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Will the M6 link road revive the fortunes of Morecambe?

PUBLISHED: 10:00 21 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:58 21 May 2016

Morecambe viewed from the pier

Morecambe viewed from the pier

Archant

Morecambe is bouncing back and the arrival of a new motorway link is set to accelerate change, writes Sue Riley

Looking toward the Cormorants bird sculpture and The Midland Hotel Looking toward the Cormorants bird sculpture and The Midland Hotel

MORECAMBE’S fortunes over the decades have ebbed and flowed like the tide. From its heyday in the 1950s when it was one of England’s most glamorous seaside resorts to its gradual decline, there have always been people keen to see the Lancashire resort thrive.

When the iconic Midland Hotel reopened in 2008 attracting a celebrity clientele, hopes were high that the town would get back to what it once was. Now, with a £124 million road due to open this year linking the town to the M6, many Sand Grown ‘uns (the name for people born and bred in Morecambe) feel the resort is about to finally see that revival.

Certainly entrepreneur and care home owner Rod Taylor and wife Karen do. They recently invested £1m in the Morecambe Hotel, one of the oldest inns in the town. Set in the historic area of Poulton, the former 19th century coaching inn was in existence 50 years before the town was even named Morecambe.

After a two-year restoration project overseen by his daughter Amy and husband Dan Winward, the pub/restaurant with rooms has retained its heritage – lots of sepia photographs and wonderful 1950s Pathe footage of Morecambe’s bathing beauties – but with a modern touch.

Eric Morecambe statue Eric Morecambe statue

Dan and Amy, who have two young daughters, wanted somewhere where they could feel comfortable with their family and also enjoy good food in classy surroundings – so they decided to create just that. ‘It was daunting,’ said Dan, a former Commando. ‘Neither of us had done anything like this before. We both feel that children are children and should be allowed to be, but we didn’t want to compromise on the quality of the food or the establishment.’ It all comes back to family with the Winwards: Amy says not only do they want other families to enjoy the pub, they regularly eat there with their parents and children and siblings, and also employ two of Amy’s aunts and a younger sister.

Rod, a director of Morecambe Football Club, said the pub refurbishment cost four times what they were expecting. But once it opened in August last year it soon exceeded expectations and they now employ 55 staff. ‘Karen thought I’d lost my marbles! We’ve lived here for 30 years and this pub was closing and it just grabbed us. I’ve a real passion for the town, a lot of the traditional entertainment has gone and that’s a downside but there’s a lot of refurbishment and work going on. I really feel the town is on the up and the new road should make a massive difference. A lot of people are really striving to improve the place,’ he said.

In the summer months Morecambe really comes into its own – not only for its fabulous views of the Lake District and feted sunsets over the bay but also its popular and quirky festival season. One of the biggest draws is Vintage by the Sea which fashion designer Wayne Hemingway started in his hometown four years ago.

Last year it was estimated to have attracted 40,000 visitors who boosted the local economy by £900,000. Another spin-off is the number of new vintage shops which have opened. Cath Timewell has been running Trilogy in Peddar Street for the past couple of years, after owning a similar business in Brighton.

‘I wanted to be closer to my family and after doing a few jobs here I wanted to work for myself again. I like second hand stuff and upcycling, you can get people bringing in different stuff every day…it’s like Christmas.’ Cath, who specialises in 1970s and 1980s clothes and ephemera, said at last year’s vintage festival she took a stall outside the Winter Gardens and sold more in two days than she usually does in a month.

‘It was mainly men from Manchester and London buying polyester suits and Crombies. They were here for the festival, it was such a great weekend.’ She says she likes the community atmosphere in the town and has welcomed the two other vintage shops which have opened in the same street as hers this year.

Jean Fernandez looks after Eclectic four days a week for her friend who set up the business this spring. An old hand – her own retro shop Alchemy shut two years ago, at the time it was the only vintage outlet in the resort – she said they started it with items from their own homes. ‘There’s been a lot of interest,’ she said.

One thing everyone associates with Morecambe is Eric, the famous and much-loved comedian who took the town’s name as his own. The statue of Eric Morecambe on the Promenade has been surrounded by fans ever since the Queen officially unveiled it and now this year a new heritage trail celebrating the comedian’s life has been launched.

Plaques are being erected around the town, starting with the Jubilee Club where Eric had his first paid gig. Lancaster City Museum is holding an exhibition about Eric starting on May 14, which would have been his 90th birthday, featuring rarely seen items from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s archive. Local artists are also planning a celebration of his life at Morecambe Library to tie in with the show.

Summer sees the resort at its most buoyant, but all year round there a core of businesses and independent traders who ensure the town remains a place to visit at any time. Locals, including many of the hotels and B&Bs, get their crockery from The Pottery Basement – and have done so for the past 40 years. The shop has been run by the same family (Ken Warburton started it and at the age of 92 is enjoying his retirement in Spain) and now Anita and David Bradshaw are employing their daughter Helen.

The shop is a place for those who love a bargain and is one of Morecambe’s secret gems. ‘We started in the basement and then we came up in the world,’ says Anita, referring to the shop they now have in Skipton Street.

Many traders believe the new Bay Gateway link road – which will provide easier access to the town from the M6 – will boost the town’s fortunes. Businessman Gerry Foote cites it as the reason for opening the biggest fishing tackle shop in the North West. Keen fisherman Gerry set up his business Gerry’s Fishing in the resort 36 years ago and after a few changes of location opened the huge superstore on the Promenade last April.

‘The new link road is the catalyst. I believe it will be a big thing for Morecambe. There’s a number of people getting on the bandwagon and we certainly decided to improve our retail outlet on the back of it,’ he said.

There are also plans for work to start on a £17million shopping development with hotel on the former Frontierland site this month; Morecambe Carnival has been revived after a 13-year gap and new cocktails bars have opened. Things are certainly changing in Morecambe.

Quirky corners

Morecambe is full of quirky buildings, from the impressive Midland Hotel and Winter Gardens to the old railway terminus on the stone jetty which is now a bustling café. But some of its history is far more hidden – head to Seaborn Road in Bare and you’ll find a house which used to be in East Lancashire.

The story goes that Cliff Tower mansion house was built in 1857 in Rawtenstall, but after a fire it was left derelict until the 1920s when it was bought by two Morecambe decorators. Ben Moyes and his son transported the house to Morecambe and rebuilt it, complete with gargoyles. It was then used as the Quaker Meeting House until current owner Susie Rendell bought it in 2008. She has spent the past eight years transforming it back into a home but being careful to retain all the architectural features. ‘I love quirky houses,’ said Susie, who is selling the property through Farrell Heyworth. She’s now found a former ironmonger’s shop in the resort which she wants to move to as Cliff House is a bit too big for her.

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