Wigan Wakes Week

As people start to think about this year’s holiday I thought it would interesting to look back to Wigan Wakes which started on the first full week of July; I thought it would be fascinating to look back on how holidays were in the 1950s when the whole town seemed to come to a standstill and the populous en-masse encamped to Blackpool, there were of course other venues, Rhyl Morecambe Scarborough, etc but Blackpool seemed the favourite choice of the majority of 'Wiganers'

Foreign holidays were for the privileged few, my aunties thought it was very adventurous when some older cousins went to The Isle of Man, fretting that if they got into any sort of trouble they faced “The Birch ". The island did not follow the UK in abolishing judicial corporal punishment in 1948. For 12 years after that, birching was principally a punishment for boys under 15, however in 1960 the Manx law was altered so that magistrates could order corporal punishment for males up to 21 years. The threat of the birch (it consisted of four or five long and fairly stout hazel branches bound tightly together at one end) seemed to quell some high jinks often seen in the mainland resorts. It was finally abolished in 1976. Probably the most notorious case was in July 1965 when four 19-year-old thugs on holiday from Glasgow got 9 strokes each -- more or less equivalent, one supposes, to 36 strokes of the cane across the bare seat. This led to a great clamour (especially in Scotland) to bring back the birch!

However back to Wakes Weeks and the almost ghost town Wigan became at the annual jamboree Newsagents for example were forced by local agreement to close, if they wished they could sell newspapers outside their shops, but no goods from inside the premises, the idea was to make sure newsagents got a holiday without the risk of losing custom to a rival who decided to remain open for business. Almost all Wigan works closed for the Wigan Weeks. Saturday morning on the first week, the stations were ram jammed, the excitement was palpable, children longing for the first sight of "the tower " a new bucket and spade, and of course the donkey rides and toffee apples. The thought of Candy Floss would make you weak at the knees.

On arrival at Blackpool you'd be met with young lads with a collection of old prams, pushchairs and home made trolleys offering to take your cases to the boarding house, a quarter the price of a taxi. I used to think that if I lived in Blackpool I would like part of the action and would be able to use an old tansad stored under the stairs in Mc Cormick Street.

On reaching the boarding house you'd be met by the camp commandant, sorry I mean landlady who you'd have to obey for the next 7 days, very few would holiday for a fortnight in those days. Blackpool landladies had a reputation for being strict with guests, that reputation was not without foundation- woe betide anyone complaining about food or anything else for that matter. The gong was one way the Sergeant Major.

Sorry there I go again, the landlady showed her authority, no one dared enter the dining room until 'she who must be obeyed' struck the gong , anyone brave enough to enter the said facility before would be sent back to their room with a flea in their ear, on one visit my uncle tried his luck and meet with this humiliation.

Not all landladies of course were as bad as I've painted, one house we stayed at in Haverlock Street was the complete opposite, she was kind and considerate, from memory I think she hailed from Wigan, again from memory I think her name was Mrs. Hannon. So good was her reputation if you hadn't booked by Christmas you would be disappointed. Many would book for the following year as they left !

Some of our other places of lodgings definitely came into the first mentioned category, in particular one in Palatine Road. Before we'd crossed the threshold we were informed of meal times, and how important it was to be on time, and with a sideways glance at me, that under no circumstances must children be allowed to play on the landings, hallway, or the small garden, she looked so fearsome that I never ventured outside the bedroom unaccompanied.

The bedrooms would be completely unacceptable to today's generation. No en-suites in those days, in fact, it was quite common to see adverts proclaiming "Hot and Cold water and Spring Interior Mattresses all rooms " as though it was the ultimate in luxury. The bathroom and toilet facilities don't bear thinking about; one WC for up to 5 rooms, that's 10 people spying their chance before breakfast!

We must have managed somehow, because being summoned by the sound of the gong every bedroom door would open simultaneously the guests forming an orderly line like schoolchildren queueing for the canteen. The bathroom was sacrosanct and could only be used by prior arrangement, with you know who. There was an extra charge for using the facility, I can't remember the charge but a shilling seems to ring a bell. I consulted copies of the Wigan Observer from 1956 to give an idea of the costs of staying at a typical boarding house, it was usual to have breakfast, lunch and high-tea, prices varied from 14 shillings (70p) to 17 shillings (85p) a day full board. One rather quaint advert says 'Honeymooners Welcome ' !

When you consider how much work was involved in running a guest house maybe we should forgive those landladies for being so grumpy. All except my nemesis in Palatine Road. 

I know as we get older we tend to look at the past with rose coloured spectacles but I found Blackpool magical and enjoyed every moment of my holidays,. Time spent on the beach when your imagination ran riot, building sandcastles with a moat and a windmill stuck in the top. 

Mam quite content in her deckchair (when she finally managed to " put it up ") watching the children's capers. There would be jugs of tea for the sands, a 5 shilling returnable deposit required, such simple things gave so much pleasure.

Talking about simple pleasures, another thing that sticks in my mind Dads and Uncles had a fascination with getting up early, 6 am to take a walk "on the front " a cup of tea at a cafe and pick up a newspaper. As a child I used to think that when I reached adulthood I would do the same, in my child-like way I thought it was obligatory for male adults! Although the bed doesn't pull as much as it did in my teens, roaming around the sea front at 6 in the morning, be it at home or abroad holds no allure

Thinking about "the sands" from there I always noticed on the promenade Roberts’ Oyster Rooms, I used to wonder what they tasted like, apparently it has been there since 1876. 

There used to be a dining room, but trade diminished in recent years and now it's a takeaway only. 73 years after my first sighting, age 5, of that iconic building I still haven't tried an oyster, maybe next time I visit I try one, before it's too late for Roberts’ and for me!

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