The Rise and Fall and Rise of New Brighton
When James Atherton and William Rowson came to Rock Point in 1830 the aim was to emulate the southern resort of Brighton. Their focus was health, tranquillity and exclusiveness. Over the next twenty years while shops, hotels, terraced streets and public houses were built, so the villas for the wealthy were tucked away on the coastal cliffs with clear views towards the Irish Sea.
By the end of the 19th Century though, their vision had transformed into a New Brighton that was popular with working people from all over the region. It was affordable and reachable for all and also nationally renowned with Dickens and Jerome K Jerome writing about it, mentions in national publications and even Conan Doyle making it the location of a murder.
In 1899 the New Brighton Tower opened and was the tallest structure in the country, a symbol of progress and reflecting optimism for the future. Subsequent years saw the Tower Grounds host a feast of entertainments. Cowboys, Indians, African villages, musical extravaganzas, menageries, air balloons and countless visiting entertainments added to the onsite dancing, skating, theatre, orchestra, zoo, railway – endless excitement and recreation.
Despite the demolition of the Tower in the1920’s, the resort’s popularity continued. Holidaymakers and day trippers poured in by coach, train and ferry. The ferries alone are said to have brought 37 million people to the town.
In the 1930’s Europe’s largest outdoor bathing pool and a marine lake were built with the promenade extended for two miles. More would be added to existing amusements, theatres, cinemas, parks and gardens.
But the outbreak of war brought an end and though the resort stayed busy into the 1950’s its hey-day was past. By the 1960’s signs of decline were evident and the fire which destroyed the Tower Ballroom in 1969 cast a long shadow. The ferries ceased in 1971, the pier was demolished in 1978 and by the early 1990’s the pool had gone. For those who did visit it was hard to overcome a sense of loss.
But now the tide has turned. The £75 million investment on the seafront has changed everything. People flock to New Brighton again for shopping, entertainment, daytrips and holidays. There’s a vibrancy not known for decades and every indication of more to follow.
The New Brighton Heritage Centre is now situated in St James Church,Victoria Road and is always worth a visit. It’s staffed by volunteers every day, provides a wealth of local history information and an up to date compendium of what’s on. If you want to get involved in helping then phone Rusty Keane on 0151 639 5798 (the Centre opens Mon – Sat 11am – 4.00pm and Sundays 11.00am – 3.00pm). New Brighton posters, postcards and memorabilia packs are available at the centre now.
Come and have a cup of tea , have a look at the information we have displayed and, perhaps, watch one of our local history DVD’s. We look forward to seeing you.
(Barry P Humphreys who wrote this article is a local historian who – amongst other topics – delivers talks on the development of New Brighton and also provides summer walks for the Heritage Centre – contact him direct on 0151 691 2151).