Uncle Toms Cabin – Bispam’s First Centre Of Entertainment – By Norman Cunliffe
THE VINTAGE YEARS
The area around the cottages at Bank where Henry and Margaret
had lived gradually developed into a small farm of twenty acres and
became known as Cabin Farm. It was included in the land leased by
the two partners from John Cocker and in turn they sub let it to the
farmer. The land they retained was sufficient for them to be able
to cater to the visitors who were now coming in their hundreds.
They made it known by advertisement that school parties and excursion-
1Sts would be welcome at their grounds, where they could take part
in gymnastic exercises, play cricket or quoits, or simply amuse them-
selves in the spacious grounds – knowing also that close at hand
refreshments and hot water were available. All this, plus the beach
and the sea, and also the wonderful views. For those who were willing, these views could be enhanced by the spending of an extra copper which allowed them the use of the telescope kept on the observatory.
Thus the business carried on into the 1870’s marred only by the passing of Robert Taylor in 1868, whereupon his widow Martha continued as a a partner in his place.
In 1873 the rent paid by the partners 1or Uncle Tom’s lease was £150 p.a. but they were able to recoup £80 p.a. of this from a Peter
Roberts, the tenant of the Cabin Farm who although only fifty
seven was On the point or selling his stock and retiring from farming. The same year William and Martha applied for a Spirit Licence
and were supported in their efforts by Ralph Landless, a retired
coal merchant of Claremont Terrace, who had known William
Parker back in his Briercliffe days. Their application was successful,
being allowed a six day licence (Sundays excepted), and in order
to celebrate the occasion they gave a dinner, to which many of
the tradesmen of Blackpool were invited.
The visitors had flocked to Uncle Tom’s that year for during the
season an average of over six hundred people a day enjoyed
themselves whilst on special days it varied between two and three
thousand, At this time the predominant class of visitor coming to Blackpool was gradually changing from that of the lower middle
Class to the working class who came mainly as excursionists. More and more people were receiving a half day holiday on Saturdays,
bringing with it an increase in leisure time and also at the same
time a better income in real terms was being enjoyed by the working class. They began searching for the type of entertainment on holiday which appealed to them, and many found that Uncle Tom’s satisfied their needs in this respect. It was so popular with some people that on arriving at North Station they headed there immediately and only returned to the station late in the day to catch their return train.
During the several ensuing years, in what was to be the most
Successful period of its existence, despite the completion from
other entertainments springing up in Blackpool, the Cabin
provided the visitors with a variety of entertainments. Dancing
was the most popular of its attractions over the years and annually
a Quadrille Band was hired, which played ‘from morn to dewey
eve’, In April 1874 the Blackpool Gazette reported, “People
have not been deterred from walking along the cliffs to Uncle
Tom’s by the new Raikes Gardens attraction. There was a full
house on Good Friday and dancing kept up until closing time.
The ‘music hall’ was also in vogue and a varied bill was presented
by artists, who usually continued for a season. Over the years the
show included comics, dancers, singers, musicians, burlesque
turns, slack wire walkers, acrobats and other athletic performers.
ln addition special events were arranged, usually outdoors, which
attracted a greater number of people than usual. As part of the
celebrations supporting the Blackpool Fete at Whitsun 1877 a
firework display was held whilst one Summer a Sports Meet was
organised and people were invited to compete in numerous events
Such as athletics, cy cling, skating, climbing the greased pole, and also pony and donkey races. In the following September a Flower and Horticultural Show was held which proved to be a tremendous success with countless numbers of entrants in the various classes. The list of prize-winners covered two newspaper columns. All these events helped in the success of Uncle Tom’s, in addition to the more permanent forms forms of amusements at the recreation ground, Here were the Swings, a shooting gallery, and the dobby horses all contributing to the fun of the fair. One interesting aspect regarding the dobby horses was that a scholar from Bispham Endowed School was found to have been riding on them whilst playing truant and this fact was recorded by the school attendance officer.
After the death of Dr. John Cocker the ownership of the land at
Uncle Tom’s passed to John Edward Banks Cocker, his eldest son,
but the lease remained with William Parker and Martha Taylor.
Almost three years later on 24th December 1875 the partnership
was dissolved by mutual agreement and a new lease was taken
out by William Parker. A year later in January 1877 the property
was advertised for sale as follows Uncle Tom’s Cabin Hotel
and one hundred and six statute acres of freehold land adjoining,
having a sea frontage of 1632 feet. The Estate is well adapted for
the formation of Public Gardens, Zoological Gardens or a
Recreation Ground. There is ample space for a racecourse over a
mile in length. The land could be laid out for semi-detached
residences. The proprietor would be willing to take £5000 in
shares and leave some of the purchase money in the Estate”.
It would appear as though J.E, B. Cocker was trying to create
another Raikes Gardens on the cliffs. The sale however, never
materialized for in March 1881 the site was again being advertised
but this time on lease with possession of Uncle Tom’s from 1st May
and the land from Feb 1882. William Parker was to give up the
proprietorship of the Cabin after twenty four years. In fact early
in l882 he remarried and became manager of the Duke of
Cambridge, the predecessor: of the present Gynn Hotel. Unfortunately his bride was a widow before the year was out.