Words by Liz Corlett. Images by Phil Kneen
Seaside resorts give you everything up front; there’s no waiting game or charms withheld. This can lend their ‘off duty’ quarters a curiously unfinished quality: leave Morecambe seafront and walk three or four streets deep into the town, and the quietness is singular, as though there’d been an emergency evacuation only moments before.
In the East End, time itself has been ushered out of town: a detour through the side streets leads directly to the 1950s. There’s a general store called Vittles, a no-frills tobacconist, two handsome Methodist chapels within a shout of each other and a tiny Shrimp Shop, which closes at 1 o’clock so that its proprietor can carry on shrimping.
Morecambe’s bane is that there is very little in the way of contrast to this hush. There is no shortage of cafes, shops and bars but the town is haunted by absent splendour. In its heyday, Morecambe had eight cinemas, five theatres, two piers, a funfair and one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in Europe. The Olympic-sized Super Swimming Stadium, which opened in 1936, accommodated 1,200 bathers and, at one time, the glories of Miss Great Britain.
As the crowds moved on, the landmarks which made Morecambe were either demolished – like the pool – or claimed by the elements. The hungriest by far was fire: the Central Pier suffered two blazes in its lifetime before being dismantled in 1992; the Alhambra Theatre was gutted in 1970; even the Victorian schooner which starred as the Pequod in ‘Moby Dick’ before being retired to Morecambe, went up in smoke. Frontierland fairground staggered on as far as 2000; the site is now a retail park. As local historian and councillor Evelyn Archer says with brio, “Morecambe’s had it rough”, and it sounds as though the town’s arm just fell in a wrestling contest.
So what can you do in Morecambe, now that its gilt has all but worn off? If you had a mind to send a postcard home, how would you fill it? You can truant in the arcades and browse old-fashioned pranks – hot sweets and exploding cigarettes – in Mr Santa, if you can withstand the glare from the man behind the counter. You can buy a five-sausage bap for £2 in the West End and count how many Staffordshire Bull Terriers go by in the time it takes to eat it.
You can insinuate yourself into the thick of a Mod rally at The Ranch House, hit the bingo hall or sing Meatloaf at a karaoke night. I got a taste of paradise, I’m never gonna let it slip away. The cemetary should not be missed. And don’t overlook the potential inherent in the great stretch of promenade: you can walk, cycle or run for miles and miles – until you’re in another place entirely.