Ok I mentioned my home town of Blackpool in the last posting. Actually it wasn’t really, I was brought up in leafy Poulton-le-Fylde about 3 miles inland from the seaside town, but nobody’s ever heard of it. It’s a very neat, historic and affluent little town and about as different from Blackpool as you can get and the bulk of my family still live there. But Blackpool was always the shorthand for my home town. And I kind of liked the place when we were growing up. It was the place to work and make money with its iconic Tower and its permanent circus nestled in its foundations (with its unique finale – a ring filled with seawater for a waterscape spectacular). It had 3 great piers and 3 railway stations, dozens of theatres where all the top stars performed each summer. I remember the Beatles performing at the ABC and Hendrix and Pink Floyd at the Winter gardens. It had a football club whose history and ownership you could be proud of (instead of the degenerates who ran the club recently). 7 miles of golden sands (bar a few sewage outlets), the best promenade in the UK with its wonderful tram system and the best free show on earth, the Blackpool Illuminations. Then there were the award-winning parks and a fine zoo, the brilliant Pleasure beach with its thundering wood-built roller coasters. Dozens of great bars and clubs and probably the most adventurous gay scene that a repressed Britain dared to offer in the late 60’s. It was definitely a fun town, tawdry yes but built for a good time. And more than 10m visitors a year flocked to it.
And those people had to stay somewhere of course, and most of them stayed in the 1000’s of B&Bs the town offered. The Blackpool landlady was a fearsome animal, someone to be treated with respect and not to be crossed. Mess with her and your suitcases would be found in the street with little prospect of finding alternative accommodation in peak season. And these formidable ladies were the original hospitality marketing supremos. They knew that the town was fun for the whole family but scratch the surface and it was little more than a Victorian relic in massive need of redevelopment. NW Lancs is also the wettest area of the UK – nowhere has more annual rainfall than the Lake District and Manchester became the centre for cotton manufacturing because the damp weather helped keep the raw cotton threads from snapping. And Blackpool on the Fylde coast was the first place to receive the rain coming in from the Atlantic via the Irish Sea (and Ireland of course).
So the enterprising landladies used brand marketing to disguise these unattractive realities by giving their B&B guest houses names which conjured up a more exotic kind of image. So to this day you can still check into places called The Shangri-La, Del Savannah, Sorrento, Le Papillon, Shining Diamond, Blanca, Tres Bon, San Diego and The Golden Sands. There’s even one called The Ponderosa. Ha! Just to make you think you’re visiting somewhere, not 18 miles from grim Preston, but in the America heartland or the idyllic Mediterranean. I’m just in awe that some folks fall for this but they do.
Which brings me to all the way to historic Stratford. During our walks I’ve been checking out the names of the many guesthouses – after all this is a tourist centre. I pass a load on the way to get my paper each morning. And the names don’t disappoint. They don’t have to disguise inclement weather systems or poor building stock here. So what do they do instead? Can you guess? Yes they go for the Shakespearean angle. Oh wow, that’s novel. Let me share some of the intriguing names they’ve come up. First up the Mercure chain have a hotel just round the corner from us in a Tudor-timbered style building and look what they’ve called it…
If you can’t make out the name it’s The Shakespeare Hostelrie with the olde-fashioned kind of spelling. I mean seriously? This is a major hospitality company. I can only think they bought the place and had to agree to keep the name. I actually think they might have happily agreed to the condition because they are catering for the dopey American market. And I don’t mean all Americans are dopey; I’m just talking about the ones whose understanding of geography and history is limited to the Ponderosa. I can imagine them checking in to this lovely looking place, popping into the bar and asking the barman, so did Shakespeare actually own this hotel? Ah no sir but he was a regular guest, on his trips up from London. No. Oh yes he always stayed in the Agincourt suite. By all accounts, one late night, the barman asked him if he’d like one last one for the road but the Bard just said, sorry barkeep but Mrs S in yonder bedroom lies and to be up for it or not to be, is not an option. Know what I mean? Of course sir. Once more unto the breach eh Mr S. Ah yes, goodnight fair knight.
And off he went up the stairs. Ah yes always liked a late night tipple that Mr S, lovely guest and by all accounts always left a very generous tip. Oh that’s awesome we must do the same…
Hospitality owners eh. They’re a fun breed and they can’t resist a naming strategy that’s just ultra topical. And so, believe it or not, I’ve come across these names in and around the town…Midsummer House, The Hathaways, Mary Arden Inn, Winters Tale Cottage, Cymbeline House, Bard’s Well, Hamlet House and Macbeth Cottage. I think the best one is just around the corner from us and it’s Twelfth Night. Imagine that. So far as I know it’s a lovely establishment and I wish them nothing but success. But I like to think that this is a shameless Shakespearean plug for their loyalty scheme – stay 11 nights and the Twelfth Night is FREE. That would be wonderful.
I just wanted to conclude by giving you the names of two establishments that have bucked the trend. The first is The Hollies which I’m desperate to believe is in honour of the owner’s love of her favourite 60’s group rather than the scrawny tree in her garden. I can imagine them piping On a Carousel and Look Through Any Window on the CD player as their guests eat their breakfast in the front dining room. Ah. But my favourite is Moonraker House, named after the cheesiest Roger Moore James Bond film of all time. I’d love to think the owner comes in at breakfast time wearing Jaws style metal teeth to serve your fried eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms, black pudding, fried bread and hash browns. Or the killer Kiel special.
What’s your fave B&B name?