated moral or material focus on life, and in conflict at times with himself it would seem. One time minister at St John’s from which he had to resign, he settled down as a minister ‘without the cure of souls’ after baptising many an infant town dweller. He eventually retired to live on Derby Road, living off his, no doubt, generous income from his properties. He died in Stafford and was buried in St John’s Church, to where, presumably, his body was brought back, and sepulchred there in a multi-occupancy, local necropolis along with his brother-in-law William Cocker, and family, not just for a short stay, cheap trip, but for the rest of time.
He was of course around when the Treaty of Paris on March 30 1856 ended the Crimean War and contributed to the speeches at the local peace celebrations. These speeches regarding the victory against the Russians were full of self-praise and self-righteousness. The victory over the Russians who, it was feared, wanted to take over the world, was largely due to the British and the French – and God. God of course, in his perceived male status, was a good lad and could do wrong, well, just the odd war or two and drought and famine and general misery but these could be easily explained and even justified – but then, he has never had a woman behind him to keep him on the right track, or tidy his socks up after him. The British could never do anything wrong either. The French did everything wrong and London had recently absorbed hundreds of political refugees fleeing from the tyranny of Louis Napoleon 3rd, one of who, Benoit Desquesnes came to live and teach in Blackpool. Then Napoleon 3rd himself was exiled and eventually died and was buried in Britain. Britain has been open all hours to all kinds of folk.
But the French were ok when they were on the same side as you in a war. It wouldn’t be until 1914 when kind sentiment was offered to the French again, and there would be collections in the streets of Britain for France Day. The Turks, whose country was in danger of being overrun, were ok because they were also on the same side as the victors, even though they weren’t Christian though some attention was paid to ecumenism, a lip service that sometimes sounded genuine and other times pragmatic. The Turks would be the enemy one day and the Dardanelles and Gallipoli would evoke the extreme horror of slaughter in the eyes of the average human being. One day a person is a friend, the next day an enemy you want to kill.
But back to the promenade. The storms of 1852 had reinvigourated the action to provide a promenade which could afford a continuous stretch of carriageway along the main part of the frontage as well as providing some resistance against the action of the sea. The first Blackpool Improvement Bill had been proposed and put through Parliament in 1852. Today it is an ongoing project, and projected beyond today, as long as there is a sea to attempt to erode the coast every now and again when it is seduced by the weather conditions to do so. But there were those property owners who didn’t want the rabble passing directly in front of their properties, some wanting to levy a toll for the proposed bridge across the deep cut of Bank’s slade, opposite the Lane Ends Hotel, which separated the north of the town from the south. Others, like William Thornber thought not, and there was much discussion by the Local Board from that time, and different opinions aired. This first, collective attempt to create a secure sea frontage would be followed by the next phase when it became not just desirable or merely profitable, but necessary. The next phase of development occurred in 1866 because further storms had caused much more damage to South Shore and there was an even grander opening of this new promenade on completion in 1870.
It was thus that the storms of 1850 had influenced the composition of the Improvement Bill, presented to Parliament after the further storms of 1852 by the then MP for North Lancashire, Wilson Patten which resulted in the first real clean-up of the town and a system to progress and maintain it in good light, cleanliness and favourable provision for its visitors. The town was ‘arising from its apathy, its collective effort to create a continuous sea defence along with the concept of a promenade to almost literally pave the way for the modern town of Blackpool.’
The Improvement Bill allowed for the prosecution of all the profiteers who took stone, pebble and gravel from the beach and who had been chastised by the Superintendent of Legalities for the Crown who had been invited to the town by the Board of Health on the instigation of the Rev Thornber, who perhaps wanted to jealously guard his beloved geological objects from disappearing from his sight, or genuinely concerned that the removal of the stones was definitely detrimental to the shoreline, depriving it of a material that was used to bolster the sea defences. Much had been sold to Manchester but in December of 1853, John Singleton the surveyor for Hardhorn-with-Newton, along with several others, had been charged with, ‘carting gravel’ from the beach ‘without leave, contrary to the provisions of the Blackpool Improvement Act.’ Since it was their first offence, however, they were let off with a slap on the wrist, but it was a warning to others and an important precedent set.
The rights of the Crown to the shoreline crop up again concerning the rateable value of the piers and also during the protracted wreck of the Foudroyant on the foreshore, in ten years hence and forty years hence respectively.
In 1857 James Thompson had sold a valuable plot of land on Albert terrace with two houses on it and a private beach frontage. It was just these kinds of men who had to decide upon the principles behind the construction of a promenade if, in giving in to it, would mean the plebeian hordes parading crudely up and down in front of their properties in the honest distractions (mostly honest, anyway) of their short holidays within the health giving air of Blackpool, well away from the dirty towns of their home districts. These crude people who showed their bottoms when bathing, (even a display of calves or garters revealed by turned up trousers or skirts) was frowned upon but were nevertheless the lifeblood of the town’s profitability and if more profit could be made out of them, well that was another matter, we better accept it then. There were eventually telescopes on the foreshore so those who felt the need for a voyeuristic thrill, could satisfy it from a distance. The Fylde Coast is still renowned for its sunsets over the Irish Sea and, in those days, renowned for its many moons too of the beach bum variety. A hundred years or more afterwards, Alan Hansen, the Scotland and Liverpool footballer and later television pundit was fined for taking off his trousers on the beach. Perhaps his towel slipped. Nudity on the beach was occasionally a problem and probably right to keep it as an offence though more as an offence against aesthetics than an offence against morality you might want to argue especially since in modern times, the aesthetic symmetry of attraction of the human body is somewhat hidden behind an abundance of epidemic obesity.
By the summer of 1856, however, Blackpool had regained its reputation as the ‘Queen of the Lancashire bathing places’. You would no longer step into ‘offensive effluvia’, as today you would no longer step into ‘shit’. Words might evolve but the stuff on your shoes stays the same. There was some provision of lighting at night with the modern development of a gas service and some of the roads had been surfaced and curbed and the main promenade at the sea front had been tar-macadamed. Properties would be rated and businesses taxed by an infant Council that was looking for a public building from which to conduct its affairs. In this respect, the Temple of Arts was contemplated as being an ideal purchase though this did not come about immediately. In 1857 the Board had proposed to take on the ground floor of the building, and the yard at the back at a rent of £20 a year from May of 1858. Lots of things were discussed regarding entertainment in the town, in those days restricted to balls, concerts, lectures and public meetings. Much of the cleaning up of the beach had been undertaken by private individuals, much as in the present day, groups of volunteers have tidied up and repaired many of the town’s features. The major players in arranging the system of taxing and rating and a pro rata subscription from residents at 10s (50p) a linear yard (bit less than a metre), to contribute to the cost of improvements were William Thornber, John Moore, Thomas Nixon, Richard Banks and William Birch. This original promenade was on average nine feet (less than three metres) wide and was separated from the carriageway by oak posts and rails and benches provided at intervals. The cost was a surprisingly low amount of £500 and there were already further proposals to widen the promenade across both public and private frontages from Rossall’s Hotel to the Royal Hotel which would be today from the Metropole to a little past the tower buildings. This would take away Bank’s slade by filling it in and preclude the need for the Peace Bridge which had been constructed there in 1856 when this further, new promenade was opened amid splendid celebrations.
NUISANCES AND CRIME
A nuisance is only a crime until a bye-law turns it into one and then it’s both a nuisance and a crime at the same time. And anyone could be nuisance. Class distinction doesn’t provide a refuge from being a nuisance. The residents of the upper class area of the Raikes were asked not to throw their rubbish out into the streets. If they didn’t comply then the Board of Health had the authority to turn it into an offence against the Public Health Act. If it was only a nuisance in the beginning, it nevertheless constituted a breach of the laws later on.
By 1856 as the terms of the Improvement Bill were being implemented and as the improvements were underway, a Mr John Grigg was appointed as surveyor and inspector of nuisances at an annual salary of £30. His position gave him some authority to advise or dish out penalties if necessary for anyone creating the nuisance of a foul privy or an uncontrolled midden or rubbish tip for instance. My great grandfather was an inspector of nuisances in South Shields. He was rat catcher. John Grigg (who later unsuccessfully applied for an increase in salary) was a collector of, or rate catcher, perhaps. He went around collecting the rates and, also as an inspector of nuisances he was expected to make sure by 1857 in the new bye-laws that that all men were provided with a ‘suitable pair of drawers’ when bathing in the sea, since bare bottoms constituted a nuisance, and all bathing machine proprietors would have to supply them. A refusal to wear them would invite a penalty. I would have hated to have been last in the queue when these drawers had already had many occupants. Vagrancy was a nuisance and two ten year old lads had been found on the streets of Preston and claimed they were from Wigan and on their way to Blackpool where one of them had a brother who was a donkey driver in the town. They were given a caution and sent on their way back to Wigan. Had they arrived in Blackpool and not found the brother or the work as they had stated, then it would have been up to Mr Grigg to pack them up and set them back on the road to Wigan.
Another nuisance at the time was not a couple of ten year old boys but many and several property and land developers who were in the habit of blocking off ancient footpaths in the process of that development, especially prevalent in Blackpool which was beginning to boom and expand under the influence of rising land values. An Ancient Footpaths Society, with a strong representation in Manchester was seeking to flex ‘the sinews of war’ in its developing battle with the landowners. In a letter to the Preston Herald urging the paper to expose this outrage against the rights of walking, the correspondent in echoing the fears of the neighbouring town writes, ’It is time, sir, to be astir, for daily the public around Blackpool are robbed of those rural walks in which our forefathers delighted.’ Mr Grigg would have to see that these footpaths were respected. No doubt some will have been lost forever. Hopefully the one through my living room.
Though it was understood that the cheap trippers were largely well behaved, and the frantic dash to the sea by hundreds of barely clad folk shaking off their proletarian shackles for the freedom of an hour or two, there was only a single policeman ascribed to the town. He had also to look after the neighbouring districts of South Shore, Bispham and Marton, and he would have had his work cut out if indeed, there were any serious crimes or disturbances. Though crimes were not usually serious, there was an increasing number of them. If you didn’t get caught then you carried on. Most crimes involved bathing, furious driving and donkey riding, and the lack of care to the animals constituting cruelty. And in the days before the colourful arrival of the gypsies, there was the occasional unscrupulous fortune teller selling charms and promises at sixpence (2½p) a time and the hawking of bread, meat and any other items (no sunglasses in these days; no folk ‘importuning’ for sunglasses as I remember the papers recording many an incident of such as well as most petty crimes being committed by unemployed sugar boilers for some reason), where it was not allowed. Any fine imposed by a non-resident magistrate from a distance could easily be made up again ten times over before the next court session, so the sea front was largely a free for all for anyone who wanted to unfairly squeeze a bob or two out of the unwary holidaymaker.
One of the nuisances that John Grigg had to deal with was that of the rights of the donkey drivers and the cab drivers to ply their trade. The Board of Health saw the need to regulate them and the donkey drivers and cab drivers didn’t see the need for regulation.
Preparations for discussion for the licensing of hackney carriages and donkey drivers were made by the board in 1853, and imposed by 1854 but it wasn’t until the summer of 1858 after the bye-laws had been in force that this controversy came to a head when the question was exposed in the courts. Both donkey drivers and cab drivers had been repeatedly fined by the Board and the drivers had had enough and decided to appeal. Margaret Kenyon, a donkey driver was the chief protagonist. She had been ‘applying for the hire’ of her donkeys on the beach along with other drivers and the newly created bye-laws of the Board of Health had put a spanner in the works, and so the resolution had to be through the courts on appeal. It caused a great sensation in the town among the drivers and the public alike and was the talk of the day since it affected the cab drivers as well. The new bye-laws expected both donkey drivers and cab drivers to keep to prearranged fixed, pick up stations rather than roam the sands or the highways touting for customers, but there were obvious restrictions with this ruling which had to be contended. Six white posts had been driven into the sand and fares could only picked up at these stands, this greatly limiting the range of the donkeys. Similarly on the highways of the town, cab drivers would only be able to pick up at fixed stands.
In the beginning, Margaret Kenyon and 20 other drivers had been summoned and fined 5s for picking up customers at a point which was not one of these fixed stands determined by the Board. Her argument was that she placed her donkeys where, by experience, she knew she could acquire most customers. It was the same principle for the cab drivers. The cab drivers when they put down a fare had to return to a stand before they could legally pick up another fare. When the advocate working for the Board hailed a cab after the hearing however+, the cab driver refused the fare unless he as a customer accompanied him to the nearest licensed stand, from which he could legally accept him as a fare. In this case a compromise was reached in which the driver drove to the stand and then returned to pick up the fare. He would have been the smuggest cab driver in town. The problem was that if you stopped your cab by necessity at a junction or for some other legitimate reason like to offer a carrot to your horse, and you happened to find yourself next to some pedestrians who asked for a lift, you would not be touting for hire, and their Counsel argued thus in the highly rational but adversarial nature of English law. The appeal didn’t take place till November and it was found in favour of the Board who were acting legally on the behalf of the Act of Parliament which gave them undisputed control over the highways and the sands and shore. The argument put forward by the donkey drivers, through their Counsel, was that the Act did not apply to the sands because they were covered by the sea and thus did not constitute part of the land upon which the Board had jurisdiction and for this this purpose an extent of between 20 and 80 yards up to the tideline of an ordinary tide, was claimed for the rights of the asses. I suppose all asses had the right on the beach, though the ones you use to sit down with rather than the ones you sit upon for a ride, and as long as they are covered with drawers.
Sometimes the donkeys were described as asses and sometimes as donkeys, and sometimes again as Jerusalem ponies, and I suppose this is a classic case of the Law not being an ass at all, but is all about asses. The cost of defending the case for the Board was £57.1S.7d (£57.78p) though costs were awarded against the complainants.
The control of nuisances as duties of the surveyor included the combatting of the refusal of landowners to allow a public sewer to pass through their property, the fencing off of dangerous areas like cellars which line the roads, builders of the many new houses and holiday cottages from leaving their debris on the footpaths, curbing of the roads etc., and the inhabitants not to throw the water or debris out onto the highway in front of their properties. All relevant today. In fact with the demise of the rag and bone man there is an increase of rubbish left out on the streets today, washing machines and anything that proves difficult for the property owner or tenant to easily dispose of. There was also the issue of rates arrears and the inspection of buildings to see that their construction would conform in all ways and did not breach the regulations and stray over building line. And approving or disapproving of house plans, the supply of setts for road crossing, since the roads had to be crossed by many pedestrians especially in the holiday season. And the setting of the rates and payment of contractors, the auditing of the accounts, establishment of carriage stands, the cleaning of the sands and the removal of all obstacles on the sands, highways and footpaths. Rates were established for highways at 9d in the £, a general district rate of 1s 9d, a special district rate of 6d and a gas rate of 3d. All the considerations of a modern Council though at naturally higher amounts to keep in touch with inflation.
Some infringements of the Public Health Act dealt with by the Board
But not all crimes or misdemeanours were offences against the Public Health Act. In 1857 Mary Ledward a long-standing and respected Wesleyan school teacher in Preston was caught shoplifting there and when the police searched her house they found many valuable silver and gold items stolen from the shop of a Mr Rogerson who had shops in Preston and Blackpool. In the same year an Irishman, though he probably wasn’t, who gave his name as Richard Hollins Johnson, which it probably wasn’t, went on a swindling spree in Lancashire, which he definitely did. A respectably dressed and well-spoken gentleman, he was able to convince his prey of his honest intentions. A man with a posh voice can get away with anything. He had not only stolen from Mr Viener’s bazaar in Talbot Road Blackpool, but also the horse he had hired for the day, like you would hire a car today, from Mr Noblett’s stables, he sold in Lancaster after he’d ridden it there. He’d done the same with some guns which he’d acquired from a gun shop in the town and hadn’t brought them back, and he’d committed several similar deceptions in various towns before he was caught. A little bit deceptive like one of my grandads, though my grandad maybe wasn’t as clever; he collected contributions at work for my grandmother’s funeral and when my grandmother found out she was furious and threw him out of the house in Watsons Road, not for the first time, but after this time he was never seen again.
In June of 1858 Charles Porteus, a travelling draper from Scotland but living in Preston, as it was within his sales patch, was a suspicious character and the police sergeant Banks of Blackpool, who was a busy character on occasion, had his eyes on him. When Charles Porteus came to the town he usually stayed at the Land Ends Hotel and police sergeant Banks enlisted the help of a chamber maid there to sniff around for any information she could gather. In a forgetful moment the thief had taken out a gold watch from his pocket and the chambermaid, looking over his shoulder, presumably with some care, (a bit like the old lady across the road in the street in which I grew up; she was always looking out of the window. Though I don’t believe she was on police duty, she would always know who had broken a window with a cricket ball), noticed that it fit the description of a watch that had been stolen in Wigan. Going straight to Sergeant Banks, she did not find him at home since he was probably after another thief, pickpocket, swindler or a donkey driver or a speeding cab driver breaking the rules. But he returned the next day and traced Porteus to Lytham where he arrested him and took him to the lock-up in Kirkham since there was not yet that facility in Blackpool. Though he was searched before being locked up, Porteus had concealed a razor in his drawers (I used to think that drawers were the voluminous women’s knickers that my grandmother used to wear, and which fell down to some embarrassment at a bus stop once. But blokes wore them as well and footballers also wore knickers as their shorts were called once upon a time. Rugby players thought that footballers were softies but their shorts must have been exactly the same and were probably in denial that they wore knickers in the scrum). The knife that Charles Porteus carried under these drawers was used to attempt suicide as he admitted when saved from death by prompt medical attention after slitting his throat. He said he carried it in case he got caught, a bit like a cyanide capsule that international spies later might carry around in case of arrest. Not a hardened criminal you would think but one possessing some kind of desperate and untreatable psychological state.
In January of 1855 Abraham Houseman, a sawyer, was brought before the magistrates at Poulton, charged with stealing potatoes from William Shaw of South Shore. His house was searched by both the policeman from Poulton PC Morrison, and PC Banks from Blackpool who found 6 or 7 pounds worth of joinery tools which belonged to Thomas Topping of Blackpool. There were also tools taken from his workmates at his previous job in Barrow.
In October of 1855 Mrs Houseman found her young one year old son, drowned in a pit next to the house. He had toddled out of the house no doubt when the mother was occupied for a moment elsewhere. Tragedies await even in the innocence of a moment’s inattention. Perhaps his father was serving a prison sentence at the time and was not around.
The need for a police station at Blackpool was apparent early on to the Lancashire county authority and by 1853, it was suggested that land should be purchased and a building erected, for just that purpose. It should provide a building, if only a lock-up one, which would contain a strong room and a place for the temporary confinement of prisoners. The cost of this would be upon the rates and permission was given for £560 to be borrowed at £22 pa interest and the rent paid by the police rates would be £23 pa so, all in all, it was a good deal for the town.
Not just a policeman but also a local magistrate was gravely needed in the town. There was a certain amount of lawlessness that could be enjoyed without recrimination. Long before Gypsy Ned ruled with a firm and uncompromising hand when a stable, criminal fraternity is ironically, if sadly, more conducive to the peace and prosperity of an area.
Mrs Crossley was on holiday in Blackpool in 1857 and, while enjoying a stroll on the beach one evening, lost her purse containing a cheque, as well as a few pounds. I used to like walking on the beach at night with the backdrop of the Illuminations along the coastline and the endless darkness of the sea and sky on the other side. Just enough light to see where you were going and never alone. However I’ve never lost a purse on the beach like Mrs Crossley. For somebody else walking along the beach it was like finding a treasure. Mr Whittle was the lucky person. He lived in Blackpool and had plenty of time to walk the beach to see what he could find. His face must have lit up when he came across the purse and no doubt spent the cash that he found inside it. But he was foolish enough to have sold the cheque on and when it came to be cashed some time later by the person he sold it to, with the help of a bit of forgery, he and the man it seemed he’d sold it to were in deep trouble and an arrest followed soon after.
The construction of a police station would prevent such police officers as one called Heap who spent a three day holiday in Blackpool under the pretext of taking a warrant with him. He had claimed travelling expenses of £2.15s (£2.75p) even though he had taken a cheap trip on the train at the reduced fare. By 1856 the cost of a cheap ticket was no more than 3s 6d (17½p) so he would have been making quite a bit on the side.
And there was always trouble in the bars. It doesn’t need the effect of a lot of ale to assist in bringing the frustrations of the inbred character of a person, especially the male, to the surface. Groups of cheap day trippers were having a final gill in the Talbot Hotel before crossing over the road to the railway station to take the scheduled train back home. A person with the ironic name of Daniel Barwise, a Preston man, was assaulted. He was in a group of Preston chaps when an altercation between some Manchester cheap day trippers ensued and became violent, two brothers setting upon Daniel, whom it was shown in the ensuing court hearing in Poulton, to have been an innocent bystander. So perhaps he was barwise after all, fulfilling the signature of his name. The Talbot Hotel, with its cobbled frontage, and stables at the back from which there were frequent auctions of horses and equipment, and housing the famous bowling green, where gentleman played for a ‘splendid pair of bowls’, perhaps for those less macho men that didn’t have them already, was directly opposite the north railway station, so it would have been a natural stopping off point for a gill before taking a place in a carriage on the train. Bowls was gentleman’s game as much as bingo might have been considered more recently a women’s game. They played for big money and in September 1859 a home and away match (Mr Moore’s at Lytham and Mr Barrat’s –possibly Barret – at Blackpool) between the Blackpool ‘dons’ and the ’cracks’ of Lytham was played for £10 a side, which I guess means a £20 prize. The Lytham cracks won both legs.
It was also the place in the 1950’s where the Blackpool folk group was formed with its lead singer, big cousin Pete. The station was a busy place having several carriage stands both to the south and the west and thousands of people being delivered daily from the trains in peak season.
A more serious crime took place in August of 1856. It was a case concerning a rival feud between two families, the Banks and the Kirkhams who were farming neighbours in Warbreck (we are in Warbreck now, rather than Warbrick) either side of the railway track. There was bad feeling between them all, most notably expressed in the young sons of each. While Cuthbert Banks was driving some cattle home, he was attacked and beaten up by two of the Kirkhams which brought Mr Banks into the fray, and eventually more of the two families in a violent kick-off in which Mrs Banks was also badly beaten up. An unnamed gentleman hearing of the affair sent a couple of his Irish harvestmen, probably relishing the idea of legitimately beating up some Englishmen at the time, to assist Cuthbert Banks and if it wasn’t for these two there could have been a fatality for they seem to have evened out the odds and the Banks were escorted home. But this didn’t end the affair for the Kirkhams were out for blood and later attacked the home of the Banks’ who had to barricade themselves in and though the doors and windows were broken in the attack, the assailants were successfully kept out. A bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or the capture of the Gunpowder plotters, the last stand of James Wilkes Booth, or the stand-off at Asama Lodge, in a drama reflecting those more significant events. But if they could do it, so could Blackpool, excepting the guns and the mortalities played out in the seaside watering place which had yet to achieve worldwide renown for entertainment and its venues. The policeman was informed but the single officer, of the now two, County police officers stationed in Blackpool (three during the bathing season) wouldn’t have arrived in a Panda car but would probably have walked or hitched a ride on a cart. He did however stay around the district for a short while, possibly for a rest and a cup tea from a grateful family before he walked back again.
Dr Cocker attended both Mrs and Cuthbert Banks but because Cuthbert’s injuries, though severe, were not life threatening even though he was confined to bed, the policeman had no authority to arrest the Kirkhams as he had not witnessed the affair, and it was one family’s word against another. The nearest magistrates were Giles Thornber (likely to be William Thornber’s son) at Poulton or Mr Simpson of South Shore. The only offences deemed serious enough at the time were offences against the Improvement Act of the town and these sessions were held only once a month. There was no time or facility for interim sittings so to take a warrant for personal injury would take an age and be ultimately pretty well useless.
The Kirkhams were well known to be an unruly and violent family and farmed 10 acres at Warbreck farm. If anyone crossed any one of them it would be to their peril. The quarrels between the two families had been going on for a long time and it was especially dangerous for one of the Banks to be out on their own. In that sense, Warbreck was a lawless place. The Banks’s lived at Scut House at Carleton situated on the road to Poulton and farmed 86 acres and by 1861 had moved over to a 90 acre farm by the River Wyre, a move perhaps influenced by the trouble with the Kirkhams.
The Kirkhams weren’t the only kick-ass family. I have a report somewhere (a couple of decades later) of the Fishers of Layton bringing with them a motley crew of bruisers to support their case which I think was land or tenant based when the case was heard at the Queen’s Hotel in Layton, venue for many an inquest or administrative sitting. The Queens was also the venue for the inquest into the death, by the busy coroner Mr Glibertson, of railway man James Halsall who was stood on top of the train when it went under a bridge after leaving Bispham station. It would have been the foot bridge over to the brick works probably and the train was only moving slowly. There were no films to watch at that time about trains going under bridges while you were stood on top of them, sometimes with a comedy and other times with a tragic aspect to the event, so awareness beforehand would been far less than today’s fortunate cinema or TV film subscription viewers.
In some crimes on occasion, the miscreant was the creator of his own penalty, and in the first instance the policeman wasn’t necessary. In mid-December 1855, a young thief, possibly after a cheap Xmas present or two attempted to rob a house somewhere in Blackpool (the report doesn’t say where). It was at dead of night and pitch black but there must have enough light to be able to distinguish the shape of a window which he was able to climb through. Groping about in the interior of the house, he carelessly found by mistake, the mouth of the sleeping occupier which he had unfortunately plunged his fingers into, an action which had the effect of waking the sleeper up.
Startled, the man in the bed, whether aware of what he was biting or not, closed his teeth on the offending hand, or whatever demon he considered to be probing his mouth. Though the lad was able to retrieve his hand and escape back through the window, he was later caught, perhaps easily recognisable by the bandage he had wrapped round his hand, you might think.
I remember seeing a shape looming near once me while waking from a sleep in my bed at home so I thumped it. It was my Dad but I didn’t know that at the time. My Dad was a good soul, unlike his own father whom he had to thump when he found him lashing out at his sister who had come in late accusingly like a common harlot and probably only about 9pm.
Mary Ellen Fielden was a Blackpool prostitute who took her trade and defiance to Lancaster, where after a sentence of the ironic wording of 9 months hard labour, as if labour wasn’t already a woman’s natural pain and inconvenience, she vowed to ‘mark’ the policeman who had arrested her when she had finished her sentence.
In 1858 about the same time as ship’s captain McCartney and his crew on the shipwrecked Splendid were hanging on for dear life to their ship’s masts off Fleetwood, Richard Salthouse of Blackpool was biting off the finger of Mr Henry Dodd, landlord of the Victoria Hotel in Fleetwood. Evidently an unstable and violent bloke with previous, especially if he’d had a drink or two, he had lost it when the landlord asked him to leave the hotel after using ‘foul and disgusting’ language to Mrs Dodds. It was all Salthouse could do but to run at Mr Dodds and head butt him in the stomach, I imagine a bit like a wrestling spear move, knocking the landlord to the floor and while his victim was thus in a stunned state he jumped on top of him, gouged at his right eye and bit off half of the forefinger of his right hand. He kept this bit of finger in his mouth even when putting Mrs Dodds in a headlock when she insistently demanded he leave. I guess there were other men present who would have sided with Mrs Dodds at that moment, and that seems to have been the end of the incident since, probably aware of being outnumbered, he spit out the finger and left. It wasn’t the first time that Richard Salthouse had been guilty of this ‘biting trick’. Mike Tyson and Louis Suarez have a long and distant heritage. It’s not recorded whether Mr Dodds picked up his finger. If it had been James Duke of the New Inn, he might have pickled it or stuffed it and put it on the mantelpiece, as was his wont.
In November of 1858, little John Wilcock only fourteen years of age stole thirteen sovereigns from his father’s house in Blackburn and went on a spending spree in Blackpool. In his lodgings (he must have been able to pass for someone old enough to take lodgings, though on the other hand his money would speak for him,) were found, the stolen purse containing four sovereigns, a concertina, two ornaments – a man and a woman with flexible necks which wobbled a bit like the nodding dogs of many a car dashboard today I imagine – a toy ship, a small pair of brass scales, a fife, a snuff box, a glass workbox, a locket and guard, electro-plate, four brooches, breast pin and a silver mounted riding whip. He had also had 13s 3d (67p about) in the pockets of a set of new clothes. He admitted the theft. The desperate urge to spend money always denied to the majority of folk, was just too much for a person like him unfortunately, but he had certainly got it out of his system. In 1868, a John Wilcock had provisions shops in both Blackpool and Blackburn, though you wonder where he acquired his provisions from. It was a time when the Chancellor had reduced the duty on tea by 6d (2½p) in the pound (0.45kg) weight, and it was claimed in the press, with relief or pride, that tea did not have to be adulterated anymore. Victorian food was notorious for its adulterations. Perhaps if it was the same John Wilcock, he had turned over a new leaf, if he had acquired his provisions legitimately. At that time my family were confectioners in Liverpool. I don’t know whether they adulterated the loaves or not but in a later incident, they did throw them at a couple of knife attackers to protect their shop. Perhaps the loaves had been adulterated with concrete.
In April of 1859 a father, John Strickland, killed his son and somehow a verdict of accidental death was returned. In a fit of exasperation or rage he threw a pair of fire tongs at his sister who was sat on a chair holding her infant nephew in her arms. The child had begun to cry and for some reason the father had flown into a rage. It seems that the father wanted to take the child in his arms but his sister Ann instinctively kept on to it. The tongs hit the child fracturing its skull and reaching in to the brain, as was the verdict after the visit of Dr Cocker. Not surprising that Ann had wanted to keep on to the baby.
At the same time, the body of an infant male child about three weeks old, was found buried in a field near the railway station. On exhumation, it was found to have fractures on its head and many of its ribs were broken which appeared to have been caused by a hammer, and the verdict, ‘murder by person(s) unknown’. Again in October of 1858 another body, well on the way to decomposition, was washed ashore opposite the Vauxhall Inn. It was found by William Cragg while walking. The young mariner to whom the body had belonged had evidently prepared himself for swimming for his life as his vessel went down. He had taken off his jacket and tied his comforter around his loins and his knife was fastened around his neck with a string. In that dress sense, I expect he looked a little bit like Tarzan, but his brave and desperate attempt to save his life had been in vain. He was probably from a vessel that had gone down near Southport about three weeks before.
Drunk driving has probably been an offence ever since the wheel has been invented and even probably before that. In 1859 a cab with a strong horse to pull it was as much a killing machine as a motor car of today. At Poulton, where the court petty sessions for the district were conducted, William Singleton, a Blackpool man was fined £1 and costs for being drunk as well as being drunk in charge of a cab and for assaulting a policeman. He was unlucky enough to be near enough a policeman to assault him since these representatives of authority were so rare in the town. On some days it perhaps should not have been an assault on a policeman, but the only policeman.
In August of 1859, the seedier side of the human emotions found Blackpool the perfect place to play out its illegitimate and destructive, carnal desires. A chap called Thomas Entwhistle who was married with two little children was accused of being the father of the illegitimate child of 15 year old Harriet Ann Walker, the daughter of James Walker and wife who were close family friends. It seems that he took a fancy to her on his many visits to the house and she went to Blackpool from Bury, the family home, to visit him with his wife and family. While there they went out riding together, presumably with a good excuse to his wife and later sexual contact took place while alone in the house, or while his wife was out of sight. Thomas Enthwistle was a chemist and druggist and she claimed he had rendered her unconscious with chloroform. Ignorantly naïve concerning sexual contact, she had told her mother and her mother had kept quiet about it hoping no doubt that pregnancy would not be the result. Mrs Walker didn’t tell her husband until it was self-evident not long before the baby was born. It seems that Thomas Enthwistle, in a rather flippant manner in the subsequent court proceedings, which probably didn’t do him any favours in the minds of the jurors, had tried to blame his shop assistant in the chemist shop who had quite conveniently, it was claimed, gone off to join the army, and was well out of the way. He had claimed that the girl and the shop assistant, an Ambrose Lee, were often seen together, kissing and cuddling and had been alone together, something emphatically denied by the girl. Several witnesses including a couple of washer women and an errand boy who weren’t afraid to say what they had seen, in the graphic content limits of the day, deposed that they had seen the two together in more colourfully compromising situations on different occasions, often being seen out together and in the shop where Ambrose Lees worked. The problem with that was that all the witnesses were in the employment of Thomas Entwhistle’s father at his factory. Today of course, DNA would have resolved the case, but the case was nevertheless found in favour of the girl, after a jury retirement of only twenty minutes, and she was awarded £100 damages.
On appeal in November of the same year, the defence argument that the girl had made it all up, was not considered and a nisi ruling was applied, which gave the accused little chance of clearing his name if, indeed he was an innocent party. The son of a friend of mine was similarly accused and the conflicting evidence of the girl was favoured from day one, when analysis showed doubt. Occasionally it’s one word or many against another, sometimes rightly, and sometimes wrongly.
It was the girl’s father who had brought the case against Thomas Entwhistle, and he was claiming only for loss of her services, which I guess is not as callous as it sounds, since the economic cost of bringing up a child has always been high and he had paid for her education as a governess and teacher.
Fashion and the little more serious and intellectual side
It’s the recording of facts, and more usually the more dramatic ones that make the news. Fashion and the pursuit of knowledge only make good reading for the specialist or the geek, so consequently there is less in the newspapers about the two subjects though both are an important reflection of the mindset of the time and relate intimately to the people who actually make the news in the first place. So among all the deliberate carefreeness and the need to survive and the noise and the hustle and bustle of all this, Blackpool had a serious side and space for a little sophistication, too.
It was a time of high dress sense to positively define sexuality and social status. If a woman were to wear the fashionable crinoline dresses in Blackpool, she could walk freely without the fear of bumping into anything, and though there are no records in the town of women in trouble with their popular crinolines, the freedom of movement that the coastline paths afforded could have been well suited to them. One of these women would not then have been the woman who got jammed between the wall and a gaslight stand on a street in London where she was stuck for about half an hour before she could free herself, providing excellent street entertainment for a group of young rascals hanging around on the street corner. There was also a case where the crinoline of a woman’s dress was so rigid that it actually broke the leg of a young girl as she brushed past her in the street. Maybe Eiffel got his idea of constructing a tower from the observations of such solidly made structures. But this is not much to do with Blackpool except the Eiffel tower bit, by which name the town’s tower was provisionally known before it took the name of the town. Again, in Devon, a young woman fell off her horse and the verdict was that she was killed by the crinoline she was wearing rather than the impact of the fall. Pride comes before such things.
The entertainment that the town is now renowned for had yet to develop, and it would develop due to the laws of supply and demand. Folk came to be entertained and it was the considered duty of those who wanted the town to develop, to provide that entertainment, at the same time making a financial gain from it. Entertainment, unless it was Punch and Judy or amateur musicians, acted out in the open, was largely confined to private functions, with pianos and wind instrument bands and percussion. These could be parlour soirées or the larger balls as those that the Clifton Hotel was able to accommodate. By 1859 however, there was a Theatre Royal operating in Blackpool, and run by a Mr Watkins Young who had connections with the Theatre Royals in both Blackburn and Manchester. Players and staff were advertised for in the industry publication, the Era. The Theatre Royal moved to the Arcade and Assembly Rooms on Clifton Street.
In the September of 1859, the summer season for which the theatre only had a licence, was coming to an end, but the high quality productions were still open. An advertisement for Blackpool in the Era states that, ’Mr Watkins Young is still open here, and continues to produce a succession of novelties for the amusement of his patrons; but the storms of the past week have been unfavourable for the interest of the theatre. Mr Young will shorty open at Blackburn.’
1858 was the year where the need for a public library was first suggested and it was hoped that the efforts of those who wanted to put the library in place would be backed up by the inhabitants of the town. In the same year a reading and lecture room was proposed for the town and a subscription list was being filled with energy and enthusiasm and there was high hope of it succeeding.
Blackpool was increasing in size and importance and the need for an electric telegraph, the modern way of speedy communication was becoming more apparent as many businessmen from Manchester in particular saw a practical need for it, a bit like getting superfast broadband in today’s world. The Electric Telegraph reached Blackpool in May of the final year, 1859. It was carried via poles erected along the railway line. Fleetwood and Kirkham already had the facility and Lytham would have the facility soon. The Manchester businessmen could now come to Blackpool, knowing that they would not have to leave their business behind but could keep in touch, and the reporter in the Manchester Evening News, who had itemised his grievances earlier in the decade would have been well happy. The telephone would eventually in years to come improve that communication even more, and it would be inconceivable today to be without a mobile phone, leave a laptop behind or live without Wi-Fi.
The Athenaeum, the closest Blackpool had got to developing a functional, intellectual society, with a meeting place for book reading and lectures, was established in 1842 but dissolved in 1857 due to lack of support after an enthusiastic and successful first year. It had been reduced to a common reading room though latterly George White, the artist in the town had used it to give art lessons three times a week. In 1854 the Reverend J Noall, a Blackpool man gave a lecture here on ‘ghosts and dreams’. It had been illustrated with some ‘remarkable’ anecdotes and no doubt included the legend of the boggart of Whitegate Lane, a popular Blackpool ghost story. The next projected lecture was on pneumatics and would be given by Mr Myers of Preston and who would include experiments along with his talk.
Where fashion was concerned with hair styling, Joseph Turnbull, originally from Bolton but late of London would provide that in his hairdresser’s salon. For Joseph they were probably good times in the 1850’s but these didn’t last. Having married Emma by 1861 and with a daughter with his wife’s name, two of their children were killed, and one who survived but who was seriously injured, under the falling masonry of a partly built house during the school dinner hour in 1882. Joseph had rushed from his house, which was also his shop, to the scene on hearing the news, to reach the tragic site. The two children, his sons, are buried in Layton cemetery.
Pictures of hair from Pinterest. Joseph Turnbull was active into at least the 1880’s and his son, who survived the accident which resulted in the deaths of his two brothers, continued his father’s profession.
The script, which isn’t very clear on the original page reads; “Mr Preston, of the Temple of Arts, in Blackpool, is one of the most successful practisers in this interesting art, and his services have during the present season been in great demand. The specimens of his art which we have seen are of a high order, and he appears to have acquired the knack of giving “Distinctness of the Eyes” which so few photographs possess.” A portrait was as advertised 2s (10p).
Monsieur Isidore Eugene Sanceau and his son Monsieur Constant Auguste Sanceau were both university educated and were principal and vice principal respectively at the Collége Francais in South Shore. The object of the Collége, founded in 1855, was to afford the sons of ‘merchants and gentleman’, a very English education along with a grounding in European languages, an attempt to bring Europe together socially if it couldn’t get together politically, a failure which would continue to descend into horrific warfare during the pursuing decades and even cause bitter, internal division in Britain at the end of the second decade off the 21st century.
It wasn’t the only school in the town to teach French, a language that aspired to exude sophistication and education in the spoken word. With the opening of the young ladies’ boarding school, the Misses Greenwood engaged a Parisienne, Madame Garreaud, to add some authentic French flavour and sophistication to the education there. It was a time when the French and the Brits were able to get on with each other. They had finished fighting each other and would be fighting together against a common enemy in the Crimea the year after the school was opened. Bonjour, monsieur. Ca va? Alright mate? How are you?
In 1855 Monsieur Sanceau, a man of means himself, and a home in Woodford, Gloucestershire, it transpires, and his son, (Madame Sanceau was also an accomplished musician at the school, so she should get a mention), along with the German born (well sometimes German born, and sometimes not, depending on which census return is to be believed) Mr Viener (and son) were highly influential in the establishment of both a library and reading room in the two districts of Blackpool and South Shore. The first free lecture on the properties of water and its potential impurities, was given by M Constant Auguste Sanceau jnr later in the year of 1858, and he was well received and applauded. In November of the same year he gave a lecture on electricity, a lecture which was well received but he regretted the lack support for the South Shore Reading Room and Lecture Association, implying that the value of money and property, hotly pursued in the town, was greater than that of the pursuit of knowledge. A later lecture in 1861 warned the general public of the adulteration of food that unscrupulous producers and sellers would want to pass on as pure. The list of foodstuffs that were contaminated with a host of chemicals, an army of bacilli and even a little bit of human and animal faeces and a few dead flies (well, dead at least by the time they were cooked), is a frightening read for the poor, Victorian consumer, those that could read, of course.
In 1883 the entrepreneurial skills of the Sanceaux were demonstrated in their investment in making paper from rags. You can make paper from anything fibrous, even your socks. There were thousands of pounds involved in a Sheffield firm where the process had proved unprofitable and there were claims and counter claims for losses of up to £10,000.
Less honest entrepreneurial skills had been demonstrated earlier by Isidore Sanceau in 1851 when he was accused of stealing 66 French shawls off his supplier in Manchester to sell some and pawn others in Liverpool.
In 1861, Mr Viener acquired by persuasion, from the Board of Trade, a rocket for the Local Board to use in the case of necessity, which could be put into use when firing a line to a ship stranded on the shore when the fury of the sea won’t allow a shore craft to reach it. Vorsprung durch technik. Blackpool was proving to be a combined European community and the richer for it, bucking the early 21st century trend. Adolpus Viener lasted until 1892. His shop and bazaar were eventually in Talbot Road and his death is recorded at his present family home, Dean Street (on the corner with Church Street – now Bond Street). He died of an overdose of chloral (today you switch to Wiki if unsure of a fact, leaving the OED or the Chambers dictionaries on the shelf), a common prescription drug used as an anodyne. An accidental overdose you would like to believe. He had been involved in all the areas of the town’s social and administrative life and was also the secretary of the Blackpool branch of the National Lifeboat Institution, having made the speech at the launching of the first Blackpool lifeboat opposite the Manchester Hotel on 20th July 1864 from within the boat itself. It was a Mr Viener, it seems (spelt ‘Vyner’ by then, perhaps sounding less German), who bought RHO Hills from its eponymous owner. My mother worked there in the 1930’s under this ownership in the new building as a lift attendant, opening and closing the heavy iron concertina doors, and then progressing to window dressing as well as being part of the hockey team. Rowland Hugh Oldham Hill (RHO Hill) attempted suicide in 1933, a year after his original shop and bazaar had been burnt to the ground, killing all the animals and birds which could not be rescued from the top floor menagerie. His wife found him on the floor of the garage with gunshot wounds. The pressures of responsibilities are sometimes over-burdensome. The Blackpool rifle club used to meet regularly at Hills Bazaar. He survived to live until 1941 at a time when every scrap of paper saved helped to win the War, my mother had left Hills and joined the AFS and had met my father and who were soon to marry. Rowland left over £12,000 net in his will from his home at the Paddock on Preston New Road.
Back to the Sanceaux, the Collége Francais was situated on the South shore at West House. In early December 1856 the schooner, British Token, was bound from Dundalk to Preston with bulk foodstuffs. The sails and rudder were disabled in a gale and the captain mistook the Lytham light for the Fleetwood one and became trapped on the Crusader bank. At dead of night and in a rising tide, the crew had to climb the rigging for safety and clung on all night. They were not seen until early morning at first light when already one of the crew, 18 year old Dundalk man, Bernard MacGuire, had collapsed with exhaustion and falling off, had drowned. There was a phaeton available at the Collége Francais and Monsieur Sanceau and others took to it to attempt to rescue the crew which they did with difficulty in the rising surf, first throwing a line and attaching bottles of spirits to it to fortify the stranded mariners until they could be physically removed. The cargo of bulk foodstuffs which was strewn all along the shore was largely ruined but enough made itself available as rich pickings for a careful hand or two. Though the cargo was insured, the ship itself was not. At this time there was no Blackpool lifeboat, the nearest one being at Lytham and it was always up to the townsfolk to respect those who used the sea and offer their solidarity, rescue and support, bucking the insubstantive myth of the wreckers’ charter which would lure the ship to shore, accepting the multiple deaths of the seafarers, for the selfish acquisition and material benefit of the cargo it carried.
Benjamin Heywood had a wider interest in improving, or at least conscious of, the need for the education of the working man. He was a favourite to look up to in the town. In his perceived generosity, any consideration the poor could get from the rich was seen as a kind act. An MP for a short time and also part responsible for the creation of the Mechanics Institute in Manchester (from which annual trips were taken to Blackpool and enjoying a meal and a brass band in the Dog and Partridge) which presented an intellectual and artistic flavour for those in the trade professions who would want to pursue research and development at their own level. It was a kind of Liberal desire to acknowledge that intelligence and intellect were universal potentials in the human being and not merely the jealous preserve of the materially privileged, and the way to fulfil that potential is through education. Mechanics Institutes and their likes sprung up, financed by those who wanted to extend and develop knowledge especially among those who had little time for such within the long working hours of the necessity to survive. They were mutual societies whose self-funding via contributions helped those of their members in need. Benjamin Heywood died in 1865 and the contents of his house were sold off at auction by his two eldest sons, (one of whom, Oliver and equally philanthropic it seems and whose monumental statue resides in St Annes Square in Manchester), as the executors. His philanthropy appears to be in direct contrast to that of his ancestors who were slave trade ship owners in Liverpool before moving into banking in Manchester. Heywood’s Bank became Martin’s Bank (I remember one at the top of Red Bank Road in Bispham), more recently, being incorporated into Barclay’s. If his house was built in the resort in 1837 as quoted, then that would have been thirty years after the British abolition of the slave trade. It seems his house now, after several successive residents, including it seems, its use as part of the later Aquarium, and situated next to the Beach Hotel, and along with it is now a mere memory lying beneath the foundations of the Tower buildings.
Eccleston’s Bazaar from the Preston Chronicle 1859
Frears upmarket store 1857
1850’s fashionable clothing, men’s attire. Rochdale Observer 1856.
You probably wouldn’t be seen out like this today unless you were taking a break from a film set or you were particularly extrovert in your consideration of fashion and dress and insensitive to the opinion of others.
Entertainment and Sport
The licensee of the Beach Hotel was James Thompson and, like Benjamin Heywood, he was a Manchester man. He was a popular figure in the community, and encouraged the gentry (though the public were not ignored) to his establishment for a bed at 5s (25p) a day and porter and bitter ales at wholesale prices. He was not averse to public speaking, and was also prone to bursting into song. His voice is described as ‘buffo’, and in the absence of juke boxes, live singing would substitute for a musical interlude and these included society meetings and on momentous occasions like the laying of the foundation stone of the Peace Bridge. I had to look up buffo (thanks Wiki) since in my moderate Latin education, bufo, with a single ‘f’ only though, is a toad. If he could sing like a toad he could have sung as well as myself. But it was rather that he had a deeper, baritone voice, and one presented in a light hearted, comic mode. And so I still have no rival. I was asked to leave Yates Wine Lodge for singing, though my own voice was lost among that of a few more proficient singing voices of a mixed company of friends. James Thompson, a popular man in the town, died in April 1859 and a large contingent of mourners followed his coffin to the train station to take his corpse back to his home town of Manchester.
In October 1851 a meet held over two days saw many sovereigns changing hands over horse races up to two miles in distance. There was a Blackpool Cup for 3 sovereigns and races for hacks and ponies, some on the flat and some over hurdles, cash prizes varying on the nature of the race. The place where handicaps were established was at the Beach Hotel and which was the centre of activities. A ball was held afterwards at the Clifton Hotel which could provide the space and hospitality which a posh clientele called for. Ladies were charged 3s (15p) and gentlemen 5s (25p). Some small, traditional advantage of being a female in a male dominated society. The rest of the crowd went to the equivalent of the pub, or a handy inn or vaults. Most years it seems there were races, and when one was announced there was a great interest shown among the gentlemen who had most of the money, and the occasional punter on holiday who liked a flutter with his more limited funds.
The Clifton Hotel was a venue for the more prestigious events. On February 3rd 1859 the Assembly Rooms there were the venue for the first Masonic ball in the town and ‘a gayer, more delighted, more fascinating assemblage was probably never congregated n Blackpool’. And perhaps it kept its status as the gayest congregation in the town until Funny Girls took over the Odeon some one hundred and fifty years later, such is the mercurial nature of language. Lots of money was raised for charities and the introverted and mutual support of the assembled company was demonstrated in the sing-along to the Masonic Air, played by the masonic band from Preston.
Coursing was also a popular sport, presenting a Great Talbot Cup, Clifton Stakes, Blackpool Cup, Fylde Union Stakes along with a Consolation Stake, probably for those dogs which hadn’t caught their tea during the other races. The Blackpool event was a prestigious meet and advertised in the gentlemen’s magazines nationwide and stud advertisements for both dogs and horses implied the prestige of the Blackpool events.
In September 1855, a race drew a crowd of several thousand onto the beach and on the cliffs to the north when lots of money once more changed hands. The weather would always be a contention when arranging anything on the beach. Only two weeks earlier the pleasure boat Ocean Queen, being moored a short distance off the coast, had been severely damaged in a storm. Over two days again, these races started at Bispham and ran a maximum distance of two miles, to the Royal Hotel at South Shore. In the final race of the last day, the first jockey over the line jumped off his horse in the delight of winning, but it was before he was weighed so he was disqualified. It’s not recorded whether he could run faster than the punters who had placed their bets on his horse.
Racing and gambling went on as usual and was part and parcel of the life of a gentleman. Here, it was in the open, but my maternal grandad gambled illegally on the back streets of Revoe or on the moss at Marton shortly after WW1. He gambled the household furniture away. For the gentleman however, who could gamble with the spare cash from the income of their properties and who didn’t lose, on record anyway, any of their furniture, horse racing on the beach and dog coursing for the Blackpool Cup on the land owned by Squire Talbot Clifton of Lytham were openly advertised. Two gentlemen of Blackpool, William Nickson, and John Moore of Lytham Street were each fined £5 and costs for not properly filling in their Inland Revenue returns in their positions of post-horse keepers. Perhaps a bob or two went into their gambling habit, or perhaps it was just an oversight. They each owned horses respectively named Blackpool Laddie and Blackpool Lassie. In a galloping race of May 1851 the Blackpool Laddie won against the Blackpool Lassie for a stake of £10.
Live pigeon shooting was an acceptable sport and attracted large crowds in various venues of the country and the Blackpool hotshots held their own in the North West competitions. At the Gynn in January of 1859 Mr Edward Banks and Mr John Simpson took the annual prize of £2 for killing all of their five birds. Times and attitudes change of course though there is always a danger of reverting to the baser instincts of the human being. Wild animals are currently being bred in South Africa for the entertainment of big game hunters. An alarming case of the savagery of the human being towards other living creatures was witnessed on the beach somewhere opposite the New Inn when a parent pen swan and six cygnets caused much interest. A crowd gathered and then the butchery began, at first blamed on some youths. First the mother swan was shot on the beach and the cygnets chased across the sands and the water in boats with the insatiable lust of humans for killing’s sake and not satisfied without a carcass. All kinds of weapons were used from sticks and stones to rifles and muskets. Two of the young birds managed to escape though one was reportedly killed elsewhere. ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ as the John Lennon song reflects the American newspaper advert of his day over a hundred years later. James Duke bought two of the birds in order to preserve them, whether out of sympathy or trophy hunting is not known. He had also preserved a yellow rat that had been found in his cellars and whether he had preserved the flying fish that had been found, still alive by a visitor, Mr John Pollard taking a stroll on the beach in September of 1852 is also not known. Neither did he get his hands on a four foot long flying fish caught in the Irish ‘Channel’ off Blackpool and sent to a friend with a fish stall in Halifax from where it was presented to the museum. On another occasion in 1856 Mr William Eastham who was a carter heard a corncrake in a field at the side of the road. So he got off his cart and caught the bird with his whip as it took flight. It’s not known what he did with it, but wild life just could not be left alone. Still can’t be evidently. Perhaps he ate it, had it stuffed or sold it on to someone who would do the same.
In July of1858 Robert Alston of Preston couldn’t believe his luck when he was strolling on the beach at North Shore, when he found floundering in a hollow of water a full grown salmon, which the paper describes as a ‘bull-mort’ (thanks to Wiki; a three year old salmon). So what do you do when you find something alive? You of course knock it on the head and kill it. But it was no curiosity to exhibit on the mantelpiece. It was for supper that night. A 12 pound (5.4 kilo) fish, he had been offered 11d (5p) a pound for it, but turned the offer down. Better it be a treat for his family. Unless he was a selfish man and ate it all himself of course.
Just like in September of 1859, Mr Davies of Warbreck, ‘near Blackpool’, proudly ‘brought down’ with his gun a skylark with yellow plumage. Perhaps a migrant bird on its way to Africa to escape the harsh winter of the northern climes but didn’t escape the harsh sentiment and cold sense of possession of the human animals it shared the world with. Today, indeed, if it were a rarely seen species and not a common bird, it would have attracted an army of twitchers congregating on the shore and shooting with their cameras and not with their guns. Unlike a specimen of the Great Northern Diver, which elicits some surprise that it was taken alive on the beach near the Wellington Hotel (now by central pier). Perhaps its object was to be killed and stuffed or to provide a short lifetime of incarceration in a cage. Times change in some parts of the World.
Just on occasion the animals got their own back, but not just through the scheming deliberation of intelligence, rather by the self-induced misfortune of their nemeses.
Shortly before the Christmas of 1854, a sportsman ‘laden with game’ (probably with the innocent desire of making a bob or two out of selling Christmas dinners) was walking along Abingdon Street when he suddenly exploded. A man’s pockets are a woman’s handbag, they fulfil the same functions. When the convalescing soldiers of WW1 were given their standard, blue uniforms to wear, the designer hadn’t included pockets. Where would he put his loose change, baccy or naughty cigarette cards? In this Pandora’s pocket the sportsman in question kept both his powder flask and his equipment for lighting up his cigars, his matches or, as they were called then ‘lucifers’. In this case they were both the carrier of light and the devil itself, for the friction ignited the vestigial powder that had leaked out of the partially closed flask lid. Fortunately he was not seriously injured but I have heard the seagull’s cry described as being like the hoarse laughter of women. A bloke, of course would have made that up, but he was probably around at this time as the seagulls and their avian brothers and sisters were having a good laugh. The sportsman’s name wasn’t reported.
In the September of 1852 a chap called James Yates walked about three thousand times around the Number 3 public house in Blackpool and it took him just short of six weeks. It wasn’t that he was trying, Temperance style, to convince himself or the world around him that you could walk around a pub that many times without giving in to the temptation of going inside for a drink. He had abstained from alcohol and to keep his strength up, got through six and a half pounds of meat each day. And it wasn’t the kind of extreme abstention exercised by the likes of that Christian saint (St Augustine I think) who invited harlots to sleep next to him so he could demonstrate that a man could resist the urge for sexual contact. He doesn’t confess to what he dreamt about but the girl would have got a first good night’s sleep in ages as an equally justified or condemned participant in sexual activity.
But it wasn’t as moralistic as any of that, and it wasn’t that James Yates was an incurable eccentric. It was all for the endurance sport of pedestrianism and the £100 received at the end of it for the achievement. Pedestrianism was regarded as a poor man’s sport by those who were rich, and it involved walking … and walking … and walking and more walking and even more walking. 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 miles were the most popular for endurance, long distance but there were events where the distances were only a mile or two and I guess the heel and toe method of qualification for the sport derives from then.
They were popular events and attracted quite some interest and enthusiastic, or merely highly curious crowds from which the sponsors and organisers could retrieve some of their prize money and expenses. The final days of these events attracted the larger crowds and the Number 3 would have been well patronised. There was plenty of green space around the pub then which constituted the track and he could nip into the orchard across the road for a piddle if he wanted along the potential route, though these events were closely monitored, night and day. As well as a manager of the event, four marshals made sure that all the rules were adhered to. Though this event isn’t described in detail, I’ve found the information from other events of a similar nature. The competitor would walk a mile in each consecutive half hour which means he would finished the mile within fifteen minutes and then have a rest, for which a hut and a bed was provided for him. The duty marshal would give him a nudge at the half hour mark and he would set off again. James’ feat was to walk 1500 miles in 1,000 consecutive hours. Close fitting flannel attire would be worn and boots, exchanged for slippers when the acute pain of blisters invited Victorian swear words into the head. But the £100 prize money at the end was perhaps worth it, equivalent to nearly £12,000 today.
He succeeded. Some feat as well as some feet and I guess there was a party afterwards. After a similar even in Newcastle he was taken to the pub along with a cheering crowd and a band and after a hearty meal he challenged, and won, a walking race against his manager. I guess there was a party afterwards at the No3. It would be hard to imagine there hadn’t been. The middle of the nineteenth century continued as an age of invention and development showcased in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. Trains were carrying the whole of society into the future and you could travel to places that were only names spoken on lips but never to be experienced by the ordinary person. However people like James Yates were showing that there were those who hadn’t forgotten that they possessed a pair of legs and were keen to demonstrate their capabilities.
Without the sticky tape or chewing gum of religion to provide the adhesive in a large society of complex and varied individuals there is little means keeping a moral code, or an assurance that life has a purpose, and is really ok, anyway.
But it can get annoyingly in the way of the ordinary course of life. To be a landlord of a hotel was to be well known in the community as their establishments were meeting places more than places to drink into oblivion all the stresses of life where religious belief does not suffice for the moment. Such was James Cragg’s enthusiasm for serving his customers at the Victoria Hotel on South Beach, that on one occasion in 1852 he was fined 20s (£1) and costs for selling beer on a Sunday. Perhaps he had been a little over-enthusiastic but all through the years he was, and never would be, alone in his transgression.
He had been in the hotel since 1848 and was keen to advertise it, and an ‘omnibus meets every train’ at the station to take you to the door. To be known was to eventually have a street named after you and the name Cragg was no exception to this rule. The Craggs as a family name had been carriers in Lancashire, since the middle of the 18th century and James Cragg’s father, also James Cragg was well known most especially on the Blackpool to Preston route. On the death of James Cragg senior in 1848, land which he owned on Brunswick St was offered for sale with especially favourable terms in the deal for ‘the particular establishment of a Catholic Chapel on the site’ where there had been a dire need for such a place of worship for quite some time. The furore over the reorganisation of the Catholic Church in 1850, which had led to the Papal Aggression Bill, when it was feared that the Catholics wanted to take over the country once more, had died down a little. Today’s Catholics are the Muslims who live under the same suspicion from those who fear their own traditions are in danger. My grandad was anti-papist. That was a hundred years later. I was baptised in Bispham Parish Church but brought up Catholic. I am now neither. There is poetry and beauty in religious expression but there is always a grave danger in its blind faith and the fear therewith of its prejudice of others. The first Catholic chapel appears to have been provided in a room on Station Road. I don’t know which address, but it was a lot easier for residents and visitors alike to worship there rather than the long trip to Poulton, Fleetwood, Kirkham or Lytham. The lack of a place of worship was one reason why, ironically perhaps in largely Catholic Lancashire and the Fylde that many visitors of that religious persuasion kept away from Blackpool, and favoured other resorts like Southport instead. The Tyldelseys of Vauxhall, who had fought and died for the cause of their beliefs, both spiritual and political for example; and Cardinal Allen whose birthplace was Rossall Hall – which in 1856 was the Northern Church of England-School-, were prominent Catholics of the area. Cardinal Allen had a hiding place at Mains Hall which was not a surprising necessity since he had supported the Spanish Armada invasion, and though this was against the consideration of most Catholics, it was quite regular and understandable for that particular belief to be held under suspicion. Not just the Gunpowder Plot.
1850 was a time when it was rued that there was not a Catholic church in Blackpool and there was much anti-papist feeling, (as the Papal Aggression Act was passing through Parliament) and, since Jews were still under suspicion, it would be half a century or more before there was a synagogue and much more than a century before there would be a mosque in Blackpool. Until then, it was the Protestant bible that ruled. Myself, brought up Catholic, there were two versions of the bible. The Douai version was a literal translation from the Greek and the Knox version was an interpreted one so, if you had a passage to translate from the Greek New Testament as a punishment for some minor transgression at school, you would opt for the Douai version, for that was word for word, and thus a doddle. You finished it as quickly as possible and then you could sit back and think of knickers.
In February of 1856 Mr Edward Welby Pugin, (son of Augustus Pugin), the architect, prolific in the design of Catholic churches, paid a visit to the town and inspected the site which had been bought for the erection of the Catholic Church and by July 1855 a large sum of money had been collected for the construction of a place of worship. £5,000 had been donated by Miss Monica Clara Tempest, a society lady of Broughton Hall Skipton, a country mansion which she shared with her brother Charles. The money would provide for the construction of a church, school and priests’ house.
By November 1856 the building had been raised as high as the clerestory and ‘promises to be by far the finest building in Blackpool’, and late in December the 50 or so workmen on the construction of the church were given a slap up meal in the Clifton arms across the road and paid for by Monica Tempest. By June 1857 the stained glass windows for the church, depicting the Stations of the Cross, were ready. They had been made by a Mr Barnett, glass stainer of Leith up in Scotland and provided by Charles Tempest, brother of the church’s benefactress.
The church was dedicated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and put in the care of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, the somewhat uncompromising and kick-ass militant missionaries. The consecration of the church took place on the 1st December 1857 and was begun early in the morning in the tent of the Tempests outside the church itself. It was the envy of a Protestant correspondent to the Manchester Courier and reflected the chagrin of Protestant observers who saw the ’Romish Chapel’ outdoing their own church in services and size of congregations. It was a new building however and people like new things if they have favourable publicity. But nevertheless the Protestant war cry to save face against these Catholic upstarts and their Protestant dissenters in the town who were labelled with them was to, ‘out preach them, out pray them, and outlive them.’ I don’t think the Guinness of Book of Records has in its pages a record for the number of Pater Nosters that have been vocalised in five minutes or so in a praying contest, or the servant of which religion has preached the longest sermon ever and I wonder what religion the oldest ever living person subscribed to, in order to outlive them all.
Of course there are always those who promote conflict and those quieter ones who promote concourse and ecumenism, tolerance and acceptance. Sometimes listening to the prejudice of religious belief is like listening to two rival football fans with nothing better to do than slag each other off, often in a rather violent fashion. Perhaps the only difference is the lack of ‘f’ words in the former.
The Reverend Jenour, incumbent of St John’s Blackpool, expressed the ideal of religious union of the churches in the meeting of the Evangelical Union in Liverpool in the October of 1858. It was a theme that some supported and others didn’t. Some still do and some still don’t, today. However, in the same year, in a meeting of the Church Missionary Society held at the Infant schoolroom in Bank Hey Street, in which Rev Jenour was the chairman, he hoped that a more ‘liberal spirit would prevail among the people of Blackpool’ and that they would put more money in the collection boxes to enlighten through foreign missionary work the ‘benighted fellow mortals in India, Africa, and America.’ He concentrated his lecture however on India, in which he showed the ‘heathen darkness of most of its inhabitants.’ The universality of religion had not yet reached these shores and perhaps not in a popular sense until the beads and the incense and the music and the colour of flower power over a hundred years later, took over the young, often narcotic assisted ideals. Prejudice-busting dreams often dreamed up with their own prejudices, but at least, different religions got an airing and laid bare the space for others.
Monica Clara Tempest was a woman of means from a family of means. She was however also a woman of conviction and charity. From the family fortune she gave personally £100 towards the relief of the Irish Famine, the Great Hunger as it was called by the nation which was affected by it mostly, but it also included Scotland, too. She also established St Monica’s convent in Skipton, opened after her death, and she was considered on her estate as a generous and pious woman. Perhaps she only lacked a nun’s habit (and she was better for lacking this no doubt) as piety is not akin to understanding and compassion where commitment to strict rules overrides the expression of such important human sentiments. Sacred Heart School was my elder sister’s first school but not till 100 years later, taught by the nun’s there, the Sisters of the Holy Child of Jesus. I was at St Joseph’s College for a short while, and fortunately too old to be favoured by the sexual frustrations of some members of the celibate, secular order of Christian Brothers. I wasn’t the Irish Catholic lad who found closure by digging up the grave of his abuser and smashing the contents to pieces.
Monica Tempest died in 1860 aged only 54 and in the new church of an exterior of York and Welsh stone and an interior of York and Longridge stone, a ‘gem of architectural beauty’ in Blackpool, a requiem mass was conducted in her memory. At this service, the celebrant was a Rev Padre di Pietro, a Jesuit and a Sicilian exile. This reflects the accommodation that Britain had always given to both religious and political exiles and Blackpool, even before it had come into being as a definitive township, joined in too. Those of extraneous births became influential members of the town and the resident townsfolk themselves in more recent times opened their doors to most notably the Belgium refugees of WW1, the Spanish Civil war children, the internal evacuee children from the cities of WW2, Polish exiles, the Czech crisis of the fifties, contemporary refugees of the Syrian crisis and no doubt many other conflicts in which the human being is unable to get on with peaceably, the one with the other.
The Tablet 1858
The nuns of the order of the Holy Child of Jesus moved into the town in 1858 around the corner from the church before later moving to Layton Hill. Layton Hill Convent, the secondary school of my sisters always reminds me of green acres. Not the bucolic kind of acres stretching across the landscape as far as the eye could see, but the underwear kind occasionally stretching across the fantasies of a young and curious male, heterosexual imagination. The uniform was green. There was a programme on TV called Green Acres and since green acres sounds like green knickers, acres became synonymous with knickers. These were quite large ones. And ones which were systematically inspected at the school in a regular and gross invasion of privacy. Green was good. Pink was the penalty of detention. Acres then became knickers in the humour of derision or contempt.
My sisters’ humour, not mine but I can sympathetically giggle along. To this day nuns ‘n’ knickers go together in a game of word association.
The people who came to Blackpool were subject to the many circumstances of life. Most have a good time and have happy memories on returning home, others perhaps less so and some suffering injury or even death and never returning at all. In July 1859 one person, the 23 year old daughter of parents from Rochdale converted from Protestantism to Catholicism while in Blackpool to the horror of her parents, but fuel to the otherwise idle lips of the thousands of holidaymakers as the affair became public. She had met up with some girls and became friendly and eventually accompanied them to Catholic Church services, quite soon after which she converted, and was baptised in Blackpool. When her parents found out, her father, a magistrate in his home town went wild so she left the holiday accommodation and went with one of her friends to her home in Preston. A bit like my grandad, a self-styled cleric of the Plymouth Brethren who disowned his son when he married my mother who was a Catholic. It was rumoured that the young girl had been abducted by a Catholic priest into the Church and next stop was a convent. The girl was located in Preston and returned home, but whether she reverted to the old religion or not, is not recorded.
St John’s Church, the parish church of the town had been furnished with a chancel in 1852. The money had been raised partly as a surplus to the money raised by a bazaar in 1850 to clear the outstanding debt of the church and it was so successful, it had realised an excess of £300, money which it was decided to put towards a new chancel. The architect was George Latham of London and when the chancel was completed, it was used for the first time on the last Sunday of June 1852. The feature of the chancel was the large, stained glass window of grand design presented to the church by the three children (tres sui liberi) of HenryBanks father of Blackpool (de Blackpool patris) who had died in 1847 at the age of 88. His two sons in law, Doctor Cocker and Reverend Thornber also get a mention on the inscription by the windows, along with their coats of arms. The window cost was reported as £120 (over £14,000 in 2019) and manufactured by Messrs Forrest and Bromley.
The bazaar of 1850 itself ‘Pro Dei Ecclesia’ was conducted and fussed over by the women, without who it probably would have been a shambles. The men would have been around somewhere, drinking a glass of wine, scratching their bottoms and talking about bosoms as is the company of men indulging in their own domain. Though they might, in their own company, have said tits instead of bosoms, revealing the shallow importance of their social status and the actuality of their closeness to the proletariat. Pick up and read a political biography and the corridors of Westminster ring with effing and blinding of conversation (and no doubt with the women these days, too) so it can be understand the same should apply for the smoking rooms of the day at Blackpool and South Shore. But the women got the tables sorted out and provided the stock to put on the tables and probably complained about how useless the men were. There was nowhere in the town to hold a bazaar of this size indoors so a large marquee was erected outside the church. It was a fine display of colourful decoration of florals and flags and banners and exhibiting the crests and mottoes of the Fylde families, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Queen. There was a triumphal arch at the entrance, and the surrounding buildings were also festooned with flags and banners and streamers. It was a great success but only those with a letter or two after their name were in attendance as patrons. Presumably all the Freds and Margarets who lived with their families in the tenancies of the town behind the grand buildings, attended too, and probably contributed from their limited disposable incomes. Nearly £700 had been made on the day in sales and contributions.
While it was a time for the refurbishment of the current church of St John’s it was also a time for the collection of funds for the building of a new one. Blackpool was in need of a second church as well as more services, especially in the summer season when the visitor numbers were greater. Collections were made at the door of St John’s when there was no special collection for any other exigent need, and the money placed in the newly established Blackpool Saving Bank. An appeal for a second church about twelve years since had met with little support and enthusiasm and it was hoped that this second appeal would achieve more. Already on the last Sunday of July 1859, with the need of a greater capacity for worship evident, there had been £11.3s.2d (£11.16p) collected at the church as well as 11s 6d (58p) collected at the infant schoolroom on Bank Hey Street where there was a service every Sunday to accommodate the demand. Earlier in the year there had been a fund-collecting tea party for the school. The tables were set by all the wives of the notables of the town including the vicar’s wife, Mrs Jenour, and Mrs Cocker and Mrs Banks. No doubt the men helped enthusiastically to eat it all, if they had been too conveniently busy in their own business to help in the setting up. There were the usual songs of glees and madrigals sung by three men and one woman. The Reverend Jenour in his speech, confessed, that because he was a southerner he was led to believe that the Lancashire people were an uncouth lot, but instead he had found them courteous and kind. Not sure how true that is since I’ve lived in several places and there’s good and bad everywhere in all folk, but over £10 was raised for the school on that occasion by these courteous people. Clever vicar who, in his myth busting experience up north also wanted to woo his congregation, maybe.
The pressure was on for continued funds and in the same year of 1850, there was a charity ball, which was hoped eventually would turn into an annual event, to provide funds for the repair of the church schools in Blackpool, and in South Shore, a part of the coast which maintained its independence from Blackpool. Reverend Preedy was the incumbent at Blackpool and the Reverend Banner at South Shore. The invitees, of the upper social echelons, came from several parts of Lancashire and the women out-numbered the men. They all got together afterwards for a ball at the Assembly Rooms of the Clifton Arms and ‘presented a very brilliant display of beauty and fashion,’ and the ‘graces and elegancies of highly civilised society, could scarcely be surpassed in any part of England.’ Quite a posh do, then. But the vicars and their wives were present and while ‘countenancing the innocent amusements and agreeable recreations of the people, but may be the means of preventing any abuse of these social gatherings.’ Kind of if you look too alluring at a man, ladies or if your eyes spend too long in a cleavage, gentlemen, I’ll tell God of you. And don’t drink too much either. Whether these spiritual referees were able to control the competition of the forces of sexual attraction or not without VAR, is not recorded.
The ball made £40 for the school funds (£5,340 today, 2019; internet inflation calculator). It had started at 8pm and went on till 5am amid singing, dancing, eating and drinking and making sure the vicar didn’t see you with a flirt in your eye. The band was from Preston but wasn’t very good at first though perked up later or, possibly as the drink went down, nobody could tell whether it was good, bad or indifferent. The affable Mr Thompson of the Beach Hotel just a short walk away, was master of ceremonies and no doubt couldn’t resist the temptation of breaking out into a buffo song or two in between introductions.
It was February of 1850 and the following morning was beautiful and fine and those that were capable, partook of the fresh air that is always on tap in the town along the sea front. The Liverpool newspaper correspondent however, perhaps hearing of things in the offing, advises that if Blackpool were to get a ‘police act’ for lighting, paving and road repairs, then Blackpool would attract more visitors and be able to extend the season at both ends. Or maybe it was a dig at Blackpool since Liverpool favoured Southport which was only next door but was much cleaner than Blackpool. And its great rival Manchester favoured Blackpool, so why rub shoulders with the rivals in commerce? But there would be a great influx of these scousers, along with many others who flooded into the town in 1914 to train, fight and die horrible deaths in the various theatres of war abroad. My grandad brought my patronymic to the town at that time. He saw the war. As RAMC he had to chop injured soldiers up in order to save their lives. He survived, married his landlady’s daughter, who had witnessed the Boer War, and settled in Blackpool. But after that he was prat. Perhaps the war had affected him.
The parish Church at Bispham had also undergone alteration and reopened in July of 1859. The ceiling had been removed and it was now internally open to the roof, with the inside of the gables now visible and it had been re-pewed and the organ repositioned. Land had also been acquired for the building of a Union Chapel as, within all religious groups, there had been a general complaint of the absence of any place of worship. This was to be on Abingdon Street at the top of Clifton Street so it could be seen from the sea.
In February of 1851, a less frantic and excitable trip was taken to Blackpool by the Friends of Wesleyan Reform to which the public were invited at the Clifton Arms Hotel. Tea and refreshment were provided and a special train was chartered at a fixed price. In July 1852, friends and pupils of the Wesleyan day school presented a mahogany desk to the departing master, a conveniently entitled Mr W Wesley, who had been at the school for the last three years. He was off to take up a position in Preston.
Walking is not only a useful exercise but, in an area conducive to observation and thought, it can be a virtually spiritual experience. As Vondelpark in Amsterdam (where I spent many a night in a sleeping bag and escaped without my throat being cut on one occasion) was conducive to the thoughts of Sigmund Freud as he strolled hither and thither in constructing his theories of analytical psychology, so in 1856 Blackpool beach was the scene for a group of ladies from the Bible Society, a society that was celebrating fifty years of existence, for contemplation, realisation and epiphany. They wondered, as they wandered along the beach and through the quaint villages which lined its shores, just how many homesteads actually had a copy of the bible or, indeed, how many could afford one. They contrived a plan of producing cheap bibles to distribute to the poor and employed a hawker (colporter) at a low commission rate per copy and in this way, 1800 bibles were distributed on the coast and its environs. By 1853, when the success of their efforts had reached a newspaper report, the ladies had approached the wealthy mill owners and after only a single year 100,000 copies had been distributed especially around Manchester.
And there were those whose commitment to religion was tested in the face of an attractive bit of skirt or trouser. In 1855 the clerk of St John’s Church ran off to America with an unattached female, to start a new life, leaving behind him not just his homeland but also the wife and two children within it.
1857 was the year of the Indian mutiny in which cultures clashed in the usual horror of mutual mutilation and slaughter. In Blackpool a fund was set up for the aid of the ‘relief of the sufferers by the present mutinies in India’ and nearly £9 was collected at St John’s Church after a sermon by the Rev Jenour, the incumbent there. All sides suffered but the Brits were in the right of course. How could it be any other way? Technology and democracy might have been exported to the benefit of many places but the imposition of cultural and spiritual ideas will always be opposed. In this case it was the Mohammedans’ fault because they believed that India would return to their rule 100 years after the battle of Plassey in 1757 when British rule was established (India v British East India Company (my g5 grandad, in his naval capacity, supplied the British forces from his ship during the defeat of Tipu Sultan, friend of the French….., a man who went down fighting, as much in folklore as it is thought in a manner attributed to King Alfred at Hastings who took down several armed knights in combat before succumbing to the superior force of numbers. At least that was the belief on the ship that my g5 grandad was serving). It was now one hundred years later and it was the rebels who weren’t prepared properly and in their impatience created an excuse for a justifiable fight. So it was their fault all round and an inconvenience for the British. So really it was only the British that suffered because for everyone else it was their fault and they shouldn’t have started the whole thing off in the first place and God was on the side of the British because he had engineered the carelessness and the impatience of the rebels, making it that much morally easier for the soldiers of the Queen and their supporters . Ainsi soit-il. But the speech was worth £9 in collections.
My grandad was Plymouth Brethren. He wanted to be an Anglican minister but was not considered suitable so he bought a ministry from America so the story goes. It was prior to WW2 and nearly eighty years later. He used to preach from his booth on the Prom., denouncing those passers-by who would not heed the word of the Lord. Most were only interested in candyfloss, simple distractions or seeking a partner. The young girls from St Cuthbert’s school would walk down Lytham Road especially to have a giggle at the blind old man shouting and expounding in his condemnation of the evil doers of the world. One of the girls, my mother, got a fright when she met her future father-in-law at home for the first time and discovered it was him. She was Catholic but largely non-practising and from a maternal line that had seen executions and land confiscations in Ireland at the hands of the likes of my grandfather. She was emotionally abused at school for being illegitimate, and it didn’t help in her being left handed, too. A defiled child, a product of sin. Not one of God’s proper children and no need to suffer them. But no-one is innocent except the child.
The Crimean War
At the fall of Sebastopol in August 1855, (when it was a good excuse for the illumination of the town with what gas there was, and added to with a display of fireworks in the first demonstration of an illumination that the town would take up on a permanent basis in years to come), it seemed that the war was over but, like the armistice of November 1918, it was not actually the end of the war. The Paris Peace treaty to officially end the First World War was not signed until June 1919. Likewise, the Peace treaty of Paris which officially ended the Crimean war wasn’t signed until the following year.
But the fall of the city after its siege by a British army and allies entrenched before it (a kind of practice for WW1) signified the practical end to the fighting and it was a time for rejoicing and celebration and the crowds in Blackpool gathered outside the Beach Hotel on the sea front and celebrated with fireworks and the burning of an effigy of the Russian Emperor. Over sixty years later, in 1919, an effigy of the Kaiser was also burned on the beach at Lytham during the celebrations of the end of WW1. Kind of a local, seaside tradition, maybe.
There were, of course, people from Blackpool and its environs who were directly involved in the war, and Blackpool also did its bit in contributing to the Patriotic Fund to support the cost of the war, as it did during the Boer and the two world wars, with Rev William Thornber at the time arguing without opposition that war is justifiable especially on your own terms which, in this instance, was anything British and anything Christian, especially Protestantism. And there were many toasts to that. All the big names in the town were canvassed in order to contribute to the fund, Dr Cocker and Richard Banks leading the way with £10 each of many, varied, individual denominations leading to a provisional total of over £130. As expressed at the time, it was a horrible war which demonstrated the horror and agony of the wholesale slaughter of human conflict. It was considered that there had not been a worse conflict and it was well understood that it is within the nature of the human being that there would be another one.
And there was, quite soon afterwards, in between a few minor ones. And all this talk, or more, all this activity in war, led to a nationwide consciousness of defence against attack wherever this may come from and all over the land, volunteer forces were being established. Blackpool, however, was considered to be lagging behind until on December 23rd 1859, Dr Cocker addressed a meeting at the Clifton Arms to discuss the ‘propriety of establishing a Rifle Corps at Blackpool’ There were plenty of guns in the town and several excellent shots and no bird, especially a rare one, was safe form their gunsights, so add a bit of insular patriotism to that skill and you have the makings of what would eventually be a Volunteer force, which would come into being by 1865, its first signees including the names of later eminence, John Bickerstaffe and Jacob Parkinson. The beaches at Blackpool and the Fylde would provide rent free access areas for training and manoeuvres. In 1853 the national cost of hiring land for these exercises was £800 as contrasted perhaps with the beer money paid to the men which amounted to £10,000. Well, I suppose fresh water was at a premium, though the heads would not have been fresh the following morning after a last night out, especially as, in later days, in Blackpool, there were those who travelled by boat from Liverpool and who had to suffer the rough seas back homewards with a bad head and a dicky stomach.
On a larger scale, in WW1 the tank bank Julian, guarded day and night by the local Volunteer force (which had evolved from the militia into the TA) would be situated next to the drinking fountain which had been opened in 1870 in Belle Vue Square, in what is now Talbot Square as a part of the further continuation of the town’s promenade development begun during this time of the Crimean war.
At the end of January 1856, shortly before the Paris Peace Treaty had been signed, which ended the war, a sumptuous dinner was held at the Dog and Partridge, home of Cornelius Bagot, to honour the return ofLieutenant Thomas Christian Rycroft, 31st Regiment of Foot, from the Crimea. He had joined the regiment in early 1855 as ensign and had recently been promoted to lieutenant. Lt Rycroft was a South Shore man from a South Shore family. His father variously a gentleman, attorney and latterly a solicitor and the family living variously at ‘West House’ No.6 Waterloo Road, and Cow Gap Lane (before it was incorporated into and renamed Waterloo Rd). Peace was not yet confirmed on his return, but it was hoped by all present that he would not have to go back. Squire Clifton of the 1st Royal Lancashire was still at the front and a Colonel Wakefield, who had fought in Afghanistan, a country which has a modern inference as a location for war, was regrettably too ill to attend. Speeches in praise of the bravery of the British soldiers were profuse. The Russians had been prevented from creeping into Turkey and from there they would have tried to take over the World. But they would not be able to do that anymore. Florence Nightingale was a name to be praised during the toasts, as she had made quite a mark in the public consciousness as opposed to Mary Jane Seacole whom nobody had heard of, because the world then, as now, had not evolved into a common fraternity, and there was even praise for the French too, but probably only because there were two respected French resident nationals present in the persons of Monsieur Isidore Eugene Sanceau and his son Monsieur Constant Auguste Sanceau.
Well, back at the party at the Dog and Partridge, proceedings either descended or ascended, depending on opinion, into songs and toasts, of glees and solos and the sound of the bugle until eventually breaking up at the relatively early hour of 10pm. But they were all working people. But not just the regular call of work for, like the Collége Francais, the door of the hotel could be knocked up at an unearthly hour by the hand of a castaway mariner, or those seeking assistance for such. It did happen, more than once.
There at least two known Crimean veterans buried at Blackpool. Michael Boyle, an Irishman who settled in Blackpool and died aged 83, at the end of January 1909, at 100 Cocker St in the town, was in the 30th Foot. By the graveside at Layton cemetery, his regiment, now the 30th East Lancashire, attended with a firing party. With his wife Ellen, he had two sons, Richard and George, and a daughter, Ellen.
And there is more known about Edwin Hughes. In 1927, he was the last remaining survivor of the Charge of the Light Brigade. He was born in Wrexham on Dec 12 1830 and was a shoemaker before joining the army, only five months before the battle of Balaclava, the scene of the famous charge. In the early part of the unflinching charge, with men and horses dropping all round him, his own horse was shot from underneath him and, not being able to continue the charge, attributed this fact to his survival that day.
He married and had two sons and two daughters, one of whom he lived with since his retirement in Blackpool where he died in 1927 at the age of 97. His two sons Mr T and Mr T E Hughes lived in Birmingham and his married daughter Mrs Edwards lived in Streatham, London. All attended the funeral. He was the last remaining beneficiary of the Light Brigade Balaclava Fund, administered by the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation.
He kept a fine military demeanour until his dying day and his faculties were only marginally impaired by old age, and he could often be seen digging his garden. He was living at 42 Egerton Road in 1911 (the census return) and the electoral rolls later on in the 1920’s give the address then as 64 Egerton Road.
Troop sergeant Major Edwin Hughes was buried at Blackpool Layton Cemetery with full military honours. The coffin was carried through the streets on a gun carriage, draped in a Union Jack. The funeral procession was led by a band from the 88th Brigade RFA, with draped instruments and a firing party from the Loyal North Lancashire walked along either side. Many officers of the county regiments attended the burial as also the mayor of Blackpool, Alderman Robert Fenton, and members of the local regiments, ex-servicemen as well as a large crowd of civilians. The traffic around the cemetery was brought to a standstill, and large crowds filled the cemetery by the grave. The vicar of St Paul’s, Rev Parslew, recited Tennyson’s poem over the graveside, though it’s trusted that he didn’t go onward and onward but knew when to stop, and four trumpeters from the 13thHussars from Edinburgh, his old regiment which had also sent a wreath in the shape of the figure 13, sounded the last Post, and the attending Loyal North Lancs presented reversed arms.
And into the Valley of Death he eventually went, long after many of his colleagues who had fallen around him, remembered to the last.
When the news of the peace signing was received in the town at the beginning of April, the whole population went crazy, flags and banners were displayed and waved, and anybody that had a cannon fired it, those at Dickson’s Hotel (now the Metropole) and at the French College in South Shore, were repeatedly fired with enthusiasm. The official Peace celebrations at the end of the Crimean war took place in early May 1856, and it was declared a day off for everyone. These celebrations coincided with the laying of the foundation stone of the Peace Bridge, as part of the promenade development, given that name precisely because it was the end of the war. In this case it had been the Russians who had been the baddies and the Brits had prevented them from taking over the world with their evil designs. The French had helped but they weren’t as good as the Brits since the Russians feared the accuracy of the British marksmen and found it easier to fight against the French, because they would suffer less casualties.
Earlier in April, however, there was a grand feast held in the Manchester Hotel, the ‘half-way house’ between Blackpool and South Shore. It was held on the bowling green at the back of the hotel, perhaps a bit of a sacrilege to today’s bowlers. However there were plenty of well-to-do townsfolk there and Mr Watson, ‘yeoman of South Shore’ provided 375 pounds of beef from Mr John Braithwaite the butcher and three loads of potatoes. There was a beef meal and a pint of ale for each person and the bellman went round the town announcing the affair. It wouldn’t have been much of a walk and the bell would have been heard from all parts of the South Shore as soon as the striker had hit its metal housing. After the meal, there was the usual rejoicing and self-congratulations and toasts to each other, interspersed with singing. Presumably all the blokes had a good singing voice since many of them got up and sang. Perhaps the ale helped both the singing and the listening. The only women mentioned are the cook and the wife of the host and the young people present, I guess sat in a corner, and imaginatively dreaming for a future with a juke box or headphones and Spotify.
The working class were given a mention however. They were important too. It was the beer-drinking, meat-consuming and often fighting navvies, and who used crude language, who had built a railroad in record time over in the Crimea which provided vital and continued supplies for the British army and its allies. But closer to home the sweat and diligence of the working man on farm or in industry had created the wealth, the benefits of which is what the well to do were enjoying now. The working people could be praised as the ‘sinews of the welfare and riches of this great and mighty kingdom’. As long as they weren’t a threat and didn’t have any power, a sentiment feared but not expressed. Of course this great and mighty kingdom fought its battles throughout the nineteenth century with the help of allies and multinational forces. In the Zulu War of 1879, it could afford to send a regiment home since there were enough local allies to continue the fighting. My G5 grandfather was in the British navy during the early part of the Napoleonic Wars, and was shipwrecked at Capetown. He was Prussian. Like him, captured off Dutch ship, on the several men-o’-war her served on, were many impressed sailors as the death rates were so high on the ships they forcibly collected what manpower they could from the ports. As well as Spaniards and Germans, there were many Americans when there was no love lost for the English with these latter not long after the War of Independence. Most had been impressed in the West Indian ports. That was the nature of the British navy which made ‘this great nation’.
There was plenty of food over at the end of the affair when the toast was to the prosperity of Blackpool and South Shore, two distinctive districts, though it was agreed that the one could not exist without the other. Late in the afternoon the bellman was sent out again to invite the labouring class and the poor to a seven o’clock supper which no doubt they did not ignore but thoroughly enjoyed.
On the day set aside for the peace celebrations in Blackpool, the shops were closed by 9am and the main streets had already been festooned with bunting and flags. At this time there was a procession through the streets headed by the Oddfellows behind a brass band from Blackburn and they were followed by the 500 schoolchildren of the town, no doubt thrilled with the day-off. All the schoolchildren carried a flag, and were also led by a brass band and preceded by a large banner. It was quite a bit of a walk through the town which included Church St., Talbot Rd., up to the railway station and then along Abingdon Street to St John’s Church. At the service, the vicar exhorted all those present to stay sober in their celebrations and accept the blessing of peace. Whether that spiritual advice was heeded or not is not recorded. But it probably lasted for a bit and then was forgotten as the evening wore on.
After the service the procession got under way again and, leaving the Church, proceeded down Church Street and Bank Hey Street, to the beach at the South Shore and returned, via Lytham Road to the ultimate destination at Bank Hey House, the mansion home of Dr Cocker, and with a frontage to Victoria Street and a small part of which still exists now and incorporated into the Winter Gardens building. But the extensive lawns which stretched out around it have long since gone and it was upon these lawns that the company assembled.
In front of the house, the children were presented with fresh milk, currant buns and apples, while the Oddfellows brethren were supplied with a munificence that included buns, porter and wine, and maybe a further caveat from the vicar regarding drunkenness.
The poor, about 100 sorry souls, ‘the poorest men and women of Layton and Blackpool’, were gathered together in a corner in a demonstration morally lying somewhere in between generosity and condescension, and given currant buns and packages of tea and sugar to ‘take home to gladden their families’, a modern version of a food bank. These donations, inspired by the vicar, had been financed by subscription and a donation from the church collection platter, both sources amounting in total to about £17.
Towards the end of the event, Dr Cocker addressed the assembled crowd, which numbered about 1,000. Among the self-congratulation and the singing of the National Anthem, (by the buffo voice of James Thompson) there was even time to praise the French, which was a rarity. The French negotiations had helped to bring an end to the war. It was then that he announced that the ceremony for laying the foundation stone for the new bridge in front of the Lane Ends Hotel would take place, and that it had been agreed that it should be called the Bridge of Peace, an apt appellation for such a momentous occasion.
The company then waked the short distance to the Lane Ends Hotel opposite which the bridge would be constructed and, after a speech by William Thornber, the foundation stone was laid by Richard Banks, the son of one of the founding fathers of Blackpool, (and who in 1855 the previous year had received a silver platter in recognition of his service as treasurer of the Blackpool Market Company). William Thornber in his address, had given three reasons why the bridge should be thus named. The first being that the foundation was laid down on the day that peace was celebrated, the second that those who came from the industrial towns to recuperate in the ‘refreshing and health-giving zephyrs’ of the town’s seafront, could, on their return, bring peace to their families instead. It is hard to imagine how a breath of fresh Blackpool air, great as it proves to be, could have in its intrinsic properties, the cure of the social maladies of the industrial townscapes, but it was a nice sentiment and represents the age old function of Blackpool. Later on, traditionally in good old George Formby fashion, it would be a stick of rock that these people would take home with them. Thirdly, the bridge would join the two central beaches together thus linking the south beach to the north beach in a continuous promenade, though this hadn’t come about without an argument.
Previously, its position had become a focal point of controversy between those members of the Local Board, forerunners of the town Council, and largely co-elected between themselves. Some property owners north of the bridge did not want the promenade continued across the front of their properties, as was the proposal before Parliament in the town’s Improvement Bill. Time would show that this was only a short lived objection. The bridge itself would not live to a good old age, as the promenade would eventually be provided with an improved and widened carriageway which would irrevocably join the south of the town, to the Bispham parish boundary at the Gynn in the north and accessible to locals and visiting promenaders alike.
And there was also the question of cost. How do you recuperate the subscription and rate payers’ contribution? A toll was suggested but vehemently opposed by William Thornber, a man always willing for a fight, whether, intellectual, spiritual or physical and wouldn’t look out of place on any of the professional wrestling circuits today. He wanted it to be a free passage for all, including the ‘lower classes’ who thronged in from the industrial towns. And in the end he won, pinning his adversaries to the canvas for a count of three.
After the ceremony, while the poor took their buns and milk home to gladden their families, the Oddfellows retired to their lodge-room and enjoyed a slap-up meal, and in the evening the ball began and continued till 4am. Meanwhile, outside, the more distinguished houses and hotels were all lit up and Bank Hey House was illuminated with the word ‘Peace’ and there were fireworks on the Central Beach. A large balloon-shaped illumination at the New Inn caused quite a sensation and was lit up with the initial ‘V’, and pre-dating Winston Churchill by nearly a hundred years. Cannons were fired at wherever there was a cannon positioned, and there was more than one in the town. Mr Rossall at Dickson’s Hotel fired his and the pupils at the Collége Francais in South Shore fired theirs, proud that the Peace Treaty had been signed in the capital of the homeland of the two principal masters of the establishment. In front of the Lane Ends Hotel the cannons were fired with such a ferocity, that several windows were broken in the vicinity. It was a glazier who had fired the cannons. He was probably only on a small wage. It is not only the rich who can conceitedly aspire to cleverness by claiming education above privilege.
The scheme for the creation of the promenade, which included the Peace Bridge, had to be paid for and this came from a levy on the rates, private money and the raising of money through bazaars and events supported by the gentry of the Fylde.
The following bazaar was held on 25/7/1857 as it was evident that further improvements were necessary.
Belle Vue Square has long since been incorporated into Talbot Square
Though they were allowed in at a cheaper rate, as usual, it was the women who did all the work in the above event, at least forty of them, and not a man’s name among any of the seven stall holders. There were seven, colourfully decked out stalls in a marquee measuring 35 yards by 8 (32 x 7.3 meters) and loaned by the Yorks and Lancs railway company for the occasion. The construction works had cost £700 and this bazaar had contributed £651 0s 5½d (£651 and a couple of pence) so it had proved to be a successful event.
Bazaars and fetes have always been a way of raising money for popular needs in the days before public money was issued from elected Governments, local or otherwise, with a universal franchise.
This bazaar held on July 14th 1857, a little earlier than the above one.
Though, prior to 1856, there was already a walkway along the raised land above the beach, this was breached abruptly at Bank’s slade, where a deep inlet created an impassable obstacle, and some of the owners of the adjoining private property frontages would not take kindly to hordes of unruly folk from the inland towns bypassing the obstacle by taking a short detour over their land. It created a kind of border backstop between the north and the south of the town. Those strolling from the south of the town could go no further than the Lane Ends Hotel (in between the modern Church St and Victoria St) to be met with this obstacle of Bank’s slade, and those from the north likewise found themselves stranded on the other side of it. If the tide was out of course, those capable could scramble down the bank and onto the beach before scrambling back up the bank on the other side of the slade, and continue that way. Alright if you were up for a hike, but not for a stroll in your best shoes.
This image from the above publication shows the Lane Ends Hotel, in front of which is Bank’s slade, the deep cut separating the northern strollers from those strolling from the south of the town. The benches and fencing is also evident. Smoke coming from the furthest chimney is described as that of the summer house of Benjamin Heywood and the structure immediately before it then should be the Beach Hotel. A modern photograph would reveal a less romantic scene. The west facing elevations of the buildings in the picture are now those of the Tower buildings with the Tower itself, today rising in the middle of them. The promenade after several widenings, repairs and improvements to date is wider, contrived by human endeavour rather than by natural, marine sculpture, is faster and more populous, even at night since in the picture these folk would not have had the advantage of street lighting.
This bridge across Bank’s slade was to be wide enough to take a horse and carriage across the divide, and it also would be naturally high enough to take the same beneath it. Two sets of steps were also constructed from the promenade down to the beach. It was also assumed that soil excavated from the extension of the new railway station could be used as back-fill-to some of the voids of the new promenade structure. While the Light Brigade had been away rushing at the Russian guns, the civilians at home had been equally pitched in a battle against the furious onrush of the Irish Sea.
The Bridge Of Peace was a wooden construction, with stone foundation. It had a short life, and it seems its demise was due to the need for further improvement to the earlier promenade by 1870.
Mrs Betsy Porter, wife of the landlord of the Britannia Inn in South Shore, would have known the Bridge of Peace. With her husband Richard and their young son, Thomas, they would most likely have been among the celebrations for the end of the War. Not long after, in April of 1859, Betsy gave birth to triplet daughters which, as quite a remarkable event, came to the attention of Queen Victoria herself who generously donated £3, (not so far off £400 in 2019) no doubt sympathetic to one of her own, female kind. Mrs Porter’s young son Thomas was the only surviving child of triplets that she had given birth to some years earlier. Not sure if she had received anything from the Queen then. It was the year when Blackpool’s first savings bank to operate at the offices of the Board of Health in Church Street, opened and perhaps Mrs Porter might have been capable of investing the minimum 1 shilling (5p) that Dr Cocker, as treasurer, exhorted his fellow gentleman creatures of means to invest. The triplets were baptised at Holy Trinity Church on April 20th but they were frail and, sadly, Jane, Ellen and Emma died one by one, Ellen lasting only 32 days, Jane just 34 and Emma 35 days, dying each on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. They were buried in Poulton churchyard. Perhaps the inevitability of their deaths had been increased by a lack of ability to contribute to the Juvenile Sick Club which had been established some years earlier by Dr Thornber. It was the year when Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species and perhaps it was a vivid demonstration of natural selection or perhaps it was a case of the Christian God testing to the limits, the strength of those who elect, or are driven by the security of tradition, to believe in him. But neither explanation could have reduced the trauma and the tragedy.
War had killed thousands and it was assumed that it would continue to do so. At this time, in the late 1850’s, when the solemn event of burying the triplets was taking pace, the atrocities of the Indian Mutiny by both sides were still fresh in the news pages and the people of Blackpool were encouraged to collect at the church for the Lawrence Military Asylum Fund which promoted British enclaves in India and also the Christian Vernacular Education Society which, in its sincerity and good intentions, nevertheless was undermining Indian cultures in the grass roots of its society. And so, poor old Mrs Porter (actually she wasn’t very old; just 36), and without lifting a finger towards the fight either in India or the Crimea or anywhere else and had nothing to do with either, nevertheless had the fight brought to her by the very fact she is female. No military medal or roll of honour to remember her by, but she did get her deserved gift from the Queen, and she might have been able to afford to buy a new hat, or have her hair done at Joseph Turnbull’s.
The Peace Bridge didn’t seem to have much to say about itself in its relatively short life, apart from it being an officially named carriage stand for those carriages with at least one horse, but it must have seen thousands of holidaymaking folk across its boards in its time. Its name, however, appears as a silent witness to the terribly tragic death of ten year old Alice Higham wo was knocked down and killed (she died later in hospital) by a run-away horse and its cart in 1861. It seemed she was on the road and not the footpath, and was caught between the railings of the road and the wayward cart, the wheel of which crushed her head. The runaway horse and its cart had been scattering women on the road since it had been startled during a delivery on Market Street. Why only women had been scattered on the crowded streets and not anyone else, reveals a little about the reporter of the incident, and probably the attitudes to women at the time. They were creatures whose personalities and sexualities were concealed beneath long dresses that would reach to the floor and sway rhythmically to the regular movement of the hips, hair often concealed under bonnets or hats, feet in soft boots, and full bodies sometimes even further hidden below a parasol. But whatever they wore, they always got in the way. I suppose blokes jumped out of the way, too, but that is not reported. It would be a hundred years and more before, in the freedom afforded to the expression of shape and form, the revealed legs of a Jean Shrimpton skirt and later still, the explicit, wobbly bottom stretchy pants, which scream in the agony of being stretched to breaking point like a torture victim explicitly across the rack of the buttocks, would stream in their hundreds along the promenade and in and out the streets of the modern town. And men would have equal rights to get in the way as much as the women.
There was at least one man in the street. He was Thomas Davison, a fruiterer of Market Street on his delivery round and who was no doubt running in panic after his apples and pears, or whatever his goods consisted of, and his frightened horse with its cart. The horse raced on down the slade and its progress was only eventually checked when a wheel of the cart caught on one of the pillars under the Bridge of Peace as it hurtled towards the freedom of the beach where there might have been a couple of its equine friends, the donkeys, to commiserate with. The cart swayed from side to side as it no doubt had done when Alice saw it coming and didn’t have time to get away from it, trapped as she was by the railings. A wheel came off and rolled violently onto the crowded beach, scattering some more unfortunate ladies, poor creatures habitually in the way wherever they are, and injuring one or two children playing there before coming to a halt, and the horse now halted was brought under control. Alice had not been allowed to reach maturity and become one of those mature ladies of the ‘fair sex’ in their elegant, all-covering dresses and who always somehow manage to get in the way and who men coveted so much but in their supposed frailties were nevertheless indispensably good at setting tables and organising bazaars. Women were those people who Elisabeth Barret Browning, a woman of the Age, would champion in her poetry, and who would warn the men that they were far more than dishwashers and no doubt she might have implied that they didn’t always get in the way or, at at least, only as much as the men. The incident involving Alice can be more easily understood by referring to the pictures in Ted Lightbown’s book. (see end credits)
Alice had been holding her one year old sister Ellen in her arms when the incident happened and, with great presence of mind according to one report, it seems she was able to throw the little tot away to one side before the horse had descended upon them, thus saving her life. This is one reported story and, whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter but it’s a nice story and one you would want to believe. She was buried at St. Paul’s Church, Marton, on 17th July 1861. She had lived at No 6 Euston Street, an enclosed street in the centre of the town with her bricklayer father Joseph, her mother, her sister Ellen whose life she had saved, and her brother, John.
In 1852 Mr Viener was actively involved in creating a new company to use the existing infrastructure of the plant and over four miles of piping of the Vegetable Gas Light Company. This Company, based in Vauxhall, London had set up shop in 1850 and in Blackpool had based itself on land next to the Victoria Hotel, owned by Mr John Bonny. As a carrot, it would supply gas to the town for five years with full liability. It would be this infrastructure that Mr Viener would have been interested in relieving the original Company both of the liability and the profit, through the sanction of the 1848 Towns Act. In 1850 it was the hope that a part of the town would be lit up by Christmas but, though the pipes had been laid by April 1851, the first time Blackpool would have been illuminated by anything other than natural light was yet to be witnessed. By the end of February 1852 however, the gas was functioning for the first time, though there were teething problems with the fittings which weren’t all working as expected .However, Blackpool was one of the first towns to be provided with this vegetable gas. Eton and Harrow railway station were among few other places enjoying the limited benefits of the system.
This new proposed Company of Mr Viener, and a few Blackpool residents who were fed up of the high prices charged for the supply of gas and the engineers that the Vegetable Gas Company employed for the fittings and the sometimes irregular supply of gas, first got together in the Clifton Arms Hotel to discuss the viability of taking over the supply of gas. Cleaner than coal gas (cannel fuel), the original patent was capable of providing small scale gas production from oil derived vegetable matter, and useful for domestic consumption and hotels. Its light, though controversial, was claimed to be brighter than that of coal gas, and the fumes less toxic and much healthier. Several towns adopted it, but Blackpool was the most notable. Mr Viener’s entrepreneurial idea was to produce gas at a cheaper rate than that being charged at present.
At the time of the meeting, the Clifton Arms Hotel had been lit up by gas from the Vegetable Gas Company and it was agreed that the gas was indeed the brightest gas of all. Other parts of the town with the same supply however, suffered as they were subject to a less bright light which was also accompanied by unpleasant fumes. While the Vegetable Gas Company did its best to preserve its contract with the town, there were claims and counter claims of which gas supply would be suitable for Blackpool. However green and advanced the vegetable gas might have proved to be, it ultimately could not compete with large scale demand and the subsequent production, and town, coal gas was to prevail in the future. The move to cannel or coal gas was proceeded with but as the gasworks were being constructed the storms played their little games again and the iron roof which had been placed over the old gasworks was blown off in the February of 1854. By June 1854 the gasworks had been completed and a stone retention wall was to be built around it while the coal had been ordered for delivery. In a decision of the Board of Health, endorsed by Parliament, no compensation was considered for any losses incurred by the former gas company.
But even then in 1855 the gas consumers maintained their complaint against the relative high price of gas and the excessive amounts that their meters displayed. Nothing changes. The energy companies today are under fire. But after a meeting of the gas and lighting committee of the local Board of Health, it was agreed that those consumers who could demonstrate they had been overcharged, could qualify for a percentage refund and also change a meter to one they would consider more reliable. It was also the year that the florin came into existence. These lasted about 120 years until they were turned into 10p pieces on decimalisation. They would have been a topic of conversation in any exchange of money that included cash and much of this would have been spent in Blackpool as the crowds thronged off the trains with the excitement of their hard earned cash in their pockets to be handed over for a boat trip, a meal, a jug of ale, a fancy goods item from a market stall or bazaar or a room for the night, even if it was the kitchen floor that was available in their accommodation.
By 1858 the town was advertising for the supply of gas.
In the October of 1857 during a severe gale, two vessels, the Gem and the Splendid, bringing pig iron from Belfast to Fleetwood were stranded at Bernard Wharf near the Wyre Light. A ship, the Sussex, set out from Fleetwood and towed the Gem into the port but could not offer any assistance to the Splendid. The crew of five men and a boy were helpless as they clung in hope to the masts and rigging as was the only means after hope and prayer, whether they were religious or not, of any mariner in that situation. These men were luckier than some because if they could remain where they were until the morning tide, they could possibly walk to the shore. But life puts obstacles in our way whoever we are and whatever age we live in and the easier options turn into the more difficult at the drop of a hat. Sod’s Law as it’s often called. The crew were clinging to the rigging of the mizzen mast feeling relatively safe, but when the stern of the vessel shifted as it responded to a surge of the sea, it was likely that the mast would soon follow. The easiest option was the only option and so it wasn’t an option at all but a necessity if you wanted to survive. There was a rope connecting the mizzen mast to the foremast called a jumper stay and the only way to swap to the relatively greater safety of the foremast was along this rope. To the captain, James McCartney however, there was the added difficulty of carrying the boy, his son across at thirteen years old and probably not a lightweight, but without the nerve or experience of a Blondin, who used to carry his son on his back (and who found love and marriage with a barmaid in Blackpool). Probably too, on a smaller vessel not a vast distance but a hazardous one at any distance even if it was only an inch or two. They survived, climbed down the mast the following morning and walked into the port. They were probably treated exceptionally well by the people of Fleetwood. Those who had cheated the sea usually were. Richard Salthouse would have been an exception. He probably fancied human fingers and chips for tea. Most of the 200 tons of pig iron was recovered too, but the ship itself was a wreck.
In the late November of 1857 the steamship ‘Pride’ of Liverpool struck on the Salthouse Bank at South Shore. Though a steamer, the ‘Lily’ of Preston attempted to pull it clear, it was unsuccessful. The crew managed to reach the shore but after another gust of wind, the steamer keeled over into Jone’s Hollow, (which was perhaps the shore side of the bank.) Most of the cargo, 126 tons of bulk meal was saved.
On the 27th December 1858 the 75 ton Vintage of Glasgow, bound from Liverpool to Dublin, foundered on the coast about a mile south of South Shore. It had struck the Crusader Bank, an extension of the Horse Bank after turning back in the face of a severe gale having found it was taking in water. The pumps were worked incessantly and the sails had to be abandoned as useless. For much of the day, the crew could not see where they were going as visibility was only about 20 yards. One of the crew must have got a brief sight of land and taking the helm headed that way, but before the vessel could reach the shore the Crusader Bank got in the way and the ship stuck fast and the sea came over it. The crew scrambled up to the rigging as is the case in these circumstances, and clung on till daylight and, when the tide went out, were able to climb back down and reach the shore. The ship eventually broke up and the cargo of salt was lost.
In a severe storm of 1857 there were several ships in distress. The ‘Thomas of Lancaster’, a Freckleton owned boat, was driven by a change in the wind direction ultimately all the way from close to its destination of Liverpool to the beach at Blackpool. The distress light from the stranded ship was seen by Mr Jolly who went to give every assistance. The crew had lost their boat so couldn’t row to the shore. Another Freckleton owned vessel, the Rose sprang a leak and the two crew and the wife of the captain were fortunately cast ashore at low water mark by Belle Vue Square (the present position of North Pier which would be stretching out into the sea at that point in less than ten years’ time).
And in September of 1859 those emigrants who were leaving from Liverpool to a new life in Australia had an extended view of the old country. The Hilton on which they were sailing in the first few days of the long voyage was damaged in a storm and lost both its topmast and its main topgallant mast as it was at anchor off Blackpool. Whether the hopeful emigrants were transferred to another ship or whether they had to wait for repair, is not known but repair to a vital mast before a long voyage I guess might have been out of the question. ‘Splice the main brace’ is a nautical term meaning just that. Don’t repair an integral unit but replace it instead.
And it wasn’t only the fabric or the infrastructure of the ships that found themselves on the beaches of the Fylde Coast. In October of 1859 due to some sort of carelessness, a bundle of shipping notes from the Royal Mail steamship Ethiope from Liverpool to Africa, was lost overboard and ended up on the beach at Blackpool. Somebody in Africa would not have received their mail, and a man too old for the job or drunken woman post deliverer could not be blamed in this instance.
In late November of 1859 the steamer Halls towed in a wreck which had been off the coast since the recent gales and landed it at the Gynn. The Gynn itself was not in the recently defined boundaries of Blackpool, lying outside the northern limits in the parish of Bispham which wasn’t incorporated into the rich and expanding incorporated town of Blackpool until 1918, but the wreck was initially left in the care of the police of Blackpool until the Coast Guard officers took over responsibility. It was of considerable size being of 2,500 tons and though there was a lot of it there was no identification on it. It was left on the shore and then broken up and moved onto a spare plot of land from which it was later sold.
In February of 1852 the vessel Eagle en route from Carlisle to Liverpool, sprang a leak which could not be remedied and, with a cargo of alabaster, it sank in deep water off Blackpool. The men were saved and the boat was insured so a sad loss but not a disaster, assuming the insurance paid out to its Preston vessel’s owner.
Multum in Parvo
A column in the newspapers which contained a lot of short facts of varied interest and content was usually described as ‘multum in parvo’, a lot of stuff in a little space.
Life goes on within the population irrespective of the political climate, people live and die and go through the contortions of living usually beyond the reach of the history books where their laughter or their tears have long since been forgotten or can never heard. Or, occasionally, they can. When the newspapers catch them and they are afforded a few sentences for posterity.
In November 1858 Dr Cocker, eventually to become the first mayor of Blackpool in 1876, was admitted as fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh and a couple of days later Mr William Henry Cocker passed the classical and mathematical examination at the Apothecaries Hall, London.
In 1851 a body was washed ashore. It was assumed to be a fisherman and without identity and nothing suspicious about its circumstances, it was buried without an inquest. However, it was learned that it belonged to a man called Alty, one of two fisherman from Southport who had been out in a small boat. His body was disinterred and taken back to his home town. The body of the other man had not been found.
In August of 1858 two unidentified bodies were washed ashore after a severe storm. They were both in an advanced state of decomposition and were buried without an inquest as identification was deemed not possible. A watch was found with one of the bodies and some money in the pockets of the same body. At first it was assumed both bodies were those of mariners drowned several weeks ago but, later, one of the bodies was identified as Captain Harrison of the schooner ‘Mary’, a Fleetwood vessel, who had drowned during a July storm. Captain Harrison was the brother-in-law of John Pearson who owned the Coffee House Inn (now the Dunes) in Marton, in the south shore. The second body was thought to be one of the crew of the same vessel and, though not identified, was buried at St John’s Church.
In August of 1851 an excited holiday from Manchester on one of the cheap trains turned to tragedy for three day trippers. As they were leaving the sea after bathing, they fell into a deep hole, presumably walking confidently over a submerged sandbank and expecting the water to get shallower and not deeper. Two of the men were rescued but a chap called Thomas Wilson had unfortunately drowned.
Not only holidaymakers were in Blackpool at the time and the sea air was renowned for its health giving properties and Blackpool had a reputation for being the best, and though it had a long way to go before it could legitimately claim to be the best, patients were sent to the town for recuperation and convalescence. A Mr J B Fox, recovering from a railway accident at Clay Cross for which there were several compensation claims was recuperating in Blackpool, perhaps on the advice of the doctors involved in the claims which were privately settled for sizeable amounts.
Also in August of the same year it was the final breathing place of Mr Michael Longstaff of London. He was a silk merchant and was in Manchester on business when he thought he might take a trip to Blackpool both for the trip but also to visit his daughter who was staying with family friends, drapers of Blackpool. However while travelling on the omnibus from the Yorkshire Hotel back to the railway station, he suffered heart failure. Taken back to the Hotel, he was unfortunately found to be dead on arrival.
In July of the same year, a 15 year old boy, Thomas Strettle on a cheap excursion to the town, got out of his depth in the water and was drowned in the receding tide. The body was washed ashore some time later at Blackpool’s sister town, South Shore.
In the August of 1852, a young child and her nurse were travelling home by donkey cart along the rising cliffs to the north of Rossall’s Hotel in the direction of the Gynn when the pony lost its footing and the cart went hurtling down the precipice. Both occupants were thrown out and travelled the full distance to the sands below. One of the cart wheels got stuck on a post that was sticking out and halted the fall of the cart. It doesn’t mention whether she fell on her ass since that presumably was still attached to the cart somewhere up the cliff face, though it was given no mention. Both travellers survived but were badly bruised.
On the 22nd December 1853, Robert Watson, while brewing beer for Mr Braithwaite at the Lane Ends Hotel, fell into the vat of boiling water. He was working with Mr Bagot in ladling out the brew into coolers. Though he was immediately pulled out and had the good fortune of Dr Cocker being on the premises, perhaps sipping a gill in the bar, he nevertheless died the next day in excruciating pain. He left a wife and ten children who would then presumably be thrown onto the mercy of the Poor Law.
Also in January of 1855, the 8 year old daughter of John Fairclough fell down a well which was behind her house while she was out collecting kindling for the fire by some cottages that were under construction. Fortunately she was not alone as there were other children about and one of them raised the alarm. Attempts were made to rescue her but at first were unsuccessful as there was no safe access for the rescuers. Her father however arrived soon after and braved all the dangers by scrambling down and fully expecting to bring out what he thought wold be his daughter’s corpse. But it had a happy ending since she was alive and able to recover from her ordeal. A much happier ending to that of the demise of Robert Watson.
On the 17th February 1855 it wasn’t the sea that claimed the lives of two young men, but the still, dark waters of Marton Mere which, in its representation of the blackness of the surrounding moss land and pools within it had helped to give a name to the Blackpool that grew up next to it and eventually, became rich and took over its poorer neighbour of Marton in which parish the dark Mere was situated. William Fish and James Butcher were two lads who had just begun their working lives as qualified operatives, one a bricksetter, and the other about to finish his blacksmith’s apprenticeship. On a cold, frosty February day there were plenty of folk skating on the ice of the mere when the bit that the three lads were on gave way beneath them. A lucky chap named Parr was pulled out but any rescue attempts for the others proved unsuccessful and their bodies were not retrieved for another hour. The show went on though as the skaters, seemingly unconcerned of the tragedy, carried on their skating. Life comes and life goes right before your eyes and often there is nothing that can be done about it.
In August of 1855, a young boy of about four years of age, who was the son of Arthur Dean a photographer (actually described as a photographist) and toy dealer, was riding on the back of a horse drawn cart with a stone crushing roller attached to the back of it. He was climbing on the shafts which attached the roller to the cart, but slipped off and the heavy roller went over him killing him instantly. Just a small paragraph in a newspaper but an event which must have caused quite a stir and a horror among the witnesses in the streets as the poor lad’s head was crushed and bleeding on the road in Market Street.
In the August of 1855 a visitor from Oldham had a narrow escape from drowning a couple of miles north of Blackpool. It was in Bispham and if it wasn’t for the coincidence (if it was a coincidence) of Mr Lowe of the Villa at Norbreck who just happened to be looking out of his window with a telescope, it would probably have been a fatality. The swimmer was bathing when his pile of discarded clothes was picked up by the incoming tide and distributed hither and thither, last seen floating past the Pennystone (the rock of a hundred fables, otherwise called the mussel beds). The stranded man in a vain attempt to retrieve his underpants from the thieving hands of the Seven Seas, got himself in deep water and began floundering, dipping under the water at least twice before resurfacing in a blind panic. Mr Lowe, perhaps whose initial and voyeuristic enjoyment of the discomfort of another was cancelled out by a natural compassion for a fellow human being in trouble, sent a workman of his to his rescue, a man who could presumably swim, and with difficulty was able to pull him out of the water. He was taken to Mr Lowe’s bathing house where he revived with the relief of being provided with a fresh set of clothes. It doesn’t say that there was a Mrs Lowe who did all the fussing or not.
Also in August of 1855, Nicholas Bagot fell 70ft to his death while constructing a reservoir in Everton. His body was badly mutilated and it was the third fatality during the construction. He left a wife and family in Blackpool. At least two of the fatalities during the 1890’s construction of the Tower in Blackpool, and later refurbishment, were from Liverpool, so it was everything tragically in reverse on this occasion.
In February of 1855 Dr Cocker, assisted by that other surgeon of the town, Dr Moore, operated on what was described as the cancerous breast of a Mr John Heaves of Lytham. Their method was to place a muslin bag of salt and ice to act as an anaesthetic upon the cancerous ulcer and then when the skin on his chest had become white, they cut off the offending ulcer. Whether Mr Heaves was just bragging or didn’t like to offend, he claimed he had felt no pain at all under the surgery, only a little snick on the initial incision. Perhaps he had anaesthetised himself with a couple of bottles of wine before the surgery.
In September of 1855 Dr Cocker saw action once more as a doctor in the town. You could rarely be out of work as a bricklayer in Blackpool as the town inexorably continued to grow. Henry Salthouse was one of these bricklayers on his way home from Poulton by train. Maybe he was excited to get home. Perhaps he was keen to get back to his wife and family. Or maybe it was the beerhouse that was mostly on his mind. Whatever constituted his distraction, he had opened the door of the train at North Station too soon and got out while the carriage was still moving and consequently stumbled and trapped his legs between the carriage and the wall of the platform. One leg was amputated below the knee and the other badly injured. False legs were around at the time but perhaps none in the price range of a bricklayer before the days of the NHS. He did survive but possibly never worked again.
In December of 1855 Richard Leach a bricklayer who lived with his uncle, John Parr had come home from a drinking spell and fell to sleep in a chair while smoking a pipe, so the evidence would suggest. He awoke in flames and though there was an evident attempt to put it out by rolling himself around in a blanket, it was to no avail and his chest and lower abdomen were so badly burnt, he died in excruciating agony as the newspaper was not too afraid to report.
In the freedom and anonymity of Blackpool there was plenty of scope for relationships both to be made and to be broken. Romance could blossom and sexual relationships could collide. Many folk owe their origins to a quick but urgent fling with or without the promises of longevity of partnership. In March of 1856, a woman named only as Parker and a man named only as Greenwood were up in front of the courts at the Yorkshire assizes. The two had been going out for twenty years amid many promises of marriage but when the man Greenwood came to Blackpool with a man friend, he took a fancy to his servant and was seen out and about with her. She was just a servant and he was rich man so not much surprise there on her part when the two got married, leading to a case of breach of promise which the plaintiff won and received a moderate pay out. Many folk seen walking out arm in arm would no doubt have different partners back home. You never know who is looking.
In August of 1856 there was much mirth reported in the paper of a misspelled sign. Today you would take a photo with your phone and post it on Facebook but in the 1850’s you would have to laboriously write it down, if you were a person who had the privilege of an education and who could spell. The sign outside a shop in Hounds Hill read, ‘Partyes can be accommodated with bolling water chops staks and cucked hare.’ None of the newspaper reports, in their eagerness to ridicule, were able to praise the writer of the sign who could spell the word ‘accommodated’, the most difficult of the lot, without any difficulty.
Also in the Summer of 1856 a poor chap described as being rather portly was bathing in the high tide close to the shore. Having hired a bathing hut he had taken off his clothes as was his purpose but unfortunately for him the young colt of a horse that was assigned by the owner to pull the vehicle was a bit excitable and suddenly got spooked and ran off with the vehicle and all the clothes within it (unless a cheeky young lad had spooked the horse and waited excitedly for the consequences.) It was retrieved eventually but it left the portly man covering up his pudenda and generous bum cheeks or, if partly dressed, looking out of his depths in unflattering drawers, all the while screaming for his clothes back. While this would have been misery for the poor man, to the on-looking crowd it would have provided entertainment as best as ever Blackpool could give in all its long history to the day of writing this. But not for him. It is not reported whether or not he got his money back for the hire of the hut.
In July of 1857, a young woman called Julia Banks, no doubt without the resources of her high status namesakes in the town, gave up her job at the house where she was in service. She managed to get lodgings in Back Clifton Street but was turned out onto the streets because she was found to be evidently heavily pregnant. Shortly after being bodily ejected from the premises alone and in the late morning, her waters broke and she was caught in labour in the middle of the street, where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Dr Cocker was called and with the kindness and compassion of a couple of fellow humans, the doctor and a Mr James Wilkie (and presumably Mrs Wilkie as well, since the reference to a household is usually just to mention the man. It would be fifty years hence before the suffragists were on the beach – and being chased and harassed off it – at Blackpool, stating their claim to equality) of Clifton Street who took her in. Julia survived and both she and her baby were reported as doing fine. Though what happened after that is not known.
Almost at the same time as Julia was going through the trauma of the fear and the pain and the embarrassment of what should have been a joy even with the natural and inevitable pain of childbirth of the average female, there was a bazaar held in the town in aid of funds for the local infant school. Whenever there was need for money, there was a call for a bazaar. ‘’We need money for this that and the other. Let’s have a bazaar,’’ was the call to arms of those in sympathy with the idea. Again it was the men who talked and the women who stood behind the stalls and did all the standing work. Mrs Jenour, wife of the vicar of St John’s, Miss and Mrs Oliver Heywood, sister in law to Benjamin, and many wives of the notables of the town achieved the sum needed which was a shortfall of £178 incurred in the construction of the school along with a house for the headmistress.
In September of 1853 Samuel Wardleworth was advised to come to Blackpool for health reasons. With foresight he, or those that gave him the advice, probably wished they hadn’t. Once out of the bathing machine that he had hired, he was possibly one of those people who had become confused by the great mass of turbulent water that they were suddenly confronted with. Though close to the shore, it seems that the tide was largely in and a little choppy at the edge. Samuel had hired one of Mr Rawcliffe’s machines which was under the supervision of boy named Porter, who was cautious not to take the bathing machine too far in to the sea. Whatever fear took over Samuel as he stepped out of the machine, and into this great mass of water which didn’t stop until it reached Australia on the far side of the world, and without compassion for those who stepped into it, will not be known, only speculated. As he did so he stumbled and fell onto his hands and knees. It seems he panicked and couldn’t regain his footing. The young John Porter, who it seems was unsure of what to do, shouted to Mr Rawcliffe, who rushed to his assistance, but despite trying, he could not get Samuel out of the water and exhausted himself. Two other men, probably shore wise, waded into the water and successfully brought Samuel out though he was unconscious by this time. Mr Moore the surgeon was called for and took over, attempting to revive the seemingly lifeless body, with the methods of the time. The body must have been taken to somewhere near at hand because he put him in a hot bath, a little hotter, then a little hotter still. A slap on the chest created a gasp and with the added encouragement of a pulse at the wrist, he applied ‘hot bricks, hot salt and, mustard plasters.’ When that didn’t work he resorted to galvanism, the contemporary and popular theory that electrical current could revive dead tissue. With careful monitoring Samuel showed signs of life by a twitch of the muscles here and there but, returning to him after a pause, Dr Moore found him dead. The same methods of galvanism that had been used on Dr Frankenstein’s creation in Mary Shelley’s imagination based on the theories of the time had not worked on Samuel. Recommendations from the jury at the inquest included that a responsible and capable person should be in attendance at all times at the bathing machines and that a rope at least 20 yards long and attached to a cork float should be attached to every machine. If I was a drowning bather at the time, I would ask with my last few breaths, not to be saved if I saw Dr Moore approaching with his hot bricks.
In a similar incident, too similar for Mr Rawcliffe as it turned out, the excitement of a holiday in the town can turn to tragedy as the ignorance of the power of even a gentle sea can turn a happy moment into a tragedy in the blink of an eye. In 1854 a young woman got into difficulties and an un-named old man in charge of the bathing machine went in to rescue her, perhaps with a thrill in his old bones, but his strength wasn’t able to match his desire and keenness to save a classic damsel in distress and, though he got close to her, they were both left struggling. Out of the screaming, shouting and agitated crowd emerged Alice, the daughter of the old man and seeing her father in peril, she went in to rescue him despite the fact that she couldn’t swim herself and found herself struggling as well. Two women in peril were no problem for a couple of male ‘bystanders’ who went into the water and a navvy called Crane, a non swimmer, tied a rope around his waist and waded in and made sure everyone was out. The old man could not be revived and the daughter, beside herself with grief, was described by the newspaper article as ‘raving mad’. The young woman though still alive was in and out of consciousness and little hope was given for her and the death of the un-named old man who went in to rescue her was kept from her. With some incredulity and alarm the newspaper records another victim of an old woman who just happened to be looking out of a window, and witnessing the event was ’smitten with delirium’ and is in a state ‘which still continues’. Blame could be attached to Mr Rawcliffe and his bathing machine since after a similar accident had happened the previous year to Samuel Wardleworth, and he hadn’t acted upon the recommendations that the piece of life-saving cork attached to a rope should be a necessary prerequisite of every machine to prevent such accidents recurring.
But not everyone came to Blackpool by train or coach. Pleasure steamers criss-crossed Morecambe Bay on occasion with day trippers from Furness and Lancaster to Fleetwood. More tragically, from the southerly direction came five men, none of them experienced sailors as they were all factory workers in the weaving trade, and two fare-paying female passengers. They sailed from Preston to Lytham lighthouse and walked to Blackpool from there. The boat, a small pleasure boat, was called the Royal Consort. The lady and her daughter were set down at Lytham and the boat sailed on to its moorings near the lighthouse. They stayed at John Pearson’s Coffee House (site of the present Dunes Hotel, in Blackpool now but in Marton then) overnight with the intention of returning the next day. They did set off the following day at 8am and called at the Half Way House and had missed the noon tide though both landlords vouched for their sober states. While in the boat and before they had set off, the skipper of a passing boat had a few words with them and advised against their journey back to Preston and said that he would tow them back. They said they were waiting for some more friends to board and would continue to wait but, perhaps because they were young lads in their twenties they didn’t consider they needed advice and the boat was last seen from the shore in full sail heading for the river Ribble.
John Bonny a fisherman found the boat and, when it was examined, the body of one man, 23 year old John Holden was found entangled in the sail. Another body that of Alexander Whittle, was found washed up at Warton with blood around his eyes, reportedly pecked out by a fish or more likely by a seagull. The other men were never found, almost as if they had escaped from Alcatraz, though the jacket of one man was later washed ashore. You received 5s (25p) for finding and reporting a body on the shore so, if the bodies were to be found anywhere they would have been. Unidentified bodies did get washed ashore regularly and were the responsibility of the parish to provide a burial. Many of these earlier bodies were buried at Bispham Parish Church, Bispham being a parish long before Blackpool had any identifying borders and not being absorbed into the speedy growth of Blackpool until 1918. John Morrow the father of the boat’s owner who had perished paid £3 for the boat to be dug out of the sand near the fateful Horse Bank where it had become lodged but no further bodies were found there. The police would have otherwise done it and would have defrayed the expense of doing so by the sale of the boat. Only one of the men was single. The others left a wife and children. One of the men had five children.
In October of 1857 a man called Robert Bamber was walking along the beach and came across the body of a man floating in the water so he immediately went to inform the police, a distance of over a mile away and there was consequently a further delay before the police could act on his information. So Robert Bamber went back to the scene and watched over the body while it floated in the sea close by him. When the police eventually arrived, the body was further out and was dragged on to the shore and taken to the Brittania Inn. Bamber had refused to drag the body out of the water because in doing so he would not qualify for the 5s (25p) reward for finding a body on the beach. It seems that the law expected the body to be washed up on the shore and not to still be in the water. Whether Robert Bamber was confused by the letter of the law or whether he just wanted his five bob, will likely never be known. At the inquest, the victim, a Mr John Whalley, was known to be subject to fits and had been walking along the tide when he must have succombed to one of these fits and collapsed, his body being picked up by the incoming tide. Had the man called Bamber picked out the body when he first saw it, he probably could have saved his life. The coroner recommended that the law be changed concerning the 5s reward.
The middle of the nineteenth century was a time of great and continued invention, but the old wives’ tales still persisted which defied the advance of science. In July of 1857 an ‘old woman’ (who was probably younger than I am just now) of the Fylde who had friends in Blackpool had a great cure for toothache which consisted of a piece of paper which she always kept in her stays, on which was written;
If only it were that easy. It’s a bit like the contemporary expectations of believing in Father Christmas. To the ordinary heterosexual chaps of the World throughout the ages however, it is not the piece of paper that a woman keeps within her underwear that can cure toothache or even heartache. By 1852 American sewing machines capable of sewing stays were being imported and began to put seamstresses out of work. Not the first industry to be affected by mechanisation. Even underwear couldn’t escape the surge of industrial progress. When I was very young, my mother used to were strange contraptions called roll-ons, which revealed themselves occasionally in the weekly wash. An innocent young mind was fed with the curiosity of the morphology of the female human being in which the constituent parts had to be bound and strapped together before it could leave the house. When my elder sister reached adulthood her body was so tightly bound that on occasion, in the tightness of her dress and the overbalance of the beehive of a hairstyle on her head, she couldn’t bend her legs to reach up to the step onto the bus and so had to return home. Normal, free-living body shapes, that we had shared as children only resumed with the hot pants and mini-skirts of my younger sisters where, with the proud and defiant motive of their generation within the conflict of rights in the face of somewhat prejudicial rules, as much leg as possible was revealed.
In May of 1857 the continuing tragedy of the female was made evident. A man should only indulge in sexual activity with the consent of the woman you would expect to believe, but this is not always the case. The co-performer of Margaret Tattersall had found more than a remedial bit of paper inside her pants and you would trust they had shared a natural and – hopefully – honest association. It was while Margaret was working in service in Fleetwood at a Mr and Mrs Roskells’ and when she discovered she was pregnant she came to Blackpool to work at a Mrs Kettlewell’s where she attempted to conceal her pregnancy. It wasn’t that easy, especially with other women around who were suspicious, more evidently as the date drew near, and the difficulties of concealment became much more extreme. She reached term without being discovered though being suspected only. She was seen by Mary Wilkinson, a fellow servant, to come out of an outhouse and proceed to wash herself at a pump in the yard, but it was evident that she was in some kind of suppressed distress and physically very weak. She was even challenged that she had become a mother but she denied it all and said she had been sick and had been bleeding from the nose. Mary Wilkinson went into the outhouse and found in it a ‘disgusting’ state. However she accompanied Margaret to see a chap called Sutcliffe who lived about a mile away at the Raikes. Whether this was through pity or suspicion, we do not know, perhaps she was fearful of being accused of being a party to it, as infanticide was an illegal activity and thus left her loyalty to her own kind behind. But when she returned she revealed her suspicions to the mistress of the house and when they subsequently searched the outhouse which housed the closet, they found the body of a male child in the cesspool there by probing within the contents with an iron bar.
Margaret was arrested and, at the inquest, Dr John Cocker had said that he had seen Margaret (the ‘prisoner’) at the house of Mr Sutcliffe a day or two earlier, where she denied that her evident distress even then was due to labour pains. When the body was found he was called to the house and in the subsequent examination of both the body of the child and Margaret Tattersall, the mother had to admit to the concealment of the birth. It was decided that the child had been stillborn but Margaret was still on trial for the concealment of the birth.
In 1854, Mary Fitsimmon had wrapped up her six months old illegitimate child in swaddling clothes and left it on the doorstep of the father’s house. In these kind of cases, without DNA to be searched for conclusive evidence, the father could always deny paternity and call the girl mad. The baby wasn’t found until someone inside the house heard it crying, not as romantic an introduction to life as being found floating in the reeds in a basket like Moses. Presumably somebody knew to whom the child belonged since the mother was found shortly afterwards by police in a railway carriage at Poulton station, as she was about to leave town. Bastardy orders, if the father could be positively identified, could be taken out against the father and these would expect him to pay at the time from 1s (5p) to 2s (10p) a week. On some occasions, probably many, the mother would not be able to expect any kind of payment from the father if he hadn’t any money to give. So it’s back to the mother to take on a full responsibility which should have been shared. Perhaps Mary in this case could not cope any longer. A bloke without money is just skint. A woman without money nevertheless has a child to look after as well as being skint. But on a rare occasion, the woman could be the guilty party. A case in Yorkshire around the same time reported of a woman, in cahoots with her mother, claiming maintenance off the father of her child, which he was readily paying, when it was discovered that the two women had murdered the child and had been claiming false benefit for some length of time.
It is not known why Thomas Settle came to Blackpool in the late August of 1859 on the evening train. He didn’t tell anyone he was making the journey after visiting his family near Preston. He was suffering from asthma and took laudanum to relieve the pain and discomfort, much as cannabis is taken today to relieve the physical pain of certain conditions, rather than to alternatively exit through ‘the Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell’ as Aldous Huxley described his somewhat psychedelic experiment with drugs. Thomas Settle’s evidently strange manner on the train attracted the attention of the other passengers. He was described as being in a state of insensibility, and the fellow passengers, even when the train stopped at Poulton station, had no idea what to do with him a bit like the methadone addicts of the current town centre, with who I occasionally have contact with in the course of my work. They have reached a state of no return and neither they nor the society they belong to knows what to do with them. When Thomas got off at Blackpool, he fell between the carriages and had to be dragged up again onto the platform. There was no 999 to call and no skilled paramedics could arrive within minutes so no-one could do any more with him. But when he had staggered along for a bit he collapsed against some railings and two chaps took him to the Railway Inn. Dr Cocker was called and despite using the stomach pump on him, he later died.
In May 1858 William Watson was driving a wedding party back from Blackpool to Poulton when he somehow fell off the dickey seat and ended up being crushed to death underneath the wheels. A wedding day to forget for the bride and the groom and the guests. He was taken to the Wheel Mill Inn (now a Tesco store opposite the windmill at Hoo Hill which itself is now the site of St Paul’s Church there on the hill), so he would have been taking the bend at the top of the hill and the horses might have had to adjust their stride and pace to take them down the hill. This end of Layton was the limit of the Blackpool authority. It was where there was a Checkpoint Charlie in WW1 for vehicles entering the town and soldiers and passengers checked for legitimacy. The windmill that graced the high point has connections with its millers to my wife and her family line. There was a blacksmith’s at the mill and a little girl had recently been burnt in a fire at the time. Her clothes had been caught in the fire at the blacksmiths and she had run home several hundred yards in flames but fortune was on her side and she was not seriously hurt. The thick flannel of her clothing was adjudged to have kept the fire way from her skin.
At the Clifton Arms on 4th of October 1852, a public meeting was held as a consequence of the Lytham lifeboat disaster the previous Friday, October 1st. It was a tragedy in which eight men were drowned, eight women widowed and 26 children orphaned. The event had hit the nation hard and it was reported in all the local papers. Funds were collected from all parts and on the Fylde Coast, the amount from local and area donations and subscriptions announced at the meeting had reached about £400, and there was more to come. By the 16th of October it was reported to be £500.
The cruel fact was that the lifeboat had just been delivered to the new station and it was out for a trial. A lifeboat house had been built and equipped by Squire Clifton or, at least, with funds provided by him. He might have been handy with a brick trowel but he didn’t need to exercise those skills if he possessed them, since he could get someone to do it for him.
The boat went out with ten men aboard and was cheered by a large crowd from the shore. It was a boat that had been chosen because it had recently won a competition for its design as a self-righting vessel, built by Beeching and son of Great Yarmouth and it had been financed from the public donations of residents and visitors alike.
The boat had gone out for a practice in a stiff Northwest wind, using a lug sail (a quadrilateral single sail, fore and aft) and was on its way back when it was hit by a sudden squall by the infamous Horse Bank and the boat keeled over. It had been lost from sight about three miles out by this sudden shower and when vision was restored, the boat was seen to be keel upmost. Because its painter had caught on a buoy, it couldn’t right itself and the men crawled out in an attempt to manually right it and ended up clinging to the sides when this was unsuccessful. Two boats immediately set out from the shore and reached the Horse Bank where one of them moored. The capsized boat was reached by wading through the water and, of the ten men aboard, only two survived. Two men, Richard Gillet and James Parkinson were found beneath the boat, barely alive. Later they claimed that had the rescue party been able to reach them sooner even by fifteen minutes then two or three more might have been saved as they had still been clinging to the boat. The bodies of the other men were occasionally found floating in the sea and brought back to Lytham for burial.
Of the sea of emotion that followed, even the extensive volume of the ocean could not match the volume of tears shed over the incident. A public subscription fund was established for the widows and children of the men, who now had no provider and would be thrown upon the Poor Law. And the inquest into the disaster began and continued with accusations and counter accusations. The boat had won a national competition for the design of a vessel competent enough to compete in the varied sea conditions that its function as a lifeboat would meet. One of the stipulations was that it should be self-righting and this had been successfully created in the Beeching boat that the Lytham subscription had so confidently purchased.
So, something went wrong and the easiest person to blame was Captain Swann for carrying too much sail causing the boat to capsize. The new model had already been tried in Liverpool where it had capsized far too easily according to those upon it and those observing it, and there had been an accident in the Menai straits by another similar boat while under sail but this was seen to be the air boxes that had somehow let in water, and the lack of a prior inspection was criticised as a possible fault in proceedings. A model created by a Mr Lees of Manchester however, termed the ‘Challenger’, which, like the Beeching boat was also demonstrated at the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in the previous year, was of a tubular construction and had been tried and tested in seas at Menai, Barmouth and Plymouth and had passed the tests easily. One experiment included placing eighty two men (seems quite a lot!) on its side without upsetting it while the self-righting boat would capsize with as few as five men placed on the side. The critical opinion was that it would be essential for the competition winner to be self-righting, if it was going to capsize all the time and so easily. So confident were the promoters of the Challenger that they issued a challenge to all the varied lifeboats in Britain (one of the purposes of the competition was to find a standard design for a lifeboat) and the competition winner, the Beeching boat accepted it. However, when the Challenger reached Ramsgate ready for the contest, the boat was not there to take up the challenge since it had just been sold on. Probably coincidence but you can never discount a little bit of skulduggery, since yet another challenge was turned down. The Challenger made it back to Liverpool around Land’s End with six crew showing, to the newspaper correspondent, that those with practical knowledge and experience, of successful, empirical demonstration are better judges than those who sit in an office theorising.
The old school are of course the better judges when they fear that innovation and evolution are in danger of overturning their lifelong held beliefs. Why change when something is working just as well if left alone? The deficiency of the lifeboat had been pointed out during a visit to the Lytham Lifeboat house when one old salt exclaimed, in a phrase which was often quoted, ‘Capsizing and righting, be d—-d; we want a boat as won’t capsize; if so be ourn capsizes, it’s good bye to all hands, and I tells you that there boat will drown you all the first time you go out with any season, she will for sure.’ Spoken with a Lancashire accent, he was from Southport and had served on men o’war so he was an old hand. Today he would not have said ‘be d—-d’ but would have said ‘be f—-d’ in the modern idiom, that universal ‘f’ word, tragically prophetic as his words turned out. The controversy would rage on but that is the course that development should take to get the best of any design.
The men who perished were William Swann, leaving a widow and three children, Hardman a wife and nine children, Davies, a widow and three children, Whiteside a widow and three children, Winder a widow and two children, Cookson a widow and two children, and T Gillet, (probably related to the Gillet who survived) a widow and two children. One report states that eleven men set off in the boat but an un-named man transferred to another vessel as pilot to guide it along the Ribble to Preston. If so, he was a lucky man.
A major reason why the men drowned was the fact that they had all left their life belts and other relevant equipment behind. What started off as an exciting little trip to test the boat ended in utter calamity and tragedy. On the 1851 census it appears that all these men and families lived close to each other some being as close as next door neighbours.
So, the decade draws to an end, and land prices in the Fylde had reached as much as £240 an acre and the proposed extension of the railway line to Lytham was becoming a reality. It was believed that it would unlock a lot of worthless land for development and be a boon to the residents along its path. More cottages were built to accommodate the growing number of visitors and the town would soon react to this increase by continually providing more facilities for them. But this was for the 1860’s during which two piers would be stretching out across the sand and into the sea and have their own stories to tell ….
Sources and Acknowledgements.
Newspapers. The bulk of the newspaper reports have come from Findmypast, (British Library newspapers) as well as much of the census return information. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Wikipedia. All facts from Wikipedia have been referred to in the script.
Blackball line https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Ball_Line
Christian vernacular education societyhttps://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/583e987e-a5d0-3f45-bde9-499e4450d435?component=bad4e963-d847-396f-a5cb-44400a1b7a37
Summit Tunnel https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fi0.wp.com%2Fpremierconstructionnews.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2016%2F04%2FSummit-Tunnel-West-portal-with-unidentified-tank-loco-passenger-train-d.jpg%3Ffit%3D810%252C516%26ssl%3D1&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fpremierconstructionnews.com%2F2016%2F04%2F14%2Fsummit-tunnel%2F&docid=ruSeXvooRkeN1M&tbnid=FqjTTrVKsAfBqM%3A&vet=10ahUKEwiBwtS13KfkAhUMxoUKHW8iCHwQMwhnKBEwEQ..i&w=810&h=516&bih=526&biw=1093&q=summit%20tunnel&ved=0ahUKEwiBwtS13KfkAhUMxoUKHW8iCHwQMwhnKBEwEQ&iact=mrc&uact=8
Miss Burdett-Coutts http://www.victorianweb.org/gender/burdettcoutts.html
The Lane End’s Hotel and the presumed Bank’s slade https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/blackpools-seaside-heritage/blackpools-seaside-heritage/
Lady’s Hairstyles https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/738379301385254916/?nic=1
Men’s hairstyles https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/581738476850912658/?nic=1