If you grew up in the North West from the late 1960s to the turn of the millennium, it’s likely that you spent a holiday or two at Pontins holiday park in Blackpool.
The former Squires Gate holiday camp site was purchased by Fred Pontin in 1961 and transformed into a pocket friendly destination for generations of families across the region. Although the camp was technically based on Clifton Drive North in Lytham St Anne’s, it was advertised as Pontins Blackpool and saw business boom after it opened the following year.
Countless people looked forward to spending their summer holiday at the now demolished holiday camp and held so many fantastic memories for Lancastrian and those further afield. Pontins holiday camps were the brainchild of Fred Pontin, who opened his first Pontins in a former US army base in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset in 1946.
Over the years, the holiday camp magnate bought more camps, expanding his empire to 30 sites at its peak. Smaller and less expensive than Butlin’s holiday camps, Pontins had Bluecoats to entertain guests as opposed to the Redcoats of its major rival.
TV stars who learned their comedy trade as former Bluecoats include Bradley Walsh, Shane Richie, Bobby Davro and Lee Mack. Every year tens of thousands of people would visit Pontins holiday parks in nearby Southport, Prestatyn, Morecambe and the ever popular Blackpool resort.
Later in the 1960s, Blackpool’s original outdoor pool at the site was remodelled and enclosed underneath an arched glass roof. In 1972, a brochure for the Blackpool Pontins site listed its amenities which included a ballroom and theatre, three bars, heated indoor swimming and paddling pool, TV lounges, two cafes, an amusement arcade and even a betting and fish and chip shop, the M.E.N reports.
Outdoor entertainment included a boating lake, sports courts, an adventure playground, as well as on site talent shows, comedy nights, and fancy dress competitions. The blurb inside the brochure states: “When evening falls on Blackpool, and illuminations switched on, the camp swings into high powered entertainment.
“Most people find there’s so much going on at Pontin’s that they are not bother about going out. And of course here it’s all free!”
There was even a creche and day nursery for young children so parents could slip off and enjoy a few hours by themselves. For older children, there was also Captain Croc, Pontins’ mascot and leader of the Croc Crew who entertained the children with parties and games.
Blackpool Pontins managed to overcome a terrible tragedy that same year when seven people on board an aircraft died after the plane they were in crash landed on the holiday camp of 2,500 holidaymakers, demolishing a number of chalets. Miraculously, it was only the members of the air crew that died, with one member of the jet surviving after being pulled out of the wreckage by the camp chef.
Despite the tragedy, business boomed at the camp for years to come making it a go to place for holidaymakers all over the north west. In a newspaper article in 2008, one reporter from the Evening Gazette offered a slice of what life at the Blackpool holiday camp was like over 40-years after it first opened.
Writing about their family holiday experience there, the reviewer said: “At Pontins camp, you can begin the day with a feast of a full English breakfast and if you want more, it’s just a case of helping yourself. It’s the same for evening meals too.
“The staff were like supercharged Teletubby ‘Noonoo’, cleaning tables and whisking away discarded food before you could say ‘Bye, byes.’ The entertainment at the camp was for all age groups with the girls specially enjoying the Sooty show, Captain Croc and his mates and Captain Croc’s adventure land with its ball pool.
“We enjoyed dips in the heated swimming pool and the bingo (oh yes, you can’t beat a good old game of bingo), and footy matches on the wide screen at the Queen Victoria pub.
With all this on offer it’s easy to see why Pontins attracted so many families across the north west for many years. However, just a year later the seaside institution came to an abrupt end.
The company that used own Pontins, Ocean Parcs, said it was closing down the holiday park blaming the decision on falling visitor numbers. Ian Smith, the company’s chief executive, said the decision had been taken by the company board ‘with deep regret’.
He added: “It was not an easy decision for the board to make. We looked at it long and hard but bookings have deteriorated and the level of investment required for a short lease meant it was not commercially viable to continue.”
By the time the park closed in 2009, only five Pontins holiday camps remained in the UK. In 2020, Pontins entered receivership and in 2011, the company was bought out by Britannia Hotels.
A few years after it closed the derelict chalets and last remnants of the abandoned holiday camp were cleared and the site demolished. There are still six Britannia Hotels owned Pontins holiday camps operating in the UK, with the nearest site in Southport.