Monday, 28 December 2009

A souvenir of Blackpool

I did unexpectedly well for presents this Christmas, and among them was this tiny porcelain shoe sporting the town crest of Blackpool. Judging by its style it possibly dates from the 1900s, and is clearly an imitation of the famous Goss armorial china that was developed in the 19th century and was produced in an almost endless variety of forms.

The Goss range wasn't just extensive in its inventive array of novelty shapes. According to Larch S. Garrad in A Present From . . . Holiday Souvenirs of the British Isles: "Allegedly, Goss souvenirs were produced for every town in the United Kingdom that had a coat of arms."

This example was perhaps made in Germany - the generic red 'foreign' stamp underneath being no help at all in narrowing down its origin. But this doesn't really matter since I have a fascination for British seaside resorts, and Blackpool holds a special place among them.

Blackpool has a good claim to being the world's first working-class seaside resort - a title contested primarily by New York's Coney Island - and both towns developed more or less in parallel. John K. Walton explores the development and decline of both places in his excellent article "Popular Playgrounds: Blackpool and Coney Island, c. 1880-1970" (available to download as a pdf here - scroll down to Volume 17, Number 1).

The millions of visitors who descended on Blackpool every summer holiday season were determined to have fun and spend their money, and perhaps take home a small memento or gift with their last few pennies, and this porcelain shoe was probably very cheap in its day. All the better to attract the eye of the working-class holidaymaker with limited cash.

But a shoe doesn't really say Blackpool to me, even with a fancy town crest on it. The iconic Blackpool Tower however, Lancashire's homage to Paris' Eiffel Tower which opened in 1894, does the job nicely.

This vintage Stratton tieclip features the tower rendered in vivid blue enamel - and is currently available at the time of writing in my Etsy shop, dear reader. As a seaside souvenir, I would argue that its actually pretty tasteful:

Stratton was established in 1860, and is most famous for its men's accessories such as cufflinks and tieclips, not to mention its women's powder compacts. Vintage examples attract avid collectors, but having cast an eye on their current range (Stratton is still going) I have to say I am sadly underwhelmed.

Of course we've got to return to Blackpool in its prime, with three marvellous films from the BFI (British Film Institute) showing the town in three different eras.

First is this 1904 Mitchell and Kenyon film of hordes of visitors promenading on Blackpool's Victoria Pier. This was shot around the time that I reckon my shoe souvenir dates from:

This 1926 film clip, shot by Claude Friese-Green in what looks like a two-colour green/red process, shows the 'Reel' ride at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach. There's also a very pleased "lassie from Lancashire" proudly showing off her feathered kewpie doll prize, from the 'Shalwyn' stall, at the end:

Finally, this fabulous excerpt from the 1957 film Holiday, which reveals some obvious American influence on the town (hotdogs with or without fried onions), the 'Reel' again, and some lovely 50s fashions:

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