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What I did on my holidays

6 Oct

What I did on my Holidays 

new brighton

Hope you all had a great summer and the weather has been quite decent this year for a change. Mind you as I look out from the turret of Topping Towers it’s raining quite heavily as I type this. Now back when I was a youngster 300 years ago it was sunny every day of the school holidays and we would travel to foreign lands like Morecambe, Rhyl and New Brighton. What those dumps I hear you say? Now then don’t be so cheeky they were quite exotic and magical places in the 50’s and 60’s. Come on let’s travel back and take a look.

As a family our main holiday would tend to be Blackpool or Butlin’s but day trips out were an important part of the summer holidays especially Southport and it’s a thriving place today but I want to focus on the local seaside resorts that faded and died. New Brighton attracted thousands of people to its seashore in the 1960’s when I was a nipper. Hard to imagine if you visit the place today but once upon a time it rivalled Blackpool and had a bigger tower than the Fylde coast one.

The tower was a whopping 567 feet high! Built in 1900 it was dismantled in 1919 because the owners couldn’t afford to maintain it so they sold it for scrap. Six men were killed in the building of the tower and one fireman fell 90 feet to his death from a six inch wide beam trying to tackle a blaze. On one occasion a woman and her child had to spend the night up at the top of the structure after the lift closed. They didn’t even bother making a complaint when they were discovered the next morning. They were made of sterner stuff in those days.

The big draw for me about going to New Brighton was the journey to get there. Train from Wigan to Liverpool and then the walk through the city to the docks. Hustle and bustle, buildings so big they took your breath away, grime, smoke and tons of atmosphere. Then you got to the docks! Ships jostling for position, big and small all huffing and puffing, some bound for lands I had only read about like the Isle of Man! Our ship was only a smallish one, the New Brighton ferry, but for a little while I was Fletcher Christian on board The Bounty.

New Brighton had a decent funfair, not on a par with Blackpool but enough to keep kids entertained. The giant tower had long since disappeared before I was born but the massive tower building still stood and housed the Beatles more times than anywhere else bar The Cavern. It also had a massive outdoor swimming pool that hosted beauty contests. The Tower Building was destroyed by fire a recurring theme sadly throughout seaside demise.

The pier where you alighted from the ferry at New Brighton is long gone and you can no longer get there by boat. You can however get a ferry across the Mersey and walk the couple of miles to New Brighton along a flat promenade. It’s a pleasant trip on a nice day and you can hunt for the ghosts of former glories as you make your way there.

Not much of Morecambe’s glories remain I’m sad to say but it was similar to New Brighton in the 50’s and 60’s. Funfair, giant open air swimming pool, theatres and all the trimmings of a jolly day out. Morecambe even had its own version of SeaWorld with a dolphin show in the 1960’s and I vaguely remember going unless my minds playing tricks. It definitely had an old sailing ship moored there and I went on it. The ship was used in the films Treasure Island and Moby Dick and it was a classic old vessel but sadly it was destroyed by fire in the early seventies.

Moby Dick

Moby Dick

Morecambe used to be known as “Little Bradford” because of the Yorkshire folk who travelled there by train. The funfair at Morecambe which opened in 1906 underwent many changes not least in 1987 when it was remarketed as “Frontierland” a Western style theme park with the same rides tarted up. It wasn’t a success and in 2000 it was closed down with all the rides finding new homes apart from the Polo Tower which was left standing. I’m surprised that tower didn’t find a buyer after all it must have made a mint! Geddit? Mint? Polo? Oh please yourselves.

More indignity was heaped on Morecambe when in 1994 Crinkly Bottom or Blobbyland opened its doors. The ahem brainchild of Noel Edmonds it closed 13 weeks after opening due to a disinterested public and lost 2 million pounds from the local council funds. Colin Crompton of Wheeltappers and Shunters fame once said of Morecambe “There are some nice drives out of Morecambe. ANY road out of Morecambe is a nice drive”

Before I move onto the seaside resort of Rhyl I thought I would give you a flavour of what it was like to be a kid in the 1960’s on a day trip. If it was a sunny most of the day would be spent on the beach. Kids in cossies Mum’s and Dad’s in casual attire with the occasional showing of white flesh when they roused themselves to go paddling in the sea or swimming in the open air pools. Granddad would be in his former best suit now relegated to knocking about wear with sandals and socks plus flat cap. Grandma would be resplendent in summer frock with overcoat and hat.

Every adult had a deckchair while kids sat on the sand or scurried about getting water for the sandcastle moat a pointless task since it disappeared immediately. Butties from home would be opened on the beach and be guaranteed to be sandblasted in seconds giving a gritty texture to your corned beef butty. Buckets and spades were made of tin that rusted as soon as you got them home. Cowboy hats for boys and frilly fringed hats for girls were the de rigour at the seaside. Tin pots of tea filled with scalding water were entrusted with children to carry over a landscape filled with semi naked bodies. We loved it!

Rhyl was one of the few day trips that evolved into a week’s holiday and I stayed here twice both times at the Sunnyvale Camp. The camp opened in the 1920’s and is still going today but the open air swimming pool that I splashed about in is long gone. Hard to believe that Rhyl was a booming tourist destination back in the day but it’s another of those places that has fell on hard times. Not hard to see why when tourism is your biggest asset. Thankfully the town is getting back on its feet now and I may have to revisit the place for a fresh view.

Rhyl 1960's

In 1962 Rhyl made history by having the world’s first hovercraft passenger service from the resort to Wallasey. It started ferrying (or should that be hovering?) passengers in July that year but it wasn’t a success due to mechanical problems and stopped its service in September 1962. The resort had a decent funfair named Ocean Beach a cracking name reminiscent of American theme parks and another funfair at the Marine Lake. Good theatres, a pier, open air swimming pool, nice beach and lovely countryside nearby all added to the appeal of the place but it just didn’t resonate with me that much really.

Other notable day trips in the summer holidays included trips to Belle Vue funfair and zoo, the Lake District, Chester and the zoo, Southport, Blackpool and still one of my most favourite places in the world Lytham St Annes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic trip, don’t forget your sticks of rock and bars of nougat and I’ll see you on the steam train home!

Tony Topping