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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 August 2006, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
New Brighton, 'lungs of the Mersey'
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, New Brighton

Bob Williams, Irene Major and dog Mollie
Walkers said they loved the promenade
As part of a series of features studying the UK's seaside towns, the spotlight falls on New Brighton in Merseyside.

Maps of New Brighton found on boards dotted around the seafront tell a sad story.

There's the former site of the pier, the former site of the Tower and the former site of the open-air swimming baths, once one of the largest in Europe.

Also long gone are the Tower Ballroom, the amusement park and the ferry terminal, where thousands used to disembark at this seaside town on the north-east corner of the Wirral peninsula, after coming across the Mersey from Liverpool.

The attractions may have gone but this is not a derelict town and there's a spring in the step of the hundreds who brave a blustery Wednesday to enjoy the wonderful views and the sea air.

BournemouthNewcastleRhylNew BrightonWhitstableWeston-Super-MareBournemouthScarboroughRothesay

The long promenade is busy with walkers, while families huddle into the dilapidated Grade II-listed shelters to eat their fish and chips.

An amusement arcade and mini-golf provide the staple seaside provisions while the old fort offers a reminder of the past.

Lifeguard Paddy Maloney said the beach had been busy this warm summer, although nothing like it was in the 1950s.

"It was a different world then, a complete eye-opener, absolutely vibrant. People used to pour off the ferries in absolute swarms. It was unbelievable.

"It was a holiday resort when I was a kid but things have changed in the country and in society as a whole.

"In the 60s everyone bought Ford Populars and Morris Minors and headed to Wales or the Lake District or to Benidorm. These places started taking a nosedive them."

Parr controversy

Mr Maloney is relieved that a 73m development, including a supermarket to be built on the marina lake, has been rejected by government planners who overruled the council.

He would like to see a plan more sympathetic to the town's natural assets, such as a marina, and developer Neptune is believed to be keen to spend the money on an alternative project.

New Brighton skyline
Population: 10,927
Famous visitor: The Beatles once played the Tower Ballroom
Interesting fact: The Tower was taller than Blackpool's

In 1986 photographer Martin Parr provoked a storm with his book The Last Resort, which drew accusations that he contrived to depict New Brighton in an unforgiving light.

But 20 years later, although the shelters are neglected and vandalised, there is little evidence of social deprivation, just a few boarded-up shops near the station.

Australian Bob Williams, 51, has returned to the town for the first time since leaving it 32 years ago.

He said: "I'm really impressed with the place, how clean it is, the lack of graffiti and it's safe to be walking round. My parents emigrated because they didn't like the atmosphere.

"But I can see now it has a lot of potential and I don't think people realise what they have here. It's wonderful walking along here with no cars. We don't want to go home."

Fred Haygarth
Fred Haygarth danced at the Tower Ballroom

Although many can remember the town's post-war heyday, some can even recall another golden era, between the wars.

Fred Haygarth, 81, from Hoylake, loves taking a walk on the promenade every Wednesday.

"When I was young there was a big tower and dancing in the big ballroom, which was as good as Blackpool, but I don't think commercially it was viable to keep it up," he said.

"People come here now to have a walk. There's no traffic, a wonderful view, the air is fresh. I'm glad it's clean and I like coming here but it's not making any money for the town."

Another resident described the town as the "lungs of the Mersey".

Aviation museum

One of the few attractions to survive the tough times is the fort. It was built in the 1800s to defend the Port of Liverpool, and the town grew up around it.

The houses on the seafront were modelled on Brighton in Sussex, hence the name.

Doug Darroch
People flock here every week
Doug Darroch
Owner of Fort Perch Rock
The fort is now a museum exhibiting an impressive array of artefacts from planes which crashed in the war, and it is also a venue for opera, jazz and rock concerts.

Doug Darroch, 45, whose family own the fort, is adamant the town is thriving just as it is.

"People flock here every week, from Australia, America and Europe. New Brighton is never going to be a Southport or Blackpool but it can fit a role for people who don't want an expensive day out.

"It has fantastic views. People say 'We need an iconic structure' but perhaps we already have one - the river.

"People say 'It's not what it was in the 50s' and 'My mam put me on the ferry with my sandwiches and bottle of water.'

Fort Perch Rock
The fort was completed in 1829 and pre-dates the town

"It was an escape from the backstreets and terraced houses and that can still apply."

A Wirral council spokeswoman said unforeseen disasters had destroyed the ballroom and the baths, while other attractions suffered due to "natural changes in the marketplace". But 13m had been spent on sprucing up the seafront and shopfronts.

New Brighton is a town that's been knocked in the past but - maybe as a direct consequence - remains a great source of pride for its inhabitants.

Even the young people, who are usually a very critical bunch, are enthusiastic.

Jenny Foulds, 17, who works in a dancewear shop on the main parade, offered a typical comment when she said: "It's nice to have somewhere quiet where you can go for a walk and just chill."

Thank you for your comments.

New Brighton has a great opportunity to reinvent itself as a holiday location. Instead of kiss me quick hats it should focus on it's best asset - the flat and very long promenade from Secombe to Meols. Encourage the cycle tourists and they'll come, and bring their money too.
Paul Baird, Milton Keynes

New Brighton? Brilliant! Walks on the prom, swimming at Harrison Drive, footy in the dips, failing to chat up girls at 'The Chelsea'. It was all good. Oh yes! - Just remembered 'Joytime' in Vale Park ! Bring back Joytime and I'll de-emigrate :)
John McElvogue, Helensburgh, New South Wales, Australia

I loved New Brighton. (late 60s early 70s) I thought it was such a sophisticated place... My whole family would go to Harrison Drive...9 of us and my aunt and her family(5). We used to see how long you could swim in the ice cold clear blue water... before we turn blue and needed to be warmed up by your Mum in a towel... Then there where the beauty competitions... Miss New Brighton... and I'm sure even Miss England was held there at some point (I could be wrong) although not very PC these days... everyone thought it was great then! We would walk back to the ferry... as we needed to save cash, for hot donuts! at the Pier Head. Then we got the bus home, lovely memories. Not many kids have these kinds of memories these days, its a pity!
Lisa, Liverpool

In the 50s my Oldershaw school friend, Peter Lindfield, dived from the top board at the open air baths New Brighton. Once he broke his nose and I went with him to hospital then waved him off on the bus to his home in Moreton (far edge of the seaside peninsula). He took a detour and ended up in Australia.
Sylvia Jones, Stourbridge & England

I have happy memories of New Brighton when I was a child. We always took the ferry ride on Easter Weekend, walking along the front, freezing in the open air swimming baths, browsing the shops and getting a gift from the joke shop! I certainly hope that it can make a come back as I would love to bring my son for a visit on our next trip back to the UK.
Angela Barr, vermont, usa

My aunt lived in Wallasey and I spent every summer there as a child. New Brighton was a walk along the promenade; there were donkey rides and the fairground, and my special favourite the pool, open air and fed from the river with the cafes and giftshops all painted gold and green like the Royal Iris. The lighthouse and Fort Perch Rock were also an attraction, as well as the pier and the Floral Pavilion with those glorious flowers. We searched for crabs in the rock pools and as the evening drew in we said goodbye to the day's friends who piled back on to the ferry to return to Liverpool. Wonderful long hot summers. Yes, New Brighton still holds a special place in my heart. When I want to walk and think, then whatever the weather, the prom is the best place in the world.
Valerie, Runcorn, UK

Remembering vaguely as a youngster going for a day out in the 1960s, we decided in June to go and see what New Brighton is like. What a nice surprise, a long promenade, no litter or graffiti to be found and excellent fish & chips, one of the most noticeable things that we found was that the people, teenagers and youngsters alike were very polite, holding doors and saying sorry if they bumped into you, not a lot of that around unfortunately anymore, we have returned since and will definitely be visiting again.
Sandra Bettany , Stoke-on-Trent , UK

I'm originally from The Wirral, though I have lived in Bristol for over 25 years, but I like to return once or twice each year to visit family. New Brighton was a vibrant place to be when I was a child. There was so much to do and if money was short (as it was for most people on those days), a day on the beach, or the boating lake, or under the pier would cost nothing at all. You would pack loads of sandwiches, lemonade and bathing cozzies, catch the bus and head down to the beach. The kids were happy and content to build sandcastles, sand boats, go cockling or crabbing. And at the end of a long day, sand butties all gone, the kids would be so tired they would sleep like logs. A couple of weeks ago I took my nine-year-old grandson to New Brighton to teach him to "crab". He was hooked ('scuse the pun) and we had to take him crabbing every day after that! If you ask him to choose between his computer, or an afternoon's crabbing - it's New Brighton every time - it's just the cooooolest place in the World ! Well Wicked !
Kay, Bristol, UK

I have very fond memories of New Brighton in the 70s; Fort Perch, especially the wheel of the German plane which crashed in the Mersey having failed to hit its target (education) and the amusement & bingo arcades (pleasure), as well as the fresh, bracing walks on the prom. We used to walk as far up and down as we could - New Brighton was a refreshing break from the run-down areas of Toxteth & Dingle where I grew up. Your article makes me want to go back and check it out now - if it's somewhere nice to chill out, I'll take that over the Albert Dock any day of the week, ta!
Jim, Ex Liverpool

I am now 46 years of age, but can well recall the many days out the family would take in New Brighton. Along with the masses we would embark the ferry to New Brighton, later Seacombe after the terminal closed at New Brighton. There were always huge crowds on the beach and the punch and judy shows always attracted old and young alike. Candy floss and ice creams, sticks of rock and the indoor fair, always good fun. There was also the open air swimming pool where as a young teenager we would cower on the top diving board daring each other to jump, I think we usually came down the cowards' way. Today I still enjoy going over to New Brighton, either to fish, walk or just to reminisce on one's youth and the fun times we had either as a family or with one's friends. Ahh, those were the days, I do hope that New Brightion can make some sort of a resurgence, I firmly believe it still has a lot more going for it than many people give it credit for.
Les Tasker, Kirkby, Merseyside

My parents used to take my sister and me to New Brighton, in the 1960s, when we were visiting our grandparents who lived in Wallasey. In the early to mid 1960s, it was possible to stay in guest houses but in the later years, most of these became "holiday flats", as the market for week boarders dried up. Exciting fun days were enjoyed at the beach, in motor or rowing boats on the marine lake and at the fantastic open air swimming pool, when the weather was good, or in the massive indoor funfair, when it should rain. What sadness there was when we heard that the unique open-air pool was to be closed and bulldozed, instead of being refurbished; the result of typically small-minded local government inaction!
Alan Cartwright, Southampton Uk

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