Book review: Southport Through Time by Jack Smith

For those of us who know and love the elegant resort of Southport, it is hard to believe that at the end of the 18th century, the town did not even exist.

All that could be seen on the stretch of coast between Blackpool and Liverpool was a beach with sandhills and a few fishermen’s homes.

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It was only when William (‘Duke’) Sutton, landlord of the Black Bull pub in Churchtown, a village two miles from the seashore, recognised its potential to attract visitors that the future of Southport was sealed.

Drawing on his own extensive collection of picture postcards and memorabilia, Jack Smith takes us on a nostalgic trip back in time to show how the popular resort has changed over the last 100 years.

The wide range of photographs illustrates not only the picturesque centre with its distinctive boulevard-style Lord Street but also many of the surrounding areas of the town, including people at work and play, and views of the streets and buildings in which they lived.

The sequence of images takes the form of a journey through the borough, contrasting old and new images to offer a unique historical perspective on the town and the effects of the inevitable increase in the number of vehicles on the roads.

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Long before cars took to the roads, early 18th century visitors would arrive at nearby Scarisbrick thanks to the building of the Lancaster Canal, and the arrival of the railway in 1849 further boosted the development of houses and hotels, including the Victoria Hotel on the promenade.

That same year, Lord Street was developed on both sides but as the area was still surrounded by sandhills, the street was prone to flooding.

The baths were built, bathing machines were sited by the shore and in 1860 a 1,200 yards long pier (later extended to 1,400 yards) was built, providing a mooring place for steamers plying between Barrow, Blackpool and Llandudno.

Things were really looking up for the town, now called ‘Southport,’ especially as a new Winter Gardens complex had been opened in 1874, followed by the two marine lakes, new businesses and shops and the building of the prestigious Royal Hotel, today’s Royal Clifton.

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In the 20th century, the sea’s retraction from the north seafront allowed a large area to be reclaimed and used for golf links, housing and limited industry. More recently, the pier has been rebuilt, Marine Way has a new suspension bridge and the Town Hall and civic gardens have been refurbished and upgraded.

Smith’s beautifully presented and nostalgic book is packed with fascinating pictures and information, and is the perfect gift for people who live in or near Southport, and those who love to visit.

(Amberley, paperback, £14.99)