Welcome to the Seaside Revival Heritage Hunt
As you walk from Ballyholme Beach to Pickie Park, look out for our history boards, scan the QR Code and find out more about the history of this stretch of beautiful coast.
1. Ballyholme Beach
We start our trail at beautiful Ballyholme beach, where generations of families have enjoyed a day out at the seaside.
Memorable historical moments along these shores include the D-day practice landings. The wide, flat beach at Ballyholme provided a suitable training ground for troops to practice beach landings during the Second World War. Landing Ship Tank (LST 393) beached in April 1944 at Ballyholme in preparation for the D-Day landings. LSTs transported heavy equipment to the troops.
In June 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in Bangor to inspect the 30,000 American forces gathered in Belfast Lough but he also visited various locations around the town including Ballyholme where a full-scale embarkation exercise was held in the area between Morningside and Dufferin villas.
But Ballyholme is most fondly remembered as a favourite day trip destination for families from Bangor and beyond – as these wonderful historical photos show.
Images above sourced and provided by Gerry Coe and Bangor Camera Club.
Caproni’s – or ‘Cap’s’ as it was colloquially known – is remembered fondly as one of the best dance halls in Northern Ireland. Scores of young people travelled to Bangor from near and far on a Saturday night to dance until they dropped, and many a love story started on the famous Cap’s dance floor.
Opened in 1925 and extended in 1935, it was run by the enigmatic Enrico Caproni. Described as the most magical place in the world, dancing went on from 9.00pm until 2am. There was no drink license, and a strict smart dress code for both men and women. Caproni’s boasted a famous archway which proclaimed, “Through these doors, from time to time, pass some of the most beautiful women in the world”.
All the big showbands of the day played in Cap’s, including: the internationally famous Glenn Miller Band, The Chris Barber Band, Ted Heath, Victor Silvester and his Ballroom Orchestra, and, of course, the Miami Showband.
Caproni’s closed in 1977 when the Dance Hall era phased out in favour of disco, and the building was demolished in 1983.
Originally known as the Clifton Recreation Grounds, this area was renamed Kingsland Park around 1915 when the land was purchased by the Council. This was a popular destination for people arriving from Belfast on the Bangor Boat for a day trip into the town. They would embark at the old pier, and walk to the fairground, taking in the sea air along the way.
In 1889 Lady Clanmorris of Bangor Castle opened the beautifully located Switchback Railway at Kingsland, believed to be the longest example in Britain. The local press at the time reported: “…going downhill has a marvellous effect; completely taking away your breath… this produces the most lovely blushes on the ladies’ faces and makes them so attractive no man could help proposing”. However, it was sadly destroyed in the ‘Great Storm’ of 22 December 1894.
Have a listen to this song, it might help you get into the mindset of the fun park, not to mention their link to Caproni’s where you have just been! They played there once upon a time.
4. Milano’s Dance Hall / BJ’s Roller Disco
The site where Milano’s once stood has had many incarnations – both before and after its heyday as another famous Northern Irish dance hall and music venue.
The original site was home to Nardini’s Café and Dance Hall, which was built in 1920. It then changed its name to the Flamingo, and became The Astor Cinema in 1947. The original building was demolished in 1963 and rebuilt and opened as Milano’s Ballroom in 1964. As with Caproni’s, the venue didn’t have an alcohol license, but still attracted flocks of young people from all over the country. And whilst Caproni’s and the Locarno in Portaferry were strictly showband territory, Milano’s started to branch out, attracting new more modern bands – including The Kinks, who played there in 1965 and again in 1966.
After Milano’s closed its doors for the last time, it was reincarnated again – this time into BJ’s Roller Disco in the 1980s. A whole generation of Bangorians spent their youth in BJ’s, skating the circuit with their friends and listening to the resident DJs play disco hits of the 80s. As with Milano’s and Caproni’s, many romances were formed in the skate hall.
The building’s final transformation was into Kings Fellowship Church, which it is still used for today.
Close your eyes and imagine cruising around the BJ’s rink in your roller skates to this hit from 1984.
5. Royal Ulster Yacht Club
The Ulster Yacht Club was formed in 1866 (receiving Royal patronage in 1870), with the Right Honourable Lord Dufferin elected as its inaugural Commodore the following year. The club’s first regatta was held at Cultra in 1867, and in 1872 it rented a property at no. 172 Seacliff Road. In 1897, after years of debate and discussion, the club bought the site where it currently stands and began an ambitious building project. The new Clubhouse celebrated its official opening in 1899 at a special dinner for members and invited guests. There was music and dining on the lawn, and even a special train that ran to Belfast for the occasion.
The Yacht Club is currently listed by the Department for Communities as an historic building.
6. Eisenhower Pier
From the 1890s to 1910 there were various paddle steamers run by the Belfast and County Down Railway Company which sailed from Bangor, including – Slieve Donard, Slieve Bearnagh, Bangor Castle and Erin’s Isle. They brought passengers to the town for a day out at the seaside, landing at the old pier.
Work began on the new pier in 1896, completing in 1897, bringing the total number of piers in the town to three – South/Neill’s, Old, and New. The new pier originally had a lower passenger deck for the steamer. When it was demolished in 1981, and rebuilt as the concrete pier that stands today, construction workers were shocked to discover that the wood was only piled six to eight feet into the seabed.
In 2005, the North Pier, as it was then known, was renamed the Eisenhower Pier to commemorate the role that Bangor played in preparations for the D-Day landings. Before departing for the beaches of Normandy in June 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the 30,000 American soldiers and sailors who were stationed on three US Navy battleships, the Nevada, Texas and Arkansas, just off the Bangor coast. He also visited the Naval Headquarters in Bangor’s Royal Hotel, and billeted soldiers in the Redcliff Hotel, now the Salty Dog. The renaming ceremony was conducted by Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower.
The pier is also famous for its rare colony of black guillemots, known as Bangor Penguins, which nest in the harbour wall.
Another famous American was in town at the same time as General Eisenhower. Hollywood movie legend Clark Gable, then a Captain in the US army, was tasked by the Pentagon to film and record the arrival and departure of Allied Task Force 129 in Bangor Bay. He stayed at 6 Victoria Road, just opposite the pier – then a guest house run by Mrs Jean McDowell. After his discharge from military service, Gable wrote a personal letter to Mrs McDowell thanking her for her kindness. He enclosed a signed photograph and invited her to holiday at his ranch in California! The letter and photograph were framed by Mrs McDowell and hung on her living room wall until her death in 1972.
7. Barry’s Amusement Arcade
Portrush wasn’t the only town in Northern Ireland to have a Barry’s! On the site of what is now the Marine Court Hotel, and right beside the former Court House, which is now owned by Open House, sat Bangor’s own Barry’s Amusement Arcade. It was opened in 1927 by Mrs Louisa Barry, a member of the Portrush Barry family, in what was formerly the Grand Hotel. Louisa installed the latest amusement attractions, including the famous ghost train and ‘Cage of Death’ ride, to the dismay of her neighbours, who often complained about the noise.
By the late 1940s her daughter, Mrs Minnie Delino, was in charge. Always in motion, carrying a massive bunch of keys (which opened the various slot machines), Minnie was a well-known character in the town.
Barry’s finally closed in 1982, a combination of Bangor’s demise as a seaside holiday town and Minnie’s advancing age. She held an auction to sell off all the contents in January 1983 before the building was demolished a year later.
Click on the link below to watch news footage on the closing of Barry’s, and an interview with Minnie Delino.
8. The Sunken Gardens
The Coates Memorial Fountain and the McKee Clock are the only remnants of the old Sunken Gardens area on Bangor seafront. The area was originally an industrial site, before being cleared by the Council in 1892 to create an open space for townspeople and visitors to enjoy. It became part of The Parade, which was sometimes called The Esplanade. The fountain was erected a year later in 1893.
The clock is named after benefactor James McKee, a local rates collector who donated £200 (a very large sum of money at the time) towards its construction. It is one of the seafront’s most enduring landmarks. Designed by the Borough’s surveyor, Mr Bell, it was built in 1915 by John McNeilly from stone quarried at Ballycullen. Before its construction, a bandstand stood on the site. It was initially moved to Marine Gardens, near Skippingstone beach, before being moved again to the Walled Garden for future preservation, where it remains today.
In the 1950s the gardens were landscaped and renamed the Sunken Gardens, due to the numerous flowers and rose bushes planted within its walls. Although the gardens were landscaped again in the late 1980s to make way for the new marina, Queen’s Parade car park, and the McKee Clock arena, they still bear a resemblance to the former Sunken Gardens, and remain a place for people to sit and watch the world go by.
9. Queen’s Parade
Originally called Sandy Row, the stretch of road from the Sunken Gardens to Pickie was renamed Queen’s Parade in 1903, following a royal visit by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.
In the 1860s, a local entrepreneur called James Crosby provided hot salt water baths at the corner of Sandy Row and Southwell Road. He pumped the water from the sea and charged 5/- for six baths. Sandy Row was even mentioned in a popular rhyme of the day which locals sang along to:
Ballymagee for drinking tea,
Fisher Hill for brandy,
But Sandy Row can beat them all
For playing cock-a-dandy.
Queen’s Parade was a grand, elegant road that for many years boasted a number of hotels, cafés and theatres, providing entertainment to those living in and visiting Bangor. One such establishment was the Queen’s Court Hotel, which became a popular venue for live music, right through to the early 1980s. One of the most famous bands to play there was Thin Lizzy. The photo shows the band in a rowing boat in Bangor Bay before their concert at the hotel’s popular King’s Club in 1974.
Today, following many years of failed development, it is the site of ‘Project 24’, home to six colourful pods where local artists take residency. The Department for Social Development, which agreed to buy the Queen’s Parade site in 2012, contributed £250,000 to the scheme. The pods opened for public viewing on the 27th April 2013, and were intended to fill a two-year gap in a delayed regeneration of Queen’s Parade, but remain there today.
Work on the latest Queen’s Parade plans are due to commence late 2021. All in Bangor, and beyond, are keeping their fingers (and toes) crossed for no further delays.
10. Pickie Pool
Bangor has a long history with sea swimming, especially along the coastal path from Pickie to Brompton, where a number of small natural pools and bathing places encouraged locals and visitors to enjoy a dip in the water. For many years, these areas were segregated into gents and ladies swimming spots, due to a law prohibiting mixed bathing.
The area has long attracted tourists, and many people rented their properties out for the summer season. An advertisement placed in the Northern Star newspaper in May 1792 ran: ‘To be let for the bathing season. A large and commodious house in the town of Bangor, adjoining the quay.’
The iconic Pickie Pool, seen in the photos, opened in 1931. For over 50 years it was one of the largest attractions in Bangor, with hundreds of swimmers braving the freezing cold water for a dip. The 35ft board also attracted some of the finest divers of the day, many of whom performed displays at sold-out shows.
Pickie was also the venue for weekly square dancing and music events like ‘Battle of the Bands’, as well as large diving and swimming competitions. For several decades it was Bangor’s focal point for outdoor entertainment.
However, from the 1970s, Pickie Pool fell out of favour, with an increased demand for indoor heated pools, and the opening of Bangor Leisure Centre in 1972. Many people commented that it was ‘unsatisfactory for modern life’, but many more still mourn its loss. Pickie Pool was eventually demolished in 1991 and replaced with Pickie Fun Park, with splash pads, a playpark, a small train and a Café. Victorian style bathing boxes are the only remnant of the area’s sea bathing history.