Category Archives: Nostalgic

Blackpool’s ‘rocket tram’ revisited as pressure mounts for it to return

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The tram is still in storage awaiting restoration, with many calling for it to return to return to Blackpool’s seafront


People are calling for the return of The Burnley Building Society "rocket tram" from the '80s and '90s
People are calling for the return of The Burnley Building Society “rocket tram” from the ’80s and ’90s (Image: Blackpool Heritage Trams)

A recent reminder of a once popular illuminated Blackpool tram has prompted hundreds of responses on social media with people sharing their memories and asking for its return.

A picture of the ‘rocket tram’, sponsored by Burnley Building Society, was post on the Facebook of tourism page ‘I Love Blackpool’ prompting hundreds to react to the nostalgic gem.


The tram provided a unique experience for thousands of passengers from the 1980s to 1999 who travelled at an elevation of almost 30 degrees.

Two redundant waxworks from the old Louis Tussauds museum – King Peter of Yugoslavia and General Neguib of Egypt – were dressed as astronauts to ‘pilot’ the cockpit.

The sloping floor combined with a high passenger load meant that there were concerns raised of running it safely. However despite these challenges, it seems that the public want the vintage vehicle to return.

Kayleigh Bainton commented to say: “Bring it back but don’t have passengers on it just have it go up and down a few times a night for nostalgia.”

Paul Routley said: “Bring back the ROCKET, I remember the rocket as the most anticipated tram on the tracks, always the one to look out for.

“So glad it was not sold off, or dismantled, even the sight of it parked on the Island always gave you hope it would be restored one day, can we not get lottery funding for this restoration?”

Christopher Bright said: “This one really needs to return, seriously all illumination trams need to return. The elevated height won’t be a issue if everyone is seated until the end of the ride. If the rocket returns in my life time then I’m complete.”

Others shared their memories of riding the quirky tram.

Phill Davidson reminisced: “I always remember some words of wisdom from a tram conductor in the 1970s. These illuminated trams might look nice, but if you want to look at the lights, catch a normal tram because you get a better view. These are lit up too much and it’s harder to see out of the windows.”

David Rankin added: “I worked for the Burnley Building Society from 1979 and it merged with the Provincial Building Society to become National & Provincial Building Society in 1982 or 83 I think.

“I remember that, because we had sponsored the tram, we were allowed to have a ‘works do’ on it one night so off we set and there were a couple of crates of beer on board and soft drinks too. I ended up walking up and down that incline many times that night, serving everybody!

“Funny, the things that stick in your mind, isn’t it??”

Blackpool Heritage Trams works to preserve those trams which were in day-to-day use over the past 100-plus years.

The Heritage Tram Depot is the last working first-generation tram depot in the UK and one of only three working historic tram depots in the world built for double-deck trams.

The organisation is always need of vital funds so it can continue to run, maintain and restore the historic trams of Blackpool.



Lancashire policeman gunned down in the line of duty

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It is 50 years since Supt Gerry Richardson was shot dead in Blackpool

Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in Blackpool

Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in Blackpool

August 23, 1971 was a fair day and with the morning business of the day just awakening, a sea wind from the Promenade was beginning to muster.

But, as the organised armed robbery gang who had arrived the day before took their positions in front of family-owned Preston’s Jewellers, hands firmly on the firearms they had brought for the task, British criminal history was about to add a terrible new chapter.

Fredrick ‘Fat Fred’ Sewell (pictured, inset) was a well-known criminal from South London who had already served a sentence for a £37,000 wages snatch and was a successful car salesman and businessman with a farm and other properties.

Getaway carGetaway car

With him were Charles Haynes, a nightclub owner, Dennis Bond, Thomas Flannigan, and John Spry, for what they thought would be an easy heist.

It went wrong from the start. The night before, arriving at a boarding house for the night wearing dark glasses and flashing £20 notes, the men had already caused undue attention.

It was 9.41am when they entered the jewellers with guns pointed at the terrified staff. They hadn’t seen the manager who, suspecting the strangers approaching his shop, had locked himself in a back room where he pressed a silent panic alarm which went straight through to Blackpool police station.

Fleeing the jewellers, precious gems, gold, and watches were strewn on the pavement, and after knocking unconscious a passer-by who tried to intervene, they found the doors to the getaway car locked just as police Panda cars started arriving on the scene

Funeral of Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in Blackpool

Funeral of Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in Blackpool

What transpired next would not only spark one of Britain’s biggest manhunts, see three policemen shot and one murdered, but also set a series of events in chain which would help mould and shape what would be the modern framework for criminal justice and the judiciary in Britain.

The robbers had two service revolvers, a sawn-off shotgun, and a smaller handgun between. Police chased their Triumph at high-speed through winding streets and traffic of Blackpool eventually ramming the car and then taking up the chase on foot.

Two officers had already been shot by two of the robbers as they fled. Spry shot PC Ian Hampson in the chest as he tried to move from his car seat as the raider escaped from the crashed car. Sewell, Spry and Bond then raced down a side street, Sewell shooting PC Carl Walker in the groin.

The robbers then commandeered a butcher’s van, which, after another high-speed chase with shots being fired out the windows as the vehicles sped through traffic, crashed into a wall and was again rammed. This time, as Sewell jumped out of the van and tried to escape he was accosted and held by Supt Gerry Richardson.

Funeral of Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in BlackpoolFuneral of Supt Gerry Richardson who was shot dead in Blackpool

A top academic student from a working-class family who had left school at 17 and entered the police force as a cadet, Richardson also worked two years of national service as a military policeman and was destined for success in anything he chose to do.

A people’s man with a host of commendations and strong values, he had once saved a drowning man in a daring sea rescue. Well-liked, Richardson always lead from the front. He rose quickly because of merit and took control of the Blackpool sub-district by the young age of 36.

So as he faced Sewell, although the same age, they hailed from opposite ends of the spectrum. They grappled, Richardson fearlessly intent on arresting Sewell. The police officer said to him: “Don’t be daft, don’t be silly”. It was then Sewell shot him twice in the stomach at close range.

Haynes, who had also jumped free of the vehicle, fired a wild shot and merged into the crowd of onlookers. Spry, who had attempted to shoot another policeman, and Bond were wrestled to the ground by other officers.

Killer Fred SewellKiller Fred Sewell

Sewell escaped, hijacking a grey van, leaving Richardson fatally wounded. He would lose his battle for life in his wife’s arms a few hours later as Irene Jermain, Sewell’s girlfriend, and Haynes drove the two escaping robbers down the M1 to London.

The story made international headlines and quickly turned into Britain’s biggest manhunt with Sewell and Haynes now Public Enemy No.1.

Haynes was captured first as he watched his daughter compete at the National Pony Championships in Stoneleigh Abbey. The case, mentioned in Prime Minister’s Question Time, would cause a public outcry prompting Richardson’s widow, Maureen to campaign for the return of capital punishment. Sewell would remain at large for 45 days, but the most wanted man in Britain once imprisoned would not rest there.

Just a year into his 30-year life sentence at Gartree Prison – and barely a week before Maureen Richardson was to posthumously collect the George Cross for her husband’s sacrifice – Sewell with the diversion of a riot nearly escaped in an audacious and well-planned operation.

He was stopped at the fence by dog handler Joseph Loney who, with the prison guard beside him knocked unconscious and the two dogs they had crazy with the acid the escaping prisoners had squirted in their eyes, single-handedly thwarted what would have been a major incident.

Gerry Richardson was the highest ranking policeman killed on duty in England. An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Blackpool for his funeral and Richardson was buried in Layton Cemetery.

Stephen Gillen is a reformed armed robber and career criminal. His book The Monkey Puzzle Tree about his own life story was short-listed for The Peoples Book Literary Prize.

18th Century cottage that is ‘unique piece of Blackpool’s history’ up for auction

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Blowing Sands on Common Edge Road has been earmarked by historians as being one of the few remaining early dwellings from the agricultural past of Marton Moss


Unique cottage on Common Edge Road in Blackpool coated in historic features and accents
Unique cottage on Common Edge Road in Blackpool coated in historic features and accents

A “unique piece of Blackpool’s history” is now up for auction with a rustic finish and traditional touches detailing this antique property in Lancashire top seaside town.

The 18th century, grade II listed cottage has been earmarked by historians as being one of the few remaining early dwellings from the agricultural past of Blackpool’s Marton Moss area.

With a guide price of £55,000 the property’s historic features and accents make it a quaint place to reside but with only one bedroom, it may not be the right fit for a growing family.

Originally built as two adjoining cottages, Blowing Sands on Common Edge Road, now a single two-storey property, is built from traditional cobble and bricks with a low slate roof.

The property contains a host of historic features such as wooden mullioned windows, low ceilings and original roof timbers, as well partition walls built from cobbles.

Appearing on this month’s auction by auction house, Pugh, the unique-one bedroom cottage could be the perfect make-over project for a budding property owner.

Unique cottage on Common Edge Road in Blackpool coated in historic features and accents

Rare piece of Blackpool history for sale in form of ‘unique cottage’

Pugh associate director Eamonn Stones said: “This property is an utterly charming and unique relic of what this area of Blackpool was like more than two centuries ago when it was mainly farmland.

“Opportunities to buy a piece of living history such as this one do not come along very often and this is an extraordinary property – a real window on a bygone age.

“The house has been well cared for and little altered over the years and it is well known to passers by as a remarkable and very old cottage.

“Needless to say we have had lots of interest from potential buyers interested in owning a unique piece of the town’s history.”

A blue plaque on the front of the cottage marks it out as part of the Blackpool Civic Trust heritage trail and states that the house now stands as ‘the representative of several similar late-18th century dwellings in the area’.

Bidding on the historic property, and the other lots in Pugh’s online auction, opens on 18 August and closes the following day.


The buses which shaped Blackpool’s transport through a century

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In the second of two features, Blackpool Transport archivist Alan Greenhalgh takes us through the later decades, looking at the Burlingtons, ticket machines and memorable, iconic colour schemes


Although Walter Luff concentrated his efforts on modernising the trams, some of the track on the congested Layton and Central Drive tram routes needed renewal.

The decision was taken to convert both these routes to bus operation from October 1936.

Twenty-five streamlined Burlingham bodied, Leyland Titan full-fronted buses were purchased for the conversion. Blackpool buses – the early days Consideration had been given at this time, and indeed later, to the substitution of trams by trolleybuses but this was never followed through even though authorisation had existed from 1935.

Some of the early designs and bus colour schemes became iconic in BlackpoolSome of the early designs and bus colour schemes became iconic in Blackpool

In 1937 the tram route from St Annes to Blackpool, and operated by Lytham St. Annes Corporation, was withdrawn and the Lytham St. Annes tram system closed down. A new bus service, the 11A, followed the line of the discontinued tram service although this did not involve any track closure within the Borough of Blackpool.

Fifty more streamlined buses were delivered during 1937, partly as provision for the services to Lytham. During the same year, 12 single deck buses, new in 1928, were rebodied by C.H. Roe in Leeds as open top ‘runabouts’ for the Park service.

In the period leading up to the Second World War, additional bus routes were introduced to serve new housing developments, particularly in South Shore. By 1938, bus route mileage stood at 116 miles compared with around 50 miles five years earlier and there were 161 buses in the fleet.

An area of land off Talbot Road, known as Talbot Mews, had developed during the 1920s and 1930s into a bus station for both corporation bus services and independent operators. This was replaced by a brand new bus station, together with a multi-storey car park, in 1939.

This was Talbot Road bus station in 1932This was Talbot Road bus station in 1932

During the war, many bus services were shortened or withdrawn altogether because of shortages of fuel and rubber for tyres. Five of the ‘runabouts’ were transferred to the Auxiliary Fire Service. Even more runabouts were converted as possible rescue vehicles and allocated to the ARP.

Conductresses were employed in 1940, the first time that female platform staff had been used since the end of the First World War. A small number of women became drivers of single deck buses.The bus garage at Rigby Road was used for military purposes and a large number of buses were parked in the Bus Station at night. A temporary bus garage was built at Bond Street to house spare buses. Special bus services were provided for the RAF and for workers at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton near Chorley.

Six single deck and eight double deck buses were converted to run on gas. The single deckers carried a bag on the roof which could be filled from a gas stand pipe and the double deckers had a trailer affixed to them which contained a gas producing unit.

After the war, attention turned to the requirement for new buses as replacements for the pre-war fleet.

A 1960’s cream coloured Blackpool bus on the hospital routeA 1960’s cream coloured Blackpool bus on the hospital route

Manager Walter Luff was a strong believer in the benefit of the centre entrance with doors as a means of minimising platform accidents. Consequently, a modern version of the pre-war streamliner was adopted for bus deliveries between 1949 and 1952 when 100 iconic Leyland double deck vehicles with Burlingham bodies entered service. For many years during the 1950s and early 1960s these vehicles epitomised bus transport in Blackpool and indeed they are fondly remembered by many, even today.

Upon Walter Luff’s retirement in 1954 Joe Franklin was appointed general manager. In many respects Franklin adopted different policies to Luff, one obvious one being a reversion to rear entrance open platform buses. The first of these were five Leyland Titan PD2s with Burlingham bodies which were delivered in 1957.

The design of a full fronted cab, introduced pre-war, was maintained on new vehicles up until the mid-1960s.

It was during the early years of Joe Franklin’s managership that the bus (and tram) livery was revised to one of predominantly cream with green relief. This facilitated the controversial decision in 1957 to allow advertising on buses and trams for the first time since 1919. From the early 1970s the bus livery was to become almost totally cream.

During the winter of 1963-64 buses took over from the trams on the Promenade as an economy measure although trams continued to provide a shuttle service between Cleveleys and Fleetwood due to the problems of licensing a bus service in what was then a Ribble Motor Services operating area.

Between 1958 and 1968, no fewer than 130 Leyland Titan PD2s and PD3s were put into service, most as replacements for the Burlingham buses, which were being withdrawn and others for the tram route conversions.

All were rear entrance buses to a similar design, seventy of them fitted with the traditional full fronted cabs that dated back to the 1930s. The last open platform bus to enter the fleet was bus number 540 in 1968 by which time Blackpool was one of the last few remaining operators to specify this design of bus. In the late 1960s, because of escalating costs in the bus industry generally, there was a significant move to introduce ‘pay-as-you-enter’ buses, which dispensed with the need for a conductor resulting in a new fleet of Swift single deck buses coming into operation.

Apart from a period during the second world war, it was not until 1974 that women were employed as bus drivers. The first female driver commenced duty on 15th January of that year following a lifting of a previous ban on women drivers by the trade union.

In 1974 Joe Franklin retired as general manager, Derek Hyde becoming his successor. It was in the same year that female drivers were employed on the single deckers for the first time since the war. A further innovation was the introduction of radio communication, with all single-deck vehicles being equipped from 1975.

In a complete break with tradition, Blackpool’s first rear-engined double deck buses with front entrance, the famous Leyland Atlanteans, were put into service in 1977. By 1983 there were 74 of these buses which carried a revised fleet livery, featuring more green than previously. Their front entrance permitted collection of fares by the driver and the buses were worked with or without a conductor. Also new to the fleet during the 1980s were a small number of Dennis Lancet and Leyland National single deck vehicles. In 1977, the first ‘Almex’ ticket machines started to replace the T.I.M.s (Ticket Issue Machines), which had originally been introduced in the 1930s.

For a few weeks In January 1979, during the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’, shortages of fuel were so severe that all bus services were restricted to running during the morning and afternoon peak periods only. Mini buses followed in the 1980s and the Blackpool Transport logo was introduced.

The buses that have kept Blackpool moving for a century

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Today marks 100 years since the very first Blackpool Corporation bus service came into operation. With Blackpool Transport’s archivist Alan Greenhalgh, we look at the early days of the Blackpool buses

An example of an open-topped runabout bus which had a central canopy

An example of an open-topped runabout bus which had a central canopy

One hundred years ago today, the first bus service operated by Blackpool Corporation came into force between Cleveleys and Thornton Railway Station.

It was a 15 minute frequency with a 4d fare being charged for the full journey.

Two Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric single deck buses had been purchased, seating 20 people, and ran with front entrances to allow the fares to be collected by the driver.

Buses from the 1920sBuses from the 1920s

This was swiftly followed by an open top double deck bus in 1922 and the vehicles were kept in a building at Rossall.

The introduction of the service was Blackpool’s response to a proposal by the railway companies to construct a branch line from Thornton to Cleveleys and which was seen as a threat to the Corporation’s Fleetwood tramroad service.

The first bus service to operate within the Borough of Blackpool itself ran between Adelaide Place (near to the Tower) and Devonshire Road via Church Street and Caunce Street.

A further single deck Tilling-Stevens bus was purchased for this service.

One of the four open-topped Leyland Lions which ran a circular servicesOne of the four open-topped Leyland Lions which ran a circular services

That began on December 22, 1922.

The fare between the Promenade and Devonshire Road was 1½ d.

In January 1924, a tram replacement bus service was introduced between Talbot Road and the Gynn, while track work was taking place on Warbreck Road (now the northern section of Dickson Road).

The bus service proved to be popular and was retained once the tram track work had been completed.

A toastrack bus outside Stanley Park in the 1920sA toastrack bus outside Stanley Park in the 1920s

The service, which was slightly amended and ran between the Central Library and Warley Road, has existed in one form or another to the present day.

A further bus service between Adelaide Place and Forest Gate was introduced in 1924 and the Devonshire Road service was extended through Layton the following year.

By this time the bus fleet consisted of 19 front entrance single deck vehicles, mostly seating 28 people, and one open top double deck with a seating capacity of 50.

The following years saw a new batch of buses and the private bus operator William Smith’s Motor Service purchased, which operated services across the Fylde.

Blackpool buses parked up at the depo in the 1920sBlackpool buses parked up at the depo in the 1920s

Pleasure bus services were introduced a year later, coinciding with the opening of Stanley Park and in 1927, the first three-axle double deckers were added to the fleet. These, however, were less than satisfactory and were withdrawn in 1933.

Until 1932, the corporation department responsible for buses and trams also managed the electricity undertaking, which at that time was owned by the local authority.

But by then it was decided that the transport side needed a complete re-organisation and modernisation.

Charles Furness, who had been overall general manager since 1906 was to remain as Borough Electrical Engineer and a new transport manager appointed.

The new general manager, Walter Luff, became head of Blackpool Corporation Transport Department on 1st January 1933.

Luff produced a five-year plan to re-vitalise the transport department and is perhaps best known for his introduction of 116 centre entrance streamlined trams.

A 1930's busA 1930’s bus

The bus operation, which had never paid its way, received similar attention and a fleet of modern centre entrance buses, mostly double deck on Leyland chassis with either English Electric or Burlingham bodies, entered service from 1933 with fleet numbers 78 to 89.

As part of Walter Luff’s modernisation plan, the red livery of the buses and trams was replaced by green and cream.

Six open top single deck buses were purchased in 1935 for use as ‘runabouts’ on the Promenade to Stanley Park service.

These buses were most unusual in that they had a central canopy into which the destination indicators and bells were fitted, not unlike on the open ‘boat’ trams, gaining the nickname ‘gondolas’.

In 1935, licences were granted to both Blackpool and Lytham St Annes Corporations to operate a joint bus service between Blackpool and Lytham.

The route (number 11) ran from Adelaide Place to Halfway House via Central Drive and St Annes Road and then continued along Blackpool Road (which was closed when the runway at Blackpool Airport was extended during the war). Around this time Blackpool offered to purchase the Lytham St Annes branch but this was rejected and it was to be almost 60 years before Blackpool’s ambitions were finally realised.

*Next week we look at how the bus service has developed over the last few decades.



These were the headlines in Blackpool in 1976

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Here are some of the stories making the news in May 1976

Centenary parade went like clockwork

Massive crowds braved the weather for a big parade through the Blackpool to mark the start of a fortnight of centenary celebrations,

Grey skies, a blustery breeze and showers of rain threatened to mar the events for which the promenade was closed.

Blackpool centenary parade, 1976

Blackpool centenary parade, 1976

Watched by an estimated 100,000 people, the procession involved 200 vehicles and 2,500 people. It was organised by the Blackpool and Fylde Junior Chamber of Commerce and was titled Blackpool on Parade.

It featured local commercial interests and voluntary organisations.

Before the main event, there was a special service at St John’s Parish Church, at which the Very Rev Lawrence Jackson from Blackburn Cathedral, was the preacher. Then a party of civic dignitaries took their place at the town hall which the procession passed on its way to the promenade and Starr Gate.

Roadworks in Church Street meant that there were gaps in the procession. Chris Hughes, president of the chamber said: “In general the whole thing went like clockwork.” He also paid tribute to the police for their handling of traffic and crowds.

Gunman fled from wine store but said ‘please’ in hold-up

A gunman said ‘please’ when he came face to face with an assistant at a wine store.

The drama began for Barbara Docktray just 25 minutes before closing time at Ainley’s wine store in Cookson Street.

Mrs Docktray, a partime shop assistant was sitting near to the cigarette kiosk when a young man walked in.

He pulled out a small gun from his pocket and said: “Will you empty the till, please.”

But the raider was scared off when the owner of the store, Alan Ainley, came into the shop.

“When the gunman realised someone was coming, he just fled,” said Mrs Docktray.

“The gunman first came into the shop and bought some cigarettes or a can of beer and left.

“The first time there were customers drifting in and out of the shop.”

Half an hour later he went back and that time the shop was empty. When he fled, Mr Ainley chased after him. Police were soon on the spot and searched the area. But the gunman was not found.

Mrs Docktray said the gun was an automatic type, about six inches long.

“It has been quite an experience,” she said, “I have been trying to keep myself occupied, I hardly slept last night.”

Garage break-in third in six months

A Fleetwood garage was broken into for the third time in six months.

Ken Maden, owner of Styan Motors Ltd, went to the premises in Copse Road and discovered a rear window broken.

A total of £128 cash was stolen from the office along with more sweets, Mr Maden said the intruders had also upturned drawers in the premises.

He said the money, which was in a drawer, was the deposit on a car and some uncollected wages.

A high wing aeroplane which had a black fuselage and orange wings was stolen from a desk along with the radio control equipment.

Mr Maden estimated the plan and equipment to be worth £200. He said it was the third break in since December and they also had five plate glass windows smashed since mid-January.

New tenant needed for five-bob house

The Royal British Legion was considering applicants for a two bedroomed house in Rodwell Walk, Grange Park, for a weekly rent of just 25p.

The ‘five-bob house’ was one of 10 owned by a trust set up by a local landowner for ex-servicemen.

Under the terms of the McCandless Trust, the houses must be let at a rent of only 25p and the Royal British Legion were asked to interview suitable applicants. A British Legion spokesman said: “We have loads of applicants for these houses.

“The new vacancy follows the death of one of their tenants and they are waiting for the estate to be settled before a new tenant can move in.”

The only condition is that the prospective tenant was resident in Blackpool in 1939 and had served in either of the two World Wars.


The fortune-telling family that made Blackpool famous for psychics and clairvoyants

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The Ellis family were experts in palmistry, physiognomy, crystal gazing, fortune telling, graphology, hypnotism, and spiritualism

Ida Ellis giving a palm reading circa 1896

Ida Ellis giving a palm reading circa 1896 (Image: Courtesy of Wyre Archaeology)

The forecasting of future events and the assessment of one’s character by means not considered rational has been practised since as far back as 4000 BCE, with its origins in ancient Egypt, China and Babylonia.

By the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, the concept of fortune telling became rapidly more organized and sophisticated.

The practice began to flourish not in the country’s capital of London but in the ever-growing popular seaside resorts with Blackpool being the most influential.

The newly built and developed railway network to the town meant meant the middle and working classes could embark on better holidays and so the fortune tellers of the day followed this trend.

One infamous family in Blackpool however took this trade to its maximum potential.

Ellis Family advert circa 1896

Ellis Family advert circa 1896 (Image: Courtesy of Wyre Archaeology)

The Ellis family, who were qualified scientists of the time, established themselves in the town in 1891.

They were experts in palmistry, physiognomy, crystal gazing, fortune telling, graphology, hypnotism, palmistry and spiritualism.

The occultists were famous for their practice of phrenology which involves the observing and feeling of the skull and bumps on one’s head to determine an individual’s psychological attributes.

Although by today’s standards we could write the family off as quacks and charlatans, the Ellis’s truly believed in their methods and managed to successfully acquire a grand premises based on, not only their successful entrepreneurship of land and property, but also because of what we would deem as a good ‘business model’ today for their fortune telling.

Forget the notion of stripy pop up tents, candles and beaded curtains, by the early 20th century the Ellis’s occupied a house with 11 rooms, had a domestic servant and operated from a site that is where the current Madame Tussauds wax museum is today.

Queuing at the opening of Madame Tussauds on Blackpool promenade.

Not originally from Blackpool, husband Albert and Ida Ellis and brother Frank Ellis moved from Leeds and then briefly in Batley as the seaside’s town reputation for fun and entertainment grew.

In 1890 Albert and Ida had a son named after their uncle.

Albert, an insurance agent, had gained a lot of influence in the town when they arrived and became a town councilor.

He also established a partnership with butcher John William Outhwaite and established a thriving fairground alongside the gypsies and hawkers who traded on the seafront.

His family business however was ran like a true service and each family member having a specialty.

Frank’s was physiognomy, Ida’s was palmistry, crystal gazing, automatic writing and psychometry and Albert’s was graphology and phrenology.

The literature created by the family was incredibly sophisticated and provided stiff competition for the psychiatrists of the day mostly written by Ida and published by Albert.

The World War I veteran’s home sponsored Phrenology Booth at a fair. London, Ohio, Summer 1938. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images) (Image: CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images))

If you crossed the palm of an Ellis family member, they would then delve deep into your psyche asking complex and probing questions.

The height of scientific analysis, a calculation was made on paper in pencil of your ways to gain success, bad omens and pitfalls to avoid.

Although seemingly primitive, this “chart” was packed full of information from a personal reading where customers could take home and live by the prescribed advice.

Even babies could get their “charts” done to serve as a predicter of their personality, potential characteristics and where they would and wouldn’t excel in life.

Although more organised and sophisticated than the Gypsies and palmists who endured all weather out in tents on the beach, the family still lived with the suspicion and stigma of their beliefs.

Ida Ellis giving a palm reading circa 1896

Ida Ellis giving a palm reading circa 1896 (Image: Courtesy of Wyre Archaeology)

Their time in Batley saw them have their first brush with the law in 1891 when they were accused of writing and publishing “obscene” literature.

The trio were subjected to ridicule, contempt, fines and imprisonment and Ida herself had a short stint in Preston Gaol.

Despite this they successfully set up a publishing house and were very protective of their written work.

Their eye catching posters and charts of crystal balls and palms were incredibly eye-catching which help stay on top of the Blackpool fortune telling scene.

Being a “bump feeler” proved lucrative and even the stands on the beach that practised phrenology could earn them up to £10 a day which a lot of money at the time.

Although the family could be seen as making a quick buck from vulnerable people, their personality traits did express empathy and sympathy for the human condition and they appeared to have sincere intentions to help people.

A sign advertising a fortune teller's services on the central pier in the seaside town Blackpool, Lancashire, April 1987.

A sign advertising a fortune teller’s services on the central pier in the seaside town Blackpool, Lancashire, April 1987. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images) (Image: Epics/2010 Getty Images)

Despite suffering controversy at times, Ida’s sensitivity and Franks’ political liberalism made the pair popular with those they met.

All three founded ‘The British Institute of Mental Science’ situated on Kent Road, Blackpool based on their principals though its overall success was questionable.

The 1920s proved a quiet periods for the Ellis’s and in the early 1930s they loved to Cornwall after falling in love with the resort.

Albert died in Trewinnard, Cornwall on October 3 1934 after being ill for some and Ida herself died later in 1940.

Albert’s brother Frank remained in Blackpool all his life and died in late 1939.


How forgotten man of comedy show had radio, TV and stage seasons in Blackpool

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A 1958 programme from when Dave Morris performed in Blackpool

A 1958 programme from when Dave Morris performed in Blackpool

A television series is the aim of today’s likely lads of comedy. But imagine how unlikely it would have been when there were only two channels.

In continuing the story of Blackpool comedian Dave Morris, we find that Dave actually did it in 1957 with his Club Night show.

Dave is one of the forgotten men of comedy. The broadcasts were not archived but having radio, television and stage seasons of the same show is worth a time-line.

Comedian Dave MorrisComedian Dave Morris

After 20 years of touring the variety theatres, Middlesbrough-born Dave stepped up in 1940 to stardom in Blackpool summer shows. It was the first of seven consecutive seasons at the North Pier.

After a 1947 season at the Opera House, Dave produced his own summer shows at the South Pier from 1948 to 52.

We rejoin him in his third season at the pier, spending his down time by writing a radio series of Club Night, the result of having a drink with the BBC’s Robert Stead, who was looking for new ideas.

It went on the air in November, 1950, the first of several series. Dave cannily retained the stage rights.

In 1950 Dave was 54. He was tubby and very short-sighted, the result of a gas attack while fighting on the Western Front during the First World War. Hardly a likely lad for a TV series.

His trade marks were a straw “boater” hat, a big cigar and a fast, wisecracking style.

Unlike most radio sitcoms, Club Night was ideal for the stage and became Dave’s summer show at the South Pier for both 1951 and 52. It then toured the variety theatres, with several Blackpool visits.

The radio series ended in 1955 and for two years Dave toured in a patter act with his “feed” Joe Gladwin.

Television was on the rise and the BBC suggested a screen version of Club Night in 1957. The TV version was made in Manchester by the young John Ammonds, later to become one of the BBC’s top producers.

It was noticed by George and Alfred Black, the London-based producers of the Blackpool Tower Company’s summer shows at the Opera House, the Winter Gardens Pavilion and the Grand Theatre.

They were looking for a 1958 summer show for Blackpool’s Palace Theatre and Club Night filled the bill – eight years after its radio debut.

It was a late career boost for Dave. A Gazette reviewer noted: “As a topical comedian Dave is unrivalled.”

In 1959 Dave returned to the South Pier under the title Dave’s Back and co-wrote a new TV sitcom with Blackpool writer Frank Roscoe. In The Artful Dodger, Dave’s character was a football fan who would do anything to avoid working.

A Gazette writer thought it was the funniest thing on TV with the exception of Hancock’s Half Hour. A second series was planned but during the winter Dave was disabled by a stroke and died on June 8, 1960, a month before his 64th birthday.

There was a big disappointment in Dave Morris’s merry progress through the 1950s.

In April, 1955, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were on a tour of Lancashire and a special Royal Variety Performance was staged at the Opera House.

Several northern comics were in the cast. But not Dave, who had done more Blackpool shows than any of the others, who lived in the resort and was a respected publicist for the town. The producer of the royal show was bandleader-turned-impresario Jack Hylton, who had failed to get the stage rights to Club Night. Dave hadn’t danced to Hylton’s tune and was offered a mere “walk on” during the opening scene.

He declined.

How the first talkies brought riot of camera action to Blackpool

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Historian David Hewitt looks back at the very first movies which screened in Blackpool, 90 years ago

It is ninety years since the first talking picture to be filmed in Blackpool was actually shown here.

Talkies had come to the town a couple of years before, and while the first two of them starred Al Jolson, The Singing Fool was seen – and heard – at the Hippodrome long before The Jazz Singer at the Winter Gardens.

Then, No Lady was the talk of the town. In the summer of 1930, the Promenade was suddenly a riot of cameras and lights, men with bullhorns, and crowds of excited onlookers.

English actor Lupino Lane  Photo: Getty ImagesEnglish actor Lupino Lane Photo: Getty Images

The star, and also the director, of this film was the great Lupino Lane, who had been born Hackney and claimed to come from ‘the Royal Family of Greasepaint’. What he had come from most recently was a decade in Hollywood, where he had made films with the likes of Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and DW Griffith.

Now, Lupino played a man who goes on holiday with his wife and children, only to be mistaken for a foreign spy who is determined to stop the British champion winning a prestigious flying competition.

And while there would certainly be talking in this film, there would also be music – much of it the work of Herman Darewski, who was well-known at the seaside.

A popular dance band leader, Mr Darewski was also a prolific composer. (The Great War hit Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers had been one of his.) He spoke five languages and always wore a carnation in his button hole, and he too appears in No Lady, albeit as conductor of something called the ‘Blackpool Tower Band’. In real life, Herman had spent the summer playing at the Empress Ballroom in the Winter Gardens.

American singing entertainer Al Jolson leaning on a radiogram. Photo: Getty ImagesAmerican singing entertainer Al Jolson leaning on a radiogram. Photo: Getty Images

Before that, he had spent a good few seasons in Bridlington, where his salary (in today’s money) was £11,000 a week. He had recently written the music for another Lupino Lane film, and when he arrived here he found himself caught up in a debate that had been raging for several days. ‘I have never found that Blackpool girls are gold-diggers,’ he told a reporter.

The ‘interior’ shots for No Lady had already been filmed, on elaborate sets put up in studios at Shepherd’s Bush. And the man who designed those sets had his own local connection.

Andrew Mazzei had lived in Blackpool for a while, and even been married here, and most recently he had designed the Olympia Hall, which had been built inside the Winter Gardens complex, in the place where the Big Wheel had once stood. In his mid-forties by now, he was the veteran of many films since making his debut with an early version of Hindle Wakes.

The weather in Blackpool that August was distinctly changeable, with daytime temperatures in the mid-eighties, but filming frequently brought to a halt by thunderstorms. There were as many people bathing between the piers as promenading, with thousands more basking in deckchairs. And a barker at the entrance to North Pier could be heard to shout, ‘Come and see Mr Lane make a Talkie!’

Blackpool Winter Gardens, 1940. Photo: Getty ImagesBlackpool Winter Gardens, 1940. Photo: Getty Images

In Talbot Square, the onlookers had to be held back by a rope, and by the combined efforts of local policemen and Boy Scouts. Mr Darewski and his band serenaded them with a medley of popular tunes. And the Mayor, perhaps hoping to catch the director’s attention, had turned up in the full civic regalia.

Lupino Lane’s last few American were doing the rounds at this time – The Love Parade, in which he appeared alongside Maurice Chevalier, the most prominent – and in the evenings, local cinemas showed several of them back-to-back. Then, at the end of the week, there was a glittering ball at the Winter Gardens, attended by the star and other members of the cast, with drinking past eleven o’clock and dancing until two.

It was in London the following May that No Lady was shown to the film trade, just as Andrew Mazzei’s latest creations – including the Baronial Hall, the Spanish Hall, and the Galleon Bar – were opening for business at the Winter Gardens.

The trade paper The Bioscope was impressed, calling the film ‘splendid entertainment for patrons of every age, class and nationality.’ Kinematograph Weekly, meanwhile, called it ‘excellent light entertainment,’ which, ‘moves at a merry pace and works up to a capital climax.’

In Blackpool, the grand opening night was Sunday, 12th July 1931, with the film being shown at the Winter Gardens not only in the afternoon, and twice in the evening, but at 10.30 in the morning as well. ‘A screaming farce of Blackpool holiday life!’ the advertisements proclaimed. ‘See yourself on the screen in this, the greatest British Talkie yet produced.’

Over seventy breathless minutes, and whether or not they caught sight of themselves, audiences would see Lupino get chased by the police, run into a ladies’ baths, come out dressed as a woman, get chased by bathing beauties, descend from the top of the Metropole Hotel using his umbrella as a parachute, get chased by his own wife, walk off Central Pier in a striped blazer, dangle from one of the flying boats on the Pleasure Beach, run in and out of cars and trams, make his get-away along the beach, ride a tricycle through a Punch & Judy show, fly a glider, crash the glider onto the beach, and be left spinning on his head like a child’s top.

And this created excitement in other towns as well. ‘No need to go to Blackpool,’ one cheeky cinema-owner announced, ‘We bring it to Burnley,’ and a local newspaper said of the film, ‘If you like your humour broad and unsubtle you will thoroughly enjoy it.’ Up the road in Nelson it was described as ‘a thrill-a-minute, laugh-a-second type of entertainment’, while even in far-away Newquay they were hailing it ‘a hilarious affair, which completely captivates the holiday spirit.’ Whatever its merits, No Lady would be re-released in 1943, long after its star had stopped making films, at a time when the people of Britain needed to be cheered up all over again.


Blackpool Tower Ballroom’s amazing 21,000 hour lockdown restoration costing £1.1m

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A team that includes some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in the country, who have worked across the world on projects including the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace have worked on it

Specialist painters and fibrous plasterers work on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021
Specialist painters and fibrous plasterers work on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021 (Image: This is Influential)

One of the UK’s most iconic buildings is today a step closer to re-opening its doors following a £1.1M refurbishment.

The Blackpool Tower Ballroom, located in the Grade 1 Listed Blackpool Tower, is hoping to re-open on June 21, providing the Government’s latest road-map out of lockdown goes to plan.

The venue, which dates back to 1894 and is known by millions as the home to Strictly Come Dancing’s annual ballroom special, has under-gone the most extensive programme of work and deep clean for more than 60 years.

A team, including some of the most highly skilled craftsmen in the country, who have worked across the world on projects including the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, have dedicated more than 21,000 hours, over a period of six months, each climbing an average of 85 flights of scaffolding daily, to restore the famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom to its original glory.

The team has discovered signatures under the murals that adorn the ornate plasterwork ceiling showing the last time anyone was in this space was in 1957.

A specialist painter works on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021
A specialist painter works on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021 (Image: Blackpool Tower Ballroom)

These historic works took place following a fire in the building which caused severe damage to the ballroom. At the time, these works were estimated to cost over half a million pounds and took 17 months to complete.

The work has been made possible thanks to a lifeline grant of £764,000 as part of the Government’s unprecedented £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund, together with funding from Blackpool Council, taking the total investment to £1.1M.

The grant, awarded to Blackpool Council by Historic England, has supported the venue to carry out comprehensive repair and restoration work on the ballroom’s period plasterwork ceiling.

Project Manager Keith Langton inspects and oversees the major conservation work taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021
Project Manager Keith Langton inspects and oversees the major conservation work taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 202 (Image: This is Influential)

It is one of the most “significant” projects Historic England has been involved with to date and has replicated the skills used by workers back in 1894 when the Tower was built, including:

· Skilled scaffolders, artists, decorators, structural engineers, joiners, plasters and conservators all pooling their skills.

· The rare art of fibrous plastering

· More than two tonnes of plaster being mixed.

A specialist painter works on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021
A specialist painter works on the major conservation project taking place in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021 (Image: Blackpool Tower Ballroom)

· Organic hessian being imported from India to mix with the plaster to make a special formula allowing intricate repairs to be carried out to the ornate plaster work adorning the ballroom ceiling.

· A team of over 30 specialists on site, working a combined 21,000 hours.

· Skilled craftspeople working daily in tiny roof spaces to inspect and restore the ornate plasterwork from behind the ceiling.

· Oil paints being colour-matched by the naked eye by on site restoration experts to patch up murals damaged by water ingress and nicotine over the years.

· Several hundred litres of gold paint being mixed to ensure the gold leaf ornate artwork is restored to its former glory.

· Deep cleaning behind all of the ornate models which adorn the ceiling, with dozens of dust filled bags being removed from site every day.

· Murals being deep cleaned removing water damage and nicotine damage from over the decades.

· Intricate and detailed research work being carried out to establish exactly how the work was originally done to ensure all the works which took place during this latest refurbishment were carried out to the exact same standards. This involved drilling more than 12 square spaces in the roof space to enable this “methodology” as the craftspeople call it to be carried out.

The entire space of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is covered in scaffolding to facilitate the major conservation project taking place, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021
The entire space of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is covered in scaffolding to facilitate the major conservation project taking place, in Blackpool, northern England on April 20, 2021 (Image: Blackpool Tower Ballroom)

The work, led by Hayles and Howe, specialists in ornamental plaster work and scagliola, has also uncovered some incredibly rare and unusual finds – all discovered in the angel figures adorning the ballroom ceiling.

These have included newspapers dating back to 1911, old cigarette packs which would be museum pieces today and even an old walking stick, believed to date back to the early fifties.

Keith Langton, project manager, said: “I thought Buckingham Palace had the wow factor – which obviously it absolutely did.

“But working here at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom has literally blown me away. This really is something else. It is a project I will never forget – and perhaps even a project for me to retire on.

Everyone wants to end their career on a high – and I don’t think I could get a better high than working at the Ballroom.

“It has been an absolute pleasure and honour!”

He has, however, warned of the desperate need to recruit more young craftspeople into what he describes as a “rare trade.”

Keith added: “We are just not seeing enough young people coming through.

“Fibrous plastering – the key trade being used on the refurbishment – is becoming a rare trade and we just cannot allow this to happen.

“Without people being skilled in this way, buildings like this would be forced to close. It is essential more young people take up careers in this sector.

Literally everywhere I go, in this country and abroad, I make it a priority to pass on as many skills as possible to as many people as possible – hopefully inspiring them all along the way!”

This the longest period of time in its history the ballroom has been closed, with the exception of the fire in 1956/7.