Monday, 24 August 2015

New Brighton Postcards

A couple of postcards sent from New Brighton in Merseyside in the early decades of the 20th century. The first features New Brighton Tower.

New Brighton's Tower was built just after the Blackpool one and set out to be better, higher, more sumptuous and with extensive gardens. Like Blackpool it rose from a building surrounding its base which incorporated a luxurious ballroom with sprung floor for 1000 dancers, a menagerie, shooting gallery and billiard room. The tower itself was octagonal in plan and 40 feet taller than Blackpool Tower so that when it opened somewhere between 1898 and 1900, it was the tallest building in Britain. Initially hugely successful, the tower remained closed during World War One and maintenance during that time was neglected so much that renovation was beyond the finances of the owners once the war was over and the tower was dismantled from 1919. The building and gardens continued but a massive fire in 1969 gutted the building and it was demolished.

The postcard was bought in New Brighton but not posted until the purchaser, Edie, had arrived home to Horley near today's Gatwick Airport. She wrote a message to her mother in Anerley, south east London which says:

Dear Mum, I arrived home safe and sound. The train reached Horley about twelve. Love to all from all, Edie

The card was posted on 3 June 1909. Unconnected but an interesting fact all the same - some three months later on 7 September 1909, a woman and her twelve-year-old son were stranded at the top of New Brighton Tower for the night when they missed the last lift down. They were found the following morning at ten o'clock and, presumably embarrassed, left the building quickly without giving their names!

This postcard has the feel of a genuine silver gelatin photographic print and is on quite sturdy card. It shows New Brighton Promenade in the late Victorian or very early Edwardian period. Not a single person without a hat can be seen amongst the many people walking up and down the pavement. Most of them wear what look like quite thick coats too, though the young girl nearest to us at the left of the photograph is carrying her coat over her arm.

The sender, only identified by initials which are open to interpretation, probably kept their coat firmly on as the card was posted on the second of January 1922 and it seems the weather was typically northern and rough! He or she writes to a Miss D Dugdale in Blackburn, east Lancashire:

Many thanks for the pretty handkerchief. I'm staying here for a few days. It is terribly rough, the boats are unable to land today. A Happy New Year. Love from (G.M.L.? F.K.L.?)

Friday, 21 August 2015

1983 Commercial Vehicle Rally at Blackpool

Well today I got to the end of my albums of colour slides. I've been scanning them for the past couple of weeks.

I kept most of my 35mm slides in plastic sleeves that held 20 slides to a page that could be stored in folders, a bit bigger than an A4 size.

But as I came to the end of the last album there were several pages that held strips of three 6x6cm square slides on 120 size film. These were the large format slides most magazines insisted on for colour photos at the time. I took them on a huge and quite heavy Mamiya C330 camera which had two lenses one above the other - the photographer looked down at a screen on top of the camera which showed the image coming through the top lens and the photograph was taken through the bottom lens. Which did mean that the photograph was going to be ever so slightly different to what you were seeing... Very different in fact because you saw a mirror image. If you were trying to follow action, anything moving from left to right appeared in the viewfinder to be going right to left so you had to practice very hard to swing the camera the right way!

Seen in the album the slides don't look like much. But hold them up to the light and they look like this! Scan them on a film scanner and they look even better!

So let's have a closer look! All of these photographs were taken in a square format, but they were not necessarily taken to be displayed in that format. We are in August 1983. This is the Commercial Vehicles Rally held on the Middle Walk at Blackpool. This is an ex Crosville Leyland Tiger PS1 half-cab single decker. A few drivers have told me in the past how driving half cabs was a bit like sitting in an oven, but this is how I remember buses of my early childhood so I do admit to a certain nostalgic liking for them!

CLT 414 is a 1963 London Routemaster. There are still a few of these in London but many were sold off at the time they decided that extra-long bendy buses were a good idea in London's rows of traffic light junctions. Blackpool has seen them along the Promenade in our own livery come to think of it! They were stuck in the queue to get through the Euston Road/Baker Street junction and were there so long that Blackpool Transport repainted them in "proper colours"!

Now to my mind this is near perfection. All it needs is to be re-sprayed and badged in Yelloways uniform! I was brought up in Rochdale where Yelloways first started and these were the coaches that used to take me to and from school when we had moved out of the borough to nearby Milnrow and I went to Heywood to school. Note the opening windows out of which your school cap would fly if you were silly enough not to whip it off your head as soon as teachers were out of sight when you got on the coach for the trip home at the end of the school day! And us first formers were not allowed on the back seat because the sixth formers were busy snogging...

Coach firms all around the country had coaches in this shape, known as a Burlingham body. There were a few alternative rooflines - this one has an add-on display board. Unlike modern coaches, the passenger door is halfway down the coach with an emergency exit opposite it on the other side of the coach. This wasn't a full-length door though so you had to shuffle across the seat and then jump.

A 1952 Daimler CVG6 in Lancaster livery - this for years ran as a special, might still do in fact as I'm sure I saw it recently somewhere other than at an event. On some web sites it is described as a CVG5, not sure what the difference between that and a CVG6 is ...logic says: 1? I've also seen it described as a prison bus - someone who knows the story is hereby invited to leave a comment. Can't quite see Nicholas Cage looking on in horror on this one as the prisoners cause it to crash somehow...

And there were a couple of ancient fire engines at the event too. This one quite handily has a big sign board to tell me what it was (a Merryweather) and even that it was registered on 20 February 1936 (!!! Yes but at what time???)

JEV 802 is another Merryweather fire engine with a nice bit of brass work here and there. That must have reflected the fires quite nicely - these little touches make a difference!

And if this entry has seemed a bit of a deja vu experience, I must confess that I featured some of the black and white photos from this event on 24 February 2012 (at 22:49pm but that will be Pacific Standard Time or something like that) just four days short of Merryweather AAM 39's 76th birthday...

By the way, if anyone is feeling rather sad that I've got to the end of my colour slides - that's not what I said... I've got to the end of my albums of slides - there's still at least 16 racks of the sort holding 50 slides that I used to feed into the slide projector on winter evenings when there was nothing on the telly! More to come...

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Shipwreck By Sunset

In September 1988 I went down to the Promenade at Anchorsholme and walked across the beach to the wreck of the Norwegian barque, The Abana.

The tide was just turning to come in but I had a good hour or so before I would have to move away from the incoming sea and during that hour the sun sank lower in the sky, creating one of those glorious Blackpool sunsets.

A barque was a three-masted sailing ship and the Abana had left Liverpool some three weeks earlier, sheltered from the weather in Ramsay Bay, Isle of Man and then resumed her voyage at Christmas 1894 after sailing from Liverpool. According to one newspaper report, she was bound for "Savello", but apart from a castle in central Italy - an unlikely destination for a ship - I'm not sure where that could be... Seville has been suggested and the Abana's Wikipedia entry lists the destination as Savannah, Georgia, USA.

In any event she was not destined to get there. The crew saw Blackpool Tower on the coast, but as this was then brand new and an unfamiliar sight, they mistook it for a lighthouse. Not that they could do much about it anyway for, with her sails torn to shreds, the Abana was tossed around the Irish sea until, after being spotted off the North Pier, she grounded off Anchorsholme. The alarm was raised by the landlord of the Cleveleys Hotel.

The weather was so bad that the lifeboat could not be launched at Blackpool, nor could horses pull it along the coastal road. They had to use the back streets which afforded some shelter and then launched the lifeboat, the Samuel Fletcher from Little Bispham. This then had to rowed out to the Abana by the 16-man crew, who rescued the entire 17 men onboard the barque and also the ship's dog.

They were all taken to Bispham's Red Lion Hotel to recover from the ordeal. The ship's bell was given to Robert Hindle, the landlord of the Cleveleys Hotel in gratitude for his having raised the alarm and the dog also stayed with that gentleman when the Captain of the Abana was recovered enough to go home.

The ship's bell was given to St Andrew's church in Cleveleys - where it can still be seen today.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Blackpool Zoo in 1977

I'm still going through albums of muddled and random colour slides taken in what to many these days will be the dark and distant past... To a teenager, 1977 is as far back as the Battle of Hastings, but that's where we are going in this article. Er... 1977 not 1066... Even I wasn't taking photos so far back...

These days you enter the Zoo through a purpose-built snazzy entrance with the Reception building, shops, school rooms and lecture theatres and turnstiles. You come out of the turnstiles to the tortoise enclosure. Back in 1977 you entered near the old Stanley Park air park club house and observation tower. The elephants have their home next door but in 1977 they shared some of those large enclosures with the giraffes and a couple of rhinos. They were kept strictly separate of course, and the giraffes had to take turns with the rhinos to come out to play.

The tortoises had their home somewhere behind the camels if I remember rightly. This was the largest tortoise - it could easily be the same one that trundles about now in the new enclosure as they live up to 150 years! The largest male of today is called Darwin and is about 90 years old. If my photo is of the same tortoise then he was a mere youngster of around 50... He has a few more house-mates than he used to do and is probably a fair bit bigger than he was then. You can tell roughly how old a tortoise is by counting the rings on his shell segments - a bit like counting rings on a tree!

A favourite for me has always been the big cats and in 1977 the large male was called Leo and was the proud father of two cubs.

They were a bit stationary on this particular day! And I have no photos at all of their Mum from this visit, so she must have been being kept indoors.

Dad, though, was only too pleased to snooze beside his two sleepy offspring, occasionally looking round to make sure they were not under any threat.

And lastly a look at this character who was not happy at having his photograph taken...

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Happy Anniversary... I Think...

This weekend I've been pretty much in the house on my own as Miss Franny has joined our daughter Gill in the Winter Gardens on their craft stall. So I've been doing lots of chores and cleaning of course, but did find some time to play a few 78s I acquired recently... In fact there was a stall with some at the craft fair so I picked up another half dozen whilst the girls were setting up!

One of my favourite of all the British Dance Bands is Jack Hylton and His Orchestra. Jack, between 1921 and 1940 recorded over 2,000 tracks, many of them instantly recogniseable even now. He went on to become an impressario, staging variety shows up and down the country and nurturing new and young talent including a certain Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise...

This title caught my eye. My Prayer is probably much better known these days for the version recorded by the American singing group, The Platters. This is a very nice version of it though - I was well pleased at this purchase.

On the B side (yes kiddies, these records just had one tune on and then you took it off the player, turned it over and played the other side which had a different tune) is another well known tune. Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye was one of Gracie Fields' great hits. The female singer here does a reasonable job but I did notice at least one note that she took down that Gracie would have taken up with her incredible high range - she was her generation's Mariah Carey for her ability to sing notes so high that most of us can only whistle them with difficulty! Both these tracks were recorded on 24 July 1939 in London.

Quite often you find the record details written on the sleeve of records. Artist, title, a code that told you which box to put it in after playing it etc. This one has a far more romantic message. It says simply: "Anniversary, 1957".

I hope it was bought for the lovely message in the lyrics of My Prayer rather than, what would be in the circumstances, the rather stark message of the other side...!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Billy Cotton and His Band

The other week I was mooching through a pile of old 78 rpm records on a stall in one of those large antique warehouses that rent space to stall holders. I came across around twenty records of the British Dance Band of Billy Cotton.

This was Billy Cotton Senior - his son, Bill Cotton, became Head of Light Entertainment at the BBC having the unenviable job during the late 1950s of having to tell his Dad what was wanted of him. I wouldn't have been able to tell my Dad that and I gather he had a similar challenge...

Billy Cotton had played a drum in the army in the First World War and landed at Gallipoli and then became a pilot in what was then the Royal Flying Corps. His first solo flight was taken on the day that the RFC became the RAF. On leaving the forces at the end of the war he played first in bands led by someone else and then formed his own band. "Round The Marble Arch", coupled with "Snap Your Fingers, Clap Your Hands" was released in 1932, with the band's new singer featured on both sides. He was called Alan Breeze and he joined the band on a verbal agreement and stayed with Billy, without a formal contract until the band disbanded (if you'll pardon the pun) in 1959.

Alan Breeze is on the left of this photo with Billy Cotton in the centre and Kathie Kay, pictured more towards 1959 than 1932. He became known as the man with the sunshine in his voice.

World War One had been and gone, but World War Two came in the middle of Billy's band leading career. He, along with many other band leaders of the time, recorded many patriotic songs to help those at home in the midst of bombing and rationing to get through the uncertain days and years of the war.

But there were also many light-hearted records to raise a chuckle when there wasn't always much to laugh about.

Billy Cotton would end up recording for the Decca label after World War Two and stayed with them to the end of his recording career. These Decca records along with the Rex recordings (late 1930s-1945/6) are the easiest to find.

As a child in the 1950s I remember Billy shouting "Wakey W-a-a-a-key!" at the start of his shows on both the radio and television. Alan Breeze was joined by Kathie and a small group of backing singers who sometimes took the lead. They were The Bandits and the dancers (TV only - they didn't do well on radio...) were the Silhouettes. Regular guest artists included pianists Russ Conway and Mrs Mills and singer/comedian Max Bygraves.

Not all of the 78s were perfectly flat... This one required a bit of extra weight on the playing head so that the needle wouldn't be thrown out of the groove! At least it didn't need the weight of an old copper penny!

Billy himself would occasionally bend his tonsils around a tune. Like most band leaders, he wasn't blessed with the greatest voice, but he could knock out a tune and give it a lot of good natured robustness!

Only one of the records I bought refused to play. Although a later 1950s record, my guess is it had been played on a wind-up gramaphone and the horribly heavy and sharp steel needle - probably about 3 lbs in weight (1.36kg!) had been dropped on it, gouging out an S-shaped scar pinpointed by the yellow hand. Other wear is visible all around the record - I gave up after a few seconds - it didn't sound good!

I'll leave Billy with this still from one of his appearances on the programme Christmas With The Stars. Billy Cotton, drummer, soldier, pilot, band leader, recording artist, singer and star of radio and TV. He was one of Britain's best-loved stars and had over thirty years at the top of his game. Not a bad legacy to leave.

William ("Billy") Edward Cotton, 6 May 1899 - 25 March 1969.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Long Meg and Her Daughters Stone Circle

On Tuesday we had a day out and motored up the A6 through Lancaster, Carnforth and Milnthorpe, up Shap to Penrith and then north on the A686, turning off to the tiny but quite pretty village of Little Salkeld and then up a tiny road that turned to a dirt track running right through the middle of what we had come to see.

This is Long Meg and Her Daughters. Long Meg being the large red sandstone monolith on the left and her daughters being the large stone circle she inclines towards.

The circle is one of our larger ones at 328 feet (100m) on the longest axis of its slightly flattened shape. 57 stones still exist with 27 still standing. It is thought there could have been up to 70 stones originally. Let's have a wander around the circumference, taking care to avoid the many cowpats, some of which are rather fresh and somewhat chokingly ripe... Luckily we found the field free of cows themselves!

A distinct lack of atmosphere I found, though of course atmosphere is easily brought with you and can be very personal to you. The weather also influences it and what we had expected to be a sunny day was starting to slide towards dark and dismal as I got further away from the car...

Not all of the stones of the circle are the same colour. The bluish stones are thought to be of significance - marking solstices or sometimes most northern/southern moon rise or set. Other stones are thought to have such purposes too, though with so many stones it would be almost impossible not to be able to find alignments with all the combinations of stones to choose from!

I'm now approaching part of the circle closest to Long Meg herself.

The skies are clouding quite well... is the circle going to treat me to a bit of spooky atmosphere?

Long Meg is the only sandstone block. She stands over 12 feet high (3.8m). She is said to resemble a witch from a certain viewpoint. That is, if you think of witches as twelve feet high and all flat sides and corners... We passed an old direction signpost from Ministry of Works days pointing to "Long Meg and Her Daughters, Druids Circle" on our way here.

Someone obviously wants to carry on some sort of tradition! There are not enough records of the Druids to know what they did really - the Romans were that appalled by them that they strove to wipe them from history. We have fictional accounts of horrible tortures, naked priests showing their flabby bums at opposing armies to frighten them, and those rather strange though mostly harmless white-robed figures chanting at Stonehenge at solstice times. Very little evidence of what they actually got up to.

The stone has some ancient carvings and marks, cup and saucer marks, spirals and more. Atmosphere? Not yet...

Wait... wait... can you sense that...? Miss Franny exclaims and sets off determinedly back towards the car! Yeow! Midges! Loads of them!

I'm made of stronger stuff however and... no I'm not... I'm off towards the car too, but the midges do seem to be concentrated around Long Meg herself.

Close by the monolith are two portal stones, set just a little outside the circle and forming an entrance.

I arrive back at the road that dissects the circle. Further on is a farm and the track continues a little way until it peters out having allowed the farmer access into the last field before a forest that stands above the River Eden.

There wasn't much point in following it and I did a U-turn and we headed back down towards Little Salkeld after a final look back at the circle and the guarding figure of Long Meg. As we headed away from the circle the first spots of rain hit the windscreen. "Come back soon," Long Meg was saying, "I can do atmospheric..."

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