Merseyside's New Brighton resort returns from the brink after sixties heyday

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To a kid in the Swinging Sixties it seemed the most thrilling and romantic journey on earth.

Travelling on a ferry, made world-famous by Gerry Marsden, from Liverpool’s Pier Head down the Mersey to the point where it meets the Irish Sea, then jumping off at New Brighton.

For a day of pure bliss.

Swimming in the open-air baths, playing football on the beach, searching for crabs, riding the waltzers in the fun-fair, eating chips as you battled away crazed seagulls, the vinegar smell mingling with the salt from the sea as you watch the big boats head into port.

Then taking the evening ferry home, knackered and burnt.

A nine-year-old Brian Reade, left, with his siblings in 1968

 

Back then, New Brighton (as the name suggests, a northern rival to the inferior southern one, which has pebbles where sand should be) was still a vibrant resort but one that was heading for the rocks.

In the 1930s, my mum’s family would spend summer holidays there.

A huge marquee would be pitched to sleep up to a dozen children and my grandad would go to work on the Liverpool docks by day, returning at night.

In the 1940s, my dad and his brothers would take the ferry every summer weekend to show off in front of the local girls by diving off the high boards in the lido, then the UK’s biggest open-air pool.

Parents who fondly looked on New Brighton as part of their heritage would take their kids for days out in the 1960s, but come the 1970s, with Pontins and Butlin’s taking off at home and package holidays abroad, as well as biting economic times, New Brighton fell into decline.

New Brighton Tower in 1908

The ferry stopped sailing there, the famous Tower Ballroom was destroyed by fire and the lido closed.

New Brighton, like many other historic British seaside towns, became dilapidated and unloved. In fact, it came close to extinction.

But in 2007, Wirral council, and a Labour government, recognised the potential of a regeneration plan centred on a £60million leisure and retail development, Marine Point, and life was breathed back into the old place.

It now gets a million visitors a year and on summer weekends the pavements are bustling and the beach is buzzing.

When I returned there for the first time in many years, I was genuinely surprised at how handsome it’s looking.

Daily Mirror’s Brian Reade remembers swimming in the open-air baths, playing football on the beach, and eating chips as you battled away crazed seagulls at the resort

For a start, it’s hard to imagine a Blue Flag beach in swimming distance of Liverpool’s docks, but the sand and the water measure up to that gold standard.

I cast my crab line out in the clear rock pools, but, now veggie, I refused to put bacon on the hook, and the little nippers turned their claws up at the tofu.

I cooled my tootsies with a paddle in the sea, which was as freezing as I remembered it, but looked nothing like the murky brown colour of old.

I larked around on the Black Pearl pirate ship (built entirely from driftwood by local community groups) until it was clear I was shivering the timbers of approaching teachers shepherding primary schoolkids.

I took a long, bracing walk along the three-quarters-of-a-mile of sand and bumped into Peter and Alison Greene, from Chester, and their four-year-old granddaughter Alice. What brought them to New Brighton, I asked?

The Derby Pool, at New Brighton back in 1933

“It’s just a great, cheap and cheerful day out. Alice loves to play on the pirate ship and make sandcastles, then get an ice cream,” said Alison, a retired carer.

“I stopped coming here for years, but I look forward to our days out now. It feels like a proper seaside resort again.”

Peter, also retired, said: “I had days out here as a boy, when it was in its heyday. It’s moved with the times, but I love how you can still feel the history of the place.”

New Brighton oozes history. From the 16th to the 19th century, it had a reputation for smuggling and wrecking, with secret underground cellars and tunnels rumoured to still be in existence.

Fort Perch Rock was built in the Napoleonic Wars to protect the port of Liverpool from the French. Disputes over who should pay meant it wasn’t finished until 1829, when Boney was well gone.

Brian Reade said: “It’s good to know the more things change, the more they stay the same”

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The building now houses an Aviation and Archaeology Museum, with a section on the Luftwaffe’s blitzing of Merseyside.

At the start of the last century, the resort had the tallest building in Britain, the 567ft, all-steel New Brighton Tower, which was neglected during the First World War and dismantled shortly after.

Walking around, you can take a nostalgia trip while enjoying what the resort offers current and future visitors.

There are watersports on the marine lake and regular open-air events on seafront stretches they call The Dips.

The revamped Floral Pavilion is flourishing and I never thought I’d see Bella Italia, Prezzo, Starbucks and Travelodge investing here, and making profits.

Hundreds of children will enjoy their first-ever seaside break thanks to Mirror readers.

You’ve donated thousands to our Give Kids a Seaside Smile appeal for the Family Holiday Association, a charity which arranges breaks for those who can’t afford it.

There’s still time to help many more. A donation of £10 will pay for a day out for a child in a family, £20 will help a family pay for transport to the seaside, and £50 will give a kid a three or four-day family break.

■ Post: A cheque, payable to Family Holiday Association, to: Daily Mirror, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5AP

■ Online: familyholidayassociation. org.uk
■ Text: For £1, text SEASIDE to 70201; for £3, text SEASIDE to 70331; for £5, text SEASIDE to 70970; for £10, text SEASIDE to 70191 The Family Holiday Association is a registered charity in England and Wales (800262) and Scotland (SC048203). Registered Company Number 02301337

I took a walk away from the front to the Victoria Quarter. It’s full of cask ale pubs, trendy cafes, independent shops and giant street art. If the other, inferior, Brighton on the south coast can pull in hipsters, why not the one on the Mersey?

The cafes made me feel peckish, but I wasn’t tempted by the superfood menus when a childhood memory beckoned.

So I returned to the front in search of real superfood, bought a bag of vinegar-soaked chips, sat on a bench looking out to sea – and did battle with the seagulls.

It’s good to know the more things change, the more they stay the same.



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