When holidays were a mass exodus

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Local historian Alf Ridyard looks back at holidays from yesteryear...

We travel back in time again to the late 1950s and the local Wakes Week holidays.

Atherton, Leigh and Tyldesley closed down for the local holidays, just like all the Northern towns they were awarded specific weeks for holidays, ours being the last week in June and the first in July.

Bolton, for example, had the last two weeks in June and Wigan had the first two weeks in July. All the cotton mills engineering works and coal mines closed, this gave the firms two weeks to do necessary maintenance work, and workers for the first time received holiday pay.

Prior to this many workers seldom took time off work never mind go on holidays.

Workers on the week prior to the last week of work would, if possible, put in overtime for the extra money for the forthcoming trip, this was known locally as “bull week”.

Most shops closed during wakes week including newspaper shops, my own and I would assume other people’s memories would be of newspapers being sold in the streets by volunteers, who had not joined the exodus to the coast.

Atherton, Leigh and Tyldesley were fortunate that the wakes weeks coincided with the local school holidays which always lasted five weeks and two days in those days, for some reason.

Towns like Blackburn, Darwin, Preston, Oldham and Rochdale suffered mass absenteeism as their wakes weeks did not coincide with the school holidays.

Wakes weeks are not as most people assume, a product of the industrial revolution but it stems back to the Middle Ages when churches celebrated their Saints days, most of the common named saints days that churches were named after were during the summer months, when a week of festivals and fairs were organised.

Another personal memory was the journey to Blackpool on coaches, usually booked at a local shop, in our case Nesbit’s toffee shop on Market Street, Atherton. The coaches would pull in at the “Half way house” cafe based in the car park behind the Sumpter Horse pub in Lostock Hall, near Preston, parents would nip in for a swift half and we kids had to make do with a packet of crisps and a pop from the rather rickety wooden shed-like cafe.

On arrival at the Rigby Road car park, stacked out with hundreds of coaches and multitude of holiday makers like some biblical exodus, all seemingly carrying battered brown suitcases with names on a brown cardboard tag, as there would be no way of telling them apart otherwise.

Our digs for the week, as the boarding houses were affectionately called, were in Reids Avenue off Central Drive, full board for £3/10/- (£3-50) for the week. Wages around this time 1954/5 would be £7-50 a week on average and a pint of beer 9d (4p).

At the end of the street was the King Edward cinema which would be visited by us kids at least twice during the week. For the evening performance, the cost for children was 6d, (2,1/2p), this gave our parents the opportunity to go into the pub next door, also called the King Edward, (affectionately known as the King Teddy) for a couple of hours, of course we as kids just thought the pics were a special treat and not a way for our devious parents to detach us for a couple of hours.

We may well have been in Blackpool but you could not walk down the street without bumping into a neighbour or a school friend, it was as if the whole town had been evacuated. Any trips we made had to coincide with meal times, breakfast was 8-9, dinner 12-30 -1-30, tea 5-6, anyone late would be met with a scowl from the landlady who in most cases would seem to me, be built like Tamara Press the Russian lady shot putter!

One trip we would make would be to Stanley Park boating lake, I can always remember parents taking a flask filled with tea, purchased from one of the many cafes that offered this service. Blackpool Zoo was also in that area which would be another day out. A trip to the Derby Baths was also on the agenda.

Much of our entertainment would cost nothing or very little, as like most people in those days we had nowt, as they used to say, the penny falls in the arcades were our treat or a candy floss bought from one of the caravans on the beach which sold doughnuts, toffee apples etc.

Another memory was spending a lot of time on the beach playing football or cricket, space permitting and memories of adults sat in deckchairs, ladies in coats and hats on and men in suits and ties, as our picture shows.

The most daring were men just in a vest with trouser legs rolled up or ladies with a cardigan on, not much flesh on show in those days, unlike the beaches on our now popular package holidays abroad.

Mind you we were sparred the Bonny Baby, glamorous Granny and knobbly knee contests, that were being introduced in the holiday camps, which were opening up again after WW2.

People of my age will have their own memories, some will be similar, others their own recollections, were they the good old days? Mm, I’m not sure! But it was Blackpool, Rhyl or Morecambe, or nowt for us back then.

This was also the start of a new freedom for the older teenagers and single men. I have no doubt each town had a similar scenario, Friday night of the work finishing, groups of friends, again with the old brown suitcase, all meeting at seven o’clock, in Leigh, at the Volunteer, Queens and White Horse pubs, these were regular meeting points, the bar stacked with cases and young men having a swift one or two before catching the 8-40pm 39 bus to Liverpool arriving just in enough time for a couple more pints before boarding the Isle of Man midnight boat.

Once again, like the Blackpool holidaymakers, it was like a wartime evacuation, half of Leigh, Tyldesley and Atherton’s young men seemed to be on that boat, although it was not unknown for the numbers to be somewhat lees on the homeward journey.

The same scenario applied as when leaving Leigh in the pubs along the Strand during the day and in the Villa Marina dance hall at night, dancing or propping the bar up to the well-known sounds of the Ivy Benson all-girls band.

Not many came home in those days with a sun tan, indeed many needed a serious detox before returning to work, most with a tale of a holiday romance or perhaps it was just their exaggerated, intoxicated imagination.