These days, employees look forward to around four weeks paid holiday a year.
While many may argue that this is nowhere near enough, for the thousands of Lancashire mill workers in Victorian times, any decent time off work at all was a rare treat.
That was until ‘Wakes Week’ was invented.
To allow the mills to conduct maintenance work, and to comply with increasing demands from the tired workers, employees were granted a week off in the summer to enjoy themselves by the seaside.
Whole towns would pack up and head for Blackpool, resulting in a massive tourist revolution for the town.
The tradition continued for many years until cheap flights to European hotspots with guaranteed sun became the travel of choice for many.
Advertisements in newspapers with headings such as ‘Sea Bathing for the Working Classes’ would list Wakes Weeks and inform workers of the dates for their town to get away. Small towns would go in groups on the same week via train, whereas larger towns would go on their own or in smaller groups so as not to overcrowd Blackpool.
Alex Askaroff, author of Tales from the Coast, highlights how things have changed: “So there we have it, Wakes Week, just a memory now for the few folk that has them.
“All gone now the mills, the way of life, the community spirit, friends in every street. Mind you, you can take the way of life – but you can’t take the memories. There will always be a bit of my heart in Blackpool.” A visitor in the 1930s, Stan Pickles describes how he visited from Leeds in ‘East Leeds Memories’. He says: “When we arrived at Blackpool all the young girls and fellows piled out on to the platform hugging suitcases, the majority dashing for the loo. It was a rare sight, the men looked like sheep just shorn with their ‘short back and sides’ and sporting grey flannels, the girls lovely in their gaily coloured frocks and loose jackets, all asking directions to their digs for the week.”
Pete Wood, also writing for ‘east Leeds Memories’, visited in he 1950s. He reminisces: “In the mornings we would promenade along the front and listen to exaggerated accounts of the previous evenings happening under the pier. In the afternoons we would play football on the beach, squeezing the last ounce out of the sun. We were in and out of the sea every 10 minutes; if there was any pollution then nobody seemed to notice. The highlight of the day was the evening; this was the time to dress up in our full drape suites of midnight blue or black barathea, complete with half moon pockets, roll collars and Sackville one piece backs. Our hair would be slicked up and pulled forward Tony Curtis style with a DA at the back. When you walked into the night in a rig like that your heart soared as high as the tower – and you felt the world was your oyster.” A Mancunian cotton mill worker, Joe, who appears on the BBC’s ‘Nation on Film’ recalls the joys of Wakes Week; “I used to go with a lot of mates to Blackpool. We’d get on a double decker bus and play cards to pass the journey. We stayed at a guest house in the town and for a fiver you could have a week’s break.
“It was the only time you held a five pound note.
“You’d fold it up and put it in your top pocket and feel really rich, until you had to break it.
“By Thursday you’d be struggling’.
Postcards and adverts presented humorous yet depressing concepts for the holidaymakers, with captions such as ‘Have a gradely good holiday for tha’ll have to WORK hard when tha comes home’.