Monday, 30 June 2014

Sidmouth's Glorious Shop Fronts

Monday 23 June. We were in Sidmouth for the afternoon, prior to going along the coast to book into our hotel in nearby Seaton. The other week I was reading a book about shops and how they had changed during the 20th century and it mentioned that Sidmouth had kept many of its original shop fronts despite the rest of the country demolishing all the architectural heritage and plastering gaudy plastic all over the place.

And without having to look too hard to find examples of this conservation, we just stumbled across them. Loads of them! A place to indulge that shop front fetish!

All windows had panes of glass the small size of those of the shop on the left at one time. It was impossible to make larger panes. Most of them would not have been as perfect glass as this either - they would have had the "bubble" in the middle. It wasn't a bubble so much as just a thicker bit of glass and because there was no alternative people had to put up with the distorted views when looking through. Later plate glass started to become available and shop windows could be a lot larger. It was still not possible to produce a single pane to cover a shop front though, so columns of wood or cast iron separated windows into several panes as seen on the right of the photo.

Shopkeepers wanted to draw customers into their shops, so they used tricks such as this recessed window. Besides allowing would-be customers to shelter from any rain, it gave the feeling that you were already in the shop. You also had a choice of views of the goods in the far right portion of the display.

Not really a shop, I know, but I'm digressing for a moment here, because I remember this Costa outlet as The Ship Inn. It was a pub the last time I was in Sidmouth and an old one at that. From pints of bitter to buckets of coffee - what a huge shame.

Mr Trump has been providing food and drink to the people of Sidmouth for over 200 years and in that time has been successful enough to buy up the premises next door and knock them through into a large shop. There would have been no pre-packaged groceries for three quarters of his time. He would have weighed out goods like cereals, sugar, flour and butter and even biscuits from large square tin boxes that he probably placed in or near the window as they would not go off as quickly as butter in the sunlight.

What I can't see here, which surprises me a little, is any evidence of shop blinds - those huge canopies that were on rollers and were let out over the windows on sunny days in an attempt to keep the interior cool. There were no refrigerated display units until the 1960s. Butter came in half-sized barrels and ran out over the marble slab they were placed on. Grocers used to scrape it up anyway and put it in waxed paper bags to sell. When people start to talk about the good old days, just remind them about eating rancid butter and sieving the lumps out of milk...

"Stag" Menswear. Ah yes, that conjures up a different type of image these days than I expect it did when the shop was first named... Another offset window but this time with a little arcade that shoppers could walk into to look at the window display. It took them ever farther along towards the door!

Now, I had started to write "I've no idea whether Fields is still family owned..." but then I dragged myself out of my 1950s reverie and Googled it. And, oh joy! It is still family owned. Their website proudly (and justifiably so) welcomes you to "one of the few select, family owned and managed, independent department stores remaining in the UK".

And you can't see it all in my photo - it occupies more frontage to the right up the street around the corner. This is what the very best and most prestigious shops in any town would once have looked like. Check out that clean and well maintained shop front above the ground floor level and then compare that with the sorry state of most chain stores in your own town once you get above the plastic signs with their mis-spelt "Kwik Krap" lettering. Fields: long may you continue.

I turned the corner myself and found this tea rooms on the opposite side of the street to Fields. I love the sign on the side of the shop on Ebbons Court but even more so, I love that side window with the bowed glass. That would have been hellishly expensive when first put in place. (It would still be hellishly expensive now I should think!) I'm sure that originally the tea room (or whatever kind of shop formerly occupied the building) would have made a great feature of that window. It reminds me of Piccadilly Arcade in London, though it's not quite as large as the bowed panes there.

And I'll finish this time with a photo of Hayman's Butchers. Rabbits and game birds would have once hung where the flower baskets now hang and there would probably have also been a couple of trestle tables outside laden with meat. All of which is no longer socially acceptable these days where people either don't eat meat, or don't want to think about where it comes from. Indeed, many youngster have no idea where it comes from - having had conversations with students along the lines of:

"Do you know where milk comes from?"
"A bottle..."
"Yes but before that?"
"A supermarket..."
"Before that?"

Silence and confusion... As for myself, it is a source of some pride that I can say that no hummus or couscous has ever passed my lips...

If you're ever down Devon, go and have a look at the shops of Sidmouth!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

An Afternoon in Sidmouth, Devon

This week we had a few days in Devon (with a foray into Dorset on Wednesday). We motored down on Monday morning, arriving in Sidmouth late lunchtime.

Sidmouth is a pleasant seaside town with sandstone cliffs at either end of a Promenade that edges onto a pebble beach. Many of the hotels along the seafront have balconies and hanging flower baskets for colour. A low stone wall separates the Promenade from the roadway and affords visitors a cheap and cheerful spot to sit if the benches are all taken up. Deck chairs are also available at a small half-day rate.

Solid-looking square wooden posts support huge lanterns, though the method of illumination is a bit more modern these days than that of the time the lanterns were first installed! Sidmouth is proud of its past. It was there at the time of Domesday, then being recorded as Sedemuda. George III's son, the Duke of Kent and his Duchess arrived with their infant, later Queen, Victoria on Christmas Day in 1819. Their visit was marred by tragedy as within a month the Duke had died of fever, not helped by the excessive bleeding by doctors trying to cure him. His Duchess was left penniless after his death, due to his debts. Left without any income and unable to flee home to Germany as her daughter was in line for the English throne, she begged the Prince Regent for help but he left her without a penny, doomed to watch all her furniture, horses and other possessions taken away by her creditors. Earlier during the visit, the window of the room in which the Duchess and baby Victoria were in was shattered by a bullet fired by a local boy at a bird. Whilst obviously anxious that the incident should not be repeated the Duke and Duchess asked that the boy not be punished.

At the eastern end of Sidmouth the river Sid flows out into the English Channel. Here is a small collection of moored boats, both fishing boats and more modest boats as seen here. The coast is pretty much a straight line here. It was not possible to build a harbour due to the lack of shelter. The pebbles of the beach have had to be replaced as the sea washed them away during storms in the 1990s.

Luckily whilst we were there the weather was a lot kinder. This small dog was enjoying the sea, going in several times, sometimes dodging, other times being swamped by waves, but always going back into the water for another go!

The cliff at the eastern end is that of Salcombe Hill. It forms part of Devon and Dorset's Jurassic Coast. The red-brown of the cliffs leaches into the sea at this point turning it a deep russet colour. Erosion is a constant threat.

The River Sid, looking inland from the river mouth. A short distance inland it passes through the village of Sidford, where the river can still be crossed by the old ford.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Creeping Bentgrass at the Fylde Vintage and Farm Weekend

Last night we headed out to (and round and round) Wharles - a tiny village in the Fylde countryside - looking for a huge field with a marquee where Creeping Bentgrass was playing.

Regardless of the fact that their website said it was the third annual event, it was actually the fifth year that we have done this event! The last few years we have done the Saturday night but this year we were asked to perform on the Friday night to help bring a few more people in.

That said a lot of the regulars came in later saying that they thought we would be there on Saturday as usual and had only just heard we were already up and playing! This event is always a good night for us and last night was no exception. A great reception from an enthusiastic audience.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Blackpool's Syndicate aka ABC Theatre

On Satuday as I was walking through Blackpool with camera at the ready I stopped to take a photo of the old Syndicate night club building.

I always think of it as the ABC Theatre, but it started life as the Empire Theatre and Opera House in July 1895. The opening performance included turns by Miss Maggie Duggan, who was a male impersonator and also Mr Quinton Gibson, who impersonated females. If they had only got together they could have saved a lot of bother...

Plagued by financial problems the Empire closed in 1900 to be turned into the Hippodrome and opened as a circus, but ten years later was refurbished inside with a raked floor which allowed use as both a cinema and variety theatre. Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took over the building in 1929 but a planned rebuild was interrupted by the Second World War and it was 1963 before the theatre was rebuilt and opened in grand style with a lavish Summer Season show called Holiday Carnival and starring Cliff Richard and the Shadows, who released an extended play album (EP) also named Holiday Carnival.

The stage had a revolving section built into it. Some of the greatest names from the 1960s and 70s played there, including The Beatles, Morecambe and Wise and many more. ABC used it to stage the televised Blackpool Night Out shows during the 1960s.

Then in 1981 the cinema became a triple screen cinema and that was the end of the live shows, though the stage, orchestra pit and dressing rooms still existed at this point. The name changed again to Cannon (1986) and MGM (1993) but at the end of 1998 the cinema closed for good. Four long years later it reopened as the Syndicate nightclub after a massive refurbishment that saw all of the theatre interior and workings removed. It closed in 2007, reopened and stuttered along for special events and a spell as a Polish night club.

The council have plans for a car park for a few years before it turns into something else. One idea has been for a high quality hotel to try to woo conference trade back to the Winter Gardens. We shall see.

At the moment, the Syndicate cladding is coming off and some of the old decorative brickwork from pre-1963 days is being uncovered. There was a lot of feeling in the town that the building should not be lost, but conversion to almost anything else would have been prohibitively expensive. The days of variety shows that I remember with such affection are sadly all but gone. Britain's Got Morons (sorry - "Talent", though that is patently untrue...) is about the last bastion of variety these days.

Very, very, sad.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Blackpool Gateway

Yesterday morning I trundled up to the aspirationally-named Blackpool Gateway to take a few photos.

The old bus station multi-storey car park has been refurbished and, in sunshine at any rate, looks quite striking. The entrance to it is still hidden round the back which has perhaps contributed to it being a bit quiet. There are cheaper places to park too, although some of the private providers can be like rottweilers. If you have to enter your car registration number into a machine, double check you've got it right and then keep your ticket for a good month in case you need to prove you paid. I remember the good old days when the entire length of the Promenade from Starr Gate to the Manchester Pub was free parking. Nostalgia's not what it used to be...

This is the new council offices block. I'm still trying to get my head round the new two-way, ex-one-way, systems, but do have to admit this looks quite good.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Creeping Bentgrass at Myerscough College 2014 Open Day and Country Fair

Following our Saturday night at Coast Riders Diner, we were up early to play at Myerscough College's Open Day and Country Fair on Sunday. Thousands of people attend this annual event and for safety it is a no-car zone during the day. Apart from a few tyre-screaming motor sports activities taking place in specially designated areas, that is!

So we were on the campus before 9:00am and set up opposite the entrance to the Stumble Inn - Myerscough's bar. I'd taken the special edition unpainted Stratocaster with me and played it early on in the day. Lovely to play it again, though the standard Strats give me a more controllable tone I find and I was back on the cherry red guitar after lunch.

Tables and chairs had been set up outside the Stumble Inn and ensured we had an audience for the entire day. The rain managed to stay away apart from one brief shower and the sun was kind to us too!

In fact the only downer came a couple of days after when a friend of Fran's reported that she was talking to someone who had been to the Open Day.

"Oh, did you see Fran's husband and his friend playing music?" she had asked.
"Well, there were a couple of old geezers..." came the doubtful reply.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Creeping Bentgrass at the Fylde Car Club Meeting

Saturday night saw us once again at the Coast Riders Diner venue, playing for the Fylde Car Club as they met prior to the next day's display at Cleveleys.

They brought a great line-up of classic cars with them - I always thought that a car became vintage when it reached 25 years old. But thanks to an anonymous comment which I checked on the Oxford Dictionaries site, I now know they are 1919-30. Given that cars become and will always become rare once they reach a certain age, I quite liked my "wrong" version... Anyway, I'm thankful for learning something new!

This is the first incarnation of the Ford Capri. A two-door version of the Consul Classic with a streamlined rear window - the Classic had a window that sloped inwards like the 1960s Anglia. The bright red really pops and red is an infamous colour for fading over time.

Another 1960s car, the Triumph Herald. As a teenager a couple of my friends had these in the seventies in various states of disrepair. I remember one which had a huge hole in the floor and you had to rest your feet on the bulkhead in front of you whilst watching the road fly past beneath your legs... It was a bad idea to go out in this car on wet days because spray from the wheels shot into the car interior, particularly when the wheels turned to go round a corner! This example was in much better condition!

We were there to play a bit of music though and enjoyed ourselves playing to an audience that sang along, clapped and shouted for more.

When we play Status Quo's Rockin' All Over The World audiences always do the "Quo Dance", testing out their hips and waists with gusto! We were unable to see the cars at Cleveleys the following day due to our playing at Myerscough College's Open Day - a report of that to follow later. But we'll catch up with the classic cars later in the year at Fairhaven Lake near Lytham.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Heskin Hall Steam Fair 2014

Saturday night, Spring Bank Holiday weekend saw us driving out Chorley way to Heskin Hall where they had the big steam fair on over the weekend.

With a large number of steam traction engines, tractors, classic cars and much more this is a great day out for those with a machinery fetish, or just those who like to feel nostalgic about how things were just a few decades ago.

We were headed for the massive marquee - I'm sure this gets bigger every year... This would be the tenth year we have done this particular fair. It's been at Heskin Hall for eight years and the first two years were in a field not too far away.

Last year we had difficulties in making ourselves heard at the far end of the marquee without experiencing feedback problems, but this year the dance floor was set up in the middle of the marquee and we set up at the side of it and had a great night with no problems with the sound.

With ten years playing the same event there were lots of people waving to us as they came in during the evening and lots of new faces as well. Some great comments from members of the audience when we finally bowed ourselves off stage after an incredible four and a half hours solid performing!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Brougham Castle Sketch

I really should get out and mow the lawn, but today started with a bit of a doodle...

This is Brougham Castle, near Eamont Bridge in Cumbria. Drawn from a photograph that I took in 1985, it was the favourite of several castles owned and restored by the remarkable Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke. She thought life in Elizabethan times just a bit too modern for her tastes and elected to live as though it were the 13th and not the 17th century. Her diaries tell of her struggle to claim her rightful inheritance in a time when women were expected to stay in the shadow of their family or husband. She died at Brougham Castle in 1676.

A couple of scans show different stages of the sketch.

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