An A-Z Journey Around Britain

43 Staithes


In 1992 the BBC released a film called Elvis, the Yorkshire Years. It featured a man from Staithes who used a name that may not have been authentic. Scott Davis worked as an Elvis Presley impersonator. Staithes has an inlet where the fishing boats dock, and to the left of the inlet there is a bay defined by two rocky cliffs. Davis lived on land high above the inlet. In 1992 he had returned home to Yorkshire after impersonating the King in Florida. Davis was frustrated by life in the depressed economy of Britain, and the film showed a nervous man preparing to gamble the rest of his life on a debut in Las Vegas. The film has merit and is still available from the BFI. In 1992 my two daughters were children. The film has uncensored language but my daughters had insisted on watching the film, and their mother had indulged them. During our holiday in Staithes that year, my two daughters and me walked past the home of Davis who that summer was back in England. We looked through the window and saw him in his living room and sitting on the sofa. Davis did not wear a white suit but he wore large glasses and flash clothes, and he had the hair. My kids jumped up and down with excitement. They had seen their first celebrity.

The only cars allowed to park in Staithes village belong to residents. Staithes is an escape from the modern world, unchanged because the automobile is tamed, and delightful because of the Yorkshire coastal landscape. Davis viewed its strength as limits and yearned to leave. It makes sense. The heroes of the modern world both inspire and infect, and village communities have a medieval dread of infection. Staithes has an annual festival but there are no musical events.   All the shops become art galleries and they present work by local artists. Davis was an outsider who needed Elvis and who yearned for Vegas. Other outsiders, though, have sought similar escape to Davis, and thirty of them settled in Staithes and grouped together to form the Northern Impressionists.   Their legacy contributes to the festival.


In 18th Century Britain not all wanderers were outsiders. Some travelled to survive. Captain James Cook is as famous as any of those Britons that did wander and he worked in Staithes as an apprentice grocer between 1745 and 1746. The fishing industry in Staithes would have been important then. At its peak there were eighty fishing boats in Staithes, some of them cobles, a weird mix of rowing boat and tent. Cook would have been able to watch the boats leave and arrive, sail past the beach and disappear in the broad sea between the two cliffs that define the bay. The store where he worked now has a plaque to commemorate Cook. The village has a museum that remembers the life of Cook. Like the museum the lifeboat station is open to the public. Both help the adults keep their children amused, or at least those who do not stare out between the cliffs and wonder, like Davis and Cook, what the hell it is that beckons them away.


Next week, the River Mersey makes a surprise appearance, Stockport

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.


An A-Z Journey Around Britain

42 Southport


Louis Napoleon Bonaparte lived in Southport between 1846 and 1848. After his Merseyside exile he returned to France to become Emperor. In Lancashire–Where Women Die Of Love the author Charles Nevin claims that Lord Street was the inspiration for the boulevards of Paris. As the French influence in Louisiana is obvious, perhaps Southport can be described as New Orleans with a lot less jazz. Many years ago I thought about buying a flat on Lord Street. If I had known about the presence and fate of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, I would have paid the deposit.

Southport is seventeen miles from Liverpool. I live halfway between the city and the town. From where I live to Southport there is a line of sand dunes.  Most of it is now maintained as a nature reserve. The locals of Southport are called ‘sandgrounders’.

My parents thought Southport posh. The people of Southport think the same when they stare up the coast at the visible Blackpool Tower. Foreign travel meant that Southport lost previous middle class appeal. Southport lacks the hedonistic edge of Blackpool but now the two resorts are both dependent on brief visits from working class tourists. In season the mood in the town is more vibrant than in the past.


Vikings dominated the early history of Southport. The Vikings did enough for the settlement of Otermigle to be recorded in the Domesday Book as consisting of 50 huts and 200 people. Sounds as if it was quite refined, even then.

Southport has a disproportionate share of the affluent and the elderly in its population. 10,000 of its 90,000 population are over 70 years old. The affluence ensures that Southport does not have a Labour MP.  But the town, despite local protests, is described as part of Merseyside, albeit its extreme tip, and the Tory candidate finished almost 7000 votes behind the Liberal Democrat MP.

The Tories console themselves by playing golf. Not sure what they do with all the sand but Birkdale Golf Club hosts the Open Championship. When not playing golf, the locals may struggle to find excitement. New Orleans had jazzman Louis Armstrong and it still has rhythm and blues great Irma Thomas. Southport has a lawnmower museum, although it is the only one in the UK. Apart from lawnmowers there is a theatre that offers nostalgic therapy or seaside novocaine.

Each year the Air Show boosts tourism, and so does the Orange Day Parade. The town has suffered serious vandalism during the latter. It may mean a stiff neck, and jet engines are noisy, but the locals prefer the Air Show.

Southport became a resort and something more than a Viking legacy after local innkeeper William Sutton built a bathhouse in 1792. The inn kept by Sutton still exists. It is called the Hesketh Arms and serves decent food and cask ales. Both the pub and the tasteful and impressive Wayfarers Arcade should be visited. I do not need to be intoxicated, though, to walk Lord Street and imagine Louis Napoleon Bonaparte sipping cognac near the flat I almost bought, a potential Emperor musing about what he could do to match the exploits of his famous uncle.

Next week, an Elvis impersonator and fish and chips, Staithes

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.