Fabulous Tales and Wonderful Legends

John Speeds map of Amounderness, 1610

Presenting the past through the preservation of heritage is frequently a question of documentation. If no or few records are in the public domain, then entire swathes of history belonging to the collective imagination of a community can simply vanish, sinking without any traces of the people, buildings, artefacts or events ever having existed.

The importance of preserving ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage' is a particularly relevant issue in the Blackpool region: evidence of outlandish legends and tall tales from the past can usually but not always be found in its physical objects and written records.

Inland, for instance, the boulder-strewn grave forever pinning down 17th century witch, Meg Shelton, in a Woodplumpton churchyard can be visited by any member of the public sufficiently interested in local history to tour around Blackpool's surrounding rural areas. Similarly, the original bricks and mortar of nearby haunted Chingle Hall, once a hide-out for fugitive priests in Tudor times, proves a rewarding experience.

Closer towards town, vague stories of ghostly smugglers and ship-bells come from old Skippool port to the medieval market village of Poulton with its attractive churches and stone weeping cross which is a noted feature of the Amounderness Hundred.

Along the way, an eerie tale of a long-ago crash involving road vehicles and the old defunct railway, there inspired a short story from celebrated local historian, Catherine Rothwell. This is available for the public to browse in her collection, housed in the town's Local History Centre.

In Blackpool, some of the best-known recorded accounts involve the entertainers, business people and town founders.

These larger-than-life figures tower over the resort's reputation for leisure, glamour, fun and, more recently, heritage 'n' history in West Lancashire. Today, the lives of such eccentric luminaries as 19th century mayor Cocker, historian and naturalist Thorber, 16th century maverick cleric and landowner William Allen or town planner and entrepreneur Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, are as familiar to heritage sleuths as the resort's famous buildings and traditional shows.

Most big attractions have their in-house ghost and spooky tales – the Grand Theatre, the Tower Ballroom and even some older inns along the promenade at Foxhall, just past the Golden Mile, have their own ghost stories attached to them. Joining guided tours of these venues adds an extra dimension to understandings gained from reading history books about the town.

One puzzling and least publicly documented local treasure concerns the extensive Pleasure Gardens which once stood on the Raikes estate between Park Road and Whitegate Drive. Local historians know little about the entertainment sites, sport grounds, and leisure parks where visitors and pleasure seekers once regularly strolled. Are there any photographs or recorded memories mentioning these? The present Raikes public house is the only building remaining.

Further south, Lytham Hall, where Jarrow monks settled to build their monastery, is a fantastic place for wandering around the acres of parkland. Much material exists about this Elizabethan and Jacobean manor house. It was once the home of one branch of the Clifton family whose coat of arms can be viewed in the assizes courtrooms at old Lancaster Castle.

Along the coast, tales are told of the disasters which befell the many ships that ran aground in these surprisingly treacherous seas. Real ghosts of shipwrecks can be seen in the ribs of the 1894 Abana in the sand not far from where the recent Riverdance sank, and in the wood salvaged from the 1897 Foudroyant which is said to have been eventually plundered for panelling the boardroom of Blackpool Football Club. Does anyone today know about this or in whose back garden is the elaborate old iron fountain that appeared in photographs of early 20th century Talbot Square?

Along with tales of disappearing coastlines beyond the cliffs around North Shore, one of the most bizarre, and barely documented stories involves the island port lost to the sea somewhere near Fleetwood in Morecambe Bay. At the end of a Roman Road leading from Ribchester, the legendary Portus Setantorium is thought to have been known to the 2nd century polymath Claudius Ptolemaeus of Alexandria who is said to have mentioned the co-ordinates for this Roman island port in his writings.

Other than this, the little knowledge available tends to become entangled with online records of recent archaeological excavations of Roman or Celtic settlements at Bourne Hill, Stanah and Garstang Road East. Stories of hanging gardens, medieval monasteries, weeping sculptures, flying witches, pirates, shipwrecks and a fabulous drowned island. All these, together with Blackpool's more traditional attractions, can be investigated in books or online by armchair travellers or 'for real' by intrepid researchers not afraid to tour around the wonderful Fylde coast region in search of local legends.

Lynne Charoenkitsuksun

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