Barry Band: Memories of Blackpool’s Church Street in the 50s

Orry, Church Street, Blackpool
Orry, Church Street, Blackpool

It was great to get out of the house after a spell of the awful coughing bug that ruined so many readers’ Christmas.

The lunchtime drive from Lytham to Thornton on January 2 was strangely quiet. Not many Fylde folk were testing the air.

Church Street, looking towards St John's Church in the 1950s - when traffic still moved freely and parking was available outside the shops

Church Street, looking towards St John's Church in the 1950s - when traffic still moved freely and parking was available outside the shops

But there was a welcome at the Christ Church hall in Meadows Avenue, Thornton, from two Gazette colleagues of the 1970s, Geoff Hodkinson and Duncan Cass.

They were both on ‘the printing side’ of the paper.

Geoff, a Linotype operator in those days of ‘hot metal’ production, is the speaker secretary of Amounderness LLL (Life Long Learning) and he’d booked me to talk about Blackpool’s Faded Street of Dreams.

Duncan was a ‘stone hand’ who often put together the metal type in the pages for which I was responsible as a sub-editor.

Marks & Spencer, Church Street, Blackpool

Marks & Spencer, Church Street, Blackpool

One talent from those days is that I can still read type upside down.

Not much call for that any more!

My talk to the 3Ls was a 400-yard walk up the Church Street of the 1950s and 60s, when hundreds of musicians, dancers, entertainers and actors were in and out of the stage doors of five summer season shows and in and out of the smart Church Street shops.

The summer shows have gone and so have most of the shops. A faded street of dreams!

The Q&A after the talk was a Memory Lane lament for Vernon Humpage, the super shoe shop that fronted the Empress buildings, the classy WH Orry fashion shop at the Promenade end of the street, and lots of other fondly remembered retailers.

Church Street was then a two-way street, not a precinct. The number 5 bus passed through on its route between Layton and Half Way House.

We remembered the old Palace, which stood between the Promenade and Bank Hey Street, and was demolished in 1962.

We were glad that the Grand Theatre was saved from a similar fate in 1973, reopening in 1981.

A few of us remembered the old Clifton Palace Cinema (later the luxurious little Tatler) which ended its days in 1954 by screening Ooh La La French movies, and is now occupied by the British Heart Foundation’s furniture store.

The Opera House is full of warm memories of big summer shows and superstar concerts and is happily still entertaining us, although its sister theatre, the Winter Gardens Pavilion, is now just a shell.

In imagination we visited the old Hippodrome and its successor, the ABC, now a car park, and ended our walk at the Regent Cinema, a venue that was rescued in 2012, and still flies the flag by showing classic movies on Friday nights.

Before the talk I had a chat with my cousin Gerard and his wife Vivienne, who are regulars at the 3Ls.

The club is 25 years old this year. It meets on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

Original members include Cliff Bradshaw, Meryl Windward, Joan West and Bernard Thompson.

Geoff’s wife Hilda is the chairperson.

With more than 100 members it is one of the busiest clubs I’ve encountered.

Membership enquiries can be made to Geoff, by calling (01253) 8692307.