The historical tales and secrets of a Blackpool boarding house

In the first of three fascinating ‘Our House’ reports, Dr Michala Hulme, an award-winning historian and professional genealogist at Manchester Metropolitan University, delves into the history of Blackpool boarding houses. This week we feature her blog about 84 Albert Road...

Friday, 25th September 2020, 7:00 am

For the first of my ‘Our House’ blogs, I would like you to join me as we grab our buckets and spades and travel to Blackpool, to visit Mrs Naylor’s boarding house.

Mrs Naylor was actually the third proprietor of ‘Elmhurst House’. It is worth noting that 84 Albert Road would have several names over the next century. When it was first built, it was actually called Phoenix House.

The first occupants of the house were the Meadowcrofts from Oldham. Rosanna Meadowcroft and her husband, Jonas, had moved to Blackpool in the late 1880s. Rosanna managed the boarding house whilst her husband worked briefly as a brewer, before setting up an auction and valuation business. It appears from the census that they had a reasonably comfortable existence, employing a housekeeper and waitress to help with the day-to-day running of the boarding business.

84 Albert Road, Blackpool - the boarding house as it was at the turn of the 20th Century

The Meadowcrofts continued to operate the boarding house until 1907 when tragically and unexpectedly, Jonas died. With no children to support her, Rosanna decided to leave 84 Albert Road and move back to her native Oldham.

The next occupants of 84 Albert Road were the Butson family from Lancashire. Somewhat unusually for this period, it was both Thomas Butson and his wife Mary that managed the boarding house – normally during this period it would be Mary Butson who managed the boarding house. Mary assisted in the business while also caring for the couple’s three children; Clement born 1904, Majorie born in 1908 and Alfred Leslie born in 1909. Clement would make a name for himself as one of the best-known circus producers in the post-war era. At the age of 24, he became the Manager of the Blackpool Tower Company before becoming a Junior Executive of the Tower Circus. From there he was promoted to Entertainments Manager for the Tower Company, responsible for all their live productions. As the Guardian states, this meant he was in charge of the live performances of virtually the whole of Blackpool. Clem travelled the world to bring the best entertainment to Blackpool. He brought artists such as Vivian Leigh and Gracie Fields to the resort.

In 1947, he took his talents outside of Blackpool and began working with the legend, ‘King of Pantomine’ Tom Arnold. Clem’s work included bringing the Moscow State Circus to London and Manchester, and directing a Texas rodeo of 100 horses in London. His work was described as ‘The finest production of a circus that the modern world has ever seen’.

In 1913, when Clem Butson was still living at 84 Albert Road, the house appeared in several newspapers for all the wrong reasons when a thief stole a purse from one of the guests. Just over a year after the story was published, Britain entered into the First World War. Throughout the war, the Butson family remained at 84 Albert Road, moving out not long after it had officially ended. The next occupiers were the Naylor family and it was Mrs Mary Elizabeth Naylor who was the proprietor of the boarding house.

A photo of a newspaper cutting featuring an article in the Mancester Evening News on June 5 1907, which reports the death of Jonas Meadowcroft

When Mary Naylor took over in 1920, Blackpool was attracting approximately eight million visitors per year. It was one of the most popular seaside resorts in Britain. Visitors to the resort during this period could enjoy such attractions as Blackpool Zoo, a visit to the circus, dancing at the Tower Ballroom, a trip to the Pleasure Beach or a walk down the ‘Golden Mile’, enjoying some of the weird and wonderful stalls.

Mary Naylor remained in charge of 84 Albert Road until 1934. However, in 1933, a shocking event occurred at the house that led to a servant being charged with murder! On the night of the 28th October 1933, Elsie Elizabeth Sanderson complained to Mary that she felt ill. Mary and her daughter helped Elsie get into bed and cared for her. At 4am, Mary heard strange noises coming from the bathroom and sent her daughter to investigate. When her daughter looked into the bathroom, she could see that Elsie appeared very sick. A doctor was sent for, and he sent Elsie straight to the hospital. In the meantime, Mary Naylor was looking through a window and into the yard, when she saw what she thought was the body of a baby. The baby was still alive and was transferred to the hospital, where she sadly died.

Elsie was later charged and pleaded guilty to infanticide. At her trial at the Lancaster Assizes, she stated that she did not remember anything about the evening. Her bench reported that she had been very ill since the night in question and had been in the care of two doctors. Elsie’s mother also testified that the man who had got her daughter pregnant was planning to marry her. She further stated that Mrs Naylor was prepared to keep her daughter on as a domestic servant. All these factors seemed to have worked in her favour, and after hearing the evidence, Elise was given a nominal sentence of one day.

It’s not clear whether Mary initially re-employed Elsie following the trial. However, by the beginning of August 1934, she was advertising for a new maid. Mary did not only use the newspapers for advertising for staff, but she also used it to promote her boarding house business regularly advertising 84 Albert Road in the local and national press. However, her adverts suddenly stop in the autumn of 1934.

The front of 84 Albert Road as it is now

After finding no living records for Mary after 1935, I decided to look and see if I could find a death for her. I searched in Blackpool and couldn’t find anything. I then decided to explore outside of the area and discovered that Mary died of a pulmonary embolism at the Stanley Hospital in Liverpool. Following Mary’s death, the Cook family took over the boarding house. Elizabeth Cook and her husband, Percy Reginald Cook moved into Elmhurst House in 1935.

Like Mary Naylor, Elizabeth Cook also used the newspaper to promote 84 Albert Road. In 1935, she placed over 45 adverts in local papers to try to get business. Comparing Naylor’s and Cook’s adverts, it is evident that the Cooks’ had upgraded the accommodation, providing electricity and washbasins in some of the rooms. The daily rate for a room in 1953 was 14s 6d, which was average.

Elizabeth Cook left the boarding house in the 1950s, and a new owner took over the business. However, by 1980s, 84 Albert Street and the subsequent houses next door were purchased and turned into one hotel called The Georgian. In 1987, the hotel got a famous owner when legendary singer Vince Hill joined the board of the hotel chain who owned it. He was quoted as saying that his attention would be on The Georgian, where he hoped they could extend the cabaret room so they could have ‘Vince Hill weekends’.

Today, the hotel is still called The Georgian. Although the building has been extended on the top floor and the ground floor/entrance has changed, it is still just about possible to make out the old boarding house.

A Tower Circus programme which featured Clem Butson's name

References: ‘Clem Butson: A Gentle Showman: Obituary, The Guardian, (27 June 1988), P37; Girl Remanded, Lancashire Evening Post (20 November 1933)P7; Mr Clem Butson’, The Times, (28 June 1988), P16; Vince moves into Hotels’, The Stage, (12 March 1987)P3.

n Michala is based at the Manchester Centre for Public History and Heritage and specialises in the period 1800-1950. She has appeared on local radio and has featured in TV shows such as Channel 5’s How the Victorian’s Built Britain with Michael Buerk, BBC’s Heir Hunters and Who Do You Think You Are? Visit www.michalahulme.com