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the Foreshore by-laws

In 1895 there were 615 'standings on the foreshore' including: 62 fruit sellers; 57 selling toys, general goods and jewellery; 21 oyster and prawn stalls; 52 ice cream vendors; 36 photographers; 24 ventriloquists and phrenologists; 6 quack doctors; 6 musicians; and 5 conjurors. All this provided free entertainment for the masses -- investors in Raikes Hall and the Winter Gardens were not happy...

Blackpool beach in 1894
Blackpool beach in 1894 showing front gardens
Blackpool beach in 1896-97-- the front gardens are going!
Blackpool beach c.1899 -- the beginnings of the Golden Mile
Blackpool beach c.1900 -- the beach traders are back

Regulating the Foreshore

Extract from The Blackpool Story by Brian Turner and Steve Palmer, Corporation of Blackpool, 1976, new edition 1994.

The tradesmen of Blackpool lobbied for years for the activities of the 'sand rats' to be curtailed, and in 1893 the Corporation obtained legal powers to enforce new by-laws on the beach. These regulations provide an interesting insight into the social practices of late Victorian Blackpool. Bathing, for instance, was very carefully regulated, with alternate sections of the beach denoted 'Male' or 'Female' by notices on the sea-wall. It was decreed that 'a person of the female sex shall not, while bathing, approach within 50 yards of any place at which any person of the male sex, over the age of 10 years, may be bathing.' This segregation was a result of allowing male bathers to wear 'drawers' instead of the full bathing costume which some resorts insisted upon. It was not thought seemly for 'persons of the female sex' to see a naked male chest. Prohibition of mixed bathing placed rather a limit on the family paddle, and the rule was honoured more in the breach than in the observance at the height of the season, when the beach was packed and the forces of the law too extended to bother about such things.

Another example of the Corporation's Canute-like hope of controlling the uncontrollable was its provision for ensuring that donkeys stood on the beach in groups no larger than 10. To ensure a well-regulated appearance a classic by-law was framed:

Such driver on arriving at any such place not already occupied by the full number of asses authorised to occupy such place, shall station such ass at such place in such a position that the head of such ass shall be turned in the same direction as the head or heads of the asses then stationed at such place.

One of the most controversial beach regulations restricted stalls to an area between 35 and 185 yards from the sea-wall and stipulated that no stall should be within 30 yards of another. This caused no end of trouble at first. The 'plum' sites were on the smooth dry sand opposite Central Beach, but to get one of these positions a trader sometimes had to be up before dawn to pitch his stall as the tide went out. Competition grew so fierce that some stall-holders were paying men to swim out and plant a pole in the sand to pre-empt the opposition.

One of the solutions to the problem was to divide the beach into sections and auction the licence for each one. The pre-season sands auction became a regular Blackpool feature, the money being a useful addition to the town's revenue and a just substitution for the borough rates which the permanent traders begrudged having to pay whilst the sand traders did not.

In 1897 the Corporation, under pressure from the tradesmen, announced that in future no trading would be permitted on the beach and only donkeys, camels and boatmen would be allowed to operate. The uproar which greeted this announcement took the Council by surprise. Blackpool was 'news' in the national press by this time, and the sands issue brought forth editorial criticisms in several of the major northern newspapers; the consensus of opinion was that Blackpool was forgetting that the roots of its popularity lay with the working classes, and to them the activity on the sands was just as much an attraction as the big new entertainment centres and the shops.

The Blackburn Northern Daily Telegraph wrote:

That Blackpool sands, the very Mecca of all the charlatanry and humbug of the land, should be purified and dedicated only to the uses of the patient donkey and the insinuating boatman seems incredible. It is too late in the day to refine the character of Blackpool. The bulk of Lancashire people who go to Blackpool want Blackpool as they have known it, with its life, its hurly-burly and its riotous fun. To attempt to make Blackpool conventional and 'respectable' would be to ruin it and drive its supporters elsewhere.

The Corporation decided to compromise. They would allow 'Ventriloquists, Niggers, Punch and Judy, Camels, Ice Cream, Ginger Beer, Blackpool Rock, Sweets in Baskets and Oyster Sellers' to remain on the sands, but 'Phrenologists, "Quack" Doctors, Palmists, Mock Auctions and Cheap Jacks' would be prohibited. By this means they hoped to remove what they considered to be the worst excesses from the beach, but, as things turned out, the new regulations back-fired completely.

Many of the banished traders had operated in Blackpool for years, and could hardly be expected to acquiesce meekly when the Corporation took away their livelihood -- some earned up to £20 a week in the season. They began to move instead to the houses along Central Beach, where they erected stalls in the front gardens, so that before long almost the whole of Central Beach was covered in stalls ...

There was little the Corporation could do to control activities on what became known as the 'Golden Mile', for the forecourts of the houses were still technically private gardens and, provided they did not contravene building regulations, the occupants could do more or less as they liked. Soon the property on Central Beach became some of the most sought-after in Blackpool; it was a curious phenomenon that the front gardens were more valuable than the houses themselves ...

The restriction on sands trading had a considerable effect on Blackpool's seafront development. Many of the sands activities were re-established on the Fair Ground at South Shore, from which evolved the Blackpool Pleasure Beach ... To many residents it was an infuriating paradox that the more sedate activities seemed to have moved to the seclusion of South Shore, whilst the worst elements were now concentrated on the most prominent section of the Promenade. In 1899 the Gazette prophesied with remarkable accuracy the future of the Golden Mile:

If the front land is covered with howling cheap-jacks, swindling catchpenny trickeries etc., while the shops behind are let for two-headed giantesses, fat women, penny-in-the-slot indecencies etc., then what a disreputable pandemonium will Central Beach eventually become!