Easter in Lancashire on the eve of the Second World War

Bank Holiday crowds in 1939 headed for Blackpool Pleasure BeachBank Holiday crowds in 1939 headed for Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Bank Holiday crowds in 1939 headed for Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Eighty years ago the people of Lancashire enjoyed what was to be the last Easter at peace for seven years. Local historian Keith Johnson looks back at the final spring holidays before the Second World War

Easter 80 in 1939 was celebrated in early April and arrived with the threat of war looming and preparations for conflict in hand.

Nonetheless, the folk of Lancashire welcomed a break from their daily toils and eagerly planned their outings and amusements.

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A gloriously sunny, but chilly, Good Friday greeted those who ventured to the seaside with Blackpool being the most popular destination. It was a case of trains, planes and automobiles with plenty of visitors from afar arriving at the Stanley Park airport (pictured inset), while more than 80 trains packed with day trippers arrived at the Blackpool stations and the roads were somewhat congested with cars and coaches and the car parks crammed full.

Easter trippers could fly to Blackpool's Stanley Park in 1939Easter trippers could fly to Blackpool's Stanley Park in 1939
Easter trippers could fly to Blackpool's Stanley Park in 1939

Southport and Fleetwood reported similarly busy days, by rail being the most popular way to travel. For the first time Southport had the new Ainsdale Lido open, but only a few brave souls splashed into the chilly sea water.

In the Marine Hall at Fleetwood a passion play ‘Christ Crucified’ attracted more than 1,000 visitors and the pier and the ferry steamers were besieged by visitors. For those who traditionally ate fish on Good Friday it was plentiful in Fleetwood where during Holy Week more than 100 trawlers had landed their catches at the port.

The Fleetwood skippers demanding over £6 for a box of hake which was distributed all over the country. On Good Friday, and over the entire holiday, Ribble Buses laid on services and many a crowded coach left the Tithebarn Street bus station to places such as Ingleton, Keswick, Ambleside and Windermere. For around five shillings you could board the bus with your walking boots and rucksack and enjoy a traditional Easter hike.

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There were great celebrations over Easter tide at the many churches within Preston and parishioners flocked to pay their devotion. St Augustine’s RC Church was the focus of much attention with the ritual of Quarant Ore being observed. On Easter Sunday morning more than 2,500 attended the five morning masses and in the evening more than 900 packed into the century old church as Canon Prescott conducted proceedings.

Shadow of Blackpool Tower is cast over the Winter Gardens in 1939.Shadow of Blackpool Tower is cast over the Winter Gardens in 1939.
Shadow of Blackpool Tower is cast over the Winter Gardens in 1939.

Not only were the Roman Catholics, the Church of England and the Methodists conducting devote services throughout the town, but those of other faiths also marked the Easter feast days. The Congregational Church, on Lancaster Road; the Ethical Spiritualists, on Lawson Street; the members of the Christadelphian Hall, on North Road, and those involved with the First Church of Christ Scientist in Chapel Walks all had meetings and gatherings.

Easter for the sporting enthusiasts began on Maundy Thursday evening when grappling fans gathered at the Majestic to witness a wrestling bonanza. Top of the bill was a Great Britain wrestling championship fight between George Gregory, of Bolton, and Douglas Clark, of Huddersfield. The tussle ended all square after six gruelling rounds with body slams galore and a couple of submissions. For those who enjoyed a flutter the Preston Greyhound Stadium was an attraction.

The holiday fixtures included a Saturday night meeting with eight races and popular winners included Mister Dick, Rock Mount and Help Mate who saw off Lady Trixie in a tight finish. Mind you the nearest the spectators came to an Easter bunny was the sight of the mechanical hare chased by the hungry dogs. The Preston bowling greens were officially opened for the season on Easter Saturday allowing the crown green bowlers to get in some practice before the fixtures began. The League president Mr JD Horam meeting the Mayor, Alderman W Morris in a curtain raiser for the league which had 54 teams ready to compete.

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Preston Grasshoppers were pleased with their Easter endeavours with the egg shaped ball when they visited Heaton Moor. They had scored two early tries against strong opposition whose forceful play saw them later take the lead, only for the Grasshoppers to draw level just before the end with a dropped goal.

Blackpool Golden Mile and crowded beach in 1939Blackpool Golden Mile and crowded beach in 1939
Blackpool Golden Mile and crowded beach in 1939

At a time when the maximum wage for a professional footballer was £9 per week the footballers certainly earned their money. For the players of Preston North End a trip to London on Good Friday saw them slip to a 3-1 defeat against Brentford.

After a train journey home they lined up unchanged on Saturday afternoon against the formidable Wolverhampton Wanderers who were chasing the Football League title. The crowd of more than 31,000 was a real tonic for North End as they vanquished the Wolves by 4-2.with Jimmy Dougal netting twice.

Inspired by this performance the same 11 trotted out again on Easter Monday morning to entertain Brentford. Revenge was sweet as they toppled the visitors with Dougal and McIntosh scoring in the second half for a 2-0 victory.

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Despite the early start and the other holiday attractions more than 22,000 spectators enjoyed the occasion. With a four game unbeaten run to follow PNE would finish in ninth position in the top flight of the last full season of football before war broke out.

Avenham Park was once again the scene of the great Easter extravaganza of egg rolling on Easter Monday. The weather was better than for many years and the crowd took advantage of it by casting off their winter clothing to make it a summer frock and shirt sleeves afternoon, with many a lady proudly displaying a Easter bonnet.

By mid-afternoon it was reckoned more than 30,000 folk had filled the Avenham valley and it was a scene enjoyed by prancing dancing children and their parents. There were brilliantly coloured balloons, streamers, oranges, apples, bananas, coconuts and ice cream. The Easter eggs were plentiful too, some had been cradled in baskets and carried to the park along with their picnic treats. The hard boiled variety were popular with many being gaily painted by youngsters, while the chocolate eggs, although in short supply, seemed plentiful on the day. There was much delight at 3pm when St David’s Silver Band took to the band stand and began playing their stirring music.

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Why do people go egg rolling in Preston?

One lady later wrote to the Post describing her Easter Monday experience, ‘I spent some time in Preston watching the trek down Fishergate to Avenham Park. There, in Chapel Street, and neighbourhood were stalls aplenty. Hot potatoes were ours for the asking, four pence would buy a lovely bladder. Windmills blew in the breeze and coconuts and oranges were displayed on handcarts. Ice creams, sweets and toys were displayed to tempt eager eyes and stallholders chatted with the crowds. In the park children of all ages produced dyed eggs, chocolate eggs and cardboard eggs and they rolled them until the broke.’

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Local folk, young and old alike, also took the opportunity to attend one of the many Easter Carnival dances with the Regent on Tithebarn Street proving popular with the JS Higson Band on stage, while the parishioners of English Martyrs were treated to the music of Norman Henri’s Dance Band.

A trip to the cinema had, by this time, become part of the Easter entertainment and with 16 cinemas to choose from in Preston the picture houses had a bumper weekend. Micky Rooney was starring in ‘Boys Town’ at the Empress, Will Hay was featuring at the New Victoria in ‘Old Bones Of The River’, the ‘Last of The Cavalry’ was on at the Ritz, at the Savoy Cinema it was ‘Little Dolly Daydream’ which pulled in the crowds and Gracie Fields in ‘We’re Going To Be Rich’ was on the double bill at the Star Cinema with seats in the stalls for one shilling. If you wanted to be scared ‘The Terror’ a Edgar Wallace mystery was on at the Guild Cinema and if you wanted a mystery ‘The Lady Vanishes’ was on at the Carlton cinema.

Altogether it had been an Easter to enjoy and to forget the cares of forthcoming conflicts although news had just broken that Italian troops had entered Tirana, the capital of Albania, under the instructions of Mussolini. In seemed the memories of these Easter days would have to linger for awhile, as the peace of Easters to come would be hindered by the horrors of war.