Skegness is a popular seaside town located on the Lincolnshire coast of the North Sea. Known for its sandy beaches, it is a traditional destination for holiday-makers from across the UK. Its famous mascot, the Jolly Fisherman, was created for a railway poster in 1908, promoting Skegness as a tourist destination. The town is home to several attractions, including Skegness Pier, Natureland Seal Sanctuary, and Fantasy Island. It also has a vibrant nightlife, with plenty of pubs, clubs, and restaurants. It’s a place that truly encapsulates the classic British seaside experience.
Its history dates back to Roman times, but it remained a small fishing village until the 19th century. The introduction of rail in 1873 sparked its transformation into a popular tourist destination. The iconic “Jolly Fisherman” poster was designed by John Hassall and was accompanied by the slogan “Skegness is so bracing”. Over the years, Skegness has seen the development of many landmarks and in 1936 a Butlin’s holiday camp – shortly before my father and his parents’ summer holiday motoring visit in 1938.
In those days, Skeggy was a beacon of entertainment and relaxation for families, with its vast sandy beaches, bustling amusement arcades, and the iconic Skegness Pier. Butcher’s Gardens, now known as Tower Gardens, provided a tranquil escape with its beautiful floral arrangements. Skegness Pier was originally opened in June 1881. At the time, as well as being the fourth longest in England, it was also considered to be one of the finest. The pierhead can be seen (below) in the background as my father straddles a donkey.
A scene that can’t be duplicated now as the pier is reduced to a stump that barely reaches the high tide mark. A severe northerly gale and storm surge on 11 January 1978 brought disaster to Skegness, Margate, Herne Bay and Hunstanton piers and caused irretrievable damage. Skegness’ decking was reduced in length to 127 yards with the pierhead and its theatre becoming marooned in the sea.
Nothing came of various grand plans aimed at restoring the structure. The isolated pierhead became derelict and was earmarked for demolition. Further reduced by fire, by 1986 all had been removed leaving a not unattractive stump which remains popular with tourists as do donkey rides.
Meanwhile, walking along the promenade my grandparents and father are pictured all three together presumably captured by a professional street photographer. The building in the background and the wooden fence are distinctive. However, a quick walk up and down the prom (which separates between South Parade, Grand Parade and North Parade about the pier) on Street View failed to find the exact spot. There is some new build along the avenue but much of the feel of an old English seaside resort remains.
The actual seafront isn’t on Street View but satellite images show a double wall structure with steps and shelters (I think) just north of the pier on Skegness North Beach. In which case the greenery in the background of the 1938 photograph will be the boundary of what would have been North Parade Gardens.
As a further reminder of the storm clouds gathering over the late 1930s, my father is pictured grim-faced practising his tank traps and fox holes. Time well spent as eight years later he was to leave school and begin a career in construction punctuated by National Service in the Royal Engineers.
Skegness’s proximity allowed for a day trip to the Royal Family’s Sandringham Estate where last time we compared the bucket and spade holidays of the patriotic masses to the Duke of Windsor’s 1938 jaunt along the French Riviera accompanied by his questionable loyalties and Continental leanings.
Meanwhile on the Continent
The previous autumn, that of 1937, the Duke and Duchess had visited Germany. The newspapers of the time reported a visit to the Krupp armaments factory at Essen and a trip 1600ft underground at a nearby coal mine. Between the two, streets were lined with locals shouting ‘heil’. In Leipzig, a huge crowd behind a police cordon thronged the platform at the railway station when the Duke and Duchess arrived.
The night of Thursday 21st October was spent in a sleeper carriage in sidings at Stuttgart. The next day the train proceeded to the halt for the Berchtesgaden where it arrived at 1:19 pm. Newspaper reports had the dignitaries reaching Hitler’s chalet by car at 2:30 pm. The Duke was hatless and wore a grey suit. Hilter took the Duke and Duchess on a tour of his retreat which included conversation in his study. Herr Schmidt of the German Foreign Office acted as translator.
Some journalists reported tea was served on a balcony overlooking the Bavarian mountains with a view along the valley to Salzburg, Austria, a few miles from Hitler’s birthplace. Others told of inclement weather obliging tea to be served indoors. Herr Hitler bade farewell to his guests on the front steps of the chalet by taking the hands of the Duchess between his and shaking them cordially. Then he turned to the Duke, shook his hand and gave a Nazi salute which the Duke returned.
By 4:30 pm the Duke and Duchess were back at the railway halt and about to leave for Munich by special train. There the royal couple were dinner guests of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess. Afterwards, they stayed overnight at the Hotel Vier Jahres Zeiten where they occupied the same suite Hitler used in 1934 during his Night of the Long Knives push against his opponents within the Nazi Party. A large crowd watched before the accommodations hoping for a glimpse of the royal VIPs.
The next evening, after visiting an exhibition of German art, they entrained on the Orient Express for the journey back to Paris.
Two years later, and a year after my family’s visit to Sandringham, Britain and France declared war on Germany upon the September 1st invasion of Poland. The outbreak of hostilities found the Duke in the South of France. On 11th September 1939 Reuters reported the Duke and Duchess to have left Cannes and to be heading for London. Still Colonel in Chief of the Welsh Guards, the Duke was reported as being ‘anxious to help’ and upon returning to his former kingdom intended to attach himself to a British regiment.
Arriving back on the 12th, the Duke’s party stayed at Admiralty House, Portsmouth, the residence of the Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Hampshire port. The following day, the Duke was received by the King at Buckingham Palace, the first meeting between the brothers for nearly three years. However, the Duke stayed overnight at South Harfield, Ashdown Forest, the home of a Major Metcalf. The newspapers authoritatively stated that the Duke would be taking up a war appointment. Within days the War Office had announced the Duke had been appointed to the rank of Major-General and would be given a staff appointment abroad. Subsequently billeted to a chateaux ‘somewhere in France’, upon the invasion of that country in May 1940 the Duke and Duchess were hastily removed to Spain and thence to Portugal.
Within weeks a United States registered liner, the Excalibur, was taking the couple along with 123 other passengers across the Atlantic. Appointed Governor and Commander in Chief of the Bahamas, the Duke and his dubious loyalties and Continental leanings were now thousands of miles away. A safe distance from a conflict with the Duke’s old acquaintance which had started badly for Britain and her half-hearted Gallic ally. But Before we judge the Duke of Windsor too harshly, we must recall that he was of his times. Speaking of which, as I mentioned in the last episode, there is a confidence I must share with Puffins.
A girl around the corner
My grandfather grew up in Morley Street, Carlisle, a fine working/lower middle-class terrace which thrives to this day. The cobbled street joins Nelson Street to the east and, at the other side of the Atlas Works less than 200 yards from the family home, stood the stoutly built respectable house of the White family. My family and the Whites will have known each other by sight. Given the tight-knit nature of such pre-war communities, they must also have known each other by name. Mr White had lived in Manchester and moved to Carlisle to work at Coats Viyella, a textiles mill which only closed in the 1990s. When we were doing our courting, Mrs AWS lived opposite the site as it was being cleared. Fred Dibnah demolished the chimneys.
The Whites had a daughter, Margaret Cains White, born in 1911. Only three years younger than my grandfather, they will have been contemporaries. As a young woman during the challenging 1930s, Margaret and others stood about Carlisle Market Cross speaking and leafleting on behalf of the Brutish Union of Fascists. They sowed to fertile ground. The Union was to establish offices in Carlisle and, after a 1935 general election in which the Union abstained, the party announced candidates for the next general election with Carlisle and nearby Westmoreland being two of its top targets.
When Margaret travelled a short distance over the border to hear party leader Sir Oswald Mosley speak she joined three thousand others packed into a drill hall in Dumfries. There she met William Joyce, Mosley’s deputy and chief of propaganda. Joyce was born in America in 1906. His family had moved to Ireland during his childhood and in the Irish uprising of 1919-1921 they moved again to England. Joyce studied at the University of London, became a teacher and joined the British Union of Fascists soon after it was founded by Mosley in 1932. By that time Sir Oswald was both a former Conservative MP (Harrow) and a former Labour MP (Smethwick). Within six weeks of meeting, William Joyce and Margaret White were married with the couple subsequently leaving the British Union to form their own more pro-German party.
Days before the start of the Second World War, fearing they were about to be arrested and interned, the Joyces fled to Germany. William volunteered for the German war effort and became famous for his Lord Haw-Haw ‘Germany calling’ propaganda broadcasts from Hamburg. Goebbels was to describe Joyce as the ‘best horse in my stable.’ Joyce’s final broadcast was on April 30th 1945 after which he and Margaret fled to Flensburg, the last capital of the Third Reich and a stone’s throw from relative safety across the border in Denmark. It being a border city and an important railway junction, ironically, Flensburg was later twinned with Carlisle. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS but disguised as an enlisted soldier, also made the same journey.
When questioned by British soldiers, Joyce’s accent was recognised and, after being shot in the confusion, papers were found concealed about his person proving the suspect to be Lord Haw-Haw. Himmler was also apprehended and died soon after by a self-administered cyanide pill. Joyce lived to face justice and was sent to England. On January 3rd 1946 he was hanged in Wandsworth Prison after being found guilty of high treason. Margaret, by now known as Lady Haw-Haw, escaped prosecution and died in London in 1972, aged 61.
Meanwhile, Sir Oswald had played his hand badly. After becoming mesmerised by Hilter and moving the Union towards an Axis-style National Socialism, support waned. The Conservative MP for Carlisle, Major-General Sir Edward Louis Spears, continued to complain in the House of Commons of leafleting by the Union in his constituency that urged peace with Germany. Spears need not have worried. By the end of the phoney war the British Union had been banned, Mosley and other senior figures were interned and any influence they once held had evaporated.
Across the war years, the working and middle classes’ disgruntled urge for change transferred to Atlee’s Labour Party. In the 1945 general election (the first since 1935), Atlee’s doomed New Jerusalem socialism gained a clear mandate. The consequences of dependency, welfareism and the nationalisation of public utilities burden our country to this day.
© Always Worth Saying 2023