Monday, October 19, 2015

Time traveling in Morecambe

[On the left, my great-grandmother's Morecambe herbalist shop in 1906, and on the right, the same building in 2015]

A couple of weeks ago Debra and I went to England on a trip that combined business and pleasure. In the second half we went to Morecambe to meet with my long, lost cousins, and see the town where my mother’s mother came from. 

My maternal grandmother lived for a number of years in Morecambe with her parents, sister and three brothers. Her mother ran an herbalist shop on one of the old side streets that runs perpendicular to the main seaside promenade. Her father was an inspector on the Morecambe tram line. He had moved the family there from a coal mining town to get away from the unhealthy environment. Although, eventually the tram line proved to be unhealthy for my great-grandfather. One day he slipped off a tram and injured his foot. It ended his career with the tram line, and was one of the events that lead to him to move the family to the US.
[I saw this electrified tram at the London Transport Museum - the horse-drawn ones don't appear to be much different. I was surprised at how small they are.]

The building that housed the shop, and their home on the upper floors, is still there and looks more-or-less the way it did back in 1906 when that lead-in photo was taken. The walls have been skimmed, but the facade hasn’t appreciably changed. My cousin Terry pointed out on the wall where one could even see indentations of the holes that been drilled for the Sarsaparilla sign!
[The herbalist shop was an end unit in a 5 unit strip of row houses. In this photo I stood in the road, opposite the middle unit, and shot the photo looking toward the main promenade that runs parallel to Morecambe Bay. That promenade, where all the tourists were - and their potential business - was a long way down from the shop.]

I’d hazard a guess and say that flag on the shop says something like ‘Botanic Beer’. Apparently, in those days people could brew and sell ‘beers’ of less than 3% alcohol without licensing or taxes. Sarsaparilla was one of them, and this excellent article on Botanic Brews by Randy Mosher talks about the others, and explains why it was not unusual for them to be sold at a herbalist.

They needed that flag to send some sort of signal to people way down the street on the promenade that they were there. Their’s was not a prime location. I suspect it was a hard business to run and not much more than just getting by. Walking around the streets near the shop it still looks very Dickensian - without the 21st century cars  and indoor plumbing of course :-)
[The Morecambe Hotel restaurant has chosen Morecambe history as its decorative theme. It's beautifully done and features many large, black-and-white historical photos throughout the restaurant, as well as large flat-panel monitors playing vintage film footage. I couldn't help being a gauche tourist and snapped this photo. You can clearly see the horse-drawn tram on the right, running up and down the seaside promenade.] 

The trip was a quick one and I didn’t have time to learn anything about the tram line other than it's long gone. I’m curious to find out if it was ever electrified. The pictures I’ve seen have only shown horse-drawn trams. That one above is one I snapped in the Morecambe Hotel restaurant - an excellent place to dine.

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