A Week in Blackpool’Rite of Passage’for East Leeds Lads and Lasses

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A Week in Blackpool ‘Rite of Passage’

for East Leeds Lads and Lasses

 

A week in Blackpool was a ‘rite of passage’ for all East Leeds lads and lasses half a century ago – is it still – I don’t know? Probably for Blackpool now read Benidorm   

            Stan Pickles’ account of his ‘rite of passage’ week in Blackpool is pre-war set in the 1930s. My own in the 1950s but even that is getting to be a long time ago now isn’t it?

 

Blackpool 1930s style

By Stan Pickles

Saturday morning and the 7 a.m. tram from Bertha Grove took us to the Central Station to join the huge queue waiting for the train to Blackpool. After a time the long train pulled in, its old fashioned carriages with compartments seating a dozen people sitting side by side and facing each other and with luggage racks soon piled up with cases. The train filled up and pulled out and we were on our way to that holiday wonderland, Blackpool.  Laughing and talking to everyone we settled down for the three to four hour journey. Woe betides anyone who hadn’t paid a last minute visit for the call of nature (no corridors!)

            When we arrived at Blackpool all the young girls and fellows piled out onto the platform hugging suitcases, the majority dashing for the loo. It was a rare sight, the men looked like sheep just shorn with their ‘short back and sides’ and sporting grey flannels, the girls lovely in their gaily coloured frocks and loose jackets, all asking directions to their digs for the week.  Luckily we were staying in Albert Road, near to the station so we were soon shown up to our room in number 98. The maid took us up to a huge bedroom holding four double beds for our party of eight. I had booked full board (£2 9s) for the week as I wanted to make sure my meals where there.

            Our first night out was to ‘The Ardwick’ one of Tetley’s houses, ware  all Leeds seemed to have gathered. Afterwards, we would finish up for the last couple of hours in the Winter Gardens. I used to always end the evening with a plate of oysters (blue points) which always went down well.

            The landlady knew how to feed us fellows and we never went short. Breakfast at 8.30: grapefruit followed by bacon and egg, all accompanied by lots of tea. Dinner, we didn’t eat lunch in those days, I’m talking about 12.30 p.m. would by joint and two veg with sweet pudding and a cuppa. Tea 5 p.m. the usual salad with ham, tongue or salmon, with fruit and cream for afters and all for seven shilling a day!

            The week was blessed with glorious weather which belied the popular hit of the day, ‘stormy weather’ which was all the rage. Other songs of that time were: Hiawatha’s Lullaby, I like Mountain Music, The Wishing Song, and Valley of the Moon etc. Lawrence Wright’s and Feldman’s vying for your custom to their booths  on the Golden Mile and on the Central Pier where a bottle or two of Bass went down well as you lounged in deck chairs in the sunshine listening to a three piece band and a chap with a megaphone singing out the melodies. Then girls would come round selling their records and sheet music. Cecily Courtnedge and Jack Hubert were on the North Pier whilst Harry Korris and gang entertained on the Central Pier: There was dancing to Bertini and his band in The Tower: also wonderful Reginald Dixon on the organ. That was the pattern set for our evening entertainment plus all the fun of The Winter Gardens for a change.

            The pleasure beach was another popular outing where money simply vanished in no time but it was all such good fun. Football on the sands, boating in Stanley Park for a change (not for me I was happy to lounge on the grass with an ice cream) There were queues at the cinema for State fair (Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres). It was certainly a great week’s holiday and I enjoyed it so much it was my birthday holiday for the next two years – same digs –same pals. Reluctantly Saturday came around and we were on our way back home with memories of a wonderful time in Blackpool.

Blackpool 1950s style

    by Pete Wood

In the 1950s Blackpool was the venue for at least one summer holiday for every northern teenager. The very best time of all for a week in Blackpool was around the age of sixteen: a time of growing awareness – let off the leash from your parents for the first time – and perhaps your first opportunity to get your hands around a pint glass.

            Leeds folk usually went in twos on the first week in August. The ‘Geordies’, Lancashire ‘Wakes’, and cities like Glasgow and Birmingham had their own favourite weeks too. By Sunday the twos had begun to link up, some by arrangement, others by chance. In the main you were not aware that other folk from home would be there, you just bumped into mates as if by divine chance. Through the day we wore black windjammers with white stripes or perhaps hoops on the arms; copied from the Americans and straw hats which were traditionally our own. The girls wore tight black skirts and ballerina shoes; and were tied tight around their middles to hourglass proportions by three inch black elastic belts. Girls still had shapes in the 50s.

            In the mornings we would promenade along the front and listen to widely exaggerated accounts of the previous evenings happening under the pier. In the afternoons we would play football on Stanley Park or perhaps on the beach, squeezing the last ounce out of the sun. We were in and out of the sea every ten minutes; if there was any pollution than – nobody seemed to notice. The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the evening; this was the time to dress up in our full drape suites of midnight blue or black barathea, complete with half moon pockets, roll collars and Sackville one piece backs. Our hair would be slicked up and pulled forward Tony Curtis style with a DA at the back. When you walked out into the night air in a rig like that your heart soared as high as the tower – and you felt that all the world was your oyster.

            Then you were out and into the pub with the magic qualities of alcohol still a novelty. We found a little pub near to the railway station that sold McGee’s ale and didn’t enquire too closely about our age – we haunted that pub for the whole week. If you arranged to meet a mate though the venue would be The Huntsman Pub. Everyone knew were the Huntsman was and besides it sold Tetley’s ale, which was supposed to be the mandatory tipple for every Yorkshire lad. The pub was just the prelude to the Tower Ballroom or the Winter Gardens, where we would shuffle around the floor, one, two, three stop – one, two, three, stop: whatever the dance happened to be. It was only the McGee’s that gave us the courage to ask a girl to dance anyway. But the music! Oh the music! The big bands: Jack Parnell, Ken Mackintosh, and best of all Ted Heath with his three super star singers: Denis Lotus, Dickie Valentine and Lita Rosa. Has a band ever had three finer singers? When a drum solo began the dancing would stop and we would just stand, sway and clap, with a big cheer at the crescendo.

            Jewel memories spring to mind; the stench of a stink bomb dropped underfoot beneath the gyrating bodies of the dancers – the bouncers had no chance of finding the culprit. Another time I recall a giant of a guy dancing around; he was one of the biggest blokes I’ve ever seen, and one of our gang dancing around behind him with his fist up; if he’d have turned round and caught him he would have swotted him like a fly. On another occasion I can remember being separated from my mates and dragging myself home along the beach with one foot in the water and one foot on the sand; looking up at the lights on The Golden Mile and wondering why they were dancing up and down and merging with each other. Of course the answer was in the new found magic of the McGee’s.

            The digs that Tiggy, my mate, and I had booked was located over the top of a butcher’s shop, you could smell the meat twenty four hour a day. When, upon our arrival, we perceived the address to be a butcher’s shop we thought we had been ‘had’. I don’t suppose the landlady would have mustered much custom if she had said in her advert: ‘Enter through the butcher’s shop.’ Having said that – it was a seller’s market for 50s Blackpool landladies – they could be a bit choosey who they put up. She put us up in an attic bedroom about four floors up. That attic already had an occupant; an old gentleman who was profoundly deaf. It was a good job he was deaf with all the row we made when we came rolling up the steps full of that McGee’s. One night he woke up and said, ‘Is it thundering?’ It was just us crawling about on the floor trying to find the bed. One morning we were messing about with a beach ball on the landing outside the attic; one of us knocked the ball out of the other’s hand and off it off skipped down the stairs and through the open door of the dining room where the rest of the guests were already at breakfast – we could hear it bouncing from table to table scattering crockery – it seemed to go on for ten minutes while we grimaced with every c-r-a-s-h. Needless to say we daren’t go down to breakfast that morning in fact we thought ourselves lucky that she only charged us 1/9 for the broken crockery, we were afraid she may have thrown us out which sometimes did happen: although I’m sure if that had been the case some of our mates would have smuggled us into their digs where we could have slept on the floor. Some lads only came for a day trip but finished up staying all week in this manner.

            When my mind drifts back to that iconic week in Blackpool I can still smell the hot dogs on the ‘Golden Mile’, still feel the endless crush of folk jostling one way and equal numbers pushing in the opposite direction, hear the barkers shouting from the housey- housey stalls – it wasn’t called bingo then. See the fairy lights flashing on and off all around you. There was always something to do at Blackpool even when the weather was foul: go to the Tower Zoo or perhaps find a vantage point in the pleasure beach to watch the girls being thrown about in the ‘drum’.

            When you came home you talked about Blackpool for a couple of weeks but most couldn’t recapture it year after year; it was just a ‘rite of passage’ part of the youth culture of the times; as you got older you passed on to more sophisticated venues; as they say, ‘you can’t go back’ – apart from in your head of course, thank goodness you can always do that.

            Do the teenagers still have Blackpool? Perhaps for Blackpool read Spain. Whatever: I hope they can still enjoy it as much as we did.

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One Response to “A Week in Blackpool’Rite of Passage’for East Leeds Lads and Lasses”

  1. Doug Farnill Says:

    In 1949, Norman Wright got his drivers licence and his Dad let him use the big Morris to take me and Keith Pape with him for a weekend at Blackpool. It was an adventure, the car broke a back axle just out of Leeds and Norman’s Dad came out and put a new one in. That set us back a few hours. Your stories remind me of the marvellous couple of days that we had at Blackpool we didn’t drink a lot though mainly because Norman’s Dad had laid down the law about drinking and driving and it would have been unfair of the rest of us to swallow a lot of ale if Norman could not join in. Thanks Stan and Peter for reviving those good old days.

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