After it was recently reported transport boss Peter Walton had called time on his idea of a hovercraft linking the Fylde to other parts of the North West, Memory Lane takes a look back at when hover power dominated the headlines – and the seafront.
From May until September 1973, a hovercraft service ran between Squires gate, in Blackpool and Southport.
Talk had been going on since the 60s of the idea of a hovercraft, linking the Fylde coast with other areas of the North West, including Southport, Liverpool, Fleetwood and Barrow.
But Blackpool’s first hovercraft – a 38-seater SRN 6 – was not launched until 1973.
The venture involved Lytham St Annes, Blackpool and Southport corporations and hovercraft firm Hovertravel Ltd., of Ryde, on the Isle Of Wight.
It ran between Squires Gate and Southport five times a day, starting at 9am from Southport and finishing at 6pm, from Squires Gate Tram Terminus.
The “long-awaited” service boasted a “hop over the Ribble in less than 20 minutes.”
On average, the trip took 16 minutes.
As well as the scheduled flights between Starr gate and Southport, there were pleasure flights up the coast to near the Blackpool Piers.
The latter was, The Gazette reported at the time, “seen as a big attraction to see the sights of Blackpool from a different angle.”
The inaugural flight was described as “most enjoyable” by a Lytham St Annes civic party, who were picked up near St Annes Pier and taken on a trip to Southport.
The party included the mayor, Councillor John Gouldbourn and parks chairman Coun Alfred Jealous, who commented “it was great.”
The St Annes detour was not part of the normal run, but a one-off for the launch. The party arrived back near St Annes Pier at 3pm, to go to a reception at the nearby town hall.
And on its first day, May 23, 1973, the hovercraft was called on for a somewhat unusual duty.
It was used to tow to safety a Land Rover which was trapped in the mud, on the shore at Starr Gate, Blackpool.
The Gazette reported: “Mr Burt Kitchen, of South Shore, was using the Land Rover to tow his sailing dinghy, out to the water’s edge.
“When he tried to drive back, his vehicle had sunk deep into the wet sand and would not move.
“We’ve got enough power to tow him all the way to Southport if we wanted to,” said Cpt Gary Tarrant.”
In September 1973, it was announced the hovercraft service would finish at the end of the month.
Hovertravel Ltd was to decide whether to apply for planning permission from Lytham St Annes, Southport and Blackpool town councils to continue the service.
The last hovercraft of the season was run on September 28, then the hovercraft was dismantled at Southport and transferred to the Isle Of Wight on low-loaders.
Later that month, it was announced the company – which had been running the service at a loss – did intend to reapply.
But in January 1974, it was announced the service would not be returning.
The Gazette reported: “The town clerk Mr R Hickman reported to the district council’s policy and resources committee the company decision was probably occasioned by the substantial loss, which it suffered in 1973, and by the fact the town council is not prepared to offer the company beach facilities north of the South Pier.”
The corporation had offered the company the same facilities to operate as the previous year, but it refused permission to change the operating location.