WHEN visitors park up on the Promenade to sleep in a caravan for the night, hoteliers inevitably raise their eyebrows in disapproval.
So you can imagine the reaction 50 years ago this week when Gordon and Irene White pulled up at Manchester Square, Blackpool in their 22ft Travelmaster Caravan towed from Garstang.... and stayed for almost four years!
Gordon, 74, who lives in Woodley, Stockport, admits: “As you may well imagine the owners of the hotels opposite were a little concerned, even outraged - a caravan parked in front of their hotels and somebody apparently living in it.
“A deputation was dispatched to the Town Hall to complain, but I think they must have been told: ‘You ain’t see nothing yet’.”
Gordon reveals: “This was the beginning of the construction of the Manchester Square sewage pumping station and the site office and our caravan were the first two items to arrive on January 22, 1963.”
The roof of the caravan is just visible behind the timber screen in front of the windmill in our main photograph. Gordon was site engineer with the contractor, Harbour and General Works, of White Lund, Morecambe, and later deputy site agent until the completion of stage two in November 1966.
Gordon says: “Living in a caravan between the tram tracks and the sea wall leaves you a little exposed to the elements.
“One Friday evening we went to the Opera House to see the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s performance of The Mikado. Walking home along the Prom about 10.30pm, the sea was already breaking over, although high tide wasn’t until half past midnight. That was one of the worst storms during our almost four years living there and although the caravan escaped unscathed, the little shed housing our toilet was moved about five feet.”
Then there was the Big Freeze of 1963. As Gordon says: “It started on Boxing Day night 1962 and continued until the first week in April. During the whole of that time even the mid-afternoon temperature never rose above freezing point.
“Before we could drive the steel setting-out pins into the promenade for the lines of the pumping station, we had to smash the six inches of ice on the Promenade with a pick.”
Much more dramatic, according to Gordon, was the sea. There was no beach to be seen, the pack ice extending 40ft out from the sea wall.
He recalls: “Every time the tide came in it lifted the ice up and distorted it into ever more grotesque shapes, but with our solid fuel heating stove we were as snug as a bug in a rug in our caravan.”
The Whites christened their Ford Popular car Henry, whose biggest repair bill was £6 for a new differential on the back axle. Gordon recalls a time when you bought four gallons (not litres!) of petrol and there was change out of a £1 note.
Today it seems you cannot move without invoking health and safety rules, but back in the early 1960s - for right or wrong - there was a more relaxed attitude.
A case in point, according to Gordon, came when to speed up completion of the excavation, an excavator was lowered through the top support frame. His photograph shows the machine being guided between the girders by two chaps, one of them smoking, with no sight of today’s obligatory hard hats or harnesses. Another picture shows how deep the chamber was with the excavator on the bottom.
During the season, Blackpool’s pubs and clubs were pretty busy; the Whites had friends and family visiting regularly throughout their seafront stay.
Gordon says: “They were on holiday and after a day’s work it seemed we were also on holiday. Our favourite places were the Brunswick Club and the Strand Club and then we discovered The Winmarith on Lytham Road.
“Irene used to stay in the bar/dance area with some of our friends, while I paid a visit upstairs to the casino. No alcohol was allowed in the casino, but sandwiches and coffee were provided free. I used to buy £2 worth of chips at half a crown each (12.5p) each.
“Blackpool’s boxing icon Brian London used to visit with his wife and a couple of friends and I used to admire the fact he could spend the night drinking no more than a couple of pints of orange juice. It was a brilliant place and we even spent our final night in Blackpool at the Winmarith with my successor and his girlfriend.”
Gordon says: “Somebody watched over us during our stay at Blackpool. The November before we arrived there was a storm that overturned cars on the promenade and in the February after we left there was a similar storm. We certainly enjoyed our time living on the Prom in a caravan for almost four years, probably in closer proximity to the sea than anybody else before or since.”