Story of the Fylde was like looking over the shoulder of Gazette reporters as they gathered the news

By Barry Band

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 7:00 am

Twenty years ago a large format, hardback book could be seen in many Blackpool and Fylde homes.

It was too tall for the average bookshelf, too wide for the average coffee table, so in some households it may be resting on top of a wardrobe or the bottom of a bedding box.

The book is The Story of the Fylde, a Gazette Millennium souvenir, compiled and largely written by David Pearce, the then editor of Memory Lane, with contributions by Jacqueline Morley, Elizabeth Gomm, Craig Fleming and Jonathan Lee. The book was designed by David Upton and edited by Steve Singleton.

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Excerpt from the Gazette's Story of the Fylde, Millennium edition
Excerpt from the Gazette's Story of the Fylde, Millennium edition

The value of the book is that, unlike an academic history, it has the reader looking over the shoulders of Gazette reporters and photographers as they cover the events of the 20th Century.

Revisiting the book during these boring days of lockdown was like cramming for an exam. Most of it was already “up there” but the focus was sharpened.

The Story of the Fylde is in chapters that cover decades in the Fylde Coast towns and the rural villages. It records the triumphs and tragedies, fires and floods, fun and frivolity, and two world wars.

Those who lived on the coast 120 years ago already had a strong sense of place. With the ocean to the west they knew people had to be attracted from all points inland.

Excerpt from the Gazette's Story of the Fylde, Millennium edition

Who remembers an old adage of caterers and entrepreneurs: “There’s nowt doin’ out there.” Meaning there were no customers in the Irish Sea!

So by the turn of the century the Tower and the three piers were attracting the masses, the Pleasure Beach was emerging and the promenade tramway was well established.

The empty ocean was put to good use for small boat trips and steamer excursions to Southport, Llandudno and the Isle of Man.

All through The Story of the Fylde it is the photographs that make the impact. I wanted to know who took them. But from experience of working on local papers I know that few of the pics would have had the lensman’s name on the back.

It’s sad that great work can’t be attributed. On the city newspapers and photo agencies every photographer had a rubber stamp with which to identify his/her work. The Story of the Fylde tells how the 20th century was welcomed in Blackpool. The first Gazette edition of the new year, under the headline The Birth of 1900, reported crowds in Talbot Square, singing hymns of hope with the Blackpool Lifeboat Band.

The reporter might have had a jar or two before writing: “The bells of the parish church were pealing in muffled tones their knell of the dying year.

“We remember that the New Year, full of hope and the joy of birth, is knocking on the door, eager to be with us and we are glad 1899 is dead.

The clock struck midnight and the reporter enthused: “The New Year is come. Hurrahs echo through the square. The throats of brazen instruments swell with the strains of merry rollicking music. Hail, smiling morn. Ring, happy bells.”

The revellers in Talbot Square on New Year’s Eve, 1899, could have had no idea of what the new century would bring.

Flying through the air in machines, two world wars, and having voices and pictures transmitted into their homes, would have been pure Jules Verne/HG Wells fantasy. All those events, and more, made “a rivetting read” as we journos are prone to say.