As autumn comes and the nights draw in, the mention of the word “Illuminations” immediately brings to mind the extravagant annual display at Blackpool.
But it was not always so.
Yes, Blackpool’s was the first, begun in 1879, when it consisted of just eight lamps bathing the promenade in ‘artificial sunshine’, but from 1919 it had a rival, just to the north, at Morecambe.
This series of postcards in Red Rose Collections from the early 1930s show the Morecambe Illuminations in all their glory. Despite night photography being tricky at the time and colour unavailable, these images bring the spectacle to life having been painstakingly hand coloured in vibrant hues to capture the magic of the scene.
The Illuminations were a significant tourist attraction during the mid-century stretching all the way along the Promenade from Sandylands and the West End Gardens to the set piece tableaux and animated displays in Happy Mount Park.
In their heyday, the Morecambe Illuminations used over 40,000 coloured bulbs and attracted 100,000 day trippers on top of those already staying in the town.
A 1952 guidebook to the town described the promenade ‘canopied with swaying drapes of multi-coloured fairy lights, huge fluttering butterflies, peacocks preening in a rainbow of colour and a host of other fascinating novelties’.
It is traditional, in recent times, to recruit a current celebrity to switch on a city’s Christmas lights as an attraction for the crowds, but this was also true in the days of the Morecambe Illuminations.
Amongst the famous performing the switch on ceremony over the years were Wilfred Pickles, George Formby, Stirling Moss, Steptoe and Son, Acker Bilk, Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth and the Goodies.
In 1965, it was the turn of Sir Roger Moore, back then just achieving fame and popularity through his role on TV as ‘The Saint’.
‘Reg Holdsworth’, the popular Coronation Street character played by Ken Morley, became the last to flick that switch in 1996 when Morecambe, with a declining tourist industry, bowed to the competition down south in Blackpool and staged their very last illuminations.
Here is a short film of the Morecambe Illuminations from Movietone News in the 1950s.
See all the Morecambe Illuminations postcards on Red Rose Collections