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Filey Memories by Stephen Eblet Back

My first visit to Butlins as a young child, turned out to be quite memorable for the wrong reasons. The only part of the visit I can recall is our family trip to the indoor swimming pool where one of my younger brothers took it upon himself to dive into the pool before he took it upon himself to learn how to swim. I can recall vividly to this day, the sight of my father pushing through the people at the side of the pool, leaping over the ornamental fence and diving into the pool to rescue him.

I lived in Sheffield until I was eleven and a half years old, so that initial trip to Butlins at Filey, didn't stand out in my mind as any more than a day trip, during one of our bi- annual holidays in Filey itself. My mother never really did settle in Sheffield, so it was no surprise when the whole family decided to move to Filey in early 1973.

Like many youngsters at the time, I started delivering newspapers to earn a little pocket money. The trouble with delivering newspapers was that the money was exactly that - little! It was at Filey Secondary school where I learned that some of the older lads were earning big money at Butlins, ferrying luggage for the campers on sack barrows. Now my appetite for more spending money was whetted, but alas you had to be thirteen years old to be a barrow boy.

My thirteenth birthday fell in August 1974, so I thought I would miss that particular season. A friend of mine mentioned that he was going to have a ride up to the camp on his bike, to enrol as a barrow boy and asked if I would like to apply as well. I decided to give it a go and I was delighted to find that having taken a look at me, the person on the security desk, didn't ask my age, but told me to turn up on Saturday morning.

So I became a Butlin barrow boy. The job was actually voluntary and unpaid. The only money I would earn was by the camper's generosity or otherwise, in the form of tipping. I had heard that up to ten pounds a day was quite normal, so imagine how well off we were at a time when many local men were only fetching home forty pounds a week or less.

The routine on a Saturday morning always followed the same pattern. A bike ride to the camp security building on the north gate, for about 6.50 am (in order to claim one of the limited numbers of sack barrows), sign in, a badge and severely starched jacket were issued and off we went. Our route took us down through the olde worlde gardens, up the pool road and down into red and green camp, to wait for the early risers.

I can recall always wondering on my walk up through the camp, "Why don't they get someone to sort out the gardens in this place". They always seemed to be unkempt and shabby, with litter strewn in the trees at the side of the boating pool. I didn't realise at the time, but the rot was starting to set in; I believe at that time, the Rank Organisation had recently acquired the camp and had named it Butlinland. That particular name never suited in my opinion.

I can always remember that a guy named Mr Stevenson was in charge of security, he had a right hand man, whose name escapes me. His job was to allocate barrow boys to camp duty. We were either given yellow/white camp duty, or red/green camp duty.

Red/green was everyone's preference for a couple of reasons. Firstly it was a shorter walk from those two camps to the car park. Secondly the guests were full or half board guests, I can't recall which exactly. This meant they usually only had suitcases, which were easy to stack on the barrow and made the barrow much easier to handle, than the odd shaped cardboard boxes full of food that the self catering guests of yellow and white camp had with them.

Anyone caught in red/green when they should be on yellow/white duty was reprimanded by Mr Stevenson's right hand man and if they were caught a second time, they were sent off camp. In addition to this, anyone caught charging campers was sacked on the spot. Charging was strictly prohibited and the only money we could earn was by tipping at the campers' discretion.

Now while some campers were generous enough to tip fifty pence, which was considered to be a very good tip (one pound tips did very occasionally occur), some campers merely said thank you for your help and off they went on their travels home. The worst possible scenario for the barrow boys was being asked to goal the way to the railway station and then not receiving a tip!

Work would usually start at around seven thirty am, as the first campers would appear, summoning a barrow boy to ferry their luggage to either the reception car park or to the railway station. Trips to the railway station were quite rare, as the campers mainly arrived at the camp in their own cars. The railway station was little used by the mid seventies.

So the morning would go on, with plenty of campers to line our pockets. As the morning came to a close, the outgoing campers became fewer in number, so we took a dinner break. The usual routine was to leave our barrows with the mechanic, Harry Lawty, in the camp garage. All of the barrows were numbered, so we would leave our jackets with our barrows. On any Saturday lunchtime there was always a neat line of barrows in Harry's garage.

Lunchtime's were always varied. It was our little window to explore the camp facilities. The fairground was always closed for all but fifteen minutes of our break, so we had to make the most of that fifteen minutes. I always managed a go on the dodgems or the big wheel, but I think the ride I enjoyed most was called Tempest or something similar. Sometimes a game of snooker would occupy our lunchtime break and I recall it was on the upper floor of the Beachcomber building, that I first saw an American Pool table. I personally also liked to wander into the Beachcomber Bar and watch the cyclorama. The Beachcomber always fascinated me and the cyclorama seemed a little ahead of its time.

I can also recall taking time out on the boating lake in a pedal boat, with another barrow boy. The guy in charge of the boats told us not to go to the south end of the lake, as it was too shallow there for the pedal boats. Doing as most young lads would, we decided to put this to the test and sure enough we grounded the boat. I remember feeling slightly nervous as the enraged boatman waded across in his wellies to pull us out. He did threaten to clip our ears, but never actually got around to it!

Another little trick some of us got up to involved the swimming pool windows. Being adolescent young lads, we were on a voyage of discovery with the opposite sex, so using the windows and a little sign language…….I'll leave the rest to your imagination, but if we'd been caught, I think we might well have got more than our ears clipped!

I managed to explore most of the buildings during my many lunch breaks, as every one of them seemed to beckon you in to take a look. It always appeared to me that the south side of the camp was the most exciting part. It had the Beachcomber and the fun fair, while once I passed through the pool tunnel to the north end of the camp; I found it had a quieter, almost forgotten feel about it. Of course, the chairlifts were at the north side and they were always worth fifteen minutes of a lunch break.

The afternoon shift involved hanging around the reception car park, waiting for incoming campers. This was a tricky time. Desperately trying to avoid campers with cardboard boxes, (because this meant they had food which meant they were self catering, which meant white/yellow camp, which meant a long walk!), we tried to pick out the easier runs to red or green camp. We didn't get too many trips to blue camp, as blue camp had its own car park.

And so the day progressed until late afternoon. We could leave the camp at any time we wished, but it was usual for me to hang around until four or five pm. We had to be off camp by six pm anyway. By the end of the day, with pockets bulging with copper and silver, all that was left was to deposit the barrow, jacket and badge at security and ride the couple of miles back to Filey on my bike. I was always shattered by the end of my shift, but always enthusiastically managed to count my earning on my arrival home. My record was fifteen pounds for one days work!

I recall one particularly hot August day, when I was in the camp car park, awaiting the next customer, a huge cloudburst occurred. Complete with numerous and continuous thunder and lightening it was quite a freak event. The downpour lasted less than one hour and I sheltered in the bike shed at the top of the car park. When the rain subsided a little and I decided to resume work, I walked back towards reception, to be greeted by the sight of water flooding through the building. Some members of staff were trying to stop the flow by closing the doors, which left many infuriated campers stranded outside. With the water having nowhere to go, it backed up against the building and into the car park. There were many items of luggage floating around. At one side of the car park adjacent to the reception building, there was a doorway, which led out onto the camp road. This was the only escape route for the now two foot deep water and I can vividly remember watching suitcases floating out of this doorway and onto the road. The water then headed down into green camp and flooded the green camp road and many of the chalets, an event which apparently occurred several times during the camps history.

I spent three seasons working as a barrow boy and enjoyed every bit of it. The spell was cast and I was to return to Butlins a few years later as a regular gatecrasher! As I reached my late teens, I spent a lot of time on the camp next door to Butlins, Primrose Valley. While Primrose Valley had a plentiful supply of that all important commodity (girls!) and that other one (beer - although extremely expensive beer), Butlins had a far superior atmosphere and supply levels were higher!

The usual routine involved a small group of Filey lads, who would stop off at a couple of bars in Primrose Valley and if the action wasn't apparent there, then plans were made to go in through the fence. Butlins was surrounded by fences. We would always joke that the purpose was to keep the campers in and we dubbed it Butlitz! On the camp frontage, there was a hedge rather than a fence, but I found to my peril one day, that the hedge concealed generous helpings of barbed wire!

However, there was always a hole or two in the fence, particularly near yellow camp and this is where our little group always entered the camp, usually in twos. We had to do this, as camp security was obviously aware that locals used the breaches in the fence to enter the camp. On one particular night, I went in as the second group of two, only to find that the first couple had disappeared. It turned out that security had apprehended them and they were escorted to the security block, where a bit of psychological trauma (bulls***) regarding calling the local police took place and then they were unceremoniously booted out of the north gate.

We would usually engage in a game or two of pool or snooker, before heading for the French Bar for a few drinks. Occasionally we would take in a show at the Gaiety, which was usually of a reasonable standard and good fun. I still feel indebted to Butlins to this day, for providing me with all that free entertainment!

Actually leaving the camp was trickier than coming in. With the effects of a few too many beers apparent, we would stagger back through yellow camp to the perimeter fence. We had to keep our wits about us, as security was always lurking in the chalet lines, even at that late hour. At the end of the road near the perimeter fence, there was a huge water tank with a four to five foot high concrete wall around it. Above the wall, the barbed wire was only about one foot high, so after climbing the wall, usually in an inebriated condition, it seemed to be quite an easy leap into Primrose Valley. Of course it never was that easy and I often wonder what some of the campers must have thought when they saw four or five drunken youths trying to climb that wall and make a precarious leap over the wire!

Occasionally I and my group of friends would visit the camp in the daylight hours of the weekend and once again enjoy the free facilities and entertainment provided. As we didn't look to make trouble, we were never noticed or recognised and we basically became 'campers' for the day.

As I grew up, waved goodbye to my youth and eventually met my wife to be, my visits to Butlins came to a sudden end. I didn't particularly miss visiting the camp, but then again I probably assumed it would always be there anyway.

I work as plumber and heating installer and it would be in the early 1980's when the company I worked for won a contract to refurbish the plumbing systems on yellow camp. This contract involved a group of us working on the camp during the winter months, when the camp was all but deserted. By that time the camp was starting to look very shabby indeed. Actually being inside the chalets in winter was a real eye opener. They were cold, damp and most unwelcoming and I can recall wondering who would be daft enough to spend their hard earned money staying in one of those chalets.

Apart from working in the chalets, our entertainment included using the perimeter road as a rally track, in the company's new vans, which was particularly exciting in the snow! The contract actually ended controversially, when the entire company was arrested, as Butlins and the police investigated missing scrap metal, but that's another story.

October 1983 brought the shock news that the camp was to close for good. I say shock news, because no one locally had any idea whatsoever that the closure was planned. It came right out of the blue! Rumours circulated around Filey immediately, that it was a mistake and that Skegness would close, while Filey would remain open. Of course there was no mistake and the camp did close its gates as Butlins forever.

In truth the camp was in a dilapidated state at this point and it was glaringly obvious that major upgrading was required. Most of the buildings were dated and had not been maintained in a sufficient manner. The gardens were a total mess and the whole camp looked most unwelcoming.

In the summer of 1984 the miners went on strike and Filey was a virtual ghost town during that particular summer season. With hindsight Butlins probably wouldn't have survived anyway.

A venture by Trevor Guy failed to raise the camp from the ashes and so my next visit was a particularly sad one. I was contracted to a local dairy to remove catering sinks from the camp. When I arrived on site, armed with my camera (I found time to take around twelve hurried photos, which feature on Butlinsmemories.com - see here), I found the site was crawling with contractors, who were tearing the camp to pieces, stripping out anything that could be of use. The site had also been vandalised after the recent efforts to reopen it, so all in all it was a pretty sorry sight. The indoor pool still had an amount of water in it, which was topped off with a thick band of scum.

Various stages of demolition took place over the following twenty years, but amazingly by the summer of 2001, the basic camp layout and some of its features remained. The camp had been reclaimed by nature, but I took a walk around it on a couple of Sundays in August 2001 and recorded on my camera, the old fountains, the outdoor pool, and the skeletal remains of the indoor pool (see here). A goal remained in the long grass of the sports field and several rows of partially demolished chalets remained. he boating pool remained intact, but with long grass, weeds and bushes sprouting from cracks in the concrete. The islands remained stubbornly, yet surrounded by concrete instead of water.

In September of 2001 the final clearance commenced and I asked permission to take a final walk around the camp. There was nothing left, apart from the outdoor pool and the road layout. Probably the most poignant sight amongst the protruding girder stubs and the visible remaining floor tiles was the site of four larger sized steel girder stubs protruding from the ground, where the old clock tower once stood.

The only remains of the camp visible today are the derelict railway station and the olde worlde gardens, which were opposite the Regency Theatre.

Somehow when I drive past the camp today, I can still sense the atmosphere and the neon glow of the camp that was Butlins, Filey.

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