My historical photograph archive includes some thought-provoking images. This is one of them.
Blackpool is a seaside town in Lancashire, North West England, famous for its trams (first electric tramway anywhere in the world and still running), its Tower modelled on the Eiffel Tower, three piers, annual illuminations and kiss-me-quick culture. It has been popular since the mid Victorian period, mainly because the railways provided easy access from some of England’s largest cities and boarding houses (bed and breakfasts) provided basic (very, very basic) accommodation for working men and their families. Industrial towns, especially in the north of England, had ‘wakes’ weeks, when all the local factories and mills would close at the same time for their annual holidays, resulting in a mass exodus to the seaside, mainly by train. Blackpool welcomed visitors with tram and boat trips, funfairs, shows, donkey rides on the beach and much more ….. and still does.
The photograph above was taken in the early 1900s and shows people dancing on one of the piers. Nothing unusual about that, as music and dance were one of the most popular attractions ….. the magnificent Tower Ballroom is still a witness to that. However, if you look carefully, you’ll notice that some are male couples and, in particular, two men, bottom right, are in what can only be described as an embrace. Perhaps they were just having fun or female partners were lacking when the photograph was taken but it seems to me that an alternative explanation is more likely. In Edwardian England, gay men wouldn’t have been able to openly express their affection for each other. Perhaps they could, though, in Blackpool, with its more tolerant, less inhibiting atmosphere. Perhaps Wakes week was the only opportunity for them to be together. Perhaps I’m putting two and two together and making five!
The second photograph is from the late Victorian period and shows bathing machines on the beach. These sheds on wheels enabled young ladies to go into the sea whilst maintaining their dignity and modesty. They got changed into their swimming costume inside the hut, which was then drawn into the sea by a horse, so that they could walk down the steps directly into the water. If I’m correct about the first photograph, these two images are interesting examples of Edwardian moral attitudes.
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