A fair few months have passed since Memory Lane first shone the spotlight on Oddfellow Street, yet these long-demolished houses behind Blackpool’s Golden Mile continue to stir memories.
From Lampeter, north of Carmarthen, South West Wales, Gordon Lonsdale writes: “I’ve hazy childhood memories of 7 Oddfellow Street in the early 1960s when the family came to stay with Blackpool Nan for the summer holidays”.
This was where Emily Melling (aka Blackpool Nan) lived and where Gordon’s mother, Doreen, was brought up from the early 1930s until 1952 when she married her husband, Geoffrey Lonsdale, and later moved south to London.
Doreen returned in 1963 to help her mother move home to a new flat in Grange Park as Oddfellow Street was being demolished to make way for the new police station and law courts.
Doreen reflects: “When mum locked the front door for the last time, she had to move away from central Blackpool leaving behind the scene of more than half a century of family memories”.
This was the house where Emily’s parents, William and Ada Drabble, who had previously lived in Fleet Street (off Charnley Road) had moved to in 1901 and raised their five children, and Doreen particularly associates Oddfellow Street with her grandfather.
William Drabble had come to Blackpool in 1890 to join the newly-established police force there.
He had lost his skilled job forging sheep shears in Sheffield when shearing machines were developed in the late 1880s and, after working for a while as a grave digger, he left Yorkshire at the age of 20 to become a constable (collar number one) in the Blackpool police force.
This career change came about purely by chance.
In Sheffield, he had been a member of the Volunteer Force – the Victorian home guard established to protect the country in the event of invasion. In the summer of 1888 William was at the Yorkshire Volunteers’ annual camp in Fleetwood and, on an outing to Blackpool, he met a local policeman who happened to mention that there were several vacancies in the force.
William was ideally suited for the police force, having experienced the discipline of the Volunteer Force and being a physically imposing young man, but his early career was not easy.
Like many municipal constabularies, the Blackpool police force - just 20 strong - was in its infancy, and conditions for police constables were difficult in the early days.
With long hours, harsh discipline and meagre pay, very few constables remained in the force until retirement.
William earned a number of promotions during his 30-year career and, by the late 1890s, was a Detective Sergeant.
In 1899 he recovered a large quantity of jewellery stolen from S Lyon’s, a jewellers in Church Street, and was presented with a gold watch by the Chief Constable in recognition of his achievement.
In 1902 he became a Detective Inspector and by the time of his retirement, in 1920, he was Chief Detective Inspector.
Doreen’s mother used to recall that life at 7 Oddfellow Street was never dull.
It was not unusual for William to arrive home with a suspect who would eat with the family before being taken to the police station and charged.
William was well-respected within Blackpool and a gift of 100 guineas raised by public subscription was presented to him at a retirement ceremony held at the Lane Ends Hotel.
His speech, including his reminiscences, was reported in The Gazette.
Emily Melling passed away in 1998, aged 100, having moved from Blackpool some years earlier to live with Doreen and Geoffrey in Sussex.
She entrusted to them her considerable collection of photographs, papers and mementos which they have organised and carefully preserved.
Doreen remains immensely proud of her mother and grandfather. Copies have been deposited to the Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library.
William Drabble always seemed a larger than life figure to her, and Gordon is presently documenting his extraordinary life story.