Thursday, 30 May 2013

Sepia Saturday 179: Fun on the Sands - The Pleasure Palaces of Southport


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

Although the temptation for me with this week's Sepia Saturday image prompt is to travel with the itinerant photographer's wagon following fairground folk around the countryside, I've decided instead to stick with the non-professional side of photography. I've covered travelling photographers a number of times here on Photo-Sleuth, so will use the opportunity to enjoy the fun of the fair through the eye and lens of an amateur.

I recently acquired a collection of 177 glass plate and roll film negatives and have spent a couple of weeks scanning them. Although they were sourced locally, the majority appear to have been taken in England, possibly by a young couple who later emigrated to New Zealand. I've selected a few which I've identified as being on the Lancashire coast. More images will no doubt make their way into my posts over the next few months, but I do hope to study the collection as a whole, ultimately with a view to identifying the family depicted although that's very much a long shot at present.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Entrance to Southport Pier and Pavilion, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Regular Photo-Sleuth readers might find this view of a pier entrance familiar, since two of my recent articles have dealt with seaside photographers in Blackpool, namely Charles Howell and Young Burns. This, however, is the entrance to Southport Pier, not only one of the first piers to be erected in iron but also the second longest in Great Britain.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Along the turreted frontage of the entrance are a number of signs and posters advertising the attractions for those prepared to pay the admission fee (2d. for children). One sign offers tickets for a ride on the electric tram to the head of the 1465 yard-long pier, where Professor Powsey, Champion High Diver of the World promised to entertain three times daily.


Professor Powsey's Terrible Cycle Dive, West Pier, Brighton, c.1910

Image © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com Image © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com
Professor Powsey, The World's Greatest Diver, Southport Show Ground
Images © and courtesy of Southport.gb.com

Powsey and his wife Gladys both operated in a number of coastal towns in the pre-Great War years, including Brighton, Yarmouth, Inverness and Southport. Historian Alan Taylor lived nearby the Southport Pier from from 1908 to 1913, and recalled seeing Bert Powsey's act:
His most sensational dive ... he tied both his hands to his sides, tied his legs togethr, then plunged in and emerged safe and sound with all his ropes loosened. The climax ... was the bicycle dive, an expedition which he conducted down a steep board into the sea with the bicycle alight and blazing around him.

(Wrigley, 2006)

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

At the pier head, close to the refreshment rooms, you might attend a performance of "The Aristocrats" by the Pier Company's Orchestra or, should you have tired of Southport's attractions, you might prefer to take a passage on a steam boat for the brief trip across to Blackpool.


Southpost Pier and Pavilion, c.1910

The main attraction, however, appears to have been Fred Karno's Company playing at the magnificent Pier Pavilion, built in 1902 and sadly demolished in 1968, the domed roof of which is clearly visible above the hoardings pasted with a variety of Karno's posters. In the postcard view above, a set of very similar posters is just visible to the right of the entrance to the very grand building.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Fred Karno, best known for his role in the early careers of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, had been visiting Merseyside for well over a decade. The earliest event I can find is the record of a performance at Liverpool's Prince of Wales Theatre, then managed by Captain Fred Wombwell (of Bostock & Wombwell's Menagerie fame) in March 1895. The two productions advertised on this occasion were The G.P.O. and Wakes Week.

Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills
Poster for Fred Karno's The G.P.O., Leeds Hippodrome, 6 Oct 1913
Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills

Karno claimed that it was in the successful sketch The G.P.O. that Walter Groves first created the famed "Tramp Walk," later passed on to Charlie Chaplin when he took on the role. The earliest records that I have been able to find for this burlesque show was when it was staged at the Sheffield Empire and Paragon theatres in October and November 1908 respectively (Clarence, 1909). An entry in the 4 June 1908 issue of The Stage newspaper confirms that "a colossal production, entitled 'G.P.O.'" was in active preparation.

Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills
Poster for Fred Karno's Wakes Week, Leeds Hippodrome, 28 Oct 1912
Image © and courtesy of Leeds Playbills

It is not clear when Wakes Week was first produced, but the paucity of references to it on the net suggest that it was not particularly successful, and may not have been around for long when this poster was printed in late 1912 for a performance in Leeds. After war broke out in 1914, the popularity of such entertainment waned considerably. After the war, the advent of cinematography more or less ensured its demise.


View Larger Map

This is the view today - nothing remains of the old pier entrance, but there is still an old-style a merry-go-round, and the top of the 2004 Marine Way Bridge is visible above Silcock's gaudy Funland. If you use your mouse to navigate Google's Streetview above by 180 degrees (click and drag to the left or right), wou will see a view almost identical to that in the second slide chosen from the collection, pictured below.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Statue of Queen Victoria, Nevill Street, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The sharper-eyed readers will spot that Queen Victoria appears to have turned around some time in the last century or so. The bronze statue was unveiled in July 1904 in the Town Hall Gardens, in front of the Atkinson Art Gallery, now Stockport Library, but moved to the junction of Nevill Street and the Promenade on 20 December 1912 (Anon, n.d. & Wright, 1992). In 2005-2006, the statue was removed for restoration and, when reinstated, the decision was made that she should move a short distance to the south-east and face the town centre instead of the sea (Anon, 2004 & 2006).

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The buildings to the left of the statue, which have survived largely intact, are adorned with signs and flags advertising the culinary delights available at the Victoria Baths Cafe and Restaurant. There is also a curious sign with a rather obvious "We Shall Have Rain," which I have deduced must be situated directly above a purveyor of umbrellas. I might add that, although they look a bit like rain, the pale brush strokes diagonally across the image are, I think, actually a result of a lack of care during the plate developing process.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Probably North Marine Gardens, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The next poorly focussed photograph shows several figures on a footpath, taken from across a pond, complete with swan, and it seems likely that it was taken in the North Marine Gardens, shown on the 1911 map below.

Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group
Southport Pier Entrance, Pavilion, Nevill St and North Marine Gardens
Portion of 1911 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map
Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Shelter/bandstand in South Marine Gardens, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (80 x 108mm, 3¼" x 4¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The Marine Gardens and Promenade also extended to the south-west of the pier, and this photograph shows a bandstand which can be exactly matched with that in the two postcards below, dating from roughly 1910-1915, situated overlooking the southern arm of the Marine Lake.


The Promenade, Southport, c.1910-1915
Postcard by James Valentine (206845)


Lake and Gardens, Southport, c.1910-1915
Postcard by unidentified publisher

The second of these views gives a hint of the next destination of our photographer, on the far side of a lake adorned with row boats. Originally a cluster of amusement stalls, simple rides and side shows had formed around the pier entrance at the top of Nevill Street, but with the development of the area as the Promenade and River Gardens in 1887, what were deemed "less desirable" amenities had been forced to relocate to the southern end of the Marine Lake.

Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group
Southport Fair Ground and South Marine Gardens
Portion of 1911 1:2500 Ordnance Survey Map
Image © Crown Copyright and courtesy of Landmark Information Group

By the turn of the century, the attractions had evolved into a more extravagent enterprise, eventually known officially as the "White City," and continued to expand, with the stalls and sideshows becoming more elaborate and numerous.
1895 - Aerial Ride/Glide (closed in 1911) and Switchback Railway
1903 - Water Chute
1904 - Hiram Maxim's Flying Machine
1905 - Helter Skelter Lighthouse
1908 - Figure-of-Eight Toboggan Railway and River Caves
1911 - Lakeside Miniature Railway, connecting fair ground and pier

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Water Chute and Flying Machine, Fair Ground, Southport, undated
Quarter-plate glass negative (108 x 80mm, 4¼" x 3¼")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The photographer took two views of the Water Chute in action. The first was from the eastern shoreline of the lake, immediately in front of the stalls and adjcent to the chute's Landing Stage (marked on the OS map of 1911) and captures the big splash at the moment of impact.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

An enlarged image includes some nice detail of the shallow, flat-bottomed skiffs used on the chute, the Flying Machine at rest (one of the "spaceships" is just visible behind the chute), and the superstructure of what appears from the map to be the Toboggan Railway in the background.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Water Chute and Helter Skelter House, Fair Ground, Southport, undated
Roll film or sheet negative (109 x 62mm, 4¼" x 2½")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

A second view, using roll or sheet film rather than a glass plate, was taken from the western shore of the lake, directly to the north of the chute, and freezes a skiff half-way down the slide. It may be that the photographs in this collection were taken with more than one camera, and even by more than one photographer. From a consideration of the similarity of the shooting styles and the sequence of shots outlined, it seems quite possible that they are from the same camera. If so, then it would have been of a type for use with spooled 116-format (4¼" x 2½") daylight-loading film, or a removable back could be replaced with a holder for sheet film or dry plates.

Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection
Ensign Folding Klito, unidentified model, c.1900-1920
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection

The Ensign Folding Klito, manufactured by Houghton Ltd. of London, was just such a camera, popular with many amateurs. However, there were several other makes available, such as the No 3 Sibyl, first produced in 1908.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

At far right is the Helter Skelter Light House, opened in 1905 ...

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne

... while other signs advertise the River Caves and Switchback rides.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Also visible is a crowd in front of the bowling alley.


Helter Skelter House, Water Chute and Flying Machine, Southport, PM 1907
Postcard by unidentified publisher

This colourised card, postmarked 1907, and a similar black-and-white view posted in 1912, show a fair ground area with fewer buildings, nevertheless with the Helter Skelter, Water Chute and Flying Machine already in place. A slightly earlier version of a similar view, posted in 1905, is lacking the Helter Skelter, which was only built that year.

The fair ground gradually shifted between 1922 and 1924 to the new Pleasureland site on reclaimed land to the north-west. This was after the River Gardens had been redeveloped as the King's Gardens, the latter having been opened by King George V and Queen Mary on 8 July 1913.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Marine Lanke, Southport, undated
Roll film or sheet negative (109 x 62mm, 4¼" x 2½")
by an unidentified amateur photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Finally, it appears that the photographer travelled north along the Marine Walk, which at that time separated the Marine Lake from the beach. This view is taken from due north of the Pier Pavilion, looking back towards the pier, pavilion and the town frontage along the Promenade. That's the end of the images that can be clearly identified as emanating from Southport, and a suitable point at which to take a breather. He also visited Blackpool, but those delights can wait for another time.

If you've lasted this long, thank you for persevering. It's a little premature to deduce much about the photographer at present. After all, the seven images discussed here are a tiny proprotion of the collection, and don't appear to include any of the photographer's companions. Nor can I be certain that all of these photographs were taken on the same visit to the town. However, it has been possible to deduce that at least some of the photographs were taken after December 1912, when Queen Victoria's statue arrived on Nevill Street. I also think it unlikely that they were taken after late 1914, when the war would have changed much of the atmosphere in Southport. This narrows the date range right down to a very comfortable two-year period, and forms a good anchor point around which to view the remaining photographs in the collection ... in due course.

References

Fred Karno's Company Stage Listings, 4 June 1908, on the Fred Karno Company web site.

Khaotic, The Fred Karno Story

Fred Karno and the Karsino from the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames.

ER Promenade Appraisal, Historic Development and Movement Report, Sefton Council.

Anon (n.d.) King's Gardens Conservation Management Plan and Historic Development of Southport and its Seafront, Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council Conservation Management Plan.

Anon (n.d.) Statue of Queen Victoria, Public Monuments & Sculpture Association.

Anon (1895) Amusements in Liverpool, in The Era (London, England), Saturday, March 16, 1895; Issue 2947, courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning.

Anon (2004) Sefton Council Measure Up Queen Victoria, courtesy of Southport.gb.com.

Anon (2006) Queen Victoria is on her way back to Southport, in Champion, 26 April 2006.

Clarence, Reginald (1909) The Stage Cyclopaedia, A Bibliography of Plays, London: The Stage, p.167, courtesy of The Internet Archive.

Cook, Evelyn (2006) Pleasureland Amusement Park, Marine Drive, Southport, courtesy of Coasterforce.com.

Copnall, Stephen (2005) Pleasureland Memories: A History of Southport's Amusement Park, Skelter Publishing, in Historic Development of Southport and its Seafront, Anon (see above).

Kamin, Dan (2008) The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion, Scarecrow Press, p.11, courtesy of Google Books.

Wright, Geoff (1992) Southport, a Century Ago, courtesy of Southport.gb.com.

Wrigley, C.J. (2006) A.J.P. Taylor: Radical Historian of Europe, I.B.Tauris, p.12-13, courtesy of Google Books.

30 comments:

  1. Fascinating, Southport looks very attractive back in the day, and all that exciting entertainment too! I wonder if Queen Victoria prefers the new view, I would think that she was facing out to sea for a reason, probably something to do with the Empire, in which case she is probably 'not amused'. I look forward to seeing more of this great find, and hearing about the journey to identify the photographer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I have read, there was just as much debate about turning her around as there was about moving her to this position a century ago. I don't doubt that she's not amused, if you'll excuse that double negative - neither were the bulk of the inhabitants of her far-flung "Empire" for quite a few generations.

      Delete
  2. An entertaining ride Brett; although I avoided water chute to which I have always been averse. I love bandstands, piers and promenades and I'm sure I'd have been quite at home in Southport. With regard to Queen Victoria, they always seemed to be moving her statues about; the one in Nottingham suffered the same fate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems a bit silly to complain that things aren't as they used to be, and I'm sure that they weren't quite as picture perfect as they seem in the postcards, but I wish there was a little less of the kitsch in modern fairgrounds. The closest I've been to this sort of thing is the Luna Park, but one day I'd like to attend a fully working recreated Edwardian fairground - that would be great fun, and I'll stick to the tamer rides, like you.

      Delete
  3. Having grown up exposed only to little traveling carnivals that set up in open fields and parking lots, I am surprised at how modern the rides were at Southport. I expected more primitive offerings. I'm sure the speed and thrill of the turn-of-the-century rides didn't compare to that of today's rides, but I am certain the enjoyment and surprise must have been equal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read that the attractions in Southport were always viewed as a little more up-market than those at nearby resorts such as Blackpool.

      Delete
  4. Excellent detailed report on your acquisition and related images. Poor Southport must be having a rough time of it, its pretty bleak and exposed anyway, but its just been announced (as if we did not suspect it) that we have had the coldest spring for 50 years. And yes I saw Queen Vic, as you predicted in your last week's comment. She does get pushed around !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I noticed when reading the Conservation Management Plans that frequent mention was made of the need to provide plantings for protective purposes. I also noted the waves produced in the Marine Lake in that last photo, and the promenaders dressed very warmly.

      Delete
  5. I was amazed that Professor Powsey was able to do the things he did. He looks very heavy for a diver. He must have made a big splash!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I too had envisaged a thinner man before I found that image.

      Delete
  6. This was a terrific introduction to a new series of photo mysteries, Brett. I was struck by the similarity of the chute to the Victorian engineering for canalboat lifts. And I appreciate the extra detail on the signage too, as of course I was looking for the names of performers and musicians. Though the history of the British Empire may explain it, it is still a wonder that these vintage images of England end up halfway around the world in New Zealand with someone who knows the footpaths in Southport!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I only know them courtesy of our friends Google Earth and Streetmaps, but perhaps one day I'll manage a visit.

      Delete
  7. Your posts are always so interesting and informative. It must have taken some time to do all this research.
    I enjoyed a close up look of the photo of Queen Victoria's statue. On the surface it is a boring and poorly composed photo but when I took a close look, it is very interesting with the buildings, signage, old cars, fashion, shoe shiners etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's often the little details that intrigue, but I rather like the composition of that photo of QV's statue.

      Delete
  8. The bicycle diver makes me shudder, wonder if he was an early version of "Evil Kneivel" famous in this country. You do so much interesting work on your posts, they are always a full cup of coffee of entertainment for me...Excellent as every week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've seen daring young lads ride bicycles and other contraptions off the wharf into the harbour, but not from this height. I remember the news stories of Evel Knievel in my youth.

      Delete
  9. Thanks for my Saturday morning travel to beaches I would never have known had it not been for you. Loved the streets, the diver, and the general view of that period just before the "great war" as my grandfather called it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Great War was what everyone called it at the time and for a couple of decades afterwards, and I try to stick to that, while the Second World War was, of course, the second.

      Delete
  10. Very informative, Brett. I have never been to Southport and seeing it as it was makes me want to go back in time to sample what it was like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me neither. I'll have to plan a real life tour of all these places in Europe that we visit vicariously each Saturday.

      Delete
  11. What A Great Post! &,by coincidence ,I have a photo of southport beach this week!
    You know I,m interested in the history of UK Turkish Baths? here is a little bit about the Old Turkish Baths at Victoria Baths.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder in what way they were different from the "ordinary" baths? Presumably they had saunas as well?

      Delete
  12. Thanks for such an enjoyable ride through the entertainment of yore! If you'd just done a smidgen of this for one post, I would have not had to skim (just my own need, and I'm less of a scholar than many people). Extensive is how I'd describe this, as well as fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As we continue the journey, perhaps I'll add a video for your listening and watching enjoyment.

      Delete
  13. I enjoyed all this very extensive research and your usual fine detective work. Of course, why shouldn't you be thorough? You have no pesky snakes to divert your attention!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Even when I lived in Africa, I didn't spend too much time worrying about snakes.

      Delete
  14. Thanks for very entertaining and informative post. I have always loved the beach and its fairgrounds, though most of our beqaches are pretty boring places these days.
    We too have a staue of Queen Victoria in Adelaide right in the centre of the central square - appropriately named Vioctoria Square. She has been moved once to allow for better traffic flow, but now they are redoing the square and there is renewed talk about what to do with the old queen.

    Just a query. The first postcard of the promenade is dated 1910-1915, but to me the women's skirts seem much too short for the period. The next postcard with the same dates has far longer skirts. I didn't think short skirts came in until after the Great War? Can anyone enlighten me here.

    Another wonderful detective post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Liz - Yes, I think in retrospect that you must be quite right about the short skirts, although I can't be sure now whether I got the date from somewhere or pulled it out of thin air. Do you think it was from the 1920s or even 1930s, perhaps?
      Interesting to read about your Queen Victoria - there must be plenty all over the former British Empire, and I have read of many that have moved umpteen times to suit the vagaires of town planners and changing tastes.

      Delete
  15. Quite the destination, from all you've shown us here. I would have like to visit it "then". The bandstand seems my favorite feature.

    Me thinks that having the statue facing town, with the sea in the background would give better photographs, from a modern point of view.
    :)~
    HUGZ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I can tell of the place now, from web sites and Google's Streetview, I too would far rather have visited it a hundred years ago.

      Delete

Join my blog network
on Facebook