Uncle Toms Cabin – The Menace Of The Sea

Uncle Toms Cabin – Bispam’s First Centre Of Entertainment – By Norman Cunliffe


There was one thing however, over which neither the proprietors
of Uncle Tom’s nor the landowners thereabouts had any control –
that was the constant encroachment of the sea, which eventually
was to cause the down all, in more ways than one, of this
popular resort. Prior to the building of the northern promenade
and coastal defences the relentless sea regularly took its toll
of the cliffs by inundation. A survey taken later in 1911 showed
that the sea had been gaining between four and eight feet of land
per year between Bank and Norbreck for the previous seventeen
years. If these findings were also true for the previous sixty years
the cliff edge would have been at least eighty yards to the west.

William Hutton in “A Description of Blackpool in 1788
stated “I was surprised to find a road on the summit of the
cliff near Blackpool: Upon enquiry Hutton was told
it is the road from Blackpool to Bispham.. and, quotes his
informant,” when the person who occupies the land first
entered about fifty years ago (i.e. 1738) he left as much
Space when mounding his bank as would allow for four roads,
supposing that sufficient to last his time; but that his four roads
were long ago washed away, and he was obliged to allow as much
space as would make two more”, The last of these roads Hutton saw,
and such a road must have existed in the first thirty years of the
Cabin’s existence. At low tide some of the remnants of the former
cliffs including the Carlin Ștone and Pennystone can be seen as
evidence of the erosion that has taken place.

Reference was often made in the local newspapers of the various
storms which occurred along the coast and the damage caused by
them. The Blackpool Gazette of 7th May 1875 reported that as a
result of the weather the previous winter a portion of the road
between the Gynn and Uncle Tom’s had been in a dangerous
condition with part of the fencing being carried away in a cliff
fall. There had been a narrowing of the roadway between
the Cabin and the cliff with the wooden flight of steps down
to the sands broken and half buried. By 1890 when the survey was
taken in preparation for the publication of the Ordnance Survey
map there was only a track indicated along the cliff from the
Gynn and this was shown to pass the Cabin on its easterly side.

One of the visitors to Blackpool in the 1870’s wrote an interesting
article which made reference to the problem of erosion. He
stated, ‘… amongst the general run of visitors it is not surprising
that a walk along the cliff top from Blackpool to Uncle Tom’s
and Bispham is a favourite with them. There are excellent views
of the sea. At the height of the season Uncle Tom’s is crowded
with company. From Blackpool there is an artificial facing given
to the cliffs which are part of the Claremont Park Estate, but
from the Gynn north wards the coastline and cliffs assume their
natural wild appearance. Uncle Tom’s, however, is disappointing,
not from the point of view of the catering or entertainment but
because nothing has been done to enhance its attractiveness or
improve the natural advantages which it possesses- there are no
lawns, gardens or bowling green. Is it because there is no sense off
permanence with the sea encroaching year by year!”

On one occasion one of the storms brought a benefit to Uncle
Tom’s instead of the usual encroachment. The benefit was by
way of free publicity and additional custom. On the 21st August
1882 a barque Arethusa’ sailed out of Liverpool for Quebec
but strong seas prevented her from making much progress and she
was gradually swept to wards the shore in the area of the Cabin.
The Blackpool lifeboat, Royal William, was called out in the early
hours of the 24th and was pulled by four horses along the
promenade road and put out to sea from the Gynn. It arrived at
the barque before it became a wreck and the crew were rescued.
On being landed they were conducted up the cliffs to Uncle
Tom’s in which ‘popular retreat it is said “”they recovered from
their ordeal”. They were accommodated in the ballroom and as
the news spread of the rescue crowds thronged there paying
the entrance fee in order that they could see the crew. Many
other people crowded the cliffs and the beach to watch as the
Wreck was pounded by the sea. Those with telescopes did a
roaring trade. The wreck was sold two days later. For many
years Uncle Tom’s displayed the bust of a black man which
reputedly was rescued from the sea and thought to have been the figurehead of a vessel. This figurehead can be seen on so me of
the earlier photographs taken of the cabin, Is it possible that this
came from the ‘Arethusa”? This figurehead, which was taken down in
1903 is not to be confused with three other figures which had been
acquired and placed on top of the dance pavilion. These figures
represented characters from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book; namely
Uncle Tom, Little Eva and Topsy and they remained in this
prominent position until shortly before the building was demolished,
except for one occasion when the roof was repaired.