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Where did my Fleetwood go? Looking back at a changing town

As my wife and I were chatting the other day, the subject got round to our respective childhoods. I grew up in Blackpool, which has changed greatly during the forty years or so of my life. Sandra, however, grew up in Fleetwood and as we talked she began to think about what has changed there in the same period of time.

What follows is my wife’s version of how her particular Fleetwood has changed during the past thirty-odd years. It is what she recalls, and what she misses…

I came to live in Fleetwood in 1960 at the age of four. It is where I grew up, and where I lived until 1980 when I moved to Blackpool. Throughout all of those years, many changes have taken place in the town, and it is only now, as I look back to my childhood, that I realise just how much has changed. As I ask the question “where did my Fleetwood go?”, the answer could well be that it simply disappeared along with my childhood and youth, although the changes are more likely to be the result of so-called progress and modernisation.

My memories of those far distant times invariably begin with fun and enjoyment. As a child, my greatest pleasure was to visit the open air swimming pool. All I needed was a warm summer day, my cozzie and a towel, and some sandwiches and I would be off. This was serious fun and would invariably last from early morning until tea-time, when I would reluctantly return home. At that stage in my life, everything I wanted was to be found at the swimming pool – I had the water, sun, food and drink, and needed nothing more. This was my idea of Heaven, and me and my friends would go as often as we were able. But the splendid open air baths no longer exist, although there is still a small outdoor pool near the current baths. The indoor pool is fine, and I do go there, but it’s nothing like the place where I swam as a child.

And if I wasn’t swimming, then I would most probably be found playing on the Mount. I was fortunate enough to live in Promenade Road, so the Mount was, in effect, my back garden. Like all young children, my friends and I would play there for as long as we possibly could, which usually meant until it was almost too dark to see who you were playing with.

The summers of my childhood, like everyone else’s, were sunny and warm with cloudless blue skies. A day’s play was literally just that – hour after hour outdoors with never a hint of rain! And we were so safe, playing on the Mount free from adult supervision. We weren’t aware of strangers hanging around, or any kind of danger there might be, much unlike today. We were safe, and our mothers knew it. The biggest danger we faced was twofold – either a scuffed knee or elbow, or getting home too late and receiving a clip around the ear! We would play for hours and hours on the Mount, and always such simple games. We’d walk there, or arrive on bikes and scooters, and then play hide-and-seek, or just run around, or maybe sit and make daisy chains, roll down the slope or whatever.

Whilst the Mount is still there, and is no doubt still a safe place to play, the fears that go with modern society will probably make mothers today less willing to allow their children to play there unattended as we did.

Though there was a great deal of fun back then, my childhood was not just about swimming and playing. There was the small matter of school to fit in to my otherwise hectic schedule of enjoyment. I did go to school, but you wouldn’t know it today – one has disappeared, and the other exists only under a different name.

My earliest schooldays were spent at Blakiston Infant School. I spent many happy hours there, no doubt dreaming of holidays and the swimming pool, but where is the school now? It’s gone, that’s where. Demolished. Pulled down. It is no more. It’s quite sad to think that I can’t even take my son and show him where I went to school. He’ll be thinking that the school never existed and that I never attended any sort of learning establishment. Fortunately, my secondary school is still visible although you wouldn’t really know it because the name has changed since I went there. Way back when, I attended Bailey Secondary Modern. Now, the same school buildings are known as Fleetwood Hesketh High.

As I suggested earlier, “my Fleetwood” has gone the way of my childhood. And like my childhood, much of “my Fleetwood” exists today only in my memory. The swimming pool has gone, my infant school has gone, and my secondary school has effectively gone, with little or no reminder that they were ever there save for memories. What has disappeared is not just a way of life, but a part of my life that has gone forever.

So much of my childhood has been pulled down or altered that there are times when I begin to wonder if it really did exist as I remember. I’m sure it did, but you never know – the mind and memory can play tricks, and my childhood might have been nothing more than a gigantic dream!

But there are other things that are no longer there, which were once a vital part of life in Fleetwood as I knew it.

We used to be able to watch films in Fleetwood and didn’t have to make the trip into Blackpool to visit the cinema. The cinema was situated on Lord Street and was a place for families to go and see the latest films. That was in the days when films had intervals and children would make their way towards the woman with the tray and torch, to buy tubs of ice cream and drinks. We got to see all the big films and I well remember going to the cinema with my mum to see such classics as Summer Holiday and The Sound of Music. Nowadays, a trip to the cinema means a journey into Blackpool, and a much more expensive treat than I used to enjoy.

And for those people who chose to come and visit Fleetwood, the journey was once made by train. The railway station on Dock Street used to be the destination of countless visitors and holidaymakers. The day trip, or even the annual holiday, would be start and finished courtesy of British Rail. Only rarely would the journey be by bus or car. But the station, like to many other once familiar buildings, is no more, and visitors arriving in Fleetwood today probably do’t even realise that in years gone by they could have done so by train.

These are the big changes to Fleetwood, the ones that really stand out in my memory. They are what I referred to as “my Fleetwood”, part of my life and my memories of growing up in the town. Each go you will recall other places that no longer exist which were a vital part of your life, and may, like me, pause to wonder where they went. There will be places known to many, and some known only to as few, but all with vivid memories attached to them.

Most people of a certain age will recall the corner shop. They don’t exist any more, save for the odd one, having been replaced by large, impersonal supermarkets. They were once found on street corners all over Fleetwood, a source of liquorice, sherbet dabs, candy prawns, Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, and other delicacies from the “penny counter”. What places of flight such shops used to be. And other small shops are no longer there, too. One such shop was situated at the corner of Promenade Road and Harris Street. Hargreaves Bakers Shop was a place where the smell of fresh bread wafted out on a daily basis. As well as providing bread and cakes to customers, and supplying the local guest houses, it was a place where you could actually go and buy fresh yeast for your own baking needs.

And those are some of my memories of “my Fleetwood”. I’m only just turned forty so they don’t go back an awful long way, and it’s quite frightening to notice how much has changed and how much no longer exists. Those of you who can go back much further will know of even greater changes.

“Where did my Fleetwood go?” – nowhere, actually. Sure, much of it isn’t there any more, but all of it lives on in memories and photographs. As you get older, they are pretty much all that remains of your childhood years.

First published in The Fleetwood Annual, 1998.

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