Bolsover – the Blackpool of the north midlands?

Though we don’t directly mention it in our VCH accounts of Bolsover there was a successful attempt by Bolsover Urban District Council (UDC) to hold its own illuminations in the town. This must have been a welcome diversion from the post-war gloom of the period. We cover this largely now forgotten event in this blog.

The Bolsover illuminations were a popular event and attracted many visitors to see them in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge. We’ll leave you to decide what this tableaux is about.

Bernard Haigh tells the story in his ‘More Bolsover remembered’ book. Apparently, the illuminations started by accident after the parks superintendent of the UDC, Arthur Lord, discovered some old cable that had been used to illuminate Bolsover Castle. In collaboration with Councillor Jack Spray (a talented cartoonist and shown at work in our second photograph), who drew some pixies, a couple of beds at Sherwood Lodge were illuminated.

By 1952 the illuminations were much bigger both in size and draw – all in the grounds of Sherwood Lodge. Between 1952 and 1957 almost half a million people had been attracted to see the spectacle. Visitors included a group of Blackpool’s own illumination organisers, who were suitably impressed. There was a final public appearance in 1973 at the Bolsover Festival.

The talented Councillor Jack Spray, an accomplished cartoonist, at work. We are not so sure that the subject would be appropriate today!

The illuminations featured a series of displays including fairy tales, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, Roundheads besieging Bolsover Castle, sporting and ghost scenes. The photographs here show a couple of examples. All our pictures here are courtesy of Bernard Haigh. There’s a further photograph on Picture the Past – https://picturethepast.org.uk/image-library/image-details/poster/ptpd004946/posterid/ptpd004946.html, dating from 1953.

Lest you might think that the UDC of the period was preoccupied with trivial things; as recorded in our VCH Bolsover books, by 1959 the UDC calculated it had built 89 houses on Oxcroft Lane, 272 on the Castle estate, four at Stanfree and 343 on the Moor Lane estate, all since 1945. But as a whole Bolsover was despoiled by the impact of industry – particularly coal mining and Coalite. As we state in ‘Bolsover, castle town and colliery’ , despite the UDC’s efforts the district appeared ‘grimy… its economy dependant on one industry’, which was, of course, coal.

In those years of the Bolsover illuminations a little light was no doubt shone into the lives of the those who attend the transformed Sherwood Lodge grounds.

A final look at one of the illuminated displays, which became increasingly complex. This is ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ .

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