By Roy Edmonds
‘Local’ history - A taste of Blackpool’s oldest pub, through some of its colourful characters.
Copyright circa 2011
1. The Mount
GREETINGSfrom the Saddle - my local hostelry and an escape from the daily demands of this hectic world. Computers have made us all global communicators; holidays have long been international; our work, scattered families and distant friends make motorway journeys routine . . . but our feet and hearts are still neighbourhood bound. This is never more true than after retiring, which has given me time to concoct this â€˜localâ€™ history. Just a couple of miles inland from blowsy Blackpool (noted for fresh air and fun), Marton has stood much longer astride the rural Fylde coastline of the Irish Sea.Its historic heart is Great Marton. Stand on one of the main residential thoroughfares of Blackpool, Whitegate Drive, by its oldest pub, the Saddle Inn, and you can still discern the original village of Great Marton. Beside the Saddle, which dates back to the Civil War and provided stabling for roundhead troops, is St Paul's old churchyard. To the pub's other side, on Preston Old Road, are tiny cottages which have stood for more than two centuries on a winding route stagecoachestook to Preston. Edmonds Towers stands a discreet distance from the Saddle, whose more recent
history and characters I hope to explore in this appreciation. However, it's a family story of wealth and woe on its doorstep which is my starting point. In the 19th Century there were only a few artisan cottages on Preston Old Road while Wren Grove, the present small cul-de-sac near Whitegate Drive (then Whitegate Lane), was called Green Lane. This ran down to what is now the White House, on the corner of Lightburn Avenue, but was previously the landowner's home Blaydon House. My own house deeds list the tenancy dues to be paid at Blaydon House. A chap christened Lynsey I met at Blackpool Cricket Club was born in my home many years before I acquired it. He could remember open fields and carthorses grazing where now other housesstand. What was until recently the Far East takeaway was back then the Lord Nelson Alehouse and a tall building stood behind the area's third pub, the old Boar's Head, which was Marton Brewery. Further down Whitegate Lane was The Mill Inn, beside Marton Windmill, now renamed the Oxford. Completing the nest of buildings in Great Marton was a church school and infants' classrooms where new housesnow stand facing the Boars Head. Inland from its Whitegate Drive end, Preston Old Road crossesSouth Park Drive and a large house still stands on a promontory, called The Mount. This was the home of Marton benefactor John Picken Dixon. It was previously a farmhouse, surrounded by fields as far as the eye could see and good shooting territory. Mr Dixon, a wealthy
cotton mill owner, turned The Mount into a grand house in the country style and entertained visitors in squirely fashion. He had the first Silver Cloud Rolls Royce in the area but was also generous with his wealth, making widespread donations every Christmas to local people and the poor. It was J.P.Dixon who had the crumbling, old St Paul's Church by the Saddle rebuilt in its present grandeur. Perhaps he had hoped to see his youngest son Edward married there. . . but instead Edward was killed and buried in France towards the end of the Great War. Afterwards J.P.Dixon bided much of his time nurturing famed rose gardens about The Mount. Edward and other local men killed in the First World War are commemorated on the cenotaph his family erected. There are stories of a gun carriage to commemorate them being drawn down from The Mount to the churchyard, where the Dixon family vault still stands prominently. Near the cenotaph there are also flat gravestones illustrating the darker days of Great Marton when so many children died. In communal mindednesstypical of the time, J.P.Dixon also established Marton Institute for the recreation of local working men. Meanwhile, at the Saddle itself, the Leigh family had a history of providing free fruit and honey to children from a hatch where the current gents toilets block stands.
Now the local kids get their sweets from a 24-hour Tesco Expressjust round the corner. Amenities for older locals include the nearby chippy, pie shop, barber's and, last but not least, the bookies. Pull up any afternoon at the pelican crossing on Whitegate Drive, outside the Saddle Inn, and you will see some of its many characters crossing on their ritual route from bar to betting counter. We can only wonder what good, old J.P.would have said!
2. Lords, Commons and T'Others
I STARTEDdrinking in Blackpool's Saddle Inn when it wasn't the oldest pub in the resort. In the late 1970sthe old Foxhall on the Promenade was still standing, though something of a rough house. The Saddle had always been tightly run and the tenant back then, Jim Dyson, kept up the tradition so keenly he became famous for his readiness to ban offenders on a bizarre variety of perceived outrages. Some outstanding offences over the years included poking the fire ("Only I'm allowed to do that" - Jim); laughing too loud (a larger-than-life burger salesman from the Golden Mile, later murdered while on holiday in Florida - possibly for the same behaviour); speaking in French (a languages teacher celebrating end of term too extravagantly), and stuttering ("Wasting staff time" - Jim). The last offender had only managed to get a series of 'p's out - p-p-p-p. Jim went through the alternatives pint of bitter, pint of mild, pint of Bass- all to no avail then angrily issued his ban. As he left, the offender was heard to finally mutter: "I only wanted a p-packet of crisps." (With my apologies to Richard.) The pub was wisely divided into different drinking areas. Working men in dirty clothes stayed in the back entrance hall and were expected to leave by 7pm. There was an open bar area, with plain linoleum, where anyone else could stand, then
three distinct rooms where the patrons occupied the same seats often lunchtime, evenings and weekends. The Commons, like Westminster's own chamber of that name, originally had greencoloured bench seating. There was also lino in here and the upholstery was plain plastic. Pictures of past sporting heroes abounded and of Blackpool's Wembley triumph. There was an informal atmosphere and as much banter as in Parliament, though better natured. Dominoes was the big game and I recall one man's dog which would sit upright among the players apparently following every move. The Smoking Room was the front lounge, with blue carpeting and fabric upholstery and oil paintings of sailing ships and famous theatrical or royal personages.The atmosphere was muted, suitable for thoughtful pipe smokers discussing the day's events or reading paperes. Last, but not at all least, was the Lords. This was decked out in red and there were pictures of members of the former Marton Council, which used to meet in the room. The Lords was for the elite of regulars and was, I'm sorry to report ladies, the last to admit women. "I used to be able to bring my dog in here but not the wife," lamented one old chap to me. "Now it's t'other way around." He shook his head sadly. "I much preferred it afore." Each room had its own fire and conventions, as well as its own waiter - summoned by bell presseswhich remain but sadly no longer bring service.
Much of the tradition, however, continued under the next landlord, the highly regarded former policeman John Moore. He was a veteran of the Honourable Order of BassDrinkers (to be outlined later) and with several attractive daughters sharing his upstairs quarters. "I used to be a waiter in the Commons," a cheerful regular told me while getting a round of drinks for his friends. "My older brother did the Lords but I was only allowed in there if he asked the regulars' permission." I noticed he went back into the Lords and, with time, he eventually invited me to join his company - now largely deceased. Ever a man of the people, however, I've enjoyed all the rooms as well as those diverse characters in them. You'll meet them yourself very soon - even the dead ones. Cheers!
3. An Uncommon Lot
PERHAPSthe greatest characters in the Saddle Inn at Great Marton, Blackpool's oldest pub, were in its cosy back room, the Commons. This rattled daily to the sound of dominoes, hearty wit and mutterings over horse races lost and won. Regulars tended to sit in the same places. To the left as you went in was Dave the Cap, so called as he never removed the flat cap he wore at a jaunty angle. There he would sit, pint of Special bitter to hand, staring across into the glowing coals; never saying much, just chewing on gum and offering a wry smile from time to time. I think he was a council gardener so he had lots of time on his hands and, apparently, much to smile about back then in the 70s. Also usually on the left of the room was Bill the Neck, so called becausehis neck was locked in downward position by spondylitis or chronic arthritis. Whatever the cause, he could only look at you by literally bending over backwards or by casting a wary sideways glance as though doubting your veracity. Older locals claimed Bill had been given the choice of his neck being permanently set upright in normal position or looking down, and had chosen the latter so he would notice if he dropped any coins. Somehow I doubt this theory and can also report that, owing perhaps to the friendliness of the Commons and satisfactory quality of the Bass,Bill always seemed in good cheer despite his
medical setback. Among other characters was Burt Knight, retired master decorator who had painted all the resort's piers. Burt had a weeping eye that he put down to being ill-treated as a JapanesePrisoner of War. He walked everywhere at fast pace, had a ready smile and often a funny tale to tell, while also penning wry ditties that appeared regularly in the Gazette's letter pages. In semi-retirement he would only take on jobs at houseswhere he could see and, therefore, readily reach the Saddle and its neighbouring bookies. One of Burt's last jobs was the front of Edmonds Towers, where a carelesspensioner coming along the pavement in an electric wheelchair bumped his ladder. Burt shouted down a severe warning that incensed the wheelchair occupier - who backed up then knocked away the ladders entirely. Burt was left swinging by one hand from an upper casement, until saved by a watching joiner who rushed over the road. Burt survived that but not for long. . . his ashesare scattered in the Saddle's beer garden. Finally, in this round-up, on the right of the Commons was Pete the Prawn. (His occasional companion Derek the Window Cleaner warrants a whole section.) Peter, an angry man who did not suffer fools, had a tan from his allotments, fishing and regular jaunts to Spain. He would often bring in prawns he'd fished locally for others to taste and buy. The Saddle back then wisely served no food. However, Peter also
used his position by the fire to bake potatoes wrapped in foil. The management (by then the more easy going John Moore) kept salt and butter behind the bar for his use. The Prawn repaid this kindness by chastising ignorant youngsters who put their feet up on the upholstery or telling any ill-mannered drinkers to sling their hooks. Quite right, I hear you cheer, and tell us more. . . Crazy Derek, Storming Norman and even Mandela Man will follow.
4. Good Neighbours
WHENI first came to live in Great Marton most of the neighbours had lived there for many years. I learned that, a little further along Preston Old Road than the Saddle Inn, the now-quiet Boar's Head had once been the hub of social life for Blackpool residents. "In't past days," one old timer told me, "soccer legend Stanley Mortensen used to pop in for a pint - straight after he'd played. His hair wâ€™er still wet from shower!" The Boar's Head's spacious Fylde Room was packed on a Saturday night, waiters would ply their trade and that was the place to be seen. It hadn't mattered back then that there was only a small car park. When I first visited, in the late 1970s,the Boar's landlord was Big Max - noted more
for a wicked wit than for keeping beer lines clean. (“My job,” he told me later, “was to play dominoes and curse the customers, my wife did everything else.”) However, in fairness, the Tetleys bitter was not the stuff of old - but now brewed in Warrington and, consequently, missing that sparkling Yorkshire water. By 1990 when I took up residence at Edmonds Towers, only a handful of regulars gathered in the Boar's. The managers were amiable couple Tom and Lesley. Max would occasionally still entertain us there, along with the outrageous John Ashton, head of music at a local academy and a Rolls Royce-driving, cape-wearing eccentric. But I most remember Old George. George was always dressed in suit, tie and overcoat, sat alone to read the paper quietly and drank mild slowly. He was poor but proud and had a caustic wit while talking much sense. No one used to mention that landlord Tom gave George his Christmas meal free of charge - but we all knew. Locals knew most things then in fact. Mrs Bridge, an ancient widow living next to the Towers, could be relied to spot any stranger hanging around suspiciously. She had run a chip shop where a Chinesetakeaway later stood, on the site of what was once the Lord Nelson alehouse. Her son, Ron, was middle-aged and well spoken but another eccentric given to outspokennesswhen "in drink". "Those Chinese- dreadful people," he would mutter into his pint. But, it turned out, he did not mean the pleasant family then making an unexpected successof his parents' former chippy. "I fought them in Korea - terrible,
the things they did." After Mrs Bridge died, things went downhill fast for poor Ron. I sometimes returned late to the Towers on a weekend evening and saw Ron's front door still open wide on to the busy pavement. Inside, he would be asleep in his armchair by the fire - a tea cosy on his head for warmth and a half-finished bottle of whisky before him. I would quietly shut the door from without and retire, chastened. Visiting friends knew things were getting out of hand when they caught Ron cutting up wads of fivers with his kitchen scissors. Apparently he had money stashed all about the old place. "I don't want my relatives getting their hands on it," he'd explain. Fortunately, he was persuaded to leave it to charity. By then he was going down fast but still reasonable enough company for a while in the Saddle. There, or anywhere now, he was never to be seen without his flat cap on (the tea cosy having disappeared). Rumour had it he even wore it to bed. A fall outside the pub proved Ron's final undoing. A friend came back from visiting him in Victoria Hospital, with a mournful shake of her head. "He's in a bad way with an oxygen mask," she reported to the regulars. "Still," she added, with a sympathetic, little laugh, "he still had on his flat hat."
5. Derek the Window Cleaner
A MEMORABLEcharacter from the room known as the Commons in Blackpool's oldest pub, the Saddle Inn, was Derek the Window Cleaner. He could be found by the coal fire in there, genially supping Draught Bass,most weekday afternoons come early evenings. Derek was a tall, rangy man with dark hair, poor teeth and a winning way about him. His window cleaning round took in many shops and offices round South Shore and also here in Great Marton where he ended at the beloved Saddle. He even claimed to have keys to the Oxford Square NatWest bank, so he could spruce up the windows before customers and staff arrived. I don't know the truth of this, but the bank has now closed down and Derek hasn't been seen in these parts for years. . . He lived during the week in a caravan by the Marton mushroom farm, shared with a couple of mongrel sheepdogsfrom home. Home was Appleby in Cumbria where his wife and he lived above a wool and knick-knack shop she ran. "She can't stand me being around for more than a weekend," he explained. But it was playing the trumpet for Eartha Kitt and surviving on Reichstag rice pudding from the Second World War which made Derek really unique.
"I just play when some big star's in town and they need more musicians at Opera House," he told me modestly one wet, wintry afternoon. "I've played with 'em all, but Eartha Kitt was best - really looked after us. She'd lay on a party at end of week and get a crate of whisky in 'specially for band'. Grand lass . . ." (here Derek's buckled teeth almost glittered) â€œ . . . and right sexy too!" Derek dined mainly in the caravan on war-surplus rice pudding. "Beautiful stuff - all you need. Not ours but the Nazis' - the tins have a Reichstag stamp on. Can't remember where I got 'em now, but dogs love it too." However, Derek truly became a Saddle legend when he accepted a challenge to leave his old estate car by the caravan one weekend - and cycle home to Appleby. Being no spring chicken, he took his time over this marathon task and set off from Great Marton in early morning. "I couldn't resist stopping at a few pubs on't way, though," he confessed. However, by late afternoon come early evening he had wound his wobbly way as far as his local at Appleby, which by good luck was just opening. "No one there believed I'd cycled it," he recalled with a grin, "till my lad came by and said, 'By 'eck dad! Thought it were your bike outside - where's car then, still at Blackpool?" Derek so enjoyed his day's cycling - without the ladder and buckets he usually
carried - he repeated the feat just weeks later with similar results. He wasn't a lad to do things by half!
6. Storming Norman
HAPPILY, Norm is still with us at the Saddle Inn at Great Marton, Blackpool's oldest hostelry. Clad in several layers for all seasons, 'Storming's' trim beard and felt hat (complete with fishing flies) add a touch of style and character. In the past Norman cut a still dapper figure, when behind his skins with cravat, tweed jacket, cigarette holder and twinkling eye as drummer for the legendary Fylde Coast Jazzmen. He visited Edmonds Towers once, to look at a dodgy wardrobe door. Unfortunately, I wasn't there. "Are you the joiner?" inquired She Who Knows. "Cabinetmaker!" responded Norman, insulted, and marched in and upstairs. Unfortunately, our vinyl finished, sliding doors were not his cup of tea and he couldn't help us out. "Personally," he confided rather bravely to She Who, "I wouldn't give such furniture house room."
But it's the thought that counts and Norman, over many decades,has always been happy to give friendly advice to younger patrons of the pub, as well as supplying tinder for its coal fires. Besideshis woodwork and drum skills, Norm is also a master fly fisherman, can deftly handle dominoes or cards and all without a complete thumb (lost in an early, hard-taught lesson at the lathe). "Storming", known for his fighting spirit, is also a champion and living advertisement for Draught Bass.This he imbibes from a pewter mug presented in admiration and fondnesson his 70th from his many friends at the Saddle. And long may he sup.
7. "Honourable" Order
WHENretired copper, big John Moore was landlord at the Saddle Inn here at Great Marton, strange secret meetings were occasionally witnessed in the front smoking room of Blackpool's oldest hostelry. This was not, however, some Victorian lodge leftover
from his days with the Manchester force but more from running that city's historic Town Hall Tavern, also owned by brewers Bass. The portly, club tie-wearing men bussed in for these cloistered but boisterous gatherings were none other than the Honourable Order of BassDrinkers. The Order was formed in Manchester from among policemen, newspapermen and licenceeswhose joint passion was the consuming of Draught Bass.This they did from pints, since it was forbidden in the Order to drink from halves. (This rule consequently excluded Saddle regular "Two Halves Derek", who had been told by his doctor to "switch to halves" to reduce his blood pressure and who had, ever since, scrupulously ordered and drank two halves at his every visit to the bar.) A barrel of its finest cask was sent by the Burton-based brewery to be consumed by members at each meeting and the landlord provided butties or pies. The Order, formed many years before the Campaign for Real Ale, proudly continues to this day. When the larger Camra group invited it to affiliate, the Order responded in typically cussed fashion by suggesting Camra join the HOBD- as I did one dark, unguarded evening in Manchester, where it met back then at the Unicorn pub. We had travelled in a hired Blackpool Handybus, made handier by bus inspectors who were Order members. After a short speech explaining myself, everyone at the meeting voted unanimously against my joining - which automatically made me a member. This was typical of the perverse thinking of the Order, where the treasurer would be booed if any monies remained in the coffers. At regular intervals the
meeting's proceedings (usually involving freeloading approachesto the brewery or news of distant inns displaying the red triangle emblem of Draught Bass)were interrupted by a chorus of "Gerremin!" - to refresh members' throats and stretch legs. Their tie, by the way, boasted the red triangle and a single stripe. "We also do one with two stripes," treasurer Terry Batty (Senior) informed me. "Oh, how do you get one of those?" asked I. "Die," he said. "They're only awarded posthumously - to the widow." Unfortunately, as the Order meets only on first Mondays of the month and then more often in Manchester than Blackpool, I decided to resign and sent a suitably composed letter. But I'm still a member after receiving a visit post haste by then chairman, haulier Richard Brigg. "You can't resign," he said, "it's against the rules."
8. Bob the Brush
RESPECTEDelder tradesman Robert Townsend, better known in Great Marton and through Blackpool as "Bob
the Brush", typifies the best of a dying breed of artisans. Bob was also the inspiration behind my murder mystery novel Advantage Love (see Feelgood Books on royedmonds-blackpool.com). He's a quiet but friendly character of shortish, stocky build (perfect for edging around ladders or, indeed, balancing one with a couple of pots of paints) and wears his trade proudly. Have you noticed how painters and decorators always have spatters of white paint on their working clothes?But Bob never got paint anywhere it wasn't wanted. I know becausehe's refreshed She Who Knows' colour schemesat Edmonds Towers - in a skilled, respectful working style now almost unique. Bob's a gentle man in all sensesof those words, but can look after himself. He's done a bit with the gloves over the years, and that's not painting. He learned his craft with large decorating firms from the resort's past, including fellow Saddle Inn regular Burt Knight (see 3.An Uncommon Lot earlier). "But they changed, as younger men took over," he explains with heartfelt regret. In recent years he worked mostly alone, despite not driving. "They just didn't have respect for people's homes, or do the job right," he explains, "it embarrassed me to be associated with them." Bob has his code, instilled from years ago in true tradesman tradition. "I never smoke in people's housesand only go into rooms where I'm working. If you invite me to make a brew, then I would use the kitchen - but not otherwise. If I want
a smoke I go outside." Neither does Bob require a radio blasting away to do his work. He doesn't disappear halfway through a job and always leaves your place tidy. It's a pleasure having him in the house, as it is sharing a drink and chat. At the Saddle, here in Great Marton, there were many such tradesmen once. Men proud of their craft but also respectful of others. They often appeared for a quick one or two after finishing a job, standing discreetly by the doorway - not wishing to dirty upholstery or get in others' way. Later they might return, showered and changed and with their wives to socialise. They gave you a fair price for a job and did it honestly to the best of their considerable abilities. Sadly, we won't see their like again.
9. Room for Change
THEmotto of Blackpool Corporation is Progressand that dynamic, along with a brash showmanship and canny eye for trade, made this seaside town Europe's premier resort. Besides, as we all know or soon learn, time and tide wait for no man. So it was that Blackpool's oldest pub, the quaint but stubbornly old-fashioned Saddle
Inn at proud Great Marton, was ripe for change. Or so, at least, its owner the brewer Bassdecided. For decadesthe pub's back room, called the Commons, had echoed to the robust humour of working men and their gals; the rattle of domies, and crackle of a real coal fire. And so, fortunately, it more or less remains to this day. The walls still display pictures of sporting greats (though quite a few have disappeared during bouts of redecoration), and the only gesture to modern life is a discreet, flat-screen telly showing horse racing. No, as ever, it was the soft middle classeswho took the brunt of change. The law and new landlords had already made alterations to the pub's other rooms. Marton's council no longer existed, so its leading lights no longer held court in the cosiest haven, the Lords. Also, discrimination laws in the late 70s meant it had to admit women. But the room still had its regulars at lunchtimes, "early doors" and evenings. These included Stan, a Glaswegian police inspector who used to happily escort other drivers home who'd had a few too many; then there was a retired but hearty farmer and wife who together filled an entire corner. But all would join in a cross-room chat while always sitting in their usual seats.
Similarly, the pub's front "Smoking Room" was kept like a best lounge for those wanting a quiet chat or bit of
peace. This, ironically, was converted into a non-smoking room by popular managers Don and Pam Ashton. Equally controversially, they introduced food so a serving hatch now appeared in the bar area and, sadly, dogs were banned to meet hygiene requirements. To be fair, the couple were ahead of their time and also started the Saddle's legendary beer festivals in a car park marquee. However, the changesdrove away many veterans, such as Two Halves Derick or the quiet but stern Special Branch officer Mike. Thus it was that a change came over the place's atmosphere and standards slipped - resulting in more swearing and swaggering newcomers and less respect for old regulars (well, Mike had been known to carry a gun!) Former pub stalwarts now took refuge up the road in Marton Institute (still run strictly and offering cheaper cask ale). Hence the expression becoming "institutenalised". However, the most dramatic change came earlier in big John Moore's reign. During an expensive makeover when the bar's linoleum was replaced by fancy quarry tiles, the Lords' door and separating wall also disappeared, along with the open stairs where John and his bevy of daughters had long stood. True, it made the pub appear larger but this extra space only appeared to attract more standing drinkers and, horror of horrors, various one-armed bandits coining more cash for the brewery. (Fortunately the worst, those with twinkling lights or
silly theme music, were regularly switched off by regulars with a crafty flick of their heels to the plug-switches.) Finally, the old drinking times were swept away by new licensing laws. People no longer had to restrict their socialising to lunch or evening - the pub was open all day. While this offered flexibility, one could no longer expect to see the same people at a similar time each day. Also, it was difficult for staff to keep the place spruced up and, of course, there were those who simply drank too much. Yes, folks, â€˜progressâ€™ had arrived.
10. Mandela Man
WHENbrewery alterations opened up the Lords, that most hallowed room in the Saddle Inn at Great Marton, one man voiced the concerns of many. "Look at the people getting in here now!" said Peter, with a disgusted look round the crowded bar. He himself was an impressive sight: standing six foot tall and solid, big shoulders back and chest out. He had a massive head, quite bald, and his weathered face was rounded off in a bristly red beard. He stood just inside the doorway, legs firmly apart as though braced against
the elements; wearing sheepskin boots, cords and checked shirt. He reminded me of one of those stubborn, tough, Boer farmers, or a trapper and frontiersman from the Wild West. "They're all a***holes!" he concluded and not in any whisper. Newcomers and ne'erdo-wells who did meet his fierce countenance quickly looked away. He would glare, watching them with contempt for a while, then return silently to his pint of mild. We had got chatting one evening and tended to meet up by routine, early on a Saturday night. More recently he has turned to the Institute down the road for likeminded companionship, but we occasionally bump into each other in Stanley Park where he walks his wiry hound. He's always friendly but is a no-nonsensesort of man and, needlessto say, far from politically correct. I admired him for standing his ground, particularly one night when a couple of young men - not regulars - were swearing loudly and obviously offending old ladies on a nearby table. Peter warned them to watch their language but they only stared in disbelief then, minutes later, carried on. "Hold that," he muttered to me, handing over his pint. "Right, you two, out!" he ordered the offending pair, picking up their drinks and putting them on the bar in front of a bewildered barmaid, then stood in his usual braced pose. They left. No, he wasn't a man for winds of change, as Macmillan had called the sweep of
reform through Africa and the Third World. Like many old-timers then in the Saddle, he was a hang-em high, right of Genghis Khan sort of guy. On the night he acquired his nickname, most of the world had been watching the releaseof world statesman Nelson Mandela from his long penury in South Africa. The great man was being honoured in Wembley by a galaxy of leaders and celebrities. To tell the truth, the historic moment brought tears to my eyes as I watched it unfold on television. So I was a bit later than usual to the Saddle that Saturday. As I entered its portals, however, a familiar figure filled the entrance hall. "Sorry I'm late," I gushed, still flushed from the moving events, "been watching the welcome for Nelson Mandela." The big, ruddy face stared down at me then frowned. Surely he understood who I meant, the whole world now knew of the great African and his lifelong crusade for freedom. Peter's face set and he shook his head in dismay, before pronouncing grimly: "They should have shot that bastard, as soon as they caught him."
12. Yank in the Saddle
BY the early 1990sBlackpool's oldest inn at Great Marton was being opened up to big changes. Its annual beer festival marquee brought in hundreds of extra drinkers and annoyed locals who had nowhere to park. But one newcomer stood out . . . behind the bar.
Greg, a giant Californian, had come on holiday courting a local girl and also fallen in love with the cosy, old inn. It was where his future mother-in-law had been a barmaid and his father-in-law Big John the Rock Maker (Blackpool confectionery, that is) drank nightly. Although a highly paid resort manager from the West Coast, Greg left it all behind and became an assistant manager at the pub. Besideshis devotion to Draught Bass,Greg also brought American style service to the old hostelry. Downtrodden locals would shuffle in from the rain for a pint and be rocked back on their heels by his sunshine manner. "Good afternoon, sir!" Greg would greet them. "And how are you today?" "Not bad, ta," came the muttered response, followed by a polite, "and y'self?" "Fabulous sir!" Greg would declare. "And what can I serve you with today? Bitter? Why certainly, sir. We have six excellent cask ales to choose from and that king of beers itself, Draught Bass.What would be your pleasure? Bass?Good choice, sir!"
It was like a breath of fresh air, which inspired the young, local staff and added a cosmopolitan air to Great Marton's favourite watering hole. Greg was also large enough to quell any noisy troublemakers with one warning glance, rather like a gunslinger of old. Sadly, the brewery never did appreciate his talents to the full. Gregg and his lovely wife eventually went back stateside. But they still make a regular pilgrimage to this coast and his first question is always the same. "How is the Bass?"
12. Rough 'n' Ready
LIKEsociety in general, the times of the toffs have gone at Great Marton's once cosy Saddle. Regulars used to include doctors, architects, senior policemen, company directors and (of course) journalists. But now it's the age of the working man. Just as in the New World, as they call our old colonies, every one's equal these days - just all guys together in the States, or blokes in Australia. That's as it should be but can also
Round in what was once the Lords room of the Saddle, is now what I call Builders' Corner of its L-shaped bar - with plasterers, joiners, painters and brickies comparing work stories and golf handicaps. Funnily enough, electricians seem to congregate separately to enjoy whatever switches them on. Meanwhile, in the Commons, a retired, old salt or navyman and former coal miner reign or, at least, manage the remote control to watch racing (minus volume thankfully). Also, the former Smoking Room is mostly for diners these days. Fortunately, if you're looking for diversity there are characters aplenty (plus advice on DIY) among this down-to-earth crowd. However, none was more colourful that the late J.R. To start with, J.R.came from the now non-existent Westmorland in the Lakes, complete with a whining country accent that cut the urban air like one of his angle grinders. However, by the time he passed on in his 60s - while still bragging he'd outlive us all - a coachload plus many cars of mourners followed him from Blackpool to where he was buried, by Ullswater and his native fells. J.R.was a hustler at dominoes, no slouch with the ladies and a fund of wry tales told with a merry gleam in his well-weathered eyes. He was also a highly skilled stonemason and Jack of All Trades. "One thing I always regret," he told me, "was a stone I replaced in Carlisle Cathedral
spire. Didn't take time and do it just right - aih!" he wailed, "I were younger then and in a rush, y'see." Here he shook his head in dismay. "Makes me fair cringe every time I drive by, it does." J.R.needn't have worried. His memory and name are secure in the Saddle annals. By reputation at least, he is likely to outlive us all.
13. A Barmaid's Smile
OVERthe years the Saddle Inn has won many awards for its beer and traditional style. Landlords, notably Don Ashton who started the legendary beer festivals and more recently real ale fan and popular Fleetwood lad Alan Bedford, have been lauded by the Campaign for Real Ale and others. However, for most patrons it's the bar staff who, along with a drop of what they fancy, bring solace and cheer. "Served with a smile as wide as a barmaid's buttocks!" might have rung true in old days, when barmaids were often matronly as well as comely. But nowadays bar staff have slimmed down (with a few lovable exceptions) and glammed up - and
that's just the boys! For many years they have put up with grumbles from diehards demanding their tankards be filled to the brim, smiled at the same jokes and taken only 10p "for themselves" (now finally risen to 20p). They're invariably loyal, willing to dress up in fancy dress when required and look after the regulars better than the breweries or pub managing companies. How can we thank them? Raise anew our glass and say "cheers".
14. Taking the Mick
SADLYthe Saddle Inn is no longer the remarkably unspoiled and cosy pub so cherished by locals and admired along the coast and beyond. It was once the flagship of brewer Bass.Yet now its premier ale Draught Bassheartily prescribed by Blackpool's leading bowel consultant - is sometimes unavailable. Such unthinkable omissions have caused havoc with the digestion of regulars such as Storming Norman who have drunk little
else for half a century. Even the pub's proud welcoming signs have been replaced by tacky posters promoting cheap booze, bust-a-gut bargain grub and gambling-arcade scams. Yet, inside those once hallowed portals, the much-loved hand-pumps still stand proud along with many long-serving patrons. Quality beer - and characters - remain and still make the inn a pleasure to visit. Its front "smoking room", as was, is now mainly a dining room with a fragrance similar to the nearby chippy, and often attracting groups who appear suitable casesfor care in the community. The recklessly enlarged, L-shaped bar was described on one real ale website as "a bear pit". Fortunately, the old Commons room remains a relative haven for convivial chat, chessand studying horse racing form before a stroll across Whitegate Drive to the bookies. For my own part there is my corner in the late afternoon or early evening. We put up with the flat-screen telly just above our heads as its sound has thankfully been turned off. From this vantage point one can spot - and exchange greetings with if desired - all those entering front and rear doors, or visiting the conveniences, while also admiring the barmaids. Yet it is still possible, while idly leaning there, to
sidestep any bores. Regulars are known to each other by first names and jobs or other identifying features. By far the most popular moniker is Mick. There's Little Mick, Window-cleaner Mick, Tiler Mick, Karen's Mick (previously Mick the Plasterer before retiring), Train Driver Mick (formerly Ponytail Mick, prior to going spiky and changing jobs) and, not least, the longest-serving, most loyal patron, Original Mick. Beneath our feet the floor was once plain, honest linoleum. But now, after several short-sighted makeovers, it is a malodorous, black mulch that was once premium Axminster. You wouldn't use these remains to carpet a kennel but the Micks gamefully put up with it. You see, they've grown used to the powers that be taking the Mick. Some regulars say the Saddle's slide started when the the bar was enlarged by opening the old Lords room; then gaming machines appeared; meals began being served; loudspeakers rattled from walls, and tellies in corners. They even took away our stained glasswindows, lost original paintings and cartoons, painted tastelessly over old woodwork and, incredibly, were only stopped from taking out the hand-pumps by manager Don Ashton.
Fortunately, a pool table would not fit through the old pub's doors; preposterous karaoke sessions were outlawed after noise complaints; unwelcome donkey rides and bouncy castles have disappeared from the beer garden, while regulars have craftily disconnected or switched off more annoying electronic gadgets. Despite all the inappropriate and ill-considered changesfrom brewers, harassed managers and profit-chasing pub chains, some of the original pleasures of the inn remain. The Saddle along with nearby St Paul's remain at the heart of Great Marton. Even today you can expect a friendly welcome, though the regulars change according to time of day. There remain fine ales, coal fires in winter and a down-to-earth chat with ready laughter while, beyond its old windows, the nether world of breezy Blackpool rolls by. That stuffed saddle which once hung above the entrance may now be gone, but our coast's most historic stabling inn still refreshes parts others cannot reach. So, mount up and mosey on down!