“Look up!”- Resort-based specialist heritage photographer and social historian Juliette W Gregson remembers those words spoken to her many years ago by her mother Kath Gregson, as you never know what delights lie up above you and of course down below your feet!
My father David always had a great interest in all things camera-related and would at times let me borrow his camera to take photographs; this could be where my interest in heritage and photography began.
I have always had an interest in the history of the town; my late grandad used to work for Blackpool Pleasure Beach and I was taken down by him to meet the staff and watch what went on behind the scenes, and of course watch the changing face of the park as new rides were built and constructed. He used to repair the track on the ghost train from time to time, and bore testimony to the rumours that ‘Cloggy’, the former ride operator, could still be heard.
I remember being taken on mystery trips by my mother in the summer holidays where she would always point out places and buildings of interest. My father was just as bad; on car journeys he would point out places where he had worked and how they had changed over the years! He also proved a great asset in later years and took many slides of the surrounding area which I am now sorting through for publication in books, websites and magazines.
I began by writing about the paranormal myths and legends around the Fylde coast and somehow managed to get noticed by a well-known ghost programme! This then cascaded into helping with research for the said TV programme, writing about the ghosts of Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Winter Gardens and Blackpool Tower. I was very proud to see my name in the credits as being a contributor. I was then asked to write for the BBC Lancashire website about the top 10 ghosts and myths of haunted Blackpool, and then I found that I needed a better camera to capture photographic evidence for my website at the time and to post on social media.
Investing in and buying a Nikon I began to move more into writing about the history and heritage of the Fylde coast and capturing the iconic images of my home town. I still go out and take “spooky shots”, but they seem to appear more on my camera during the day rather than at night! There seem to be only so many ghost stories and myths that are round and about the Fylde coast, so I thought “What else can I record?” and began to move more into heritage photography.
Through the years I have worked in many interesting places, one of which was helping my father, David, with the local hypnotic show. I had the great honour of working with the late Richard “Lorde” Payne; if you look at the Pathe news reels there is one clip of him performing in London that you can watch. A lot of magicians and hypnotists cite Richard as a major influence in their careers, but have found it difficult to gather any real memorabilia or press cuttings. I was fortunate enough to have worked with the great man and some of the shows were actually recorded for posterity, so into the archive they went!
I was lucky to have access to the family photograph and ephemera archive from my late grandparents and parents who seemed to have the ‘hoarding’ gene, which was great for me with regards to seeing what Blackpool and the surrounding area looked like in times of a bygone era.
On Facebook I was the founder member of the group Blackpool’s Past, which to date has just over 6000 members from all across the Fylde coast and even as far away as America. This group will be 8 years old in February 2018. I also help out with other local groups on social media, which takes up a lot of my time but has provided me with some great new contacts and friends that I would not have met otherwise.
One popular activity we have on the groups is “Guess where I am?”, where members place a photograph on the group page and then establish where on earth we are! I am naughty when I do this and tend to take odd angles of a building, or from a car park, or in some cases the ornate patterns of floor tiles.
Groups such as the above are great for the budding historian, who can place a photograph and ask for information about the people or places and do a bit of family research. I have lost count of the number of times that old school chums have also rediscovered each other again! What I started as a little group for friends and family - as I love old images of the area - has grown into something quite spectacular and such a useful tool for identification and family history.
I now have a great aim for 2018 which is to capture more of the changing history of the Fylde coast, which will involve me getting interior and exterior shots of buildings that are forgotten and ones that are about to be knocked down and lost to history. I also intend to pen my second book about Blackpool ghosts which will incorporate much more when finished.
Another aim is to start self-penning books with some of the photographs that I have taken, so that I can share them with a wider and diverse audience. I am lucky enough to have some great friends, contacts and colleagues who are very supportive of me and value the work I do, thus enabling me to do this for hopefully for many years to come and to build our past heritage archives for future generations.