Sunday, 29 January 2012

Flying at Blackpool

Blackpool made an early investment into powered flight. As early as 1909 they held an Air Pageant at Squires Gate following a suggestion by Lord Northwick, whose newspaper, the Daily Mail, put up money for a prize for the highest altitude attained. Blackpool Corporation themselves put up a Grand Prize of £2000.

The Grand Prize was won by Henry Farman who had flown 24 circuits of the fledgling airfield, covering over 47 miles, only giving up when the strain of controlling the aircraft in Blackpool's winds became too much physically.

The event would have been Britain's first flying pageant but for Doncaster Corporation at the last minute hastily publicising and staging an event 3 days before Blackpool's event opened on 10 October 2009.

Two years later, however, following another similar event in 1910, the land at Squires Gate was leased and a racecourse was established with the first meeting drawing crowds of 20,000. This early success was not sustained and by 1915 the site was in use as a convalescent home for soldiers from the First World War, the home continuing until 1924.

From the end of the war A.V. Roe operated pleasure flights from the beach immediately in front of the Pleasure Beach, which was itself literally on the beach at that time.

I suspect that the postcard is a fabrication, almost all of the postcards showing the Illuminations were taken in daylight and then darkened and painted with shadows from people and objects and the fact that most of the light bulbs would be the size of footballs giving the game away.

But whilst no aircraft could be lit as is suggested here, there is no doubt that they were a regular sight at Blackpool as many of the Edwardian postcards of Blackpool were obviously taken from aeroplanes flying a good deal lower than any plane would be allowed today!

The Corporation decided to ban flights from the beach after a short while, although the spectacles had also included, for a time, a flying boat called Progress (Blackpool's town motto) which landed on the sea and taxiied onto the beach to load and unload passengers to and from the Isle of Man.

Flying reverted to Squires Gate for a few years until the Corporation, eager to establish a municipal airport, were persuaded to buy land east of Stanley Park for the purpose. This land needed levelling and the Ministy of Labour "trained" unemployed men for two years on the site to develop the airport.

It included a clubhourse with restaurant and bars and an observation tower which still exist and can be seen in the background to this 1983 view of Blackpool Zoo, which was developed on the site in the 1970s.

Despite the success of Disney's Dumbo, elephants do not make good flyers and one here is being attended to by a mate after crashing and rolling on landing...

The site was fairly successful, but could not expand and by the 1930s, aeroplanes were much faster and bigger and required longer runways than could be provided.

Another company re-opened Squires Gate as an airport and won contracts with larger airlines and also to do mail runs to the Isle of Man.

The Corporation eventually sought to take over the site and transfer operations from Stanley Park, the expansion at Squires Gate causing the route to St Annes and Lytham to be suddenly halted at the Halfway House pub but the Second World War saw the site used for military purposes. A huge factory was established to build Wellington Bombers. Parts of it survive as trading and industrial estates. In the 1970s on first moving to Blackpool I worked at Warriners Cash & Carry, housed in one of the units created by the division of the factory space.

After the war there were plans for a ridiculously large airport, including a lagoon for the landing of seaplanes near Southport with road and rail tunnels under the River Ribble providing fast connections to the main Squires Gate site. None of this came to fruition as the Government kept control of airports through the Ministry of Civil Aviation following the departure of the RAF at the end of the war.

The factory turned to making Hawker Hunter jets in 1953 causing yet more Blackpool-Lytham roads to terminate and requiring the building of the current non-coastal route - Queensway - to take traffic around the new long runway required for jet aircraft.

Despite the success of the Isle of Man traffic, international and domestic flights at Blackpool continued to be outshadowed by the successs of the pleasure flight industry.

In the late 1970s and early 80s the airport was quiet enough to allow large Air Displays to be held there. I took the photo of the Flying Fortress making a low pass there during an event in 1978.

Air displays are still a feature of Blackpool's calendar, but although many aircraft use the airport as a base for the event, the displays take place over the sea. These inevitably are against the sun (if it makes an appearance) and are free to spectators as there is no way of charging people to watch over several miles of beach and Promenade. Present displays are flying displays only though, with spectators unable to walk around static displays of historic aircaft apart from very limited displays on the Promende.

Blackpool retains some of the older hangars and buildings and in the 1980s Air Atlantique were still flying DC3 Dakotas, to my mind one of the most beautiful of aircraft on a par with the Spitfire. Two of them were used in 1981 to make a TV series called Airline. Starring Roy Marsden, the series was so successful that a second series was made.

Today the airport has been expanded again. For a while Ryanair operated a twice-daily service to London Stansted which was well used, and although many bemoaned the withdrawal of the service, the improvements to the West Coast rail services made the journey to London much faster anyway.

Whether the airport's fortunes will wax or wane in the future remains to be seen. Which can be said of almost any business!

Large versions of the photos: Blackpool Zoo, Halfway House, Flying Fortress, Dakota

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A Morning at the British Museum

Sunday 15th January 2012. We had to set off for home around lunch time so there wasn't a great deal of time to go wandering.

We decided on a walk down to the British Museum and the Egyptian Galleries in particular.

There are some massive bits of stone in here, though dwarfed by those you can see on a visit to the Aswan Dam I suspect. I've not done that yet though...

Once up on the top floor amongst the mummies (but no daddies...) we found that not all Egyptian statues are on a massive scale. These are grave goods, presumably there to perform tasks for the departed such as dressing and doing their hair etc. You can just imagine them saying, "Can you bend down a bit? A bit more...?"

The Roman mosaic flooring was displayed on the walls of the staircase. As we were climbing two floors both with rather high ceilings these gave an excuse for a welcome breather on the way up! I'm wondering whether to have Burke Towers done with something like this - I'm sure it would last longer than a carpet...!

And that's this little trip to London dealt with. As a group we are currently planning something a little more ambitious for our next trip together. Stay tuned!

Large versions of the photos: Egyptian Gallery, little sculptures, mosaic

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Children's History of Lancashire

Ooh see! A new Children's History of Lancashire popped through my letterbox from Amazon today.

What am I doing buying children's books you may wonder? No it wasn't particularly for my granddaughter as she's a bit young yet! The book contains three of my photographs, so I thought it would be fun to both have a look at a copy to see how they had used them and to keep it for my own records. Most of my published photos I have as tear sheets, i.e. pages torn from magazines and newsletters or trade sheets etc. I might keep this one intact though! I imagine you'll want to rush out and buy a copy now. Check out pages 9, 10 and 11!

A Morning in the Science Museum

14 January 2012. We were in London with friends David and Jeannie and it had been decided that the ladies would go shopping, whilst David and I would have a culturally stimulating morning.

The ladies vetoed Soho however, so we got on a bus and headed for the Science Museum. We waved to them from the top deck of our bus as we went past them at Oxford Circus!

Here are just a few of the many wonderful exhibits we saw, starting with the steam locomotive Puffing Billy which was built in 1814 and pulled carts of coal from Wylam Colliery to the docks on the River Tyne.

A Tucker Sno-Cat used during the 1955-58 Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by explorer Dr (later Sir) Vivian Fuchs. A label carried a quote from one of the team describing how it felt to be inside it as the nose reared up and then it slid back into a hole in the ice. Not for stay-at-home types! Judging from the barriers around it, the museum half expect it to fall over again...

David was chuffed to find a model of the class of ship he served on whilst in the Royal Navy as a young man. I had helpfully shown him a model of HMS Victory but he maintains it was a later ship he was on... I've heard some of his naval stories and, believe me, they would sit well with the days of sailing ships and cutlasses!

We were due to meet the ladies for lunch so we didn't have enough time to do the museum full justice. However, as we retraced our steps back towards the entrance, the massive mill engine was working, with puffs of steam shooting out here and there and looking suitably impressive.

It did away with the need for the treadmill, which must have been a relief to all those who previously had spent their long working day doing the equivalent of climbing a ladder.

Large versions of the photos: Puffing Billy, Sno-Cat, David and ship, mill engine

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

London Weekend

This last weekend we had a couple of nights in London with David and Jeannie.

On the Friday night we ate in the Mermaid's Tale on Leicester Square - I can heartily recommend it - and then went to see Les Miserables at the Queen's Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

David and Jeannie had both seen it before but it was a first for us. The woman in the seat next to me (on the other side to Miss Franny obviously) said that made me a "virgin" and she would watch to see how I reacted. It was her 19th time and by the end of the night she had thought it the best...

We thoroughly enjoyed it. My eyes started to leak a little at one point. Maybe more than one point actually... I would have got away with it but for my neighbour nudging me heavily and shrieking "Aha!!!". As she was having to use a squeegee mop on her face I thought that a little unfair...

We visited the Science Museum and British Museums which I'll look at in other posts but the other major sight that we saw hadn't been on our itinery and to be honest I could have done without seeing it...

It's obviously fashionable to wear short waist length jackets over tights without a skirt... Anyone who remembers miniskirts in the 60s as I do will remember that only a minority of girls could do them justice.

The one we saw sporting a pair of leopard print skintight leggings covered by a jacket that hid only the top half of buttock swell should have asked her companion "Does my bum look big in this?"

The correct response, had he been brave enough, would have been to shout "Big? BIG?!? That's nowhere near an adequate word!!!"

David had a camera with him but said his wide angle lens wasn't wide enough... The sketch gives another inadequate impression.

Grace is Christened

The weekend before last included a nice family occasion as our granddaughter was christened at the church where her parents were married four and a half years ago.

Grace Margaret Statham is now a little more official than she was before! After the service wine was served for anyone in the congregation who might want to help "wet the baby's head".

Grace had been remarkably well behaved at the font, not even murmering when the water went onto her head.

Then it was back to Eddie's parents' house for eats and a celebration. There was food galore, both hot and cold, mains and afters, with more wine flowing and some champers to toast to Grace's health and prosperity.

And whilst Grace took it in her stride, Mum and Dad looked a little proud! Quite right too!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Sunderland Point

April 1983. We risked the tidal road over the salt marsh to Sunderland Point. It is a long disused port in Lancashire, at the mouth of the River Lune.

The dockside with its row of mooring posts stands forlornly next to the gravel bed of the edge of the river. Hard to imagine now as a thriving busy port thronged with ocean going ships unloading goods for transport to the mills of Manchester and the rest of Lancashire.

Sunderland Point was where the first cargoes of cotton came to, from America. In 1983 it had two curiosities that reminded us of those times. The "Cotton" Tree, seen above, is actually a kapok - a type of poplar - but it gained its name because it started to grow soon after the first bales of cotton were imported here and the locals thought it had grown from a seed blown from the bales. They didn't know that cotton grows on a bush rather than a tree.

Sadly, a few years after this photo was taken, the tree was damaged in a storm and died, having to be uprooted.

The second curiosity is Sambo's Grave, the grave of a negro slave left here c1736 by his master whilst he went inland on business. The legend is that the negro thought himself abandoned in this wild place amongst strangers and died of a broken heart. Another version is that he died after catching a disease from the locals that he had no immunity to.

However he died, the locals refused to bury a non-Christian in the churchyard and the sailors buried him on the headland according to the Lonsdale Magazine of 1822: "without either coffin or bier, being covered only with the clothes in which he died."

The entire place is a bit of a curiosity. It was Lancaster's first port, but the tidal nature of the road to it meant that goods could only be transported at low tide to and from the port. It was replaced by Glasson Dock in 1787 on the other side of the River Lune.

Large versions of the photos: wharf, cotton tree, sambo's grave

Monday, 9 January 2012

Blackpool Promenade Unveiled

Finally we get to see the new Promenade in its entirety this year after all the work on the sea defences. The final section up past the Tower and towards the North Pier has now been completed and the railings removed.

I am impressed. I went down on Saturday morning, just before high tide, hoping for a spectacular sea as I have a particular photograph I need to take for a project. I was to be disappointed in that. One by the sea itself not being quite as high as I'd hoped. Then by the fact that the Central Pier is now closed to walkers from the very front of the pier. At one time in the off season you could walk up the sides and around the back of the arcade building and the pier was closed from that point.

As I crossed the road, the sun came out, leaving me in the shadow of the Golden Mile buildings but lighting up the Tower and the horizon.

There are some new sculpture features on the Central Promenade in the shape of several huge swaying "tulips". Those long stems are flexible enough to allow the heads to sail across the sky, quite a sight if you stand beneath them and look up! You find yourself looking at the slender stalks and wondering about their strength!

And there's grass. I wonder how long it will remain green because if there's one thing the new "Spanish Steps" that replaced the old sea wall will not do, it is stop the sand being blown off the beach onto and over the Promenade. Close to, the grassed areas are sand with grass sticking up through it. Green when viewed from the side, sand coloured when viewed from above. I think the Council's workmen will have their work cut out to keep those areas green, but I hope they do. Grass and a touch of something natural rather than man-made has long been missing from Blackpool's sea front.

In the distance is the new Wedding Chapel with its distinctive shape and single window that, from within, frames the Tower for those witnessing a marriage.

This is one corner of the new Comedy Carpet. A huge expanse of ground set out in columns almost like a newspaper layout except that alternate columns face north or south, allowing people to zig-zag up and down, reading catch-phrases, one-liners, jokes and sketch scripts of comedians from the days of Music Hall and Variety all the way through to the present day. You can find all of Britain's comedy greats here from the Crazy Gang, to The Office with many forgotten snippets of shows, bits of business between double act partners and the words to both Charles Penrose's Laughing Policeman and Morecambe and Wise's Bring Me Sunshine.

It was deserted almost as I walked up and down and I only saw a fraction of it in the time I had. I've been told it is wonderful to look at when there are a lot of people there because all you can hear is the sound of laughter and chuckling. Priceless.

Large versions of the photos: Tower, Wedding Chapel, Comedy Carpet

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

More Christmas Aftermath

"You're going to laugh at me now..." said a cheerful, if slightly dripping, Miss Franny as she stepped in out of the rain on her return from work.

"Why, what have you done?" I asked mildly, noting the shopping bag swinging from her hand.

"They've got long dates but they were selling them off!" she said triumphantly.

The Christmas Aftermath

"We're not eating up fast enough!"

"Wha...?" I spluttered, unwrapping my umpteenth choccy of the night.

"We're not eating up fast enough! There's tins all over the place!"

Indeed there are, when I look. Miss Franny has announced her decision to take down the Christmas decorations today when she finishes work. Under the tree, there sit two as yet unopened tins of biscuits. I open one to run a critical eye over the contents.

"I'm not sure if I fancy this one..." I say around the next sweet, trying to defend my lack of progress. "That hasn't even got chocolate on it!" I point accusingly.

"You've not touched those jam tarts I made for the last couple of days - do you not want them?" Whoa - no-win situation arising...

"And what about the mince pies? I bought you some brandy cream to go with them!"

I look down at the space where the carpet should be, but instead see the front of my jumper...

"I'll get round to them..." I trail off miserably.

"Well don't go gorging yourself on sweet stuff all the time - there's loads of special cheeses in the fridge."

"I don't seem to be hungry enough to get round to those yet..." I waver.

"And don't forget the fruit either...it's good for you!"

If I seem to be talking and moving slowly and carefully over the next few weeks...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Village Life

More photos from 1983, this time we've moved into the month of May of that year and have taken a trip up the coast to the village of Heysham, near Morecambe.

At that time during the warmer months there was always a little market down the main street and a few old fashioned reminders of a past way of life.

The huge brass beam scale allowed you to be weighed though, as people always tended to watch, it wasn't the most discreet way of finding out if you needed to diet! Worst case scenario was the operator muttering "I'll just have to nip inside for some more weights..."

Perhaps a little more discreet than the automatic talking weighing machine that shrieked "No elephants!" or "One at once!"

A little further down the street was a stall selling nettle beer. I tried some once - the most horrible concoction I've ever drunk... Though I have a friend who swears by it. She was brought up there and probably doesn't know any better... (I'm sure there'll be a comment sooner or later! Ha ha!) Anyway, I just swore at it...

Finally an "awww!" moment from further down the village.

To celebrate the first day of 2012, this is the first entry I've composed using Blogger's new interface. It handles photos and a few html bits slightly differently and there are a couple of extra things I can do that I couldn't before.

Large versions of the photos: scales 1, scales 2, nettle stall, stable door

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