A lot of my childhood was spent watching shows of one kind or another, so it’s not surprising that I ended up as a professional performer. My dad played trumpet in the theatre orchestras of Morecambe’s Winter Gardens and Alhambra theatres and I was a regular attender (we got comps!) but my favourite place by far was a few miles further down the coast, Heysham Head. For a mere sixpence admittance charge wonderland was yours. As well as cafes, slot-machine arcades and a small (and pretty grotty) zoo, there was a circus which alternated with ‘Prince Zonga’s African Village” . In the latter the painted and loin-clothed warriors did fierce tribal dances, ate fire and pushed needles through their cheeks without flinching. On stage they spoke a strange guttural language but if you came across them back-stage they all spoke English with a strong Scouse accent!
There was also a concert party in the ‘Rose Garden’ with lots of songs and dances and they alternated with my top favourite, The De Randel Marionettes which featured “the oldest puppet in the world” Yorkshire Bob. When Joe Hodson, the proprieter, retired his company was replaced by Jan & Vlasta Dalibor who became famous on television with their “Pink & Perky” shows.
If you tired of entertainment and cream teas you could go down to the beach and play amongst the rock pools and to be allowed to do this a man stamped a pass onto your wrist with a rubber/ink stamper. A challenge was to see how many days you keep it there before mum noticed and made you wash properly.
I took a drive out to Heysham on my last visit to my home city and tried to find the old Heysham Head. Well, the headland is there, obviously, but nothing remains of the delights that made Heysham Head such a magical adventure place for me. Well, nothing but memories and, as the song says “They can’t take that away from me!”
As a student (M/c Univ) I spent three summer vacations (1949-1951) as a conductor on the buses of Morecambe & Heysham Corporation. I was a lodger in a chaotic vegetarian guest house in Heysham village, owned and run by a congenial couple whose surname I forget,but the husband Norman was never seen without bicycle clips on his shabby trousers, and his wife Alice was the most unimaginative cook – the main meal was usually boiled potatoes, cabbage and carrots, and sometimes peas.
Our main bus route was of course up and down the Promenade between the Battery and Happy Mount Park – this was usually a crawl during “t’ lights”. But we also had a regular Saturday service to and from the holiday camp at Heysham, and (a job I particularly enjoyed) up the A6 as far as Carnforth Station, where “Brief Encounter” was filmed. One of the stops on this route was called “Pots of Tea” as it was outside a café.
I shared my billet with a fellow student, and we each had a girl friend, a dancer in the chorus at the Winter Gardens.
Another memory was going on early turn on a fine summer morning, and seeing elderly men already sitting out, with a glass of dandelion and burdock, reading the Daily Mirror.,
Many years later, when my work as President of the Lands Tribunal required an inspection of transport museums in West Yorkshire ( another story – too long to explain this) I found a Morecambe bus in its familiar livery in one of these museums, and recognised it as one I served on as conductor. Small world !
A LANCASHIRE PUB CRAWL
I wasn’t born in the county but I believe my credentials for membership of the Association of Lancastrians are more than adequate.
Returning from British East Africa as an infant in 1937, my very first childhood memories are of the Waggon and Horses in Pimlico Road, Clitheroe which my father had taken over as a tenant for Dutton’s Blackburn Brewery. He then tried his hand at farming and we moved to Barracks Farm in Chaigley , a delightful spot at the foot of Longridge Fell and directly opposite the Craven Heifer, which became my father’s home from home for the next 4 years as WW11 drew to an end. The Craven Heifer is a pub no more but at the time it was also used for concerts, childrens’ film shows and other events. Our 5 mile drive to school in Clitheroe each day took us over the River Hodder into Yorkshire then back over the Ribble into Lancashire again. During the bitter winter of 1947/48 school was out of the question for a full 3 weeks.
My family then went up in the world – literally – to the Wellsprings Inn nearly 1000 feet up on Pendle Hill. Together with a wealthy Clitheroe mill owner my father had bought the property, which at the time was nothing more than an isolated farm with a licence to sell beer to travellers making their way over the hill to Sabden. It was very quickly transformed into a very fashionable and busy venue for drinks and meals and on one Sunday lunchtime I remember counting more than 100 cars parked outside – this was in 1949! The sunsets looking across the Ribble Valley to the Fylde and Blackpool Tower were truly spectacular, but getting my brother , sister and I down to the grammar schools in Clitheroe caused some problems in winter. The Wellsprings has now changed out of all recognition and is popular with users of the adjacent dry ski facilities.
Our next move took us across the county to the Kings Arms in Garstang, on the A6 between Preston and Lancaster. For my sister and I this involved changing schools but my elder brother stayed on at Clitheroe RGS to complete his sixth form studies. He then did his National Service as a second lieutenant with The Kings Liverpool Regiment and served with them in the Korean War. My sixth form studies were completed at Lancaster RGS with revision in my bedroom in the Kings Arms, where twice a week an elderly lady would arrive at 8 o’clock to thump out “Nellie Dean” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” on the piano in the room below. My own National Service started with 10 weeks basic training with The Devonshire Regiment and I returned home on leave from Exeter to find, to my surprise, that my parents had moved yet again, this time to The Patten Arms in Winmarleigh, a historic Duchy of Lancaster inn 3 or 4 miles from Garstang, where they stayed for the next 10 years.
I now live in Rottingdean, near Brighton, and attend St Wulfran’s Church in nearby Ovingdean, which is funnily enough the church where William Harrison Ainsworth, the author of “The Lancashire Witches” worshipped when he moved from the Manchester area to Brighton in 1854.
Having attended both of the county’s Royal Grammar Schools and lived in 4 of its historic hostelries I think it can safely be said that my credentials for membership of the Association are impeccable.
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