Awash with memories


By Vera Marsden

Chris Kington Publishing Pounds 29.95

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, but when I last visited Southport, the sea was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I had arrived 100 years too late to catch the tide. Never mind - it was still possible to see the remains of the boom Victorian seaside town that Southport once was. One could track down prom and pier, winter garden and swimming baths, legacies of a glorious past that Southport shares with similar British coastal resorts.

Of course, Southport had some distinctive features. Its pier, for example, was once the longest in Britain, after Southend, reaching out on iron legs, desperately seeking that ever elusive briny. Walking down the arcaded Lord Street today, one can sense that its Victorian vitality has not yet faded.

Indeed, Southport thrives. Together with the surrounding suburban development, it now provides homes for nearly four times the population of a hundred years ago, many of its residents being Liverpudlian commuters.

If you happen to live in Southport or have a reason to undertake a historical or geographical study of the area, this is fascinating information. And if you are doing the latter, then Vera Marsden's file of pictures, photocopiable resources, maps and documents will be an invaluable resource.

Local studies involve a lot of legwork. For many that is part of their attraction, but raiding the archives to track down useful material or scouring the area for evidence can be very time-consuming.

The Marsden package hands you much of the evidence on a plate. Maps showing land use, population data and weather statistics (compared with nearby Manchester, it has 50 per cent more hours of sunshine) are helpfully included, although the historical documents, reprinted and cleaned up, are rather dull.

Real Enumerator's Returns, compiled by real Victorian hands, are much more fascinating than printed charts. And with a little more care to get the photographic angles matched, the pastpresent comparative pictures could have been made a bit more child-friendly. Nevertheless they are very useful.

There did seem to be an excess of general information though. The file includes "a staged approach to curriculum planning" and pages about a co-ordinator's role and the production of a policy document.

These are not particular to a study of Southport. Whether this extra material is of high quality or not is as far from the point as Southport appears to be from the sea. As a result, the file is a little less focused than its title leads one to believe.

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