Part One: To Hell With Blobbyland

Morecambe Heysham advert LMS
In the resort’s heyday, Morecambe’s 1930s grandeur brought day trippers and holidaymakers to the resort, which also coincided with the introduction of the Holidays With Pay Act.

Before package holidays grew in popularity, Morecambe was known as Bradford-by-the-Sea. Owing to the “Little” North Western Railway line via Carnforth, it was a popular resort for Bradford folk. A western alternative to Bridlington and Scarborough for a Wakes Week jolly. There was at one time the largest lido in Britain, neatly complementing the Midland Hotel. The Winter Gardens had a ballroom as well as its theatre. There was two piers: three if you counted the Stone Jetty.

In spite of its proximity to the then new M6, Morecambe fortunes started to wane in the late 1960s. Firstly, the Lancaster Green Ayre line from Wennington closed. Despite its pioneering work in electrification, it didn’t escape Beeching’s cuts in 1966. It was the busier of the two lines into Morecambe. Then came the loss of Heysham’s trains, thanks to the withdrawal of Sealink’s Belfast sailings in April 1975.

As with most English seaside resorts, it saw its theatres and cinema turn into bingo halls or shopping arcades. Some were demolished to become shopping centres, like the Royalty Theatre and Opera House. Lastly the Royalty Cinema, it was demolished in 1967 to make way for Morecambe’s Arndale Centre.

The 1970s could well have been a decade to forget for Morecambe. In 1970, the Alhambra Theatre burnt down with a lot of the original building ruined. Lancaster City Council – who took over civic functions from Morecambe and Heysham Municipal Borough Council in 1974 – must have ran over several black cats. The Super Swimming Stadium developed structural faults which warranted its demolition and replacement with a modest open air swimming pool. The Dome was built on part of the site, creating a new live music venue.

super stadium & central pier from air
An aerial postcard view of the Super Swimming Stadium and Central Pier. Early 1970s.
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The West End Pier, early 1970s view.

In 1977, the Winter Gardens closed due to structural problems, with the ballroom demolished five years later. Later that year, a storm and flooding besieged the West End Pier. With the £500,000 sum needed to repair and reopen the pier, it was demolished the following year. As a consequence, the attractions along Marine Road West, from The Battery to the amusement park started to dwindle. The palatial Floral Hall with its cinema and theatre closed in late 1983. In Easter 1986, Central Pier closed after decking collapsed at the seaward end.

The change in holidaying patterns was probably more noticeable in Morecambe than in neighbouring Blackpool. At one end of the market, Majorca, Benidorm and Tenerife increased in popularity. At the other, more cost conscious end of the market, a week in any of the North West’s holiday resorts was elusive, thanks to high unemployment. Day trips instead of a week away became the norm, depressing the resorts’ coffers. As a result, boarding houses lining the front offered rich pickings for the buy-to-let market.

Marineland
An aerial view of Marineland and the Super Swimming Stadium. Again, early 1970s.

Morecambe has tried to reinvent itself as often as Madonna. 1964 saw the opening of Marineland, Europe’s first dolphin arena on the same lines as Sea World. In 1987, Morecambe Amusement Park reinvented itself as Frontierland. With a western theme, it gave the park a brief shot in the arm and hope for the beleaguered resort.

A 1980s trip to Morecambe

Morecambe 1983 - 1.jpg
Morecambe in 1983: both Littlewoods and Woolworths are no more, but the stores are at present a discount furniture store, and a branch of B&M Bargains. Image by Historic Image – Lancashire (Creative Commons License: Some Rights Reserved).

I first went to Morecambe in 1986, around about 31 years since I wrote the post. My family had toyed with the idea of moving to the resort with my father, possibly working at Nuclear Electric’s Heysham site. Not least the bonus of sea views and its famous sunsets. In August 1986, this meant three trains from Stalybridge. Firstly, the peak hour service to Manchester Victoria (operated by a Class 110 Calder Valley DMU); then The European to Lancaster; and finally, the shuttle service to Morecambe station via Bare Lane.

The station, adjacent to the Midland Hotel, was an inviting welcome to the resort. Its four platforms and Edwardian grandeur got me thinking, “we’re in for a wonderful time”. The station concourse was every inch of ‘traditional railway station’ with some of the modern day creature comforts. The Railbar kiosk made for a slightly continental air with natural light for passengers enjoying a BR sandwich and a brew. Seats took up part of the concourse.

First off was the Morecambe Amusement Park, with the Log Flume a highlight of the trip. Afterwards, we walked along the Marine Drive, went to some amusement arcades, and went to Marineland.

Inside Marineland, there was a bar at one level, and an aquarium – all of which underneath a spectator gallery with a covered stand and open air seating. There was two small pools: one for the sea lions, and another for Rocky the dolphin, its star of the show. Rocky would jump through hoops and catch balls. When the ball passed to yours truly, I threw it towards the sea lion pool.

The Morecambe of 1986, to use today’s terminology was “Just About Managing”. Heysham nuclear power station would open in 1989. Morecambe, three years before the power station’s opening, was a second home for its construction workers. With scope for employment opportunities, could the town benefit?

“There’s More to Morecambe Bay…”

Throughout the mid to late 1980s, and the early 1990s, Morecambe was promoted as a viable alternative resort to Blackpool. One selling point was its illuminations. In addition to lighting up Marine Drive from The Battery to Happy Mount Park, the latter place would play host to themed tableaus. On entry into the park, the visitor was presented with generic themes, or those featuring cartoon characters.

In 1994, there was one character more than anyone that would send shivers down the spine of the people of Morecambe: Mr. Blobby.

Mr. Blobby was a monster hit that year, following its first appearance on Noel’s House Party in a Gotcha! Oscar strand of the programme. In today’s terms, the pink and yellow blob went viral. So much so that it spawned a number of theme parks under the name of The World of Crinkley Bottom. Part of Happy Mount Park, it was one of a few Blobbylands up and down the country. The format was available for licence to local authorities with a £1m licence fee. Lancaster City Council thought this was a shot in the arm for Morecambe.

It wasn’t. After the hype died down, reality bit its crinkly posterior. It closed at the end of 1994 due to poor visitor numbers and lack of value for money. Then, Noel Edmonds wanted his million back, but the council had to settle out of court for £900,000. The whole saga was known as Blobbygate in The Visitor, Morecambe’s local newspaper.

Apart from the lack of visitors to the park, Morecambe had continued to lose visitors throughout the first half of the 1990s. The Midland Hotel had lost its sheen; animal welfare issues saw to the end of Marineland; and the western theme at Frontierland seemed a little tired. The amusement park saw the arrival of Skyride (1991), a cable car ride; and the Polo Tower (1993). Previously The Space Tower at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, it was moved to make way for The Big One.

In 1990, there was a possibility of the Central Pier reopening. Work to repair the pier began in 1990 but a March 1991 report condemned the pier. On Easter Sunday that year, the ballroom caught fire, and the pier was demolished in March 1992. What did Morecambe do to deserve such catastrophes in such a short period? Perhaps its time as Bradford-by-the-Sea was up.

This could well have been expressed by its public transport infrastructure. Firstly, there were plans to simplify the track layout into Morecambe station, with a new more modest station. Secondly, two of its bus stations at Euston Road and The Battery were closed by 1992. The former became flats. A pharmacy and clinic stands on the site of The Battery’s bus park. Furthermore, the municipal operator, Lancaster City Transport, was taken over by Stagecoach Holdings. They still run Morecambe’s buses to this day.

A 1990s trip to Morecambe

In 1992, yours truly reached The Terrible Teens. In spite of its decline, he saw potential with the scenery being a redeeming feature. Though 1992 saw the loss of Central Pier and Marineland’s demolition, The Dome still had a good innings as a live music venue. Adding to the leisure pool was its indoor sister Bubbles, in Rhyl Sun Centre or Blackpool Sand Castle mould.

This time, the railway station was in semi-dereliction. Part of it was given over to the English Tourist Board as a Tourist Information Centre. The station, as denoted by British Rail publicity at the time, would move to its modest present site in May 1994. Its main service was the Lancaster shuttle with a limited service to Heysham Harbour (reinstated in 1987 to connect with Douglas sailings).

Frontierland was still a feature of the town and a good draw. The Midland Hotel had lost its sheen and offered bargain breaks, and Marine Drive was well patronised. But the town’s wrinkles were showing. It was in limbo, but the need to regenerate the town was forthcoming, taking us to Blobbygate.

A break with the past

By the second half of the 1990s, you could say that brand repositioning was in order for Morecambe. Instead of trying to compete with Blackpool, which was (and still is) the UK’s most popular seaside resort, the town did a bit of soul searching. It has three characteristics that are a unique selling point. One: its position as a gateway to the Lake District. Two: its stunning sunset. Three: Morecambe Bay’s reputation with bird watchers. By the late 1990s, it was this aspect which has inspired the town’s regeneration strategy.

Next up…

We shall be looking at how Morecambe has tried to turn itself around and where next for the resort.

S.V., 28 August 2017.

22 thoughts on “Morecambe: The Decline, Fall and Rejuvenation of a Seaside Resort (Part One)

  1. Must admit, I’ve only ever visited Morecambe sporadically!

    The first time was in 1974, on a Sunday School trip! I remember the fun fair, what were now LCT AEC Regent’s and a rather muddy beach! Seemed to be very much a traditional seaside resort but I was far too young to realise that it was about to go into decline!

    All subsequent visits have been on daytrips from Blackpool and it’s been a shame to see the town go down. Mind you, my last visit was in 2010 and it was good to see a bit of a renaissance going on, spearheaded by the restoration of the Midland Hotel.

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  2. It’s a real shame as Morecambe used to be a great place to Holiday, the people were so friendly and there WAS plenty to do.Sadly not anymore!

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  3. I lived in Morecambe from 1951 to 1961 as a child ! Loved it . So many memories of my School days at St. May’s Lord Street . Remembering my old Pals , wonder what path in life they’ve trod ! Remembering my life in Claremont Road West End ,

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  4. I spent most of my childhood years in Morecambe and Heysham and loved Happy Mount park. I have so many really special memories of all three places. I visited there 4 years ago and was so shocked and upset to see where Morecambe gone. I cannot believe somewhere that meant so much to do many people was allowed to go to the dogs. Things seem to have no meaning these days if its broken its got rid of and not fixed. Maybe if we stopped spending so much money on trivia and fleeting contemporary things we would have enough money in the pot for important things. I’m glad my childhood was in the 1950s and 1960s or i would have missed out on some wonderful things. I feel sorry for today’s children as they don’t understand having fun without spending money there parents haven’t got. Thank you Morecambe for the wonderful memories i have that will stay with me forever ❤

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    1. Lynn and Barbara above , I agree with the sentiments . I was born in Morecambe in 65 and lived there until 73, we moved away but I came back for many stays and visits with grandparents until they passed away late 80’s/ early 90’s. I brought my children on a visit last year and was dismayed.
      My late father ( who worked at the Town Hall in the 60’s) used to say Morecambe fell apart when Lancaster council took over , they cared more about Lancaster than Morecambe, they even took the ornate streetlights and put them up in Lancaster ! I’ve never seen a town fall from grace as quickly as Morecambe. The town of my birth it makes me sad . It’s been tidied up but as my wife said on our visit ” There’s nothing here to attract anyone “. We lived on West End Rd, I could see the fair from upstairs, my Grandparents had a shop on Princess Crescent in Bare and later a flat backing onto Happy Mount Park. The Crescent used to seem quite posh but not now , even The Elms Hotel has now closed.
      Nothing is what it was , values have changed for the worse , I sound old but I’m a very young 54 and angry at where a better world has vanished too….and for what?

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      1. Hello Mark! I wondered if you remembered the Seahorse Bar on Morecambe front – it was part of the Midland Hotel. Really busy little bar with extremely happy memories for me in 1969/70. I wondered when it closed and what it became?

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      2. hello my name dolph taylor i used to go in seahorse bar a lot early 70s head barman was paul bankcroftt and peggy behind the bar bet lynch look a like but hell she was funny the resident drunk was tweed tony barker the door man he drove a lorry on the power stasion for my dad in the day time i used to bring table and chires etc for the from kendel and the uni when they had somsthing on at the middlend i was in there most nights with my girl frend angela england wonder what happend to her tryed to find her for yrs dolphie

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  5. Very interesting,but unless I’ve missed something,there was no mention of Heysham Head or Winged World and the Childrens Zoo.I worked at both for several years,and Winged World was the best foreign softbilled bird exhibit in the UK bar none in its day,with birds on show,and breeding, which the public will probably never see again.I will be happy to correspond with anyone who has any memories of the place,memorabilia associated with it etc,as along with ex colleagues,I am putting information together for a project to preserve its memory for the future.It should be remembered and was actually a much underrated and underpublicised gem in a town which didn’t appreciate what it had and let it decline.

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  6. Enjoyed reading this. I used to stay with friends every summer in the 80s as a teenager. I was looking for a mention of Fun City or Harveys Night Club. Fond memories of both. I went back with my young daughter a few years ago. The seafront was lovely; lots to look at and nice and clean. The Midland Hotel was amazing. Happy Mount Park hadn’t changed much.
    But there was nothing really to do. No real attractions, no decent shops. It was a shame as large areas were very run down and it could do with the tourist dollars.

    Anyone remember the large Busby??

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  7. any body remember skating on west end pier used to go every night we had the hot dog burger stall at front of pier dolph dolphie365@ gmail .com

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    1. Yes I scared there as a child great times sadly Stan who ran it with his wife died early part of this year or late last year he performed as an act on roller skates
      Great memories until the front end of the pier washed away and the council did not want to save the pier very sad
      Once gone nothing will come back as it was a great loss
      Martin

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      1. so sad he and meg were great i think there girl ended up living in overton

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  8. My name is Martin Scott Price Punch and Judy Man and Magician
    I not a sandgronian but was brought to Morecambe by my parents when I was 18 months old
    My mother ran a guest house on Clarendon Road for 30 years from 1940 and made a pleasant living from it meeting hundreds of guests and a good connection from Blackpool
    Morecambe never competed with Blackpool but had its own select venues that were special
    Yorkshire street was a haven, you could buy quality food from the cheese and bacon shop fish from two wet fish shops green groucers a pet shop with mice hamsters puppy dogs rabbits oceans of pet fish
    As a child I would go to Scott Richmonds for a school outfit records from michael Hargreaves a trendy shirt and trousers next door and stage shoes from two great shops and if you fancied a bit of arts and crafts from miss Inglis and her father
    You had prize winning confectioiners even making a Royal cake
    There was nothing missing even a furniture shop Earnshaws to relax and unwind
    Heysham Head the Rose Gardens entertainment for the children by Bob Sylvani and Sylvia Wing World jousting a circus and go cart racing all
    Good fun not to say Harold Graham pulled them in thousands sunning themselves in the band stand and entertaining the families
    Back to the theatres and cinema all thriving but sadly now all gone
    Morecambe was special and there are many stories to tell which I am sure many Morecambe folk will recall
    Happy memories Archie Collis and showtime the palace theatre with Headly Claxton Gaytime and Colin Coomber Ronnie Coyles the Winter Gardens many shows including the Minstrels and the Coronation Street gang
    Well I have only touched on the surface
    Not forgetting the Punch and Judy shows appearing at all the venues and a touch of magic
    That was the way to do it
    Martin

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  9. I visited Morecambe in 1959 staying at the Midland Hotel when it was very grand.My most vivid memory is going next door to the lido where the was a wonderful show of swimming and diving by a professional team.
    There was also a beauty show to tickle one’s fancy!
    Those were the days!

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  10. Born and brought up in Morecambe. Went to MGS. Feel so privileged to have grown up there but very sad to see it now.
    Had a night at the Midland a couple of years ago (ticked a box).
    Morecambe is such a great location for a touring holiday.

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