A Love Affair with Morecambe
by Northern Life
The year of 1946 witnessed the first normal Keighley Parish Feast week after the war. The west Yorkshire Road Car Company announced beforehand that their booking office for special buses to Morecambe would open at eight o’clock one July morning.
Sixteen prospective passengers were queuing by midnight, 46 by 5am, and by 6.30 “the line stretched from the door of the booking office along the length of the building to the Bow Street corner.” All their tickets were sold by five past eight!
That year 14 extra trains ran to Morecambe and Blackpool and – for the more adventurous – to Scotland.
But it was Morecambe which held a special place in the hearts of Keighlians. Scarborough was considered posh, Blackpool rather racy (though on that account a favourite with factory day-trips), but good decent working folk went year after year to Morecambe. What was more, it was easy to get to. You simply got on a train at Keighley and got off at Morecambe, just across the promenade from the sea and the shining white elegance of the Midland Hotel.
“Scarborough was considered posh, Blackpool rather racy, but good decent working folk went year after year to Morecambe”
Even so, catching any train was an event, in a less sophisticated age. “Just a card to let you see we have landed alright,” opens many a post-card message, or “We have reached here safely.”
Indeed, on occasion somebody escorted the holidaymakers to Morecambe, then returned home the same day, causing further concern: “I hope Hilda, Dorothy and Miriam got home safe”… “Glad to hear mother reached home safely.”
Between-the-wars and post-war postcards from Morecambe holidaymakers are eloquent of simple pleasures, characterised by the adjectives “nice” and “lovely”: “Having a lovely time here, lovely weather today”… “Having a nice time, and nice but cold weather”… “Nice weather with good breeze and high tides”… “It is a lovely day. The sea is full in.” You could even put both adjectives on the same card: “Having a nice quiet time with nice weather. Today is lovely. Can sit out quite comfortable.”
“Dear Daddy. It’s lovely here. I like it,” wrote one small boy. “I’ve got a new bucket.” His mother took over: “It’s a gorgeous day. Am thinking of wearing my swimming costume and pumps and spending the days sunbathing.”
On the whole, Morecambe holidays centred on the sea and, hopefully, sunshine, enlivened by the occasional drama, as when “an aeroplane lighted on the sands” by the Figure 8 Railway. During Keighley Parish Feast week in 1923 both towns shared a tragedy when four Keighley men on a fishing trip, including a father and son, another from Wilsden and an experienced local boatman went missing after being caught out in “half a gale”. The first body washed up near Heysham two days later, the rest being found over the next few weeks. Their boat turned up near Ulverston, upright but water-logged, with their catch still in the bottom.
For Keighley visitors in 1933 their Parish Feast week went out with a bang when on their last evening Morecambe’s 912-foot Central Pier, complete with its ballroom, skating-rink, two cafes and eight shops, burnt out in flames fanned by a 60 miles-per-hour gale. Back at home, the ‘Keighley News’ would report holidaymakers being “thrilled by the spectacle of the flames roaring 100 feet high above choppy white-capped waves.”
A life-time later, one Keighley teenage girl who kept a diary in 1929 followed a timehonoured pattern: they walked “down the East End towards the Clock Tower”, listened to The Varieties on the West End Pier, went into the Winter Gardens “to pass a wet afternoon”, and rather less typically looked around Lancaster Castle and toured the Lakes by charabanc.
“Bright morning,” she described their Sunday. “We walked over the cliffs to Heysham and attended service at Church.” That same evening they went to the West End Chapel “to hear the Rev. Roderick M Kedward from London.”
For many visitors, attending church or chapel formed part of the holiday. “We had such a good minister,” reported a devout grandmother in 1923. “He has come to Morecambe this year from Bolton.” It was a link with home routines, as was (a feature highlighted by the ‘Keighley News’ as late as 1952) recognising “dozens of local folk among the crowds thronging the promenades”.
Indeed, until quite recently, if you asked pensioners to show you a photograph from their youth, they were likely to produce a candid-camera snapshot, looking slightly startled on a busy pier or promenade, having been ambushed by some eager seaside street photographer!
“Every breakfast and teatime the donkeys would jingle past our back-street digs to and from the beach”
Which brings me to my own young memories, jogged by snapshots in the family album. There I am, walking along a pier in May, 1945, with my mother, grandma and little sister. We seem to have composed ourselves for the photographer, though we don’t look toowarm. Even on the beach among the deckchairs, grandma wore her coat, scarf and woolly hat.
I’ve been to many other seaside resorts since, but none have quite captured the flavour of Morecambe, my landlubber’s first taste of the sea. We went there several times around the end of the war, and did the same things each time – that was part of a comfortable ritual of reacquaintance, as epitomised by an observant postcard sender in 1929. “The arches,” he had pointed out details on a view of the Heysham Head Pleasure Grounds, “have been built since last year.”
Every breakfast and teatime the donkeys would jingle past our back-street digs to and from the beach. Every day we would walk along the promenade, first in one direction and then the other – several times all the way to Heysham, as busy as Morecambe, with tables at cottage doors settling nettle beer. If it rained – and in reality it seemed to rain quite a lot – promenading crowds would
shelter in a wide handsome arcade on the front (sadly long-gone), full of quality shops. Somehow even wet rainwear smelt exciting by the sea.
And once, judging a bathing-beauty contest in the art deco open-air swimming-pool, I saw my picture-going heroes Laurel and Hardy. Contrary to what I expected, they were two smart respectable gentlemen in dark suits, and they didn’t act funny at all!