I had a week’s holiday in Morecambe in 1993 with my family. We stayed at Middleton Towers holiday camp, just outside the town. Even then, the signs of decline were there. The camp had been stripped of Pontins branding, as the owners were preparing to sell or close it. Instead of Captain Croc we got Percy Parrot – boo.
Indeed, the camp did close after that season. I later saw a news article suggesting that it could be turned into a prison. Having stayed there, I knew how appropriate this was.
That was nearly 20 years ago – what had changed in the intervening decades? Morecambe is rarely mentioned these days as a vital holiday destination; what does it have to offer the discerning holidaymaker? These were questions I hoped to answer, as the train doors swished open and I emerged onto the platform at Morecambe.
Aficionados of Victoria Wood may be surprised to find a station here at all. Wood took part in the BBC’s Great Railway Journeys series, where she did a grand tour of the North of England and Scotland by train. One place she didn’t visit was Morecambe. “They’ve made it into the museum of comedy,” she observed, “they’ve taken the platform away.”
That’s not quite true. Morecambe still has a station; just not the grand terminus of yore. Instead there is a small island platform, located on the edge of the town centre behind a Morrison’s superstore.
The station is symbolic of Morecambe’s changing fortunes. In the first half of the 20th century, a grand station was needed to handle the throngs of holidaymakers who descended on the station. By 1994, however, these crowds had dwindled away; and so had the special excursion trains which once ventured down the branch.
There wasn’t much to see at the station itself, so I got my station sign photo, then headed for the seafront in search of more traditional seaside fayre.
The buildings for the previous station – Morecambe Promenade – survive, but no longer in railway ownership. The old station is now a pub-cum-arts-cum-tourist information centre (that’s enough cum – Ed) known as “The Platform”. It’s one of many renovations carried out on the town’s old buildings in recent years in an effort to reinvent and reinvigorate the place.
The other big regeneration project is the Midland Hotel, an art deco beauty located opposite the former station. It was built by the London & North Western Railway Company, and it’s not hard to imagine scores of tourists alighting from trains at Morecambe Promenade and heading straight for the station, assisted by a smiling porter. It lay disused for years, before Urban Splash took it on and restored it to its 1930s glory.
The rest of the promenade has been refurbished, with new footpaths and street furniture. There are sculptures and statues all over the place, and one of the most well-known is this statue, commemorating Morecambe’s most famous son.
One wonders what Eric Morecambe would have made of the attempts to cash in on his name – with “Eric’s Café” directly adjacent, and a Wetherspoons branch called “The Eric Bartholomew” just round the corner. Still, the statue itself is a lovely commemoration of an iconic figure in comedy. I wasn’t the only admirer – I had to wait while a party of elderly people got their photos.
Despite all the money being poured in, there is still the sad sight of decay. Just down the road from the Midland Hotel, there are guest houses, pubs and shops, all boarded up and forlorn.
I had been tipped off via Twitter about a nice café at the end of the promenade, so I headed that way to find some food. Despite an unpromising location (located in the shadow of a boarded-up pub), the BLT and Cappuccino were excellent. I highly recommend the Breeze Café.
I strolled past the site of the former funfair, Frontier Land. Once part of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach empire, it is now mostly demolished with an Aldi occupying the site where roller coasters and candy floss stalls once stood. Some of the site remains derelict, however, with various remnants of happier times dotted about.
I ended up in one of the amusement arcades. It has been a very long time since I visited an arcade. When I was a kid they were marvellous places full of flashing lights and noisy fruit machines. Now, as an adult, they didn’t seem so exciting. Maybe it was because I was spending my own money now, rather than begging my mum for it. Maybe it’s because of that stupid ITV game show which made “coin push” machines into the dullest thing possible.
I still managed to lose most of my loose change in a Jumbo Crane machine. £8 lighter, and still with no cuddly toy in my possession, I left.
Leaving aside the missing apostrophe (grrr), I feel conflicted about these proposals. There is always a risk that developments like this can destroy the character of a place. But if the resort is in continuing decline, should the locals just sit back and accept that? Isn’t there some point where the panic button has to be pressed and a radical development takes place?
By way of example, have a look at the new Marine Point development in New Brighton, where a large area of largely disused seafront has been rejuvenated.
With time pressing on, I headed back to the station, taking a shortcut through the Arndale Centre. Excitingly there was an Iceland store still using the old logo inside. There was also this sign, part of the MoreCanBeDone campaign to regenerate the town. A key plank of their policy seemed to involve getting Mary Portas to come and sort the place out. She’s been on Channel 4! She will solve all your problems! Hurrah!
In all seriousness, I genuinely hope that Morecambe finds a new niche. It’s never going to revert to its heyday, but it would be good to see visitors returning. On a good day (helpfully, for me, the sun came out just as I was leaving), it’s a pleasant place to spend a few hours.
The restoration of the Midland Hotel demonstrates what can be done. I hope that the powers-that-be continue to invest in the town, to bring back some more of the lost splendour. Some more of these nice sculptures wouldn’t go amiss either:
Hopefully, with some more money, spent wisely, Morecambe will still be able to bring fun, sunshine and love. For me, however, it was time to head home. I headed back to the station, passing the office of the local newspaper en route. Judging by the headline in the window, it’s a good thing I got out when I did. The pace of life is just too fast to bear here.