Sex tourism in Victorian Blackpool

Holidaymakers were the lifeblood of Blackpool and serving the needs of holiday makers was an industry. This included prostitution. Single men would arrive with money in their pockets amorous thoughts.
We know precious little about how the market worked. Since hotel workers and waitresses were paid low wages they may have supplemented their income. Research based on London suggest that prostitution involved an jaw-droppingly high proportion of the female population. Often these were poorly paid and their clients were also poorly paid. Single men were attracted to London by the high employment levels. The Victorian cult of respectability meant that poor people were too poor to marry and also that single men from wealthier backgrounds were unable to find sexual partners in their own social class. This is not the place to go into the emergence of prostitutes as literary figures but in Victorian Times the prostitute began to emerge as an admirable figure. One decadent writer said that he slept with prostitutes because it was cheaper than paying for a hotel. We are looking at enormous levels of prostitution that touched all classes. We are also looking at a black hole. We know very little about these prostitutes or their clients. We don’t know how many women were involved, or what they earned, or who their clients were. The authorities in Blackpool tended to nurture the reputation of Blackpool as a family resort and did not draw attention to prostitution. The hey-day of Blackpool prostitution must have been the Wars Blackpool had a surplus of young males because military and also because parts of the Civil Service were based here. I have been told that a very well turned out hotel in General Street was a brothel during the Second World War. Is it true? I haven’t got the foggiest idea, but that formal and informal prostitution achieved industrial levels during the Wars.
We know very little about this hidden world. In 1895 the Gazette and News had news items that give us rare information about this trade.
FRIDAY 21 JUNE 1895
122, LYTHAM ROAD

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The Gazette and News reported a raid on 122 Lytham Road, Blackpool. Jessie Gibson appeared before Blackpool Police Court charged with having kept a brothel there. Also there were three girls including Jessie’s daughter who were accused of aiding abetting and three men. One of the men, James Watkins, was found in the room of Jessie Gibson. Various witnesses saw three officers from the Volunteer Encampment at South Shore leaving the building and on Whit Sunday six officers were seen leaving. The girls had previously worked in a Pantomime in Sheffield. Interestingly one of the accused said that the girls were “gay girls.” In Victorian England “gay” was associated with prostitution.
JULY 28 1895
3, DERBY ROAD

(The building has now been demolished and is on the site of the Hilton Hotel)
Catherine Briggs Bolton “a refined looking woman of middle age” was charged with keeping a brothel at 3, Derby Road. Kate Lumsden “a matronly woman of diminutive stature and attractive features , with golden hair and the general appearance of an actress” Three other women were charged with aiding and abetting. One was elderly and the other two were young and as the Gazette puts it: “of good appearance.” P.C. Drabble said that he had seen strange men entering almost every night and mysteriously: “on one occasion one of the men held up a book and invited the women to kick it, which they did.”
Mrs Bolton said that it was true that gentlemen had visited the house but that they were professional friends.
One of the girls, Kate Lumsden, said that she had formerly been an actress and she had many friends in the profession who visited her late at night. The Bench was unconvinced.
Catherine Briggs Bolton was committed to prison for a month and the others were fined.
AUGUST 9, 1895
8, Grosvenor Street

Grosvenor Street

Grosvenor Street

At Blackpool Police Court Margaret Mary Fearns: “a lady-like and good-looking person” was charged with keeping a disorderly house at 8 Grosvenor Street. Two women and a man were charged with aiding and abetting. The house was raided by the Chief Constable, Mr Derham, and constables. When they raided the house one of the bedroom doors was locked and was not opened for several minutes. Inside the room John Bradshaw and Mary Fearns were partially dressed. Mary Fearns said that she was a dressmaker from Bradford. Mary Fearns was imprisoned for two months and the others were fined.

These articles all appeared in the Gazette and News under the heading “The Purity Crusade” in 1895.
The houses raided obviously catered for wealthier clients. The lower end of the market would be more informal. Grosvenor Street is interesting because besides being located near the current Red Light District it is very close to the route between the Railway Station and the Raikes Palace Gardens. Before the Pleasure Beach, or the Tower, or the Winter Gardens the Raikes Palace Gardens was the major tourist attraction in Blackpool. It was built reputedly by a man who made money from wrecking and robbing ships. Regardless of whether of not this is true he did build a fine building which remarkably given the incurable vandalism of Blackpool Council and Blackpool residents is still standing. The building was later taken over by nuns who later moved to Layton Hill. During the nun’s residence the body of a newly born baby was discovered in the pond on the premises. This is probably the origin of the ghost stories about drowned nuns. Then the site became a popular entertainment centre. It was the first mass entertainment centre outside of London and for a time it was profitable. It featured boating lakes, a monkey house, and above all dancing. Visitors to Blackpool had a considerable appetite for dancing.
By 1895 the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Piers offered considerable competition and the days of the Raikes Palace Gardens were numbered. However it was still able to offer world class celebrities. Blondin who had crossed Niagra Falls on a tightrope was among the best known celebrities of his day and he was appearing there on the day Chief Constable and his Police Constables were raiding Grosvenor Street.

Blondin was already in his seventies at this time and he strained his back carrying his son on a high wire. He was nursed at the Railway Hotel by Katherine James who worked there. So successful were her ministrations that he married her on November 25, 1895. She was: “A brunette of attractive appearance 30 or 40 years his junior.” He died two years later but in his obituary in the “Times” there is no mention of his wife. Little remains of the Raikes Palace Gardens which was visited by millions of people. A walk around the site reveals holes in the road which were made by the metal fence around the Gardens.

Raikes Palace Gardens

Raikes Palace Gardens

The aviary at Fleetwood Memorial Park came from the Gardens. The owners of the Raikes Palace Gardens wisely sold the land for building development.

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