Morecambe’s infamous “no-nonsense” seaside landladies and the “gut girls” of Deptford’s 19th-century offal yards are to be celebrated as part of a series of projects focused on England’s working-class heritage.
Often cruelly caricatured on seaside postcards, the formidable B&B hosts of the Lancashire town will claim their place as part of a Historic England programme funding 57 community-led projects to preserve often overlooked working-class histories.
The histories of boxing gyms in Halifax, County Durham’s miners’ welfare clubs, and the soul, jazz and reggae of Leicester’s hidden nightlife will also be documented as part of the £774,000 programme, which sees grants awarded to research and curate local and online exhibitions.
The landladies (and landlords) of Morecambe project will delve into the town’s heyday after the second world war as a holiday destination for working-class people from northern England and Scotland.
“These were tough, northern, gruff, no-nonsense women, with often archaic rules. Penny pinching was common. Lots have said: ‘They threw you out after breakfast and you weren’t allowed back till teatime’ or: ‘You paid extra if you wanted to use cruet,’” said David Evans of Morecambe Heritage, which is running the project.
“You’d be expected to bring your own food in a cardboard box, and the landlady would manage to cook a meal from the ingredients.
“Throngs of people would be coming in. Glasgow fortnight, when factories shut down, saw basically the whole of Glasgow empty and heading south for the seaside. Going down the M6, the first place they’d hit was Morecambe.
“A car would go around the town with loudspeakers in the summer asking for any spare rooms, so obviously, no health and safety considerations.”
Adverts from one postwar guide to Morecambe B&Bs included descriptions such as: “Hot and cold water and electric lights in all bedrooms,” and: “No irksome or irritating rules and restrictions.”
Evans said: “They obviously wanted to be nice so people came back, but they probably had to deal with a lot of drunkenness at night, so they would have to have quite strict rules.
“It’s a fascinating area of British social history that’s been largely ignored.”
A few of the landladies are still alive, but the project, which will produce online film interviews, oral histories and a local exhibition, will also draw on memories of children raised in these guesthouses, and those from the guests who returned to stay in them year after year.
The Hidden Deptford project looks at the slaughterhouse women who worked in the cattle markets in Deptford at the end of the 19th century. More than 500 women were employed in these offal yards. Fiercely independent, they had a reputation for raucous behaviour and were nicknamed the “gut girls”.
Among other successful bids, Halifax Stars will examine the working-class culture of boxing clubs around Halifax, recording stories of older fighters and the gyms that were prominent in the area.
The Staiths & Me project will celebrate in film and sound the importance to local people of the Staiths, an iconic wooden structure on the Tyne at Dunston, Gateshead, which was built in 1893 to drop coal from Durham into ships for transportation around the world.
Northern Souls – Going Down the Welly focuses on Easington Social Welfare Centre in Easington Colliery, County Durham, built in 1929 to support miners’ welfare and referred to locally as the Welly.
The Tin Chapel at the Edge of Town will reveal the importance of Bilston Mission chapel, a “tin tabernacle’ at Cinderford, Forest of Dean, to serving colliers, iron workers, their families and Traveller communities.
Exploring Leicester’s hidden nightlife looks at 50 years of music of black origin in the city, including hip-hop, soul, reggae and jazz .
The winning bids are announced from more than 500 applications made for funding.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said: “They will highlight that wherever people live they are surrounded by historic buildings, landscapes, and streets, industrial and coastal heritage that can help bring communities together.”
Nigel Huddleston, the heritage minister, said: “This is a fantastic initiative that will help communities from across England engage with the working-class heritage in their area in new and exciting ways and see these untold stories being put into the spotlight.”