The Fylde peninsula, holiday mecca of the north-west
Between the estuaries of the Lune and the Ribble lies the broad, flat peninsula of the Fylde. Its sandy beaches are lined with holiday resorts, and its fertile farmland supports small but prosperous villages. Blackpool has elevated mass seaside entertainment to the level of a major industry. Its season has been carefully prolonged by the world-famous illuminations along the seafront, and by the fostering of the conference trade.
The house, set in its park on the eastern side of the coast road between Lancaster and Preesall, dates from the 13th century. Because of the danger of raids from the sea the original building was a pele tower – a fortified house built as a single keep to defend its inhabitants against raids from across the border. A Tudor mansion was added in the 16th century, and more alterations and additions followed in later centuries.
The house fell into decay, but it has now been carefully restored. It has a fine Elizabethan hall, a Jacobean staircase and a priests’ hide-out. A Gothic-style chapel houses a permanent exhibition based on a replica of the Holy Shroud of Turin.
Thurnham Hall was not open to the public in 1986, but there were plans to turn it into an hotel.
Some scattered ruins on the top of a headland projecting into the Lune estuary are all that remain of what was once one of the wealthiest religious houses in the northwest. The abbey was built in 1190, and its buildings covered at their greatest extent more than an acre. The surviving fragments of walls show the outline of the cloisters and of the chapter house which, built in 1230, was used 600 years later as the burial chapel for the Dalton family, who owned the abbey land.
Close to the chapter house is a stretch of beach with a small lighthouse and the walls of a fish-trap, built by the monks of Cockersand Abbey to catch salmon from the river estuary as the tide fell. Over the centuries, stone and other materials have been taken from the abbey ruins and incorporated in other buildings. Crook Farm, 2 miles north, has several windows and doorways which apparently came from the abbey.
In the nearby village of Cockerham, the church of St Michael has a 17th-century tower, but the rest of the church was built in 1910. The churchyard has many old gravestones, including that of a vicar who, at the time of the Great Plague, buried 11 of his parishioners in a single month before dying of the plague himself.
To the south-west of Cockerham lie Cockerham Marsh and Pilling Marsh. It is not safe to walk across the marshes, but a footpath from the ruins of Cockersand Abbey skirts the eastern edge of Cockerham Marsh before joining the main road. From the path there are views of the channels leading to the sea and the Lune estuary, and of the sea-birds which nest there.
A wide sandy beach, with stretches of softer mud, has made Knott End-on-Sea a popular resort. For the energetic, there are long walks along a footpath above the foreshore to Pilling, 2½ miles east, and upriver to Hambleton, 4 miles south. The foreshore walk is particularly attractive on a sunny evening at low tide, when the beach gleams like a sheet of gold.
Drivers travelling from Lancaster and the North to Fleetwood and the northern end of the Blackpool beaches have to pay a toll to cross the Wyre between Hambleton and Thornton by this privately owned bridge, which marks the upstream limit for sailing boats on the Wyre. There is another toll bridge 4 miles upstream at Cartford Bridge, reached after a detour along winding lanes; the first free bridge is at St Michael’s on Wyre, 2 miles further upstream.
Marsh Mill, built in 1794, stands 110 ft high beside one of the main roads through the town. The mill has not ground corn since the 1920s, but it is being restored to working order. On Sunday afternoons in summer visitors can see the four sets of giant millstones, 6 ft across, and the simple but solid engineering which produced hoists, shafts, gearwheels and drums from such woods as oak, apple, pine, beech, hornbeam and hawthorn.
At Stanah, at the north-eastern edge of Thornton, there is a large picnic area on the banks of the Wyre, with a slipway for dinghies and powerboats.
The port established in 1836 became famous for its deep-water trawlers, which fished the distant waters of Iceland and the Arctic, before the ‘cod wars’ with Iceland dealt the industry a mortal blow. Nowadays, Fleetwood is increasingly busy with roll-on, roll-off container ships working in and out of the riverside docks, and plying to Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
The seaward face of the town is a popular resort, with a long promenade stretching as far south as Cleveleys, a swimming pool, a boating lake, and a regular service to Blackpool on one of Britain’s few remaining tram networks. The broad, sandy beach provides swimmers with safe bathing away from the strong currents at the mouth of the River Wyre.
The Marine Hall, set in gardens on the seafront, offers a range of entertainments, and a model yacht lake said to be the largest in Europe. Fleetwood pier, built in 1910, serves mainly as a landing jetty, but there are amusements at the shore end. A model railway runs a service from the main car park to the Beach Road picnic site.
LIFEBOAT TRAGEDY RECALLED
The worst lifeboat disaster in British lifeboat history is recalled by a memorial in St Anne’s. It occurred in 1886, when the St Anne’s lifeboat answered a distress call from the German barque Mexico. In trying to reach the ship the lifeboat and her 13 man crew were lost, together with all but two of the 16 man crew eff the Southport lifeboat, which had turned out for the same emergency. The double tragedy led to an improvement in lifeboat design.
Less bustling than its close neighbour Blackpool, Cleveleys is the northernmost point of 15 miles of intensively developed coastline. Like Blackpool it offers a sandy beach, where lifeguards patrol daily in summer. There are ample car parks, picnic sites, gardens and amusement centres, a miniature railway and a boating lake.
The neighbouring town of Thornton is notable for its 70 ft high Marsh Mill, a brick tower windmill built in 1794 and in use until 1922. It has been renovated in recent years and has its four sails, its fan-tail and four sets of millstones 6 ft in diameter. The mill is open to the public at certain times in the summer.
Brash and cheerful, Blackpool stretches in a long, multi-coloured ribbon by the sea, punctuated by three piers and dominated by the steel finger of the Tower. Yet like many other British holiday resorts, Blackpool began a§ a small and undistinguished fishing village. In 1840 the seafront consisted of a single row of houses; but with the coming of the railway in 1846, the opening of Central Station and the North Pier in 1863 and the Winter Gardens in 1876, the town’s future was established. The number of visitors increased from 3 million at the beginning of the present cen,tury to more than 8 million during the 1960s. Today it is estimated that around 6 million different people visit Blackpool each year; but because many people return time and time again, the total is about 16 million a year.
Present-day Blackpool is probably best known for its Tower, a landmark which can be seen from Cumbria in the north to the hills of North Wales to the south-west. Built in 1894, it was for many years the highest building in Britain; the 518 ft ascent gives a breathtaking view of Blackpool and the surrounding coast, and the Tower also houses a circus, a ballroom, an aquarium and an Educational Heritage Exhibition, as well as bars and restaurants.
Below the Tower is the stretch known as the Golden Mile – in fact more like a quarter of a mile in length. Freak-shows and fortune-tellers have been replaced by amusement centres, discos, bars, restau- rants and a waxworks. Each of the three piers has its own theatre, providing live entertainment during the season. The 40 acre Pleasure Beach amusement park offers rides such as the first 360 degree ‘loop the loop’ roller-coaster in Britain, and tram services run the length of the 7 mile promenade and on into Fleetwood, turning inland to avoid breaks in the promenade. It is possible to walk the whole length of the seafront between Fleetwood in the north and Squires Gate in the south. During the autumn evenings, from September to late October, the whole front is ablaze with more than 375,000 bulbs, laser beams, animated displays and tableaux.
Other attractions include a Zoo Park, ice and roller-skating rinks, a boating lake, a
SEASIDE TOWN WHERE
FUN AND FRIVOLITY
ARE BIG BUSINESS
Other resorts may be sunnier and more sophisticated than Blackpool, but Blackpool fears them not. Benidorm and Torremolinos have their anthill-like hotels and Spanish waiters serving cocktails beside oddly shaped swimming pools; Blackpool’s boarding-house landladies have answered the challenge with a minuscule cocktail bar in the corner where the aspidistra used to stand, and paella on the menu once a week. And if some hotels have managed to squeeze a swimming pool into the back garden, the simple claim of ‘2 minutes from sea’ is still attraction enough for most visitors.
Blackpool is an English tradition, and while its rivals have shaken off the braces-and-knotted-handkerchief image they have lost something of the informality that Britain’s largest holiday resort still offers. It has kept abreast of the times with its discos, hot-dog stands and juke-boxes; but if the Victorians who created the place in the late 19th century could return they would still find Punch and Judy shows, seafront trams and horse-drawn carriages, splendid Gothic hotels and slender, iron-legged piers.
From its beginnings Blackpool has been the playground of the North. By the 1780s, well-to-do families from Manchester were arriving for the ‘bathing season’, and it was not long before day-trippers followed them; most came by cart, but some even walked 40 miles for a breath of sea air on Sunday. When the railway reached Blackpool in 1846 it brought the seaside within easy reach of millions of people in the fast-growing textile towns. From then on it was the Lancashire cotton workers who shaped Blackpool’s character, making demands for fun that the town was quick to meet. Today, Blackpool is still the North’s most popular resort, and millions return year after year. And more and more southerners are forsaking their traditional resorts, at least for a year, to sample the delights of this unashamedly vulgar curiosity somewhere north of Watford.
For almost 100 years Blackpool Tower has been a landmark on the Lancashire coast, and a symbol of the Victorian determination to keep the town abreast of the times. Paris had its Eiffel Tower and Blackpool was not to be outdone, even though its tower is only half the height of its rival. It is the town’s best-loved institution, most majestic in the autumn when it dominates the famous seafront illuminations.
HIGH ENDEAVOUR The Tower Circus opened its doors on Whit Monday 1894, and while many circuses throughout the world have long since struck their tents for the last time, Blackpool’s high-wire artistes, stilt-walkers, jugglers and acrobats still draw crowds.
UPS AND DOWNS You can have your spirits uplifted or your stomach cast down into your boots on the Pleasure Beach, a flamboyant Blackpool funfair which has its roots in the traditional Lancashire ‘Wakes Weeks’ fairgrounds. The ‘Golden Mile’, part of the Promenade, sprang from the sideshows, with their buskers and fortune-tellers, though hot dogs and candy floss have today replaced the freaks and fire-eaters.
IN THE MANNER GRAND The Toioer Ballroom was built in the style of the Paris Opera, and its elaborate plastenoork, painted ceiling and sumptuous gilding set new standards for places of entertainment when it was opened in 1899. model village and golf courses. On the beach there are donkey rides, boat trips and Punch and Judy shows.
The smaller scale and more peaceful seaside resort of St Anne’s, the western part of the twin resorts of Lytham St Anne’s, offers a quiet alternative to the brasher delights of Blackpool. The pier dates from 1885, but the pier entrance was built this century – a quaint, mock-Tudor building with gables and imitation timber framing. Solid red-brick Victorian and Edwardian villas and genteel private hotels face a broad stretch of sandy beach, which has become renowned as a centre for the fast and spectacular sport of sand-yacht racing. Beginners can take lessons before trying their hand at this exhilarating sport.
There is safe bathing for those favouring more traditional seaside recreation, and an open-air heated swimming pool. The Promenade Gardens overlook a boating pool, and there is a miniature railway.
In the centre of the town, close to the shopping centre, Ashton Gardens has tree-lined walks, wide lawns and a watercourse with rock pools and waterfalls.
Lying at the eastern end of Lytham St Anne’s, where the coast meets the estuary of the Ribble, Lytham is a town almost surrounded by golf courses. They include the Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, used for major international tournaments, the Fairhaven and the Green Drive.
At the western end of the seafront is Fairhaven Lake, a large body of water used for yachting, motor-boating, rowing and canoeing. There are bowling greens and tennis courts near by.
At the eastern end of the seafront a large windmill stands on the wide expanse of Lytham Green, facing the Ribble. In 1929 a freak gust of wind set the sails spinning the wrong way, wrecking the machinery and putting a stop to the mill’s working life.
Lowther Gardens, off West Beach, has flower beds, bowling greens, tennis courts and a putting green. There is an indoor swimming pool.
At the end of a long avenue is the late-Georgian mansion of Lytham Hall, built on the site of a farming cell belonging to the Abbey of Durham which passed to the Clifton family after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The gateway of 1850 was built at the northern end of the town’s cheerful market square, the centre of a thriving community before it found a new prosperity as a seaside resort.
The beach becomes muddier at the eastern end of the town, towards the Ribble estuary, where strong currents and fast-flowing tides make swimming and walking across the sands less safe than it is further west.
On the marshland near the edge of the River Ribble a force of Roundheads under the command of Colonel Booth defeated the Royalists in the Battle of Preston in 1648, taking 1,000 prisoners.
Over the centuries, Preston has had an importance far beyond its size. It was once a prosperous inland port, and though in