Header image: Mitchell and Kenyon collection, Preston Digital Archive. “Avenham Park, Preston. Easter Monday 1956”. November 18, 2010. Online image. Flickr. Available at: https://flic.kr/p/8Uwk3u
Podio Preston spoke to local historian and author Keith Johnson to find out how the people of Preston celebrated Easter in the past. Keith kindly sent us one of his articles about Easter 1958. We all have memories of Easter’s past in Preston a place where Easter is celebrated with enthusiasm, although this year it will be the strangest Easter we could imagine. Certainly the Easter’s of the 1950’s left special memories and Easter in 1958 was no exception.
The town was a busy, bustling place although the cotton industry in Lancashire appeared to be in terminal decline. On the Monday before Easter it was announced that 250,000 cotton workers in the county would have a prolonged holiday as a result of the fall in demand for Lancashire cotton goods. The recession in the trade was blamed on the importation of cheap cloth and yarns from India & Hong Kong. In Preston notices went up at several mills including Catterall’s & Smith’s on New Hall Lane announcing a 12 day break. At Horrockses and other mills short time working was already taking place.
In the first week of April the arrival of Good Friday followed a week of freezing temperatures and the chilly weather deterred many a day tripper to the seaside, or those intent on walking in the countryside or the Lake District. Arctic Easter was the term used, with the fells covered with snow only the most hardy embarked on the traditional Good Friday hike with a packed lunch and a hot cross bun in their rucksack. A bitter wind, and early morning snowflakes dealt a blow to Lancashire seaside resorts hoping for their first rush of visitors. Half full excursion trains arrived at Southport, Morecambe and Fleetwood, and it was reported that road traffic was well below average. The only exception were the trains and motor coaches to Blackpool for the visit of Preston North End.
Blackpool Promenade was described as bleak and deserted, visitors to Southport were greeted with dull and damp weather and at Fleetwood the open air dancing planned for the pier was cancelled. The big attraction was at Bloomfield Road where over 29,000, including 5,000 Preston supporters, saw Blackpool mastered by North End despite leading at the interval. Jackie Mudie snatched an opportunist goal after a quarter of an hour to give Blackpool a deserved lead. Derek Mayers inspired a Preston revival with a well taken equaliser and soon afterwards the visitors went in front through a Jimmy Baxter header from a Sammy Taylor cross. Both teams had chances in the latter stages, with Tom Finney creating havoc at times, and the game ended 2-1 to PNE. Blackpool had clearly missed the injured Stanley Matthews and Dave Durie who refused to play on Good Friday due to his religious beliefs.
Whether at home or at the seaside many with religious convictions refused to eat meat on Good Friday and fish and chips or even butter pies were the order of the day. Many a Maundy Thursday shopper in Preston had been able to buy their cod, plaice and haddock fairly cheaply, although hake and fresh salmon were quite pricey.
There was no rest for North End with a visit to Old Trafford scheduled for Saturday afternoon in front of a 48,000 crowd. They faced a Manchester United side coming to terms with the tragic events of February 1958 when the Munich air crash claimed 23 lives, including a number of the ‘Busby Babes’. It was an afternoon when North End did everything but score. Finney was elusive and effective in providing a stream of passes and sharpshooter Tommy Thompson was thwarted three times when looking likely to score. Munich crash hero Harry Gregg gave a stunning display in goal for Manchester United crowned by a wonderful diving save from a Finney header. The 0-0 draw was enough to keep North End on the heels of Football League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers.
That Easter there were still 14 cinemas dotted around the town and neighbourhood and they responded to the desire for holiday entertainment by providing a packed programme of double bills. The big film of the year was ‘Cowboy’ starring Jack Lemmon and Glenn Ford and it was on at the Gaumont in glorious ‘Technicolor’ with the best seats costing 5 shillings. It seems that Westerns were all the rage at the time – Alan Ladd was starring in ‘Stampeded’ at the Empire and in ‘Shane’ at the Guild on Geoffrey Street, with James Stewart starring in ‘Night Passage’ at the Ritz. The Carlton Cinema on Blackpool Road had a special showing of ‘The Miracle Of Fatima’ for those religious devotees and for those who wanted to escape ‘ Houdini’ was showing at the Empress on Eldon Street.
Many though were being attracted to the latest in home entertainment with their newly acquired television sets. As numerous aerials appeared on roof tops throughout the town it was time to tune in to either BBC or ITV the two terrestrial channels, provided of course you had got your £4 TV licence. It meant you could sit by your fireside on Saturday afternoon and watch the ‘University Boat Race’ won by Cambridge, followed by horse racing from Kempton Park and even Professional Wrestling. What followed that evening was a line up of favourite shows Robin Hood, Hawkeye, Lone Ranger, Wells Fargo, Son of Zorro and Highway Patrol all gripping stuff.
If you stayed at home on Easter Sunday morning the TV programmes began with a service from Westminster Cathedral. Although many preferred to visit their local church in the traditional way. The local Roman Catholics had the opportunity to attend one of the dozen churches in the town with hourly masses and benediction on offer. Besides the Parish Church, with its usual Easter Sunday offerings, there were many other Church Of England services on this Easter Day. St. Thomas, St. Jude’s, St. Peter’s and Emmanuel all evoking memories of their great Easter festivities. The Lune Street Methodists were holding a ‘Great Missionary Rally’ and the Railway Mission on Corporation Street was celebrating ‘Life and the Easter Message’ as they will do once more this year from their City Mission church with its roots in the railway of Victorian Preston.
The footballers and supporters of North End had to be up early on Easter Monday morning with Blackpool coming for a 11 o’clock kick off. Over 32,000 gathering on a fine but chilly day. Preston were without the injured Finney and Denis Hatsell deputised at centre forward against a Blackpool side still without the injured Matthews. A Baxter pass, a quick shot from Taylor and Preston were ahead after 34 minutes. A second goal four minutes into the second half by Tommy Thompson, his 32nd of the season, put North End 2-0. Blackpool rallied in the latter stages and reduced the deficit when Ray Charnley, from a Jimmy Armfield cross, planted a header into the net. Fortunately, North End clung onto their 2-1 lead to make it a productive Easter.
Straight from Deepdale to Avenham Park went many of the supporters where thousands had gathered from early morning for the annual egg rolling extravaganza. Cool winds and a shy sun did not put off the youngsters who armed with baskets laden with dyed hard boiled eggs, chocolate eggs and oranges sent them rolling down the grassy slopes. The town band in their blue uniforms played their silver instruments with great vigour and the tuneful melodies rang out. There were Easter bonnets galore, ice cream and candy floss and merriment was plentiful. The only downside was the litter left behind and seven men from the Parks Department got busy early on Tuesday morning to clear that away.
North End continued their good form to the end of the season to finish runners up in the First Division. Their only defeat coming at Wolverhampton Wanders by 2-0 as the hosts went on to clinch the title. One thing for sure the footballers had earned their wage rise from £17 to £20 per week.
It would be the last Easter to visit both the Rialto and Savoy cinemas with both announcing their closure before Christmas, both blaming declining audiences on the emergence of television. The Easter short time working in the cotton mills had been just a prelude to what was to follow, the Stocks Bridge Mill and the Bute Mill on Essex Street both closed by September and many more would follow. As for the weather it didn’t get much better, by August it was decided to close the three open air swimming pools for the season at Haslam, Moor and Waverley Parks, the chilly waters not tempting the swimmers. At the top of the pop charts over Easter was Perry Como and his single ‘Magic Moments’ and Preston folk had some magic moments too.
Keith Johnson, April 2020