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Friday, 31 October 2014

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Bid to boost tourism was all about turning Maryport into ‘Merry Port’

More visitors! That’s what the members of the Maryport Town Development Committee wanted back in 1930.

The committee has been set up in 1928 with the joint aim of encouraging industry to set up in the area and to develop what we would call the tourist trade in the town.

It might strike us as a bit strange nowadays but Maryport, especially its front, was at one time the preferred choice of many church and factory outings from outside West Cumbria.

And when you gaze out over the Solway, what a glorious sight it can be – if the weather’s good!

Sadly, Maryport on a miserable, dark and rainy day isn’t a place you’d choose to visit, unless you were intending to visit the aquarium, the museum or attend one of the town’s promotions – always assuming that you, an outsider, knew these attractions existed.

And if, as an outsider, you’d ever heard of Maryport.

What the town needed was active promotion and lots of publicity – which is what the town development committee was set up to do. They had, reportedly, floated a number of ideas in the two years since they were formed, but there was one big problem – money.

Having ideas without means was, as the old Spanish proverb put it, like trying to make bread with stones.

Members of the public were invited to attend a meeting in March 1930 to see if they could get things moving. If the committee expected members of the public to turn out in force to support them, they were being unduly optimistic.

A mere 18 people turned up at the meeting.

Obviously Maryport residents were either more than a trifle apathetic or totally unaccustomed to being asked to be involved in municipal decision making. Whatever the reason, the committee had to carry on with such work as they were able to take on.

They’d wanted to embark on an ambitious programme of road building and improving the town’s hotels and boarding houses, but that was beyond them. Instead they got down to raising the profile of the town by means of improved publicity.

The town had produced guidebooks before the committee was formed but had, to date, only managed to send out 50 per year. The committee succeeded in increasing this to 200 in its first year – a fourfold increase.

The committee managed to do a deal with the LMS – the regional railway company – for a joint advertising scheme. LMS would place strategic adverts for the town in various newspapers, paid for, only in part, by the committee.

It was an exercise in matched funding.

It worked. That year some 400 guides were requested by prospective tourists – or, to use the term preferred at the time, visitors. The number of holidaymakers visiting the town increased.

Members of the committee were determined, despite a lack of adequate financing, to plough on.

It’s worth quoting the chairman of the committee, Tom Stokoe: “We have got to face this fact – that if we refuse to go forward now we will certainly go back.

“Don’t let us lose the benefits of the past two years but rather let us add the pick to the shovel in a determined effort to turn Maryport into a ‘Merry Port’.”

I think “Merry Port” was going a bit too far, but this play on words did succeed in getting press coverage, which was, no doubt, what the committee chairman intended.

Even though they had to operate in a climate of economic downturn, they still managed to stay positive.

It was also decided to form a ladies’ committee. It seems they hoped that members of the fair sex would be instrumental in raising funds.

So did the ladies manage to raise funds for the development of the town’s holiday trade? When was this forward thinking and dynamic development committee wound up? And did any other body take its place?

Maryport has, in recent years, become known nationally, largely due to initiatives like the blues festival.

Townsfolk will now be looking to reap the benefit of the ongoing excavations into the town’s Roman past – sometime in the, hopefully, not too distant future. It does seem likely to become the town’s major tourist attraction.

But what of the present? With many of our local towns there does seem to be a distinct lack of what I would term drip-feed tourism, which is probably more likely to put more money into the pockets of local folk than some of the few “big” events put on annually.

As always, I want to end with a query. What was the eventual fate of the Ferryboat Inn – Maryport’s one time floating restaurant?

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