I’ve never known quite what to make of Southport. A good place for days out growing up in the 1960s. Much closer to home than getting up early to catch the X61 Ribble bus to Blackpool for a start. But since those days I’ve found myself going there less and less.
Recent walks have taken us to Churchtown, the lovely Botanic Gardens and the windswept beauty of the Ribble Estuary. But as for the town itself, last time we’d been there, sometime last year, we’d walked along Lord Street counting the empty shop units and felt simply sorry for it.
Well yesterday we found something there that’s changed these feelings of vague pity to something close to awe. Something that is unquestionably the best thing I’ve seen happen to Southport in my lifetime.
We’ve heard that the recently reopened gallery has a Matisse exhibition on and decide to go. As there are engineering works on the railway line we go in the car.
Turning left at Ormskirk across the Lancashire Plain.
In 1959 John Lennon, sort of, helped build this. Absolutely true.
We’ve been to this building once before, years ago to see singer Sally Barker. And whilst being mightily impressed with her, neither of us has remembered much else about the place.
But as soon as we walk through the doors we realise we’ve come to somewhere very special.
Lots of engaging, opened up newness.
I’m already staring to feel we’re getting more than we came for here.
Lithographs of his late life cut-outs from the early 1950s, gathered together by Matisse in his book ‘Verve’. Let’s look. Whilst I’m looking, delighted that no one’s stopping me taking these photographs, I’m aware of some little children being enthusiastically welcomed by one of the gallery assistants. She’s telling them about Matisse, how he did these and how they could do things like this themselves.
Sarah, meanwhile, is remembering seeing the full-size originals of some of these lithographs in Paris once.
The exhibition’s colourful in itself, of course. But it’s also attracting some colourful people.
We go for a look around the rest of the place.
That’s a prehistoric boat down there, in case you were wondering.
And it’s good on Southport too. There’ll be a museum opening in here later this year, but what they’re displaying about the place is already great.
Just a hint of the kinds of treasures that will probably be in the Museum.
And these glorious posters from, I’m guessing, the 1920s. A memory comes to me, of Southport Open Air Baths, sadly from a few years after the Liverpool Overhead has gone.
It’s summer 1967, a warm day here in Southport. Everton have recently signed Howard Kendall from Preston North End and he’s here at the baths, along with several other Everton players. Still only 21, Howard seems to be going through some kind of Everton initiation ritual as the more senior players, Jimmy Gabriel and Brian Labone in particular, keep picking him up and throwing him back in every time he gets out of the water. To all of our amusement, including Howard’s. Days when footballers were much like us, and a part of the communities they represented.
I reflect, as I walk around, how good it is to see Southport presenting itself so well. Being proud of what it is and what it’s been. But not in a snooty way, if you know what I mean?
Because given that Southport asked to become part of Merseyside when it was formed in the 1970s, it has been increasingly galling over the years to keep hearing from some people how different the place is, how it’s nothing like Bootle and the rest of Sefton and how it should really become part of Lancashire again.
Well should it?
While I can see that Southport is its own place, and does feel like the West Lancashire town they grew in the 19th century, it’s had loads of investment over these many years from the place I like to call Greater Liverpool. It was the railways from Liverpool, including the Overhead, as we’ve seen, that caused it to grow so quickly in the first place. Then it’s had over 30 years of being part of Merseyside. And on the evidence of today, in a place owned, run and restored by Sefton Borough, it’s doing very well out of the deal it made back in the 1970s.
As I’ve said before, on here, these towns around our major cities matter so much and affect the quality of all of our lives. So let’s rejoice in what we are and what we have, and thrive together.
Whatever, I’m glad to be here on this day.
We move on.
Yes, there’s all sorts in here. I’ve mentioned there’s a Museum coming. But there’s also loads we’re not even going to show you today.
- Music (Suggs is coming up, for example)
- Health & Wellbeing (Including an innovative ‘Arts on Prescription’ service)
- Courses & Workshops
- A Gift Shop (a good one too)
And a special ‘Art Box’ where the children we heard being gently educated about Matisse earlier on, can come and do art for themselves.
Meanwhile in the Bakery…
Which is all delicious. Even if Sarah does then, hold up her crisps bag…
Thank you Southport. I’ll be back much sooner than usual for a wider look around. Go well.
“Matisse: Drawing with Scissors. Late Works 1950-1954” is on until 16th March.
The Atkinson is a permanent treasure.