Friday, August 17, 2012

Lytham Again (and Blackpool)

We went right back to Lytham the very day after we'd first been there.  This time, the very first thing we did was visit the windmill, and it’s a good thing we did, because it closes for an hour an a half at lunch. It was interesting, as any windmill must be, but the most interesting feature was the old man downstairs who was the guide. He had so many stories to tell us of how life in Lytham used to be. He told about the time he picked some white hawthorn on his way home from somewhere, to give to his mother. She was terribly displeased! “Get those out of this house!” she cried, “Out, this minute! They’re bad luck!” And she herself took them out to the back and stomped all over them. Years later, our guide thought to ask her what that had been all about.

Turns out that until sometime in the 1890s (I think he meant until 1829?), Catholic worship was still illegal in England. “Technically,” said our guide, “a Catholic caught hearing mass could be drawn and quartered.” So the priests used to go about secretly. When a priest came to town, the word would quietly spread among Catholics. The Catholic children would pick white hawthorn and bring it with them to mass, to lay upon the altar. Apparently, white hawthorne was one of the first plants to blossom.  (Also, there is a lot of folklore connected with it.)  Eventually, the police caught on, realizing that to catch a priest, all they had to do was follow children who were carrying white hawthorn. So that flower, he said, has been bad luck in England ever since. 

Our guide also explained why taxis in Lytham all have a tag in the back that reads, “Hackney Carriage.” A hackney carriage is, of course, a horse-drawn vehicle. It seems some women’s group back in the days of the hackney carriage were concerned that the horses weren’t being fed or watered all day long. So they lobbied and a law was passed that a hackney carriage had to carry a bale of hay and some water for the horse. That law has never been repealed, so it makes a good excuse for stopping or even arresting a cabbie if you think he has broken some other law, but you can’t prove it! “There are some very strange laws still on the books,” concluded our guide.

He had so many other tales to tell that we were there until closing time, listening.

On our way back to the car, we passed the White Church again. This time, to our delight, we saw a bride and groom standing outside it. So we waited, behind the hedges, until they got into their limousine and drove away, then we raced to the door of the church. Sure enough, it was still open, and Norma, the verger, was still inside. Hurrying toward us, she asked whether we’d like a look around. When we said yes, she gave us the tour.

The congregation, Norma told us, is a combined one, Presbyterians and Congregationalists united.

The very tall tower of the church doubles as a lighthouse at night, warning ships away from the mudflats.

Two of the stained glass windows were of special interest to us. One commemorated the Pilgrims. It showed various Puritan heroes, and the biggest pane showed the Mayflower The man who organized the voyage of the Mayflower was also depicted. (These people use stained glass instead of icons.) I was doubly interested in this, as three of my ancestors, the Allerton family, were aboard that ship.

The other most interesting window, for us, was the Martyrs Window, showing various Reformation martyrs. The biggest picture of all was of Martin Luther, never mind he was not martyred. Then there were others, beginning with Savonarola. But, for a sign of hope, one little section of the window depicted the Statue of Liberty!

Norma offered us tea, but as we had just had lunch, we declined, with many thanks, and went our way. Towards Blackpool.

Blackpool, in the 1960s, was the seaside vacation resort, in northern England, at least, more popular than Southport. It is, in the words of one Englishman, tatty. I’ve never been to Myrtle Beach, but perhaps that would be a comparison. Or Coney Island. Anyway, Blackpool, at least its tourist strip, is full of places with names like Pleasure Palace and Fun Fair. It has roller coasters, including a giant one, a Ferris wheel, and other carnival rides. It has attractions like the Haunted Crypt and the Tower Dungeon. It has horse-drawn carriages you can hire for a ride. There are penny slot machines, karaoke bars, tattoo parlors, girlie shows, shops selling magic tricks and jokes. There are plenty of places to buy fudge or hot dogs, and there’s a proliferation of chippies (fish and chips establishments).

This strip goes on for two or maybe three miles, with a tram to carry you from one end to the other and all stops between. At night, the main drag is lit with all sorts of big, gaudy lights. The lights, I mean, are plastic figures like mermaids and Betty Boop, suspended above the street and lit from within.

Brits, says, Demetrios, plan and save all year for their holidays. It seems to me that those who can afford it go to sunnier climes, especially Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy, the South of France. Those who can’t afford to go abroad, especially young people and families with small children, go to places like Blackpool.

Anyway, we were happy to see the place and happy to leave it. It was nine o’clock before we got home from a most successful day out.


Anam Cara said...

The folklore about the Hawthorn is pretty interesting. I haven't been to the National Cathedral in DC for a couple of years - didn't know about the Hawthorn tree there. I must look it up next time I go.

The White Church is also interesting. Looks like some denominations are trying to get back to "one true church." I wonder what compromises had to be made in the attempt.

GretchenJoanna said...

I love your travel accounts!

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