Morecambe

Morecambe is a town on the Lancashire coast incorporating three small villages, Poulton le Sands named in the Domesday book as Poltune, the ‘le Sands’ was added in the 19th century in order to distinguish it from Poulton Le Fylde further down the coast. Bare and Torrisholme listed as Toredholme in the Domesday book.

In 1846 the Morecambe Harbour and Railway Company was formed to build a harbour on. Morecambe Bay, close to the tiny fishing village of Poulton, it also built a connecting railway. By 1850 the railway linked Skipton, Keithley and Bradford in Yorkshire, and a settlement began to grow up around the harbour and railway to service the port as a holiday destination.

As the population grew and absorbed the three small villages in began to be known locally as Morecambe, this name was officially adopted in 1889.

Morecambe was a thriving sea side town in the first half of the 20th century, and where it’s southern neighbour Blackpool attracted it’s visitors from the Lancashire mill towns, Morecambe’s visitors came from Yorkshire and Scotland due to it’s rail links with those areas.

Towards the latter half of the 20th century however Morecambe suffered from a decline after a number of unfortunate incidents. It lost two piers, one washed away during a storm in 1978, and the other finally closed in 1992.
In 1994 the tourist attraction ‘The world of Crinkley Bottom’ closed after only a few weeks of operation and a minor scandal involving council finances. The towns swimming pool and the fairground followed shortly afterwards.

During concern regarding the decline of Morecambe, a local fashion store revived the Miss Morecambe beauty contest almost thirty years after it had fallen out of favour, and in 2002 the R.N.L.I sighted it’s first hovercraft in Morecambe.

In recent years it has seen quite a revival, it plays host to a kite flying festival, a jazz festival and a 1950’s festival. It’s mot famous land mark is a statue by Graham Ibbeson of John Eric Bartholomew, better know to the world at large as Eric Morecambe.

Blackpool

Blackpool for hundreds of years was a coastal hamlet, listed in the Domesday book of 1086 as laying in the ‘Hundred of Amounderness’.

Things changed for Blackpool in the mid 18th C when it became fashionable to travel to the coast during the summer to bathe in the sea to improve wellbeing.
Visitors to Blackpool’s 7 mile long beach were able to use the new private road build by Thomas Clifton and Sir Henry Hogton which ran between Blackpool and Manchester.

The population began to increase rapidly, in 1801 it was less than 500, by 1851 it was over 2,500.

The real boost to Blackpool came in the 1840’s when the railway connected Blackpool with the industrial towns of the north west, this made it much easier, and importantly, much cheaper for visitors to reach Blackpool. This in turn meant more people settled in Blackpool taking advantage of the new opportunities and the creation of jobs that weren’t in the dangerous factories and mines and homes that were away from the squalid conditions of the rapidly expanding industrial towns.

Blackpool was incorporated in 1876 and by 1881 it had a population of 14,000, by 1901 it had grown to 47,000 and by the end of WWII it was 147,000.

Blackpool Tower

The tower was opened on 14th may 1894, it was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris although slightly smaller it is 518ft 9 inches in height.

The Tower Ballroom opened in 1899 and the first Wurlitzer organ installed in 1929, this was replaced however in 1933 by an organ designed by the resident organist Reginald Dixon. Mr Dixon was resident organist from 1930 until his death in 1970, he also had a radio programme on the BBC for most of that time
‘The Organist Entertains’ which came live from the Tower ballroom every week.

The Tower Circus at the base of the tower, opened on 14th May 1894 and has not missed a season since despite two world wars and a fire in 1954 which destroyed the original dance floor and the restaurant beneath it.

Blackpool trams

The trams run from Starr gate in the south to Fleetwood Ferry in the north. The tram system dates from 1885 and is one of the oldest electric tram systems in the world. The original trams ran perfectly well, transporting residents and around 6.5 million visitors a year for the best part of 120 years, but in 2008 the government and Lancashire County Council announced that it was improving the service, it now runs ‘flexi-trams’ the like of which can be seen in hundreds of other towns and cities around the world, but running a heritage service from the pleasure beach to Little Bispham on weekends and holidays.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The pleasure beach is a family owned amusement park, owned by the Thompson family, and it’s one of the top 20 amusement parks in the world, with an estimated 5.5 million visitors a year.

It was founded in 1896 by William George Bean a failed Madison Avenue advertising man. He returned to England and opened two amusement parks, one in Great Yarmouth and the other in Blackpool opposite the tram terminus.

In 1903 William Bean and business man John Outhwaite purchased 30 acres of land to expand the amusement park, their vision was to create another Coney Island (U.S.A) that would ‘make adults feel like children again and inspire gaiety of a primarily innocent nature’.

The first major attraction was ‘Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machine’ which opened in 1904, the next was a fore-runner of the water ride ‘The River Caves of the World’ which opened in 1905.

Outhwaite died in 1911 leaving the initial business to Bean, but the Outhwaite still has shares in the park and occasionally has input into it’s development.

In 1923 land was reclaimed from the front and the park moved to it’s current 44 acre site. Bean died in 1929 leaving the park to his daughter Lillian, she had previously married a Mr Thompson.

Winter Gardens

Opened on 11th July 1878 and covers 6 acres. The intention was to provide a concert room, promenades, and conservatories for the occasionally inclement weather. The Vestibule, Floral Hall, Ambulatory and Pavilion Theatre were built in the 1870’s. The Opera House followed in 1889 and the Empress Ballroom and the Indian Lounge (now the Arena) in 1896.

In 1910 the Opera House was rebuilt and rebuilt again in 1939 it now seats almost 3000 people. In 1930 the Olympia was built followed by the Galleon bar, Spanish hall and Baronial Hall.

The North Pier

Opened on the 21st May 1863, the longest of the three piers at 1650 feet long. It was always seen as a ‘better class’ of pier, having orchestral concerts and ‘respectable’ comedians it’s also the only pier to consistently charge admission. It also has a display of one of the oldest Sooty glove puppets commemorating Harry Corbett who bought the first Sooty here.

Central Pier

Opened in 1864 and was designed for steam and pleasure boat traffic, which the North Pier was unable to accommodate. It was 1,100 feet long when it was built.

In 1870 the old wooden jetty was replaced with a 400ft iron extension, making way for shops, photographers, confectioners and fancy goods sellers. It also had open air dancing and a refreshment room, the central pier was always seen as the ‘peoples pier’.

In 1891 a new low water jetty was built making the pier now 1500 ft in length, and in 1893 it was widened to accommodate new shops, a bandstand and dancing stage, and iron arches were added to support electric lighting.

In 1909 a Rollerator, an open air roller-rink was opened, and in 1949 an open air theatre, this was demolished in 1966 when the front of the pier was completely rebuilt incorporating the Golden Goose arcade and a new enclosed theatre on the site of the old dance floor. Since the 1960’s varies bars and refreshment areas have come and gone, and a big wheel was erected on the pier in 1990.

South Pier

Opened in 1890 the south pier is shorter and wider than it’s neighbours at just 429 ft long, it has 36 shops and shelters and a bandstand. The Grand Pavilion could seat 2000 people and was renowned for it’s high class vocal and instrumental concerts , variety entertainments, military and other band concerts.

Blackpool Promenade was widened in 1902 so the pier entrance was set back.
In 1911 an entrance pavilion to entertain 900 was built, followed in 1918 by a cinema and in 1924 the Floral Hall seating another 1000 people.

The South Pier has suffered two fires, in 1958 the Grand Pavilion was gutted, and on the 6th Feb 1964 a fire destroyed the Rainbow Theatre that had been built to replace the Entrance Pavilion. A new theatre – renames the South Pier Theatre was rebuilt in just 12 weeks at a cost of £90,000 and opened for the summer season that year.

Blackpool Illuminations

The Blackpool Illuminations were founded – after a fashion – on 19th September 1879, this first display consisted of 8 arc lights, it was presented as ‘artificial sunshine’ and it preceded Thomas Edison patenting the electric light bulb by a year.

The first display similar to the ones we know today was in May 1912, to make the Royal Families visit to Blackpool when Princess Louise opened a new section of the promenade; Princess Parade. Garlands using around 10,000 light bulbs were used along the new parade.

The Illuminations had to be halted in 1914 and didn’t’t start again until 1925, only to be stopped again in 1939. There has been a display every year since 1946 every year becoming larger and more ambitious, the display now goes all the way from Starr Gate to Bispham. The display also used to feature half a dozen specially built single car trams also lit with thousands of light bulbs, this stopped in the 1990’s when the new trams were introduced but recently two, the rocket and the steamboat have been rescued from the scrap heap, the rocket is back in commission and the rocket will be shortly at the time of writing (2013).

Matthew Hopkins

Matthew Hopkins was born around 1620, the son of a puritan clergyman who was vicar of St Johns in Wenham Suffolk.

Little is known of Hopkins before his career as the self styled witch-finder general. According to Hopkins in his publication ‘The discovery of witches’ his career began in Manningtree where he overheard women discussing their meetings with the devil, this like so much more in this publication is untrue. Hopkins did work with a man called John Stearns, older than Hopkins by about 10 years, and it was Stearns who actually accused 23 women of witchcraft, Hopkins was then appointed as his assistant. Of the 23 women accused and tried at Chelmsford, 4 died in prison awaiting execution the remaining 19 were hanged.

As the Civil War was in full swing at this time, non of the women accused of witchcraft and executed were tried by Justices of Assize (Judges) they were all tried by Justices of the Peace (magistrates) who were easily intimidated.

Witches were unmasked by a process known as ‘pricking’. Hopkins and Stearns travelled with women who did the actual pricking. The accused had all their body hair shaved so the prickers could look for ‘the devils mark’ supposed to be a third nipple or even a third breast, in reality they settled for moles and birthmarks, they would then prick this mark with a sharp needle on a bodkin, to show that the witch did not feel pain and did not bleed from the mark, if she did bleed and the ‘witches familiar’ her pet cat or dog would lick the blood this also proved that she was a witch. Some of these pricking needles still exist in museums and they have been found to have a hollow handle so that the needle retracts into it, giving the bystanders the impression of going all the way into the body – not unlike modern prop knives and daggers.

Although torture was not lawful in England Hopkins did use sleep deprivation to elicit confessions. It was also Hopkins that devised the ’swimming test’ based on the theory that the witch had denounced her baptism so the water would reject her. The woman would be tied to a chair and thrown into the water, if she floated she was guilty and executed, if she drowned she was innocent

The motivation for Hopkins and Stearns was not so much a hatred of witches as a love of money. They would charge a town 20 shillings (around £7000 today) or more to rid them of witches, plus they charged for travelling expenses, required full room and board for all their party and full stabling for their horses.

They only worked in the strongest puritan areas around East Anglia occasionally travelling as far west as Bedfordshire, they tended to stay in the area centred around Essex of the powerful Eastern Association which raised parliamentary militias, including a cavalry captain by the name of Oliver Cromwell. They also claimed to be officially commissioned by Parliament, this was also not true, in fact parliament were quite worried by their activities from an early stage and after witch trials in Bury St Edmunds where 18 women where hanged on one day; the Moderate Intelligence a parliamentary paper expressed unease at the affair in it’s editorial.

Hopkins and Stearns had other opposition too, John Gaule the vicar of Great Staughton attended a woman in gaol awaiting Hopkins visit. Hopkins got to hear of this interview and wrote to the town to ask if they would receive a ‘good welcome’. John Gaule replied with a publication entitled Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft.

Both Hopkins and Stearns were questioned by the Justices of Assize about both their fees and their torture of women and asked ‘did not his (Hopkins) methods make him a witch?’ and with all his knowledge did he not too have a secret?. By the time the court had resumed session in 1647, both Hopkins and Stearns had retired.

Hopkins died, probably of Tuberculosis at his home in Manningtree on the 12th August 1647 and was quickly buried a few hours later in the churchyard of Mistley Heath.

It is worth noting that until this time committing acts of maleficium (sorcery) were considered malicious acts and treated like any other crime. After this point witches were seen as heretics, a crime so foul that it stood outside normal legal procedure, and because the devil wasn’t going to confess it was necessary to get a confession from the human involved.

It is further worth noting that between the 13th century and the 18th century around 500 people have been executed in England for witchcraft, in the 14 months Hopkins and Stearns operated they were responsible for more than 300 of those.

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva (also known as Godgifu) was the wife of Leofric one of the most powerful men in 11th century England. The couple were both very religious and very generous in their endowments, among other things they founded a monastery at Coventry.

The story of her ride through the market place in Coventry first appears in the Chronicles of Roger of Wendover, written more than a century after her death.

So the story goes that Leofric was so exasperated at Godiva for her endless appeals to him to reduce the heavy tax burden of the people of Coventry, that he declared he would do as she asked if she would ride naked through the market place. She mounted a horse naked then released her blond hair from it’s bonds, it covered her entire body except her white legs. When she returned her husband kept his part of the bargain, and all taxes except those on horse were lifted, this bit at least is mentioned in a charter of the time.

The story of Peeping Tom was added later, sometime in the 13th century, it says that Godiva had requested that all townsmen remain behind closed doors during her ride, but that a tailor called Tom couldn’t resist looking and he was struck blind.

Leofric died in 1057, his wife survived him at least until 1087 when she is mentioned in the Domesday book as holding many estates in Warwickshire including Coventry which she inherited from her husband.

Jack Shepherd

Jack Shepherd was born in December 1702 in Spitalfields London the son of a carpenter. His father died when Jack was still young and his mother brought him up in the Bishopsgate workhouse.

Following the workhouse he was apprenticed in his fathers trade of carpenter but he ran away in 1723, he was arrested for this offence. He then turned to theft, pick pocketing and housebreaking, working with an accomplice called Joseph Black known as ‘Taliesin’ .

Shepherd was a heavy drinker and frequented the Black Horse on Drury Lane with several ‘lady friends’ the favourite of which was Elizabeth Lyon known as Edgware Bess.

He was arrested and committed to St Giles Roundhouse for housebreaking in 1724, he escaped through the roof.

The following month he was arrested for pick pocketing and sent to Newgate Gaol, where by chance his mistress Elizabeth Lyon was also imprisoned for a similar offence. The gaolers put them in the same cell believing them to be husband and wife. Friends visited and smuggled a tool into Shepherd which he used to file around one of the bars in their cell until he could remove it. In order to escape they still had a twenty-five foot drop into the yard below. They tied a blanket and a sheet together and tied it to the remaining bar of their cell window, they then climbed over the prison gate, using the bolts and locks as footholds.

After their escape the separated briefly and Jack left for the country, where he may have tried his had at being a highwayman. He soon returned to London and his old ways, housebreaking with accomplices, he injured one of these during a fight over spoils. He also angered Jonathan Wild whose protection he refused, as a result he was arrested and sentenced to death at the Old Bailey.

He was sent back to Newgate and locked in a condemned cell with a solid door, over which was a small opening guarded by iron spikes. A visiting lady friend passed him a tool with which he sawed through the spike. When a group of ladies, including Edgware Bess visited him, he bent the spike and pushed his head and shoulders through the hole, he was then pulled out by his visitors while the guards were busy drinking. The story is that he donned a dress to escape the building.

Shortly afterwards he was spotted walking across Finchley Common and was re-arrested. He was again sent to Newgate, this time he was held in a secure cell and he was manacled with irons at both his hands and his feet, the chains were then fastened to the stone floor.

No one knows how but he managed to free his hands then using a bent nail, freed the leg chains from the floor and wrapped the chains around his legs several times holding them in place with his garters. He attempted to escape through a chimney but found a metal bar across it. With considerable effort he dislodged the bar and used it to knock a hole higher up the chimney to escape into the room above which was unused. He forced the lock and found himself in the passageway that led to the chapel. The entrance door was bolted on the inside. He knocked a hole in the masonry with his bar until he created a hole big enough for him to slip his hand through and draw the bolt.

It was found later that he had forced his way through four more doors to reach an opening that overlooked the prison wall. He used a blanket that he’d brought with him from his cell to lower himself onto the roof of an adjoining house. He stayed there for a while then entered the house through a garret window. At some stage here he managed to remove his leg irons still wrapped around his legs.

Within a very short time he was back to his old ways and robbed a pawn brokers, he proceeds of which he spent in the Black Horse. He was recognised by a young boy who informed the authorities. Shepherd was so drunk that he was barely aware of his arrest.

He was sent back to Newgate, this time the guards took no chances, he was watched night and day, and they charged his visitors sizable fees to visit him. While awaiting execution he even sat for the royal portrait painter Sir James Thornhill.

He did try again, he had obtained a pen knife with which he planned to cut his bonds while in the execution cart and disappear in to the crowd, but the knife was discovered.

His execution drew a crowd of an estimated 200,000 when he was hanged at Tyburn on the 16th November 1724 not yet 22 years old. He was buried at St Martins in the Field church yard.

Well Dressing

There are two schools of thought regarding where well dressing first began. One is that is began in Tissington in Derbyshire just after the Black Death in 1348-49. A large part of the population of England died during the plague, but some towns and villages were left untouched, one of these was Tissington. The local people attributed their good fortune to their clean water supply and so dressed the well with flowers and greenery to give thanks.

The second school of thought is that the practice goes back to our Pagan ancestors, in part because there is usually a ‘Well Queen’ which some think the well dressing could have been a form of fertility right.

Either way it is a tradition that is unique to the Peak District and the surrounding areas of Derbyshire and a part of South Yorkshire.

The construction of the modern well dressing is a skilful art in which most of the village takes part.

A wooden backing board is covered with clay and then a pattern is pricked out from a paper template, then petals and other foliage is used to bring the picture – usually with a religious theme – is brought to life. The clay must be kept damp for the life of the dressing or it will just crumble away.

If a town or village has several wells to be dressed there will be a procession around them, led by a band and there will be a short outdoor service of thanksgiving at each well.

Cloutie Wells

Clouties wells are places of pilgrimage in the Celtic areas of Britain, Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall.

They are wells or springs that almost always have a whitethorn tree beside them, or on occasion an ash tree. Strips of cloth are tied to the branches of the tree as part of a healing ritual. Cloutie is a Scottish word for strip of cloth or a rag.

The practice is pre-Christian and the pilgrimages are usually made either on local saints days, or on the quarter or festival days. Imbolc 1st February, Beltane 1st May, Lughnasadh 1st August and Samain 1st November.

In 1581 the Scottish Parliament made pilgrimage to Holy wells illegal as it was seen by the Presbyterians as a heathen practice, but as tends to happen the Celts ignored this law and carried on. The practice still continues today.