lancashire art deco

(Above: The Art Deco Midland Hotel, Morecambe)

It’s a building I’ve always loved – along with the period from which it came. It looks modern but it was opened in July 1933, at the height of the Art Deco movement in architecture and design. Morecambe, along with most of the classic ‘railway seaside resorts’ has had its fair share of economic challenges since, but the ‘mighty Midland’ remains classy, elegant and, above all, popular.

(Above: taken in the summer, this photo shows the full curved design of this 1930s masterpiece, a shape that allowed guests unrivalled views across Morecambe Bay)

The hotel was designed by Oliver Hill with interior decoration by Eric Gill. It lies across the main promenade from the station building of the old London, Midland and Scottish Railway, which, at its height, was one of the largest railway companies in Britain.

All the railways hotels owned by the group were named ‘Midland Hotel’. There were also close ties with the nearby ferry port of Heysham, from which ships travelled to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

(Above: an arty shot taken through the ornamental grasses of Morecambe’s promenade)

The Midland has always been a favourite of celebrities. These have included Coco Chanel, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Noel Coward. The hotel was the centre of a swathe of Art Deco buildings that made 1930’s Morecambe world famous. Among these were the ‘Super Swimming Stadium’, one of the largest Lidos in the world, with a main dimension of over 400 ft. and the ability to accommodate 1200 bathers and a further 3000 spectators.

(Above: the Super Swimming Stadium, opened in 1933. Image Pinterest)

Sadly, the rising costs of running this old pool resulted in it being demolished in the 1970s, but there may be good news for the town and the region in the shape of the Eden Project North – a vast marine centre, reflecting the bio-diversity of Morecambe Bay. The plan (below) to build a four-dome marine centre on the site of the old Super Swimming Stadium is in its final planning stages.

(Above: the Eden Project North, to be built on the site of the old Super Swimming Stadium, is hopefully in the final stages of planning and funding)

The designer of the Art Deco Midland Oliver Hill was a visionary who believed that such buildings, backed by the ‘spirit of the new’ that so typified the 1930s. He realised that the new hotel would give him a chance to put into practice his vision and took personal control of its creation and construction.

Hill observed that “You have here a unique opportunity of building the first really modern hotel in the country.” Hill also took a keen interest in furniture, décor, upholstery and costumes and had gained a reputation for his extravagant interiors, using such materials as glass, chromium, vitrolite, marble and exotic woods.

Hill believed that the exterior design should be intimately linked to the interior decor, and followed the details right down to the colour of the hand towels and the shape of the door handles. He saw these as counterpoints to the austerity of (1930s) modern architecture, providing harmony and balance in an age that was considered quite shocking… and often ‘cold’.

(Above: “Old Triton’ one of the best of the Eric Gill murals – set at the top of the Deco spiral stairway)

The Midland Hotel is also famous for its sculptures and murals. Oliver Hill commissioned the renowned sculptor and engraver Eric Gill to carve two seahorses for the outside of the building. Inside the building he carved a circular medallion in the ceiling overlooking the staircase. It shows a sea god being attended by mermaids and is edged with the words “And hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn”. Gill also designed an incised relief map of the Lake District and the Lancashire coast for a wall of the South Room, which is today the Eric Gill Suite.

(Above: tea on the terrace, anyone?)

Sadly, the hotel fell into disrepair from the 1970s onwards, like much of the rest of the town. The Midland Hotel was forced to close its doors in 1998, and stood derelict and at the mercy of the sea for nearly ten years.

In 2006 the Manchester-based property developer, Urban Splash, finally began restoring and refurbishing the building. Without Urban Splash this beloved hotel would have been demolished.

The success of what Urban Splash achieve was totemic for Morecambe; and galvanised the old town into seeing that things could change. The council began to redevelop the entire promenade – all three miles of it! Today, Morecambe is talked about as an example of a Victorian resort climbing out of the ashes of its past – whilst retained the best parts of its history.

The Midland re-opened its doors on the 1st June 2008, with beautifully restored existing features, such as the grand cantilevered staircase and a number of artworks by Eric Gill.

It’s easy and reasonably priced to dine at the Midland. The Rotunda bar admits dogs, and the Murder Mystery evenings are really well done, and lots of fun. We took our French relatives for one of these evenings three years ago. The murder theme was based on the TV series ‘Allo, allo.’ The leading actor was playing a Frenchman and came round to our table to introduce himself. I explained that we actually had two French people with us… he stared at me in horror before saying, “Zut, alors, what could possibly go wrong!)

I’ve written quite enough for one blog, but hope to do more on this subject in the future. Time to let the timeless and beautiful lights of the mighty Midland’s front doors say night night…


©Stephen Tanham 2021

Photographs by the author unless otherwise stated.

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being. and

“The best day, ever” in Eden

They were watching me from the side of a steep bank that frames the inner edge of a huge surface of concrete which will soon be Eden North, replicating – but with differences – the internationally famous Eden Project in Cornwall.

The space used to be Bubbles swimming pool and, before that, was the renowned Super Swimming Stadium, the centre of so many children’s holidays before their parents discovered you could get more reliable sunshine than Morecambe’s on a suddenly affordable Spanish Costa Brava.

They all died a kind of death, then, the Victorian seaside towns… But some of us keep the faith, if only for that steaming mug of a ‘milky coffee’ in the depths of freezing winter, when we’ve finished the dog-walk.

The two young girls. I had seen them arrive a few minutes, before – with their mother. She looked the very picture of care-worn but caring. It’s a look you see a lot in poor seaside towns… Morecambe has been a long time in the doldrums, but there is a light on the horizon; one begun by Urban Splash’s refurbishment of the Midland Hotel – a surviving Art Deco masterpiece.

We had the first night of our honeymoon there, in 2010, a year after its opening. Bernie is from Morecambe… well, actually, Heysham, its sister town a few miles to the south. It’s pronounced Hee-sham, not Hay-sham. She’s very particular about that, so I thought I’d better include it! We both love Art Deco, and had followed the hotel’s rebirth with a great deal of pleasure.

The new Eden North promises to make a great difference to this once-proud resort. It can’t happen soon, enough. The Eden people know what we have never forgotten; that across the vastness of Morecambe Bay lies the whole vista of the Lake District…

It takes a seed of something to bring true life back to a place or a person who has become sad… in body, spirit, career, in their home, in their life… Sometimes, you don’t know you have the power to do this until you find yourself equipped – often in the most unexpected way.

I looked at the frustrated collie and I threw the cheap frisbee again. The wind was behind me and defeated what little aerodynamic soundness it had. You don’t get much from the seafront beach stop for three quid. It had been two, but I decided to add another two ‘tennis’ balls to the bag so that we had a spare in case Tess (the collie) lost one. Her frustration with Dad had begun when we got to North Beach for her usual ball or frisbee session of sandy madness and discovered that the ball and chucker were still in the back of the departing Toyota, now too far away towards Sainsbury’s and shopping to call back. “Perhaps a stone or two?” I had said, weakly, into the betrayed hazel eyes, knowing the result…

Now, twenty minutes and five hundred yards further south, the cheap frisbee was suddenly seized by the wind and carried along the vast concrete expanse in a motion that I can only describe as ‘skittering’. Round and round it turned, whilst travelling at increasing speed towards the grassy boundary – within sight of the Midland Hotel.

The collie’s interest was renewed by this magical motion and, howling, she sped after it, only to snap her strong jaws over its momentarily upended motion and break it in two.

You don’t get much from the beach shop for two quid.

The two young girls were now only yards away from me – and squealing with delight at Tess’s antics. I turned to look at their joyous faces – full of simple happiness – and asked if they’d like to have a go… but I could see the disappointment as they gazed on the distant plastic ruin, now in two bits and still being blown onto the distant grass.

The tennis balls! I had forgotten those…

“Would you like a go with Tess and a tennis ball?” I asked, looking up at an anxious Mum still on the promenade. I smiled and waved, showing her that her lovely kids were in safe hands.

“Could we?” asked the eldest girl.

“Of course,” I said, delving into the bag and extracting one of the new tennis balls. The eldest sister smiled and took it.

“We’re on holiday,” she said.

“I’m on holiday, too,” added her younger sister, looking very proud of the fact that they were in this adventure together.

“How about you take turns,” I said, gently.

The eldest bobbed her head. The youngest almost bowed hers. Tess trotted up to her new friends, tail wagging, mightily. Things were looking up… The girls stared adoringly at the collie.

When both girls had taken a turn, the eldest offered me back the ball.

“You can have a few more goes if you like?” I said.

And that’s when it happened… The elder sister looked across at her mum and turned back to me, saying, as she danced a step, “This is the best day ever…”

I can only say that I was broken at that moment; and fought to suppress the tears that formed, not wanting to spoil their fun. That such a simple act of kindness could have brought them so much joy was so very… unexpected.

I pretended to fumble with the ball and composed myself.

“How about we have one go each and three rounds of it all?” I asked.

“That would be nine chucks!” said the younger girl, laughing at the chance to show off her arithmetic.

Nine chucks later they looked up at their mother, who was moving slowly along the prom and waving at them. She looked happy with the turn of events, though she had kept her distance.

The youngest gave me back our ball. “Thank you!’ she beamed. “We’re off to the beach, now.”

I could see the excitement on their faces at this further delight. And then I remembered the small carrier bag by my ankles.

“Do you have your beach tennis balls?” I asked, conspiratorially.

Two earnest little heads shook, negatively.

“Better take these, then,” I winked, passing them the little white bag. “Go now! Your mum is waiting!”

They danced off, but the eldest turned to wave, one final time, before they took their mother’s hand.

My own young grandchildren – two girls – live in Australia. One day when they visit, I hope to bring them to see the new Eden; and point down to where the barren concrete was; on the best day, ever…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.