For fourteen days – around the first two weeks in July – shops and factories across town closed for business, and the masses trooped to the seaside for a fortnight away from work: Wakes Weeks. The tradition in Chorley dates back to the nineteenth century, when cotton mills would close for a couple of weeks to allow for machinery to be serviced. It wasn’t until 1905 that Wakes Weeks were properly established, and only after WWII that workers began to receive holiday pay. Although the tradition has since petered out, the shores of Blackpool, Southport and Rhyl will always conjure up good memories for Chorley’s baby boomers.
Whether you were catching a charter train from Chorley Station to Blackpool or embarking on a coach holiday with neighbours to enjoy standard seaside fare, Wakes Weeks promised a fortnight of fun and frolicking. From traditional donkey rides on the sand to penny slots and bingo games, the seaside holiday offered a chance to relax and unwind from the everyday stresses of cotton milling and factory work. Many Chorley folk will remember the quintessentially British ‘Jugs of Tea for the Sands’ sign – a surer reminder than the Tower that you’d arrived in Blackpool! And it meant what it said: you never had to be afraid of running out of hot tea, and just had to fill your flask to take onto the beach with you.
If you were lucky, you might be heading off to stay in one of the popular holiday camps at your resort of choice. The ever-popular Pontins – whose Blackpool site closed its doors for good in 2009 – and Butlins (with sites in Skegness and Pwllheli in Wales) attracted keen holidaymakers throughout the last century, hosting the classically bizarre ‘knobbly knees’ and ‘bonny babies’ contests. Some resorts even set up cardboard cut-outs of the slim, much-coveted Marilyn Monroe figure to see if women were slim enough to fit inside – more than a bit risqué today.
The chalets of Butlins and Pontins would be packed to bursting, with Bluecoats and Redcoats doing their best to stay on top of jam-packed entertainment schedules. Usually centred around an iconic boating lake, chalets were arranged in a Panopticon-like structure (make of that what you will) where ‘a rainy day simply produces more striking evidence of how well a summer holiday programme can function indoors!’. Or so declares the Southport Pontins brochure in 1972, anyway.
And if that programme proved disappointing, not to worry. There was always plenty to do outside of the camps too. Blackpool was prolific for hosting comedy performances from the likes of Ken Dodd and Jimmy Clitheroe (A.K.A. The Clitheroe Kid) as well as musical guests like Cilla Black and The Beatles. Couples could head to the Winter Gardens or Tower Ballroom for an intimate waltz, while any superstitious folk could get their fortunes read along the Golden Mile. That’s without mentioning the iconic Blackpool Tower Circus and Menagerie!
Southport also had its own fair share of memories. Peter Pan’s Pool & Playground opened to the public in 1930, on the site where Ocean Plaza stands today. Boasting tall slides, flying aeroplanes, a Helter Skelter and a model railway, the playground was a great base for families wanting to keep the kids entertained. It also afforded the opportunity to visit the nearby boating lake for a trip on the steamer or rowboats, and was ideal for a trip to Southport’s very own lido – perhaps a tad colder than the popular paddling pool over at Rhyl!
Peter Pan’s Playground eventually changed its name to Happiland in the early 1970s, ahead of its closure and demolition in 1989.
Of course, if you were hankering for something a bit more thrilling, the larger amusement parks offered a bit more bang for your buck. Both Blackpool Pleasure Beach and its sister park Southport Pleasureland boasted a mix of classic British rides. A fan favourite, the humble funhouse probably wouldn’t win any health and safety awards nowadays, but many an hour could be whiled away on the Social Mixer – dubbed the ‘wheel of death’ – which would fling rides out to the sides as they struggled to remain centred! Blackpool’s funhouse burned down in 1991 and was replaced by white-knuckle water ride Valhalla.
If you didn’t fancy travelling too far afield, Wakes Weeks fun could always be found closer to home. Astley Park’s paddling pool was the ideal spot to recline with a jam butty picnic and a bottle of cordial – although you did have to be mindful of broken glass at the bottom! It could be tricky to find somewhere to buy bread and milk for those staying in Chorley – worse, if you developed toothache, chances were you wouldn’t find an emergency dentist until they returned from their own holiday!
In the late 1970s, tastes moved on to package holidays in sunnier climes just a few short hours away by plane. Wakes Weeks have today faded into almost complete obscurity, although some areas of neighbouring towns – including Wigan – managed to cling onto the tradition until the early 2000s.
Now, no matter where we spend our jollies this year, we’ll always have the memories of spending Wakes Weeks at Lancashire’s seaside resorts in their heyday.