RECREATIONS AND AMUSEMENTS.
Respecting amusements, little can be said, at least what is generally understood by the term. The occupation of visiters consists in promenading, riding, sailing, botanising, bathing, shopping, and lounging in the bazaars and libraries. The gentlemen amuse themselves with shooting (the neighbourhood abounding with game, and the shore, with wild fowl), frequenting the news-rooms, billiard-rooms, and bowling-greens, and, as well as the ladies, riding and walking.
For riding, upwards of two hundred donkeys, and about forty two and four-wheeled donkey carriages, ply for hire, the charge for which is sixpence per hour for the donkeys, and ninepence and one shilling and threepence per hour for the vehicles. It is a very amusing sight to see a party of visiters, mounted upon these long-eared steeds, proceeding in search of "Lost Farm," to Little London, or the Isle of Wight, the names of which two last-named places are positive misnomers, "the isle" being situated inland, and London merely a number of fishermen's cots and a house of entertainment for bipeds and quadrupeds.
For sailing, a number of excellent pleasure-boats, for rowing or sailing, are provided. During the season, a number of boats leave Southport daily for Lytham, a pretty village, nine miles distant, the church and houses of which are distinctly visible from the shore and Promenade. The charge for this sea voyage is extremely reasonable, one shilling to go and return. The time which is allowed to see Lytham of course depends upon the tide, but it is in general quite sufficient. So careful are the boatmen, that, although during the season several thousand persons avail themselves of a trip to Lytham, there is not a fatal case of accident on record. The boats sometimes take passengers to Blackpool and Liverpool, each distant about twenty miles, but not at any regular stated times. At every tide, even at midnight, the boats take passengers for a sail within a mile or two of the shore. Steamers occasionally come to Southport from Fleetwood, landing and receiving passengers at low-water: Liverpool, Blackpool, Fleetwood, Piel Castle, Furness Abbey, and other places, may be visited by this means, and when greater convenience for landing is provided sea trips will be very general.
For bathing, in addition to the extensive accommodation provided at the Victoria Baths, about seventy machines are, at tide time, in constant requisition. These vehicles, or "machines " as they are styled, are of a much superior description to those met with at other watering- places. They are four-wheeled, and, like some of the Liverpool ferry-boats, are contrived to avoid the necessity of turning them in the water; so that parties are taken into the water the requisite depth, and the horse is afterwards hooked to the opposite end to draw them back again. Regulations to insure decency and civility have been issued by the Commissioners, but there is rarely any cause of complaint, the civility and attention of the Southport bathers being often a subject of admiration with visiters.
Walking is principally confined to the streets, Promenade, and shore; there are, however, pleasant places in the neighbourhood which have been frequently admired for their romantic wildness and beauty. Nothing can cause more delightful sensations than a ramble over the sand-hills, from the tops of which we have extensive land and sea views and the "velvet walk," with its natural and luxuriant verdure, has a charm which may be better felt than described. The sand-hills, which are farmed, are inhabited by myriads of rabbits; beautiful lizards of various colours, and hundreds of rare plants, are also found.
Twelve or fourteen years ago the town used to have its annual boat races, Sir Hesketh Fleetwood (then lord of the manor) liberally contributing towards the funds: for some reason or other, no matter what, they were discontinued, and for a long time no attempt was made for their revival. The town had also its annual races, which were discontinued through the intervention of the late rector of the parish; they were held at Marshside, about two miles along the shore, where the starting-post may still be seen. In the early part of 1843, a number of the inhabitants, anxious to provide for the amusement of the visiters, determined to establish a kind of gala week. Subscriptions to some amount were obtained, and in the month of September, in the same year, the first, or, rather, the revived, Southport Regatta took place. The bill of fare included, in addition to the sailing and rowing prizes, a variety of rural sports (treacle dipping for instance), a grand display of fireworks, a concert, and a ball. The fete took and went off amazingly, and in the following year a similar routine of amusements was provided for those who delight in such exciting scenes. In 1845, an alteration was made in the character of this annual revel, the boat races being dispensed with, and the horse races improved; and in the two following years the races were still further improved, and rendered very attractive. "The Southport Meeting" is now considered to be firmly established, and its annual approach is looked for with considerable interest. Many thanks to those generous individuals who contribute their time and money in providing amusement for the public! The Southport Meeting! —a decided boon to the public; for if mirth and excitement are of any avail in recovering lost health, much assistance is obtained from this source. The Southport Meeting! —truly named, for one half of the inhabitants and visiters of the town appear at that time as if they had met on the Promenade and shore to meet the other half. The Southport Meeting! —a model of meetings, if such stirring events are desirable, for the utmost good order prevails, and he must be extremely fastidious who has discovered any cause of complaint in a mere casual view of the scene. "Honi soit qui mal y pense."
THE MAYOR AND SHERIFFS.
At the North Meols Fair, which is held at Churchtown on the Monday before the 20th of August, the Mayor and Sheriffs for the aforesaid Burgh and Vill are appointed and installed with much ceremony, the old ones retiring from office upon the appointment of their successors. The civic dignitaries then proceed in state to open the fair, and afterwards feast right merrily, not at the Mansion House, but, alternately, at the Hesketh Arms and Bold Arms Hotels. Southport has the peculiar and distinguished honour of providing theparish with mayors and sheriffs; and who shall say that the first urchin you meet is not an embryo mayor or sheriff, destined at some future time to fill these offices with all due dignity? The qualifications necessary for candidates for office are, that they shall be really and truly hearty, jovial, good fellows, of some standing in society, and, if we are rightly informed, be willing, if fully competent, to discuss their two bottles on the day of election.
THE BIG AND LITTLE BATHING SUNDAYS.
The "Big Bathing Sunday" is an event of no small importance to the principal parties interested, the inn-keepers, bathers, boatmen, and donkey drivers. This great Sunday has from time immemorial been appointed to take place on the nearest Sunday to the 20th of August, and at an early hour on that day shandries and vehicles of every description begin to arrive in the town; the stables and inn yards gradually become full, and hostlers reap a plentiful harvest. The shore is thronged with several hundred extra visiters: then are bathing-machines and gingerbread at a premium, donkeys brisk, and boats inclined for sail; and towards evening the rustics, for such they principally are, depart, as the newspapers say, "well satisfied with the proceedings of the day." There are also the annual "Little Bathing Sundays," which are big bathing Sundays on a smaller scale; or, medically speaking, "the mixture, as before."
During the winter, the Ridgway and South Lancashire Coursing Clubs meet at Southport for the enjoyment of that national sport; the neighbourhood being considered to be the best coursing ground in the kingdom. The Ridgway Club usually meets in December, and the South Lancashire Club has generally two or three meetings, one previous to that time and the others some time after. Other clubs formerly held their meetings here, but they have been either dissolved or meet elsewhere.
Concerts and entertainments take place "many a time and oft," and at the proper season Terpsichore is not forgotten.