Oh, we do like baby
Geoff Wright takes a look at the history of Southport and nearby areas
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