Two years since Dad’s Army descended on Bridlington, Sue Wilkinson revisits the Old Town to chart its regeneration. Pictures by Richard Ponter.
Undoubtedly Bridlington Old Town – with its cobbled pathways, Georgian architecture, flowering planters and Victorian street lamps – is picturesque. It was those very charms that attracted the production team behind the big screen version of Dad’s Army. Its streets and shop facades were used in the story of Captain Mainwaring and his troops, but it is more than two years since Toby Jones, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy et al marched away.
As for the Old Town it is onwards and upwards – its regeneration started years before a film location manager spotted its star potential and it continues now.
Bridlington Old Town Association and East Riding Council have worked together on regeneration. The renaissance of Bridlington stretches beyond the Old Town into the centre and seafront. The south promenade, the beach chalets and the Spa have all undergone dramatic transformations.
“The Old Town is recognised as the cultural quarter of Bridlington,” says renaissance co-ordinator for Bridlington Denise Cowling. “But its disjointedness from the town was tricky. It is two miles from the seafront.”
This has been overcome by waymarkers and flyers, but more importantly it is about getting people to stay and see how much there is to do once they have got there.
“East Riding Council is committed to the Old Town and has completely bought into its regeneration. We have to be interested in it and ensuring it has sustainability,” says Cowling.
“It has more to offer than people expect and once they are here they are pleasantly surprised.”
There is, however, only so much that councils and committees can achieve – at the forefront of change have been and continue to be the residents and businesspeople.
“It is the tenacity of the people that is the driving force,” says Martyn Coltman, former chairman of Bridlington Renaissance Partnership. He had an art gallery in the Old Town before taking up the job of events manager at Bridlington Spa. After six years away, he is now back on his original turf with another business. He also owns an apartment on The Avenue in the Old Town.
“We have to keep footfall growing and doing more of the same, encouraging new businesses. But no matter how much you build you have to engage people as well,” he said.
It is tenacity like that shown by the owner of the Georgian Tearooms, Susan Tobias, who took over the premises two years ago, that Coltman is talking about. The property also includes three floors of antiques, with more than 30 traders. Some have single cabinets while others, like Pamela Dalley, have an entire room from which she sells retro fashions and furniture.
Tracey Gerrard has a cabinet and her husband Nick has taken over space to deal in train memorabilia.
Since taking over the tearooms, Susan, who ran English tearooms in the Texas city of San Antonio, has introduced themed dinner nights and plans to have events in the garden. “We really want to put this place on the map,” she says.
The Old Town is home to antique shops like Susan’s and those run by Caroline Saul, of Priory Antiques, art galleries including Jenny Morten’s Gallery 49 and the Old Town Gallery which is run by a consortium of artists. It changes its exhibitions each month and also acts as an information point.
For lovers of good food there is no shortage of places to eat. The Lamp, the Burlington and Raffles are all on the same side of High Street.
Then there are pubs like the Black Lion and the Board Inn, which has recently opened its upstairs to reveal Georgian panelling and fireplaces.
In Market Place, the Pack Horse has taken centre stage. It was bought three years ago and after much renovation has been a going concern for more than a year. Owners Helen Norman and Robert Daykin plan to re-establish the micro-brewery they had when they owned the Telegraph in Quay Road, Bridlington.
“For us, it was a matter of putting the character back into the pub,” said Robert who with Helen formed Bridlington Brewing Company.
Newsagents, grocers, vintage clothing outlets, a children’s clothing shop, hairdressers, a fish and chip shop and corner shops add to the vibrancy of High Street.
History comes in the form of the Priory and Bayle Museum.
Wooden stocks and a pillory were placed in the Market Place in around 1636. The use of the stocks was abolished in England in 1837, but replicas of the stocks and pillory are now in place in front of the Pack Horse Inn.
The Avenue is now a block of luxury apartments, but in the late 1920s the house was used as a boarding house for Bridlington School, and in 1931 it was converted to serve as the town’s maternity hospital.
The Black Lion pub once boasted stabling for 40 horses. In the 1790s it was kept by one Henry Cook. In the early 20th century and probably long before that it was the location of a weekly corn exchange.
The Priory was once the largest and wealthiest in Yorkshire. It was founded by the Lord of the Manor, Gilbert de Gant, in 1113 for Augustinian canons with an adjoining convent. The nave is all that is left standing of the original monastery after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537.
“Bridlington Old Town has the feel of a country market town,” adds Martyn Coltman. “It has a vibrancy and uniqueness. Locals use the shops, restaurants and pubs and we hope that never changes.”
Bridlington Old Town 1940s Summer Festival is on June 11. Secret Gardens of the Old Town takes place from June 24-25.