Post World War 2 memories of holiday travel by steam engine to Blackpool in the late 1940's and 1950's.
The station and footbridge
A Blackpool holiday - Setting off
Although money was short in the years after the war, my parents managed to save enough to have a holiday in Blackpool when I was about three years old. It was the first of many visits to the resort although in later years we went for day trips rather than a whole week.
In those days, no-one had thought of package holidays abroad; most people who were fortunate enough to get away went to the nearest seaside place. In our case we went to Blackpool which was about fifty miles away. Dad wouldn’t go abroad anyway because he had spent seven years away from home in the Second World War. “I’ve seen enough of other countries to last me a lifetime,” he said. (It took him forty years to leave England for a holiday!)
The railway station was only a few hundred yards from our house and rail travel at that time was very good. Train travel was the obvious choice for us, as my sister was still in a big pram, and you couldn’t get a coach-built pram on a charabanc! Also, what we couldn’t fit in the suitcases, went in the pram! I was always fascinated when the mattress was removed, because, there in the base were three removable sections, beneath which mum could store nappies and clothing.
I can still remember the excitement of setting off on holiday. First, walking into the booking office and hearing the noise our shoes made on the wooden floor. Then, after dad had bought our tickets, we could venture onto the platform. The gates of the level crossing were to our left and the long platform was to our right.
We had to cross the tracks, as our train went from the opposite platform. This was the best part. Mum and I had to go up the steps and over the foot-bridge. Again the sound of my shoes clonking across the wooden boards with large gaps between them, was something which really appealed to me. It was like the Billy Goats Gruff story, ‘Trip Trap, Trip Trap Trip Trap over the bridge.’ Luckily the Troll never appeared! Dad had to cross the track with my sister in the pram and was waiting for us as we came down the steps.
Waiting on the station was equally thrilling. There was a ‘Ladies Waiting Room,’ with shiny leather seats, and a door with big round glass knobs and etched glass in the top half. There was a lovely fireplace, which always had a fire burning during the winter months. In the corner was another door which led to the toilet. Men had a ‘Gentlemen’s Waiting Room’ but I never went in it.
As it was summer-time we sat on the benches on the platform and waited for the sound of the train’s whistle down the line. The station was very busy as this was ‘Wakes Week;’ the time of year when all the mills closed down completely for the annual holiday.
When the train was coming, everyone surged forward towards the edge of the platform. The gates of the level crossing closed, and we first of all heard, and then saw, the great engine thundering towards us with smoke belching out and enveloping the footbridge. With a feeling of butterflies in my stomach, I put my fingers in my ears; the noise was deafening! As the train slowed down, I watched the enormous wheels grind to a halt. The smell was something which I have always liked; although whether that is because I associate the smell of the engine with holidays and outings, or whether I really do like the smell, I am unable to say.
The pram had to go in the guard’s van, alongside bicycles, parcels, homing pigeons, mail sacks and even a dog! We had a compartment to ourselves and sat facing one another. The seats were of dark red moquette fabric and there were covers on the headrests to keep them clean. Above the seats were the parcel shelves which were made of netting, and below the shelves were advertisements and a mirror. The windows had thick leather straps with holes in them, which were pulled up or down, to close or open the window. I was always fascinated by the ‘Communication Cord,’ and would have loved to be able to pull it, but fortunately, we never had an emergency!
Soon after we set off, we had to pass through a tunnel, and if the windows were open, all the smoke would come into the compartment! Usually the lights came on as you went into the tunnel, but sometimes they didn’t. I was both scared, and thrilled if that happened!
It was never a good idea to hang your head out of the window, as you would end up with a black face and coal grit in your hair!
The big pram.
Arriving at the seaside.
As we neared our destination, we would be watching for our first glimpse of Blackpool Tower and I was really excited if I saw it first!
On arrival in Blackpool, we traipsed round, looking first of all for a Bed and Breakfast place, and then one which said, ‘Vacancies.’ We eventually found one which was the right price, cheap! It was on a corner of the promenade and a main street. It didn’t have a garden, the front door opened directly onto the pavement.
Breakfast was the only meal provided, and as rationing was still in force mum had to give the landlady our coupons so that she could buy food for us.
Our room was on the first floor, and a sash window overlooked the street. I remember spending much time at the window, waving to people who were on the upper deck of the trams. I was thrilled when they waved back!
Inside the room were two beds, one double and one single. My sister and I shared the single bed which was pushed up to the wall to stop us falling out. A curtained off recess provided hanging space for the few clothes that we had. At that time, people didn’t have holiday clothes.
A washbasin in the corner was used for washing us and we even had a bath in it. It was also used for washing our clothes and my sister’s nappies! The nappies were hung over the windowsill to dry, and then the sash window was pulled down to hold them in place. The toilet was a long way down a corridor and Mum and Dad used to get exasperated because there was always someone in it!
The worst thing about ‘B and B’ ‘digs’ was the fact that we had to be out of the place by ten o’clock, and we weren’t allowed back in until five o’clock! It didn’t matter that the weather could have been abysmal, with rain, or gale force winds, we still weren’t admitted until five p.m..
This meant that we had to provide our own lunch and tea. Usually we would have sandwiches, previously made by mum in the bedroom, and wrapped in the bread wrapper. Sometimes we would have fish and chips. Escaping from the rain in a shelter on the promenade, made chips out of newspaper taste good, but if we were really lucky and it was cold and windy, we would go into a café and sit down!
Sunny days and sun bonnets at Blackpool
Family group Blackpool beach 1948
A child's bubble swimsuit.
Blackpool donkeys 1947
Family group, Blackpool beach and pier
We did get quite a lot of sunshine that week, so on better days we would spend the whole day on the beach. The pram came along too! It was ideal for storing and carrying everything needed for a day on the beach and as long as the tide had been in, then it was possible to push the pram along the sand. Food, nappies, buckets, spades, swimwear, beach balls, windmills, little flags and my sister were transported to the beach in the big pram. She used to have her afternoon nap in it and I would then get all the attention!
We spent many happy hours on the beach, which would always be packed with people, especially near to the promenade. Here, rows and rows of people would sit cheek by jowl on deckchairs which they had hired before they came onto the beach. Not wanting to carry them too far they would put them up wherever there was a space.
We couldn’t afford to hire chairs so mum and dad would sit on towels. It meant that we could get nearer to the water’s edge and away from the crowd.
Paddling in the sea was something I loved to do. Very few people swam in the water; women just tucked their frocks into their knickers, and men rolled their trouser legs up so that they could paddle in the shallow water.
People were not dressed for the beach as they would be today; I remember that my father always wore a suit, his demob suit, the only one he had. Men were often seen on the beach wearing trousers and vest, or, trousers, no vest but braces! Older men would put knots in each corner of their handkerchief and use it as a sun hat. Mum had two cotton dresses which she wore for the whole week, and she travelled in a suit. She also wore stockings, even on the beach!
Although Mum and Dad did not swim very much, they did sometimes put swimwear on. Mum spent many hours before the holiday, working on a Singer treadle sewing machine, making ladies and childrens' swimming costumes. The money she earned went towards the cost of the holiday.
The costumes were made of fine cotton. They started off as a very large piece of material, and row after row of gathering was done, using shirring elastic, forming a criss cross pattern. This created a bubble effect causing the material to shrink in size so that it was small enough to be shaped into a swimsuit. They were all the same size and just stretched to fit the wearer, large or small!
My sister and I always had sun bonnets on to protect us from the sun; almost every beach photograph shows us in sun bonnets, so the weather must have been quite good.
Dad was a motor mechanic, (a trade that he had learned whilst serving in the army during World War 2.). He loved to make me a car to sit in, out of the sand. I loved it too! A spade with an upturned bucket served as the steering wheel and a little Union Jack flag was stuck on the bonnet. It had headlamps and bumpers, and bits of wood, found on the beach, made good door handles. Blackpool sand is great for making sandcastles etc.
I used to love making sandcastles, and I suspect mum and dad did too, because they both joined in, crawling around on their hands and knees like a couple of children. They never got the chance to go to the seaside when they were young in the Twenties and Thirties. The buckets were made of metal and the spades were also metal with wooden handles. A moat, walls, and towers, surrounded an enormous sandcastle. All the towers had little flags in them and the castle itself would have a windmill, which spun round with the sea breezes. Shells collected from the beach would also decorate the walls and castle.
The biggest thrill of all was when the tide was coming in; watching the waves creep up towards the castle, and gradually filling the moat, before finally engulfing the whole thing!
By this time, we had to pick up all our possessions and race up the beach, before we were caught by the waves, and soaked through!
This would be the ideal time to have an ice-cream from one of the numerous vans on the beach. It was also the time to watch a Punch and Judy show. I can still remember being rather frightened by Mr. Punch and yet I enjoyed the excitement of the show.
Blackpool donkeys were lovely. When they were not parading up and down the beach, they would be feeding out of a sack of hay fastened round their neck. But when they were working, they plodded up and down the beach taking children into what was, to the children, another world. Every donkey had a name, and children loved to choose which donkey they wanted to ride. If you were very brave, you let the man or boy lead the donkey, but if you were timid, then your parents went alongside too, taking care not to step into the donkey droppings which littered the beach each day, until the tide came and washed them away!
Photographers were always around the area of the donkeys and did a good trade in photographing people’s offspring sitting on the animals.
A sand car with a metal bucket for a steering wheel.
Things to see and do off the beach
Sometimes, when the weather wasn’t very good we would go inside. Woolworth’s store was a favourite haunt of ours; it seemed to sell just about everything.
We used to go into the Tower. To this day I still haven’t been to the top. But we did go to see the Circus, with Charlie Cairoli and Paul, the Children’s ballet, the Aquarium, the Zoo, and Reginald Dixon playing his famous tune, 'Oh I do love to be beside the seaside,’ on the organ.
A special treat was a ride along the promenade on a tram. Most of the time, mum and dad walked because it was cheaper, but even they enjoyed a tram-ride.
We also went to the Pleasure Beach; however the rides we went on were such things as the boat round-a-bout, which we liked because the boats were real and they were on water, the swinging chairs, and the merry-go-round.
Tussauds Waxworks was another place to go if the weather was bad. Lifelike wax figures of famous people were on show. I thought it rather boring when I was small.
A week in Blackpool was a real treat in the post war years. However, once we had a car, Blackpool became a place for day trips; holidays were spent much farther afield. We went to Devon and Cornwall in the fifties and also the East coast resorts of Skegness and Great Yarmouth were much more accessible.
In these happy post war years relatives from Yorkshire would also visit Blackpool and spend time with us. They also have happy memories of the resort.