Book review: St Annes Through Time by Peter Byrom

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When the ancient and genteel resort of Lytham officially joined hands with its brash neighbour St Annes in 1922, it wasn’t viewed by traditionalists as a marriage made in heaven.

But the combination of ancient and modern communities soon proved a resounding success. It produced a thriving Lancashire borough where fortunes soared and where new confidence was acquired by catering mainly for businessmen and wealthy families from the East Lancashire cotton towns.

St Annes, a town hacked out of the sandhills by rich and powerful industrialists as recently as the mid 1870s, became known as the ‘Opal of the West’ and developed into a flourishing resort filled with relaxed holidaymakers.

In the latest addition to Amberley Publishing’s fascinating Through Time series, local historian and photographer Peter Byrom takes us on a nostalgic photographic journey through 100 years of change in St Annes.

From the pier, which opened in 1885 and had a stylish Moorish Concert Pavilion at its far end, down the North Promenade and St Annes Road West to the serene Ashton Gardens public park and along the South Promenade, we see how the splendour of Victorian and Edwardian life in St Annes is today nothing more than a fast-fading memory.

In the late 19th century, Lytham was the grand old lady of the Fylde coast, steeped in history and tradition, proud of its leafy image and its heritage dating back as far as 700 AD.

The arrival of the railway in 1863, passing through Lytham to Blackpool from Preston, had carved a path through the rabbit-infested sand dunes and opened the coast to the masses from the mill towns of East Lancashire and beyond.

As more people began to descend on the area, in 1874 Elijah Hargreaves had a vision and leased 600 acres of the barren dunes from the Clifton Estate with a view to creating a new resort in an area known as Heyhouses on Sea.

He formed the St Annes Land & Building Company and in February 1875 the first sod of the new resort of St Annes was cut. The following month the foundation stone of the St Annes Hotel, the first significant building, sited near the railway station to cash in on future tourism, was laid by seven-year-old John Clifton, later Squire Clifton.

By 1922, St Annes had formed its own character and its own identity and Lytham’s merger with the neighbouring newcomer was always going to raise hackles.

However, St Annes had by this time created its own snobbery, promoting itself as a cut above nearby bustling and brassy Blackpool and the perfect home for gentry eager to live by the seaside.

While the sandy beaches, the 315-yard pier and its 40-foot jetty echoed with the laughter of day-trippers, vast promenade residences replaced the sand dunes as wealthy businessmen installed their families by the sea, with their chauffeur-driven limousines and domestic servants.

The future of St Annes had been set in stone...

By juxtaposing old and new images of streets, buildings and landmarks, Byrom’s photographic extravaganza takes us on a remarkable and revealing trip through more than 100 years of history.

(Amberley, paperback, £14.99)