Oh, we do like baby

Ge­off Wright takes a look at the his­tory of South­port and nearby ar­eas

Southport Visiter - - Nostalgia -

TO­DAY’S fea­ture is a much re­quested one – look­ing at the heav­i­lyu­tilised fa­cil­ity, Wil­lett’s Day Nurs­ery, once sit­u­ated on “The Sands”, be­fore nestling against the pier, un­til the struc­ture’s site be­came the old aquar­ium, op­po­site the “Café on Stilts” – now the skate­board­ing park.

At the turn of the last cen­tury, Sunny South­port was still busy build­ing it­self a good rep­u­ta­tion as a fine lo­ca­tion for mass gath­er­ings – from a na­tional Sal­va­tion Army rally to im­pres­sive (and im­por­tant) mo­tor­car speed tri­als along the Prom­e­nade.

A pat­tern emerged that was to con­tinue with more ma­jor meet­ings and con­fer­ences, from the head teach­ers and na­tional min­ers unions to an­nual po­lit­i­cal party gath­er­ings.

Unions, church groups, and a star­tling ar­ray of other com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions, made their way to the usu­ally quiet sea­side town to demon­strate and ar­gue their point, or to make a show of sol­i­dar­ity.

Equally, as well as re­spond­ing to these masses and con­gre­ga­tions, Sunny South­port al­ways had the con­ve­nience of vis­i­tors and their chil­dren in mind.

To prove this, in 1908, South­port’s may­oress opened an em­bry­onic fa­cil­ity – named af­ter her self: Mary Wil­lett’s Ex­cur­sion­ists’ Day Nurs­ery – its aim be­ing to give all the par­ents here on hol­i­day and in the town a safe place to leave their chil­dren.

The “Ex­cur­sion­ists” were not mem­bers of a po­lit­i­cal or cam- paign­ing body – but the early name for day-trip­pers.

Nearly ev­ery­body nowa­days tries to get a day’s hol­i­day at the sea­side, and when par­ents take their day’s out­ing they must gen­er­ally take the chil­dren and even the baby with them.

That day is of­ten a dis­ap­point­ment and weari­ness to the younger chil­dren, ow­ing to its ex­ces­sive length and the ex­cite­ment of it all.

The par­ents, too, get tired out drag­ging their chil­dren round all day, and lit­tle or no ben­e­fit is ob­tained by ei­ther.

The Ex­cur­sion­ists’ Day Nurs­ery pro­vided a place for the chil­dren to rest and play, and be taken care of.

The work was car­ried on most sys­tem­at­i­cally, with the name and ad­dress of the par­ents en­tered into a book and a ticket is­sued, with a sim­i­lar one fas­tened to the child, with any heed­ful in­struc­tions in re­gard to feed­ing.

The founder of the sea­side re­sort’s first proper nurs­ery was Miss Mary Wil­lett, the sis­ter and con­sort of three-times Mayor of South­port, John Ed­dowes Wil­lett, once of Park Av­enue. Six years ear­lier she had opened the nearby Peter Pan’s Play­ground.

The Mary Wil­lett Ex­cur­sion­ists’ Day Nurs­ery was not the ortho­dox type of nurs­ery that al­lows par­ents to go out to work but a place where over­worked par­ents could leave their lit­tle ones, for a few hours, while they en­joyed them­selves on hol­i­day.

On the shore near the pier, a large ex­panse of the beach was set aside for this day nurs­ery, which was, as its ti­tle sug­gests, de­voted al­most ex­clu­sively to the ex­cur­sion­ists.

For the princely sum of six­pence, a child or baby could be left all day at this nurs­ery, man­aged by a com­mit­tee of ladies un­der the pres­i­dency of each May­oress of South­port.

It was akin to hand­ing your coat in at the theatre and be­ing given a ticket, while a sim­i­lar ticket slip was at­tached to your child; on your re­turn you passed over your ticket and your child was by given back to you.

There may still be or­gan­ised clubs for young­sters at hol­i­day re­sort ho­tels, but how times have changed – can you now imag­ine pass­ing over your baby or young­ster to a com­plete stranger on the beach?

The orig­i­nal 1908 nurs­ery struc­ture ap­pears to have been wooden, with a cor­ru­gated iron roof, which was perched on the beach – or rather “The

A lovely post­card of Wil­lett’s Day Nurs­ery on the South­port sands

A good in­te­rior view, above, show­ing some of the equip­ment be­low, one of the nurses with mothers and chil­dren

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