More than 5,000 people sat at 500 tables stretched 1.6 miles along promenade – and, when it came to their food and decorations, they didn’t do things by halves…
500 trestle tables were set up along the promenade with more than 5,000 revellers sitting down to eat lunches they had brought.
The whole thing stretched so far that when The Independent walked from the first table (just past the lifeboat station) to the last (out beyond the old Frontierland theme park), it took just shy of half an hour.
“We knew there was a place in Devon that had a 1.5-mile street party for the golden jubilee in 2002,” said Luke Trevaskis, chief executive with Morecambe Town Council. “And we just thought we have this beautiful long seafront, so why not try and beat that record while giving the whole town a real day to remember?”
This was not, of course, the only street party this weekend.
Some 12 million people are estimated to have attended 16,000 events up and down the country since Thursday. Prince Charles himself sat down to a jubilee lunch at the Oval cricket ground.
But few such gatherings can have been quite as spectacular as this seaside shindig, organised by the town council with assistance from the Eden Project.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Trevaskik. “It’s people and place. Breaking bread with your community in a really special setting on a completely historic weekend. What could be better than that?”
The joy, perhaps, was in the sheer effort people had put into the mini-feasts they’d brought along.
This was not just a few supermarket sausage rolls and packets of crisps – although, as with any dining experience worth its salt, there were plenty of those.
Rather, as people began setting up for the day, they produced tiered cake stands, china tea sets and carafes of wine. There were trays of sandwiches, bowls of curry, Tupperware filled with salad and homemade scones. Cutlery, crockery and condiments – Branston Pickle, anyone? – were on almost every table, as were Union Jack flags. Vases of flowers had been brought by some. One group had gone so far as to set up a candelabra – with blue, red and white candles, of course.
“Well, why not?” asked retired office worker Margaret Riley when asked about her table’s unique centrepiece. “How often do you get to celebrate a platinum jubilee? Of course we wanted to make the table look special. I think the Queen’s worth a candelabra. She’s an icon.”
The 75-year-old was, as it happened, drinking tea from a cup given to her at school to mark the coronation in 1953. A family treasure? “Not exactly,” replied husband Stephen, a retired police officer. “I was cleaning the garage out a few months ago and found it holding nails and screws.”
Deborah Skelly brought along a 1950s clock to adorn the table she was sharing with her family.
“I wanted to create a real Fifties tea party atmosphere,” the 55-year-old hospital worker said.
Her daughter, Emma Haigh, pointed to the floor with just the slightest eye-roll. “She’s brought a vintage rug too,” she said.
Sure enough, this bit of promenade was now temporarily under a carpet.
“Well, if you’re going to come along to something like this, my philosophy is to make the most of it,” said Skelly. “And it’s been lovely. We’ve been talking to plenty of people and bumping into lots of old friends, which is exactly what something like this is all about. They should do it every year.”
It was a point agreed with by Emma Anderton.
The 34-year-old florist had come along with family and friends. “I power-walk along this promenade every day and it’s so beautiful, but I can’t remember it ever looking so colourful and so joyous,” she said. “It’s exactly what Morecambe needed after the last two years. It’s phenomenal.”
That was helped by the weather, which was kinder here than elsewhere. While much of the UK was hit with downpours, the worst in Morecambe was the occasional strong gust of wind.
“We wouldn’t be British if we were frightened by a bit of cold,” declared Andrew Witelocks, who was sporting a Union Jack sunglasses and top with a woolly hat and coat. “I remember there was a party like this for the diamond jubilee and it threw it down all day. We still stuck it out, though. We said we’d have fun even if it killed us.”
By 3pm, the whole thing was beginning to come to a close. It concluded with the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, Lord Shuttleworth, cutting a special jubilee cake and smoke cannons – red, white and blue – being fired into the bay.
The bad news was that while the street party was indeed the longest ever in the UK, it still falls some way short of the world record: a 36-mile event along a German autobahn in 2010. “Maybe we can have a go at that for [Charles’] coronation,” joked Trevaskis. “We’d have to go round to Barrow.”
Yet, all the same, there is some hope this extravaganza signals something of a new beginning for Morecambe.
In 1952, when the Queen came to the throne, it was still a thriving seaside town. Like much of the UK’s coastal areas, it fell into decline following the rise of cheap air travel.
Now, there is widespread hope it is on the rise again.
The Eden Project is set to build a new £125 million resort in the area, which civic leaders believe will attract 760,000 visitors every year.
“Morecambe hasn’t had it easy,” said Rosalind Forster, a council tourism officer in the town who brought her family along for lunch. “But you look around today, when there are thousands of people here on this beautiful bay, and the potential is obvious for anyone to see. The future is exciting again.”