Looking Back: Everybody needs good neighbours

The Harbour Band Arena.
The Harbour Band Arena.

Author and retired teacher, Barry Guise from Bolton-le-Sands, sent in this piece about the Harbour Band Arena after we published some pictures of the facility in our Looking Back section earlier this month.

For many years, the Midland Hotel’s nearest neighbour on the promenade was Morecambe’s Harbour Band Arena.

Following the closure of T.W. Ward’s shipbreaking business on the Stone Jetty in 1933 and the transfer of the Old Harbour site from the LMS Railway to Morecambe Corporation, work began on the redevelopment of the promenade and the provision of new facilities for the holidaymaker.

Guests at the Midland in its inaugural year would have had the added attraction of being able to observe at close quarters the changing landscape outside their bedroom windows!

The first stage of the project took place to the north and east of the hotel and saw the derelict Ward’s site transformed into a large band arena with shell-shaped bandstand and extensive formal gardens. The work cost £12,000 and its completion in May 1934 was, according to Councillor J.W. Carleton, “the beginning of the greatest and most ambitious scheme this town has ever embarked upon.”

A big crowd attended the opening ceremony on Saturday May 19 but the deck chairs in the arena remained largely unoccupied until it was announced that the chairs were free of charge for the afternoon.

They were rapidly filled.

During that summer, concerts at the arena drew large audiences and on several occasions extra supplies of deckchairs and benches had to be provided. But not everyone was happy with the new bandstand.

Writing to The Visitor newspaper, Mr W. Neale complained about its name: “I notice that the new bandstand erected by the Corporation on the site of the old harbour buildings has been given the title of the ‘New Modern Midland Bandstand’, thus giving the impression to the general public and visitors that the bandstand is part of the new Midland Hotel premises. But I wish to ask – what is wrong with the title of ‘the Harbour Bandstand’?”

Mr Neale’s plea must have reached a sympathetic ear as the offending title was eventually replaced by the more acceptable ‘Harbour Bandstand and Band Arena’.

From its very beginning the Band Arena proved extremely popular with holidaymakers and residents alike. Famous bands from the armed forces, mills, collieries and northern towns often played to more than 2000 people who filled the serried rows of canvas deckchairs.

For much of the 1950s and 1960s the well-known organist Harold Graham hosted a very popular talent competition, while from 1949 huge crowds would pack the Band Arena every August to watch a famous celebrity of the day switch on the resort’s illuminations.

As Morecambe declined during the 1970s and 1980s so too did the fortunes of the Harbour Band Arena. Tastes were changing and a new generation of visitor had discovered other forms of musical entertainment. Band concerts began to dwindle in frequency and eventually the site was leased for alternative uses.

In recent years it has operated as a go-kart circuit and been the location for a summer fun fair.