Obituary: Esteemed Blackpool historian Norman Cunliffe dies at the age of 90

The funeral of an author hailed as one of Blackpool’s best historians was held yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 11:01 pm
The late Blackpool historian Norman Cunliffe, pictured in Austria in 2007

Norman Cunliffe, once a leading light of the Blackpool and Fylde Historical Society, died at Blackpool Victoria Hospital on Saturday, January 12. He was 90.

His granddaughter Jodie Walsh, 25, of Manchester, said: “It’s a massive loss. He was the head of the family; a caring man who held everyone together. He was well read, well travelled, and very knowledgeable.”

Mr Cunliffe was born in Hindley, Wigan, in 1928, to railway engine cleaner and fireman John Thomas Cunliffe and tailoress and boarding house keeper Maggie Cunliffe. The family followed work to Blackpool in 1933, with Mr Cunliffe attending Claremont Junior School and then Blackpool Grammar School.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Norman Cunliffe, left, with Ted Lightbown in 2000

His first job was as a junior clerk at the District Bank in Talbot Road, before he was called up for his national service in 1946. After a stint in the Royal Air Force, Mr Cunliffe went back to banking and, in 1951, he met Beryl at the now closed North Shore Methodist Church.

The pair fell in love and married on September 4, 1954, before emigrating to America three years later. There they had three children – Gary, Anne, and Shirley – before moving back to Blackpool in 1970, making Goodwood Avenue, off Devonshire Road, their family home shortly afterwards.

Mr Cunliffe’s last job was working as a bank officer at the Midland Bank in Preston.

After a shift, he was known to go to the Lancashire Record Office and spend hours looking at old wills and deeds held there, as his passion for history blossomed.

He joined the Blackpool and Fylde Historical Society in 1976, and penned a number of books, including the shorter ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin: Bispham’s First Centre of Entertainment’ in 1982, and the more comprehensive ‘Beckoning of the West: Lancashire Odyssey’ in 1992, after his retirement in 1986.

In 1997, the Society published his ‘Aspects of Blackpool’s History’ book, which gave “unprecedented details of Blackpool’s early development and its families”, secretary Ted Lightbown said.

Some 10 years later, the Society also published his ‘A Journey Through Bispham, Norbreck, and Little Bispham’ book.

Mr Lightbown, of Layton, said: “Under this deceptive title, Norman gave an account of the ownership and tenancy of the area’s settlements and farmsteads in past centuries.

“It is doubtful that anything similar will ever be attempted again. Norman is up there with the late Alan Stott as the all-time best Blackpool local historians.”

He said ill health forced Mr Cunliffe to take a step back around five years ago, and added: “His legacy is his books and his notes, which are comprehensive and orderly and in Blackpool Central Library.”

Mr Cunliffe’s involvement with the Society stemmed from genealogy, and he would even gift family members framed copies of the family tree, Jodie said.

“He tried to get us all involved,” she added.

He would spend time writing letters to friends from his time in America, watching his grandchildren’s sports days and school plays, and organising trips home and abroad for his fellow church-goers.

Jodie said: “He liked to see the world. He would plan an itinerary and everybody had a great time. It was never a sunbathing holiday; there was always lots to see and explore.”

Mr Cunliffe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease several years ago, and he recently had a fall, Mr Lightbown said. He died in hospital after contracting pneumonia, he added.

Mr Cunliffe, who was remembered by Jodie as the “definition of a gentleman”, and a “really polite, calm, and lovely person”, was survived by his wife, children, grandchildren Naomi, Matthew, Hannah, Jodie, and Lewis, and great-grandchildren Harriet and Margot.

His funeral was held at Layton Methodist Church at 1.30pm yesterday.

Donations can be made in his memory to the charity Parkinson’s UK, or Layton Methodist Church.