A look into all our yesterdays

Blackpool Then and Now - front cover
Blackpool Then and Now - front cover
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Seafront properties with proper gardens. Horse drawn bathing machines. Tourists clad in Sunday best and immaculate in hats. Crowds.

Welcome to Blackpool Then & Now. If the title sounds familiar it’s because we already have a column of that name most Saturdays in Memory Lane in The Gazette. Along with an online video gallery of images. And a book of the same name, published in 2007, and currently on special offer at £5.

But this Then and Now is not THAT Then and Now. It’s just been published by the History Press at £14.99 and forms part of a hugely ambitious project to pictorially record every major town and city in the land.

You can catch up with the story so far on www.historypin.com, said to be the world’s largest archive of historic images and stories searchable by date as well as location and open to all.

Now it’s Blackpool’s turn to get the treatment, thanks to photo blogger, musician and educationalist John Burke of Bispham. He was head hunted by the History Press to source images of the resort from the early years - and bring them bang up to date.

He did that in a matter of months thanks to the help of postcard collectors such as Chris Wynne and specialists at the Local and Family History Unit at Blackpool Central Library.

For a first timer to local history John admits it was a “monumental task but also enormously enjoyable”.

It also opened his eyes to the changes at his favourite resort - to which he moved in 1976.

It’s made him study the facades of buildings - and realise the perilous position of others.

“I don’t believe in keeping buildings if they have no architectural merit or whatever they stood for has long gone. They just become shells which are past their sell-by date.”

His pictorial history starts with the Victorians, then Edwardians and moves into the Windsor era, ultimately bringing the pictorial story up to date with images taken just last year - “in the odd few minutes when the sun chose to shine”.

There are some familiar images - the 1900s Blackpool scenes and reminders of the original Big Wheel or old illuminated Gondola tram. But there are some eye openers too such the undated shot of Adelaide Street when the ferris wheel, built in 1896, dominated the landscape with the Tower, which opened two years before. John says: “The wheel was an instant disaster. It took half an hour to revolve, and not even the installation of a table tennis table in one of the carriages was enough to save it, although it remained until 1928 before being broken up.”

A more up to date shot shows a car park where properties stood and a space bereft of the former greenery.

“It’s the nature of change and reflects society,” says John, an ex-president of the Blackpool and Fylde Photographic Society, former retail manager, musician, and now a senior advisor to higher and further education sectors in the University of Cumbria. He’s also self published an Arthurian novel on Amazon.

Photography, like music, is his passion. His greatest challenge for the book has been to match the exact location. “Many of the originals were taken from the air. I struggled to get access to buildings to get the angle needed. The Pleasure Beach and Blackpool Central Travelodge were really helpful but others wouldn’t allow me near their upper floors!”

John says closer study reveals what’s been lost. “Gardens have gone, chimneys, ivy, open spaces. It’s the small stuff that changes most. I went round antiques fairs to find old pictures and visited online forums. I love the original hand coloured postcards- particularly the mistakes the artists made.”

But the project has left John lamenting the future of the high street. “Technology is driving change now and that’s reflected in housing stock, the jobs market, the fact the retail sector is sinking like mad. The Government needs to get to grips with this and think of new uses for town centres and decide whether they want a town centre - and to create some social aspect to it. Just as the industrial revolution affected people’s livelihoods the technological revolution is doing the same with self serve tills, hotel and GP check ins, staff being reduced, and money moving into areas where it’s not easy taxed. But don’t get me started!”

John has an author signing at Waterstones, Blackpool, on Saturday, from noon to 3pm. Visit John’s blog at http://bispham2.blogspot.co.uk

* jacqui.morley@jpress.co.uk or tweet her @jacquimorley