Friday, November 2, 2012

New Brighton – A Victorian Seaside Resort

By Tony Franks-Buckley

Following the mass population growth that occurred during the British Industrial Revolution, Seaside resorts became a popular destination for the working class citizens in Britain. Separated by the River Mersey, Liverpool was the neighbouring city that looked across at the borough of Wallasey, and became a weekend retreat for many of the fun seekers that resided in the industrial region of Liverpool. In order to reach the destination, the famous “Ferry across the Mersey” was the viable form of transport.

Until 1891 the river front was open to the shore. The only built up areas being the Ferry terminals. If a traveller on the river prior to this period looked toward Wallasey he would have seen mainly eroded clay cliffs supported by a large masonry wall (1858-1863). It was impossible to pass directly from Seacombe to Egremont via this route. At the Guinea Gap there was an actual hole in the cliff in which the tide had carved out a large hollow. From Egremont to what is now New Brighton, existed only private properties occupying the foreshore.

In 1896, New Brighton was given a brand new feature when work started on the Tower & Ballroom. The New Brighton Tower was patterned on the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. It all started when a newly formed company called The New Brighton Tower and Recreation Company Limited, with a share capital of £300,000 decided to purchase the Rock Point Estate of over 20 acres. The Tower was to be 544 feet high, with Assembly Hall, Winter Gardens, Refreshment Rooms and layout with a cycle track. The Tower was to be more elegant than Blackpool's. Shares were £1 each and the Tower would be made of mild steel.

During the construction of the Tower six workmen were killed and another seriously injured either though falls or accidents. On completion the Tower was the highest building in the country. Soon after the Tower was opened a young man threw himself off the balcony to be the first suicide from the building. Four lifts took the sightseers to the top of the structure at a cost of 6d. From there you could see for miles around including the Isle of Man, Great Orme's Head, part of the Lake District and the Welsh Mountains. The Tower is said to have attracted around half a million people in the year.

Along with the Tower a ballroom was built and was one of the largest in the world, with a sprung floor and dance band stage. The orchestra had as many as 60 players and well over 1,000 couples could dance without overcrowding, it was decorated in white and gold, with emblems of various Lancashire towns. There was a balcony; with seats to watch the dancers below and behind this was an open space where couples could learn to dance. There was also a fine Billiard Saloon with 5 billiard tables and above the Ballroom was a Monkey House and Aviary in the Elevator Hall, there was even a Shooting Gallery!

As well as the Tower and ballroom the area was surrounded by a Tower Gardens Complex. The Tower Gardens covered something like 35 acres in all, with a large Japanese Cafe at the lakeside, where real Gondoliers had Venetian Gondolas. There was also a fountain and seal pond in the old quarry, with its rockery. Then there was a Parisian Tea Garden where one could have a cup of tea while watching the Pierrots. Towards the river end, there was an outdoor dancing platform which held a thousand dancers, where the Military Band played, stating at 9 o'clock in the morning in the height of the season. Above the dance floor was a high wire for tightrope walking, without any safety net. The tightrope walker was a man by the name of James Hardy, who had a bet with another man that he could walk across the rope with a girl on his shoulders. He won his bet when he carried the barmaid from the Ferry Hotel across his back which was quite an interesting tale to have been told.

There were also other light orchestras which played here and at variety performances in the theatre in the afternoon. A good restaurant called "The Rock Point Castle" was situated amongst the trees, with lovely pathways to wander around. The Tower grounds had their own private Police force of up to 15 men would parade around and keep order.

However the tower did not last for long, the outbreak of the First World War the public were not allowed to go up to the top of the Tower for military reasons. In the war years the steel structure was neglected and became rusty through lack of maintenance and the cost of renovating was more than the owner could afford so sadly this became the beginning of the end of the tower. The top portion of the structure commenced to be dismantled on 7th May 1919 and was completed in June 1921. The brick portion comprising of the Ballroom and Theatre remained, together with the turrets. During the Second World War the basement was used as a communal air-raid shelter.

The Fairground remained with the Ballroom and other surrounding features until its final fate during the fire of 1969. The Old English Fairground was on a higher level which, in later years, became the motor coach park. The Himalayan Switchback Railway was a great favourite, as was the water chute, with the boats travelling down at speed into the lake. The Railway had previously been at the Brussels Exhibition. In the Lion House were 'Prince' and 'Pasha', two beautiful Cape Lions. There was also a good collection of other animals in the menagerie.

By 1961, the park had changed significantly, with several new rides and sideshows. The photograph was taken from the cable car ride, which whisked passengers from the beach level, to the upper areas of the park. The Beatles also around this time played the Tower Ballroom; this was proof of how popular New Brighton was at the time. The Beatles final appearance at the Tower Ballroom took place on Friday 14 June 1963 on a special NEMS Enterprises presentation of their 'Mersey Beat Showcase' series. The Beatles were supported by Gerry & the Pacemakers and five other groups.

Disaster struck in 1969. The fire, the fourth that the tower had suffered, started on Saturday 5th. April 1969. The call was received at Wallasey Fire Station just after 5am in the morning, where by now I was employed as a full time Fireman. The manager and staff had left the building the night before about 8-30pm. after a routine check, the stage area was not included in their check! A police constable discovered the fire in the stage area in the west wing of the tower early next morning. In the 1970s, the area where New Brighton Tower once stood was redeveloped as River View Park.

Sadly the Tower Ballroom fire in 1969 became the end of an era in New Brighton which never recovered or rebuilt after the incident. The fire was the end moment for the area with the fairground closing immediately, leaving only the New Brighton Palace as a place for small entertainment compared to the delights that were previously on offer before the fire. This became the beginning of the end for the once popular seaside resort, unable to compete with nearby resorts such as Southport and Blackpool it withered away and soon became a forgotten area which has seen a dark era for well over 40 years.


The area has been given a new facelift in the last few years, thanks to the investment of Peel Holdings Ltd, who have regenerated the Marine Point area. The beginning of a new dawn has arrived and hopefully this will encourage tourism back to the resort, but never will it be as popular as it was during the 19th century.

If you would like to read more about New Brighton and Wallasey, I have written a book titled The History of Wallasey – A Small Suburb with a Large History. The book is available for purchase at Amazon. The book is available in both Paperback & Kindle Formats.

If you are from the UK, you can purchase the book HERE.

Or if you are from outside of the UK please Click HERE.

7 comments:

  1. Fascinating! I remember going to New Brighton as a child in the early 1960s, playing in the sand on the beach and my mother being very anxious that I would dig up a forgotten WWII bomb! I have some small black and white photos of us on the ferry - very windswept under a grey sky - but all grinning in that rather British 'I'm determined to have a good time even if it is cold and rainy' way...

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  2. Hi Carol, glad to hear you enjoyed your experiences at New Brighton. With the book that I wrote, I hope to have captured an image that will be familiar to many. if you can get the pictures online please let me know.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Franks-Buckley

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  3. I remember days out at New Brighton, too. (And there's another NB in North Wales - no idea why.) What's the origin of the name "Guinea Gap"? My nanna and mother both used it for that area but I never worked out why. And wasn't there a man who used to dive into the Mersey and collect money for the stunt with the cry of "Don't forget the diver!"?

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  4. Guinea gap was given the namke due to the bag of guineas that was found in the area. and the diver was a local that drank in a pub on victoria road if i am not mistaken.

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  5. I'll see if I can find them in the all my late mum's photos.

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  6. When I was child we always went to New Brighton on our holidays. Lots of happy memories of the park, beach, fort and of course the ships. I loved to hear the ships hooting on the river when I was tucked up in bed. I went back this summer. A lot has changed, but I was surprised at how nice it is now. although I was sad to see that the lido had gone - I learnt to swim in there and to eat ice minty cream. It was beautiful and I still love art deco buildings.

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  7. Thanks Carol. Elizabeth, you will be pleased to know there is actually a new outdoor Lido down on the promenade again. However it is not anything near the size of the outdoor baths. I was unable to go swimming there but i went to a firework display there which was amazing. I was only young when it was destroyed by the storms but the stuff i have researched on it makes me see how amazing and popular it was. And as for the regeneration, it has been long needed and hopefully more will come.

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