Setting sail in St Annes - A town that's shipshape

We meet the characters who are putting this beautiful coastal town on the map. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

St Annes has a world class reputation for golf. Next year thousands of enthusiasts will flock to the town for The British Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club. But the same seaside town also carries some clout when it comes to sailing boats.

Adrian Denye, owner of Character Boats, has been handcrafting leisure boats from a tiny industrial estate just outside the town centre for more than 20 years. His boats are sent to customers all over the world and what he doesn’t know about this specialist field isn’t worth knowing.

The boats, fibreglass replicas of original seaworthy working boats from the north west and Scottish coastlines, come complete with handmade hardwood fittings and stainless steel deck equipment and are snapped up quicker than he can make them.

‘We are an advanced company even though we are small,’ said Adrian. ‘We have got the latest software and the best consultant working with me. Between us we can do anything.

‘We are building the equivalent of a Morgan car. It is a classic, traditional design from the outside but inside is all the latest technology. Some of the things we use aren’t used by others. People don’t expect it from such a small operation but there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Boat builders of our size are probably making about five or six boats a year but we made 31 one year.’

Sailing has been a life-long passion for the 64-year-old - his family were also world champion sand yachters and ‘won every award there was going’ in their heyday. But it wasn’t until later in life that Adrian, who had been working across Europe for furniture manufacturers Rational, decided to study yacht manufacturing under the tutelage of Olympic gold medal winner Christopher Davies.

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He bought Character Boats when friend, Bill Bailiff, then owner of the �   company, died. He moved it from Morecambe to St Annes and started to build luxury leisure boats.

The links Adrian’s family, originally from Belgium, have with sailing goback generations. His grandfather, Franz, and his brothers - including one who Adrian said was the leader of the resistance - used to run boatyards in Dunkirk, Ostend and La Panne. But the yards were taken over by the Germans during the First World War and Franz was forced to work on German warships.

The family fled the country and eventually Adrian’s grandfather set up Star Productions, a toy company in Birkenhead, which built model boats, including collectors’ items.

Adrian said: ‘My grandfather was very much a philanthropist. He came to the country during the war and by the end of it, had built the factory up and was employing 250 people.

‘The factory was next door to Tommy Lipton’s first shop. He was the man who ran Lipton Teas. He was involved with the Americas Cup and because my grandfather knew him he got the exclusive rights to make models for it. Boats have always been in my blood. I need to slow down but I don’t want to because I love it. Hopefully I can get someone on board for when I do finally retire.’

St Annes is full of people, like Adrian, dedicated to doing the best for the town. This has included helping it retain its old Victorian seaside charm with projects like restoring the 10 acre Ashton Gardens site, using designs from architects Donald Insall Associates and Bertram Hyde.

At the heart of this restoration was the reinstatement of the Ashton Institute, which had been located in the corner of the park. The building was dismantled and rebuilt on the former site of the Ashton Pavilion Theatre.

It is now home to The Pavilion Tea Room and Restaurant, owned by Tony High, a former licensee of The Derby Arms in Treales. The 39-year-old, who grew up in Blackpool, opened the tea room last August. Food from local producers, including Pegasus in Preesall, Michael Clarke’s in Lytham and Hills Fine Foods in Longridge, are cooked up by chefs Steve and Ron Hill, who between them have cooked for Princess Diana and worked as part of the large kitchen staff at Blackpool’s Imperial Hotel.

Tony said: ‘Being from Blackpool, owning a place like this is like coming home. I’m really proud of what we have achieved so far. We’re going to start opening for longer as the summer � approaches, starting with a jazz night on February 5th. St Annes is a beautiful place with lovely old world charm. I want to be part of that.’

Also flying the flag for the coastal town is town councillor and mayor, Tony Ford. The 59-year-old, along with St Annes on the Sea town Council and community development officer Sarah Tatton, is working on a town plan and a series of guided walks as well as encouraging people to support St Annes in Bloom and setting up a youth council.

He said: ‘It’s all about encouraging more people into the town centre.A lot of people who live in St Annes weren’t born here and projects likethese help people take ownerships of things.’

Another major project being planned is a new arts festival, scheduled for September. They want St Annes to have the same success as other festivals, including those in book town Hay-on-Wye. 

Sarah, who will be involved with the event organisation, said: ‘We have already had lots of street entertainers and people performing outdoors in St Annes and something like this would bring the town to life. That’s what it’s all about.

‘We want it to put St Annes on the map. It’s about making the town the best place it can possibly be.’

The jewels of the dunes

The sand dunes that dominate the coastline at St Annes are home to rare species of flora and fauna. There are 300 different plant types and 150 varieties of butterflies and moths that survive in this habitat as well as birds and lizards.

It is the job of 26-year-old sand dunes project officer to look after the 80 hectare stretch. Most days the former RSPB lapwing officer will be out in the dunes searching for hidden jewels, monitoring and carrying out any necessary work. There is also a small group of dedicated volunteers who help her with everything from scrub maintenance to litter picking.

She said: ‘The dunes are special because of the diversity. They are home to three very rare plants, dune helleborine, Isle of Man Cabbage and Baltic Rush, which aren’t found anywhere other than here and the dunes in Southport.

Anne also does talks to local organisations and takes residents and visitors on guided tours of the dunes. For more information or to volunteer contact 01253 658537.

Know more about St Annes

Reminisce about the 60s at an annual History Day event on March 18th and 19th at the United Reformed Church Hall, St George’s Road. For more information contact 01253 788579.

Mill owner William Porritt, considered one of the founders of St Annes, invested his profits into building residential homes in the town which still stand today. Porritt House, now a supported senior living home, and is owned by the Mitcham family. It was once home to William’s son, also named William, who built and lived in the property.

An Afternoon with Joanna Trollope will take place on March 11th at The Lindum Hotel, South Promenade, St Annes, as part of a Literary Lunches series. For more information contact 01772 683444.

According to Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users’ Association, St Annes Railway Station is the most profitable and busiest station on the Blackpool line.

This memorial statue (pictured) was installed on the promenade as a reminder of the St Annes crew mates who drowned after the lifeboat, Laura Janet, capsized. This happened during the rescue of 12 crew onboard the Mexico, a boat caught in a storm off the Southport coast.

Where is it? St Annes is located on the Fylde Coast, between Lytham and Blackpool. Type FY8 1SH in your sat nav to get you there.

Where can I park? There are several car parks in St Annes including on the promenade, in the town centre and in St George’s Road. There is also a lot of on-street parking, but check the signs as many are time limited.

What can I do? Walk along the beach, treat yourself to an ice-cream, learn about the area on a local guided walks or enjoy street entertainment which takes place from time to time.

Are there refreshments? There are pavement cafes all around the town as well as lots of restaurants for evening dining, including Greens Bistro, a former Lancashire Life restaurant of the year. Several good hotels also offer dining facilities.

St Annes is old favourite of ours. Here are some photos from our June 1982 issue

Do you have any old photos of St Annes? Or do you have any memories of living in St Annes in the 80's?

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