I made a flying visit to St Annes-on-Sea to present my lecture ‘Beside the Seaside: the architecture of seaside resorts’ to the newly-founded Fylde Decorative & Fine Arts Society a few days ago. For a society that’s been up and running for less than a year they’ve achieved an enormous amount – over 200 members, an award-winning website, visits to Yorkshire and Krakow, Young Arts sponsorship, a church-recording project and strong connections with other organisations in the region. They meet at the United Reformed Church, St Georges Road, on the first Wednesday of each month from October to July, and have room for further new members. See http://www.fyldedfas.org.uk/index.htm.
Kate Cartmell, the Programme Secretary, paid me a warmly-appreciated compliment when she pointed out that my description of Blackpool as a seaside resort “gave the place dignity”. Sometimes people think I’m joking when I describe the Tower Ballroom as the finest piece of rococo decoration in the North West: I was heartened that Kate recognised I wasn’t being ironical.
I wish I’d said a little more to place Lytham St Annes into the context of the history of the British seaside. The Fylde coast tells the whole story, in essence, of how railways and, to a lesser extent, steamships, drove the holiday industry.
The landowner Peter Hesketh Fleetwood gave his name and lost his fortune to the wildly over-ambitious resort of Fleetwood, which was quickly overtaken by the small landowners and businessmen who made Blackpool the premier resort of the North West.
This process was helped by the decision of another landowning family, the Cliftons, to sell up in Blackpool and develop Lytham as a superior, “select” alternative that they could tightly control. When the Cliftons were in need of cash in the teeth of an agricultural depression, they sold to a developer the land on which St Annes was built from 1875. Meanwhile, further south, two more landowning families, the Scarisbricks and the Bolds (the latter related by marriage to the Fleetwoods), worked jointly to build spacious, elegant Southport.
To the far north, on the Lune estuary, another miscellaneous collection of landowners threw together Morecambe, in its day phenomenally successful as “Bradford-by-the-sea” and now less a resort than a dormitory for Lancaster.
You can walk round each place and pick up its character very quickly – Fleetwood, St Annes and Southport planned with a ruler and set-square; Morecambe and Blackpool strung together piecemeal; Lytham, carefully constructed at the gates of the big house, Lytham Hall.
A quick trawl through the new Pevsner (Lancashire North) compels me to return to Lytham St Annes to explore the astonishing quality and variety of its architecture.
Watch this space…
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all: the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside: the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.
The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2013 Lancashire’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.