I had never ever walked north of the North Pier – so I did.
Thoroughly invigorated by strong west winds and impending rain, one’s mind is often sharply focussed on something or other. Not for the first time did I begin to muse upon the nature of artifice and authenticity, the functionalist concrete foreshore and promenade, that barely resists the constant onslaught of the very real Irish Sea.
How did all this come about?
The figure at the centre of the interwar push for expansion and innovation in the provision of town infrastructure was Borough Architect John Charles Robinson. His designs were rooted initially in a stylish but civically appropriate classicism, but from the mid-1930s an appreciation of more explicitly modernist ideas becomes evident.
The earliest priority for the Surveyor’s Department after 1918 was the improvement and extension of the promenade and its sea defences. A short stretch of sunken gardens running parallel to the promenade at the Gynn opened in 1915 and a stretch of ‘Pulhamite’ artificial rock cliffs 100ft high between the new gardens and the lower promenade followed in 1923. Between the Gynn and the Metropole Hotel, the steep drop between the road and tramway the upper level and the lower promenade at sea level was remodelled during 1923–5 with a colonnaded ‘middle walk’, a covered promenade that utilised the pavement at the top of the three-tiered slope as its roof.
The Winter Gardens is a large entertainment complex in the town centre of Blackpool, Lancashire, England. It has twelve different venues, including a theatre, ballroom and conference facilities. Opened in 1878, it is a Grade II* listed building, incorporating various elements built between 1875 and 1939. It is operated by Crown Leisure Ltd, on behalf of Blackpool Council, which purchased the property from Leisure Parcs Ltd as part of a £40 million deal in 2010.
The Winter Gardens has hosted the main annual conferences for all three major British political parties as well as a number of trade unions. The Winter Gardens owners claim that every British Prime Minister since World War II has addressed an audience at the venue.
It has also been the venue of the Blackpool Dance Festival since its inception in 1920, has hosted the World Matchplay darts tournament every July since 1994 and it is the venue for the annual Rebellion punk festival.
In February 1931 Hastings Corporation approved the plans submitted by the Borough and Water Engineer Sidney Little for a twin-level promenade, between the Pier and Warrior Square. It was complete in April 1934 and opened on Saturday 12th May by the Marquis of Reading.
Upwards of fifty workers from the Corporation Engineers Department, plus forty unemployed or casual labourers worked on its construction.
A remarkable achievement in any age, the glass shards glimmer, shimmer and shine in marine light and the structure, having undergone recent refurbishment, continues to offer an elevated view of the sea, in all weathers.
Beneath the beach the pavement:
A concrete labyrinth to house that now so frequent visitor, the motor car
Built by Sidney little as part of the parade extension and officially opened in 1931 by Sir Hilton Young who was Minister for Health at the time.
This was the first large scale underground car park in the world and was greatly publicised through the national media and motoring press. The idea was soon adopted by other authorities as a great solution to the parking problems brought on by the ever increasing popularity of the motor car.
The car park is 1250 ft long and is large enough to accommodate about 500 cars. The imaginative design has two sloping access roads leading to a central entrance, decorative sunken gardens and ventilation towers with fans to remove the fumes that are disguised as two matching public shelters on ground level.
Tucked away under the promenade, a former Turkish baths, swimming pool, ice-rink, skate park complex – an underground wonderland for Alice’s of all ages.
The building, originally constructed in 1879, was extensively altered and remodelled in the 1930′s, to provide a spa facility comprising two swimming pools, seaweed baths, salt water baths, saunas, Turkish Baths, treatment rooms and relaxation areas. The whole complex was constructed beneath the promenade as part of an extensive run of seafront structures and facilities and apart from the entrance building, the facilities are subterranean and are early examples of reinforced concrete structures.
The baths were closed in 1978 and the building was turned into an ice rink and roller skating venue, but the building was eventually closed in 1997. The site is within a Conservation Area.
Saville Jones has been commissioned to refurbish the building within a limited budget to create an exciting new indoor BMX and skateboard facility. Eliminating the ingress of water and attending to the deterioration that has occurred over the past 15 years are just part of the challenge.
Brian Rybolt captured the baths before that refurbishment was undertaken, a remarkable record of a building in transition, many original details of the 1930’s still intact.
That refurbishment is now complete with the opening in February 2106 of The Source Park skate and BMX complex, combining ramps, ledges, shop and café in an exciting reimagining of a unique and charming site.
Tucked sedately twixt Hastings and Eastbourne sits Bexhill on Sea, self-effacing, facing the Channel with calm equanimity. The jewel in its crown a mighty white gem.
The De La Warr Pavilion is the most famous building in Bexhill. It was the first welded steel frame building in this country and one of the best early examples of the International Modernist style.
The pavilion was championed by the 9th Earl De La Warr, who became Bexhill’s first Socialist mayor in 1932.
The Earl was determined that the Pavilion should be publicly funded and not a private venture, saying: my own view is that if it is going to pay private enterprise it is going to pay the town.
It was decided to ask the RIBA to hold a competition to design the new building and the choice of judge was made by its president Sir Raymond Unwin. He selected Thomas S. Tait, who was respected by established architects but was also known to be sympathetic towards the ideals of new ‘modernist’ architects. The Bexhill Borough Council prepared a tight brief that indicated that a modern building was required and that heavy stonework is not desirable.
The competition was announced in The Architects Journal of 7 September 1933, with a closing date of 4 December 1933. Two hundred and thirty designs were submitted and they were exhibited at the York Hall in London Road, from 6 February to 13 February 1934. The results were announced in the Architects Journal of 8 February 1934 and the £150 first prize was won by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff.
The original plans were to include a pool, pier and modernist sculpture, budgetary constraints prevented their construction.
It has seen periods of growth and decline, but now sits happily maintained, used, loved and listed, a broad toothy grin in the face of a sometimes malign marine climate.
Its exterior is no less enthralling, simply jam-packed packed with sweepingly elegant period detail, now lovingly restored. An expansive gallery and exhibition space is host to ever more exciting art and design shows, along with a theatre and the obligatory chi-chi café, shop and restaurant.
They are having an anniversary so why not visit, buy a badge, see a show, take in the air, the view and the passing parade of waves.
“Crowded with vessels of all sorts moving up and down the river, ships, barques, brigs, brigantines, schooners, cutters, colliers, tugs, steamboats, lighters, flats, everything from the huge emigrant liner steamship with four masts to the tiny sailing and rowing boat. At New Brighton there are beautiful sands stretching for miles along the coast and the woods wave green down to the salt water’s edge. The sands were covered with middle class Liverpool folks and children out for a holiday.”
Francis Culvert 1872
Like much of the British seaside the town is modern, in the sense that it was a product of new modes of transport, and the emergence of leisured classes, escaping from increasingly cluttered industrial cities, in search of the then fashionable, fresh air and fun.
Like much of the British seaside the town is modern, in the sense that even newer modes of transport subsequently took those leisured classes – even further afield.
No more Beatles.
No more Lido.
The very things that define a place, are slowly eroded by the forces of fashion, finance and neglect. A failure to recognise and value that which enriches our lives, often results in an indifferent, undifferentiated landscape of quiet despair.
There are however some elements of the recently modern which survive, having embraced the seaside moderne style of the 1930’s, New Brighton has a handful of examples extant.
Lacy’s Bar still runs on Guinness time, though having shed its whitened stucco, to reveal a pink brick underbelly – it now fails to serve Guinness or anything really, any time soon.
The shelters still afford shelter, though lacking a little a little care and attention. The harsh salt-laden westerlies, scudding idly off the Irish Sea, play havoc with the amalgam and steel structures, so elegantly aligned on the green.
The Deco amusement arcades and adjoining Adventureland, continue to attract paying customers, and the occasional application of coffee and cream exterior emulsion.
Portland Court is a fine inter-war seven storey block, affording extensive sea views, from two bedroomed flats priced competitively between £90,000 and £130,000.
“There are lifts to all floors, a full time Site Manager and the Promenade is accessible. Close to New Brighton Merseyrail station, bus services and the attractive modern facilities offered by the popular regeneration of New Brighton including a cinema, numerous restaurants, water sport activities and shopping. New Brighton has become a much sought after area.”
Close by on the cliff, is The Cliff a slightly harder companion to the Portland, a pair of brutes designed in 1962 by Norman Kingham, punching slightly above their combined weights, into the ever so occluded azure.
A more recent addition are these seafront haçiendas with a saw-toothed Sierra Nevada silhouette, an open aspect and broad picture windows, through which to observe and absorb the ever changing passing parade.
The sea levels are rising, the promenade is long and vulnerable – call for the concrete!
The last bastion, until the next bastion, and the next one.
The town has survived several world wars, a Beat Boom, Martin Parr and a missing Tower, the future holds no fear for: