A typical audience at Heysham Head, Morecambe


When first looking into background material for the page on Jan & Vlasta Dalibor's mid-1950s seasons, it became intriguing just how many leading Puppet Companies, including the Dalibors, had performed at Heysham Head and Morecambe over the years.  Heysham Head, the "Wonderland of the North," was a family attraction, set in 20 acres of gardens and parkland just south of Morecambe on the North West Coast of England.  An admission charge of one shilling ("the finest entertainment value in the world" - in the mid-1960s), entitled families to a full day's outing including a Zoo, Circus, Children's Talent Competition, Rose Garden and other entertainments including Marionettes.

Heysham Head Poster
Heysham Head Poster
Heysham Head Flyer
Heysham Head Flyer

Elsewhere on this site is detailed the history of D'Albert with his combined Punch & Judy and Marionette booth/stage just along the coast on Morecambe Beach from 1923 to 1941 (the picture below is his earlier booth, before he modified it to include a marionette stage).  Also Peter Charlton wrote an excellent article for the Autumn 1999 'Puppet Master' Magazine about the DeRandel Marionettes' appearance at Heysham Head (early 1950s) with their famous character, Yorkshire Bob.  In Peter's article, he explains that the puppeteer for De Randel's Marionettes at Heysham was the second generation of showmen from the Hodson family.  Joe Randel Hodson first appeared in a Concert Party show at Heysham, before becoming the resident puppeteer for 8 years.  The marionettes he used originally belonged to his father, Joe Hodson, who had carved the puppets from hardwood with a pen knife.

The D'Albert Punch Booth
1923 D'Albert Booth
The De Randel's famous Yorkshire Bob
The De Randel's Yorkshire Bob

Peter Charlton mentioned in that same article that he thought John Dudley had also played a season at Heysham, so, as I happened to bump into John at a British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild meeting, I asked him if this was correct.  John confirmed that it was (1962) and very kindly provided most of the pictures featured here.  John was assisted by Ray Smith (pictured below) for the Heysham Head season, who also toured with John with the Caravan Marionette Theatre and with the Lilliput Marionette Theatre.  John advised that Wolohan's Marionettes had played the year before him and provided an original programme from their season.

John Dudley's Marionette Stage
Dudley Marionettes on the Heysham Stage
John Dudley's Stage at Heysham Head
Dudley Marionettes at Heysham Head 1962

Wolohan's Programme
Wolohan's Marionettes Programme from 1961

At the same Guild Meeting, I bought Chris Abbott's book on the career of Ray and Joan DaSilva "An East Anglian Odyssey" and the very first page I opened the book to, was a description of the DaSilva Marionettes 1967 season at Heysham Head.  Ray explains in the book that they used a fully enclosed portable theatre for this season, built from scaffolding covered in dark blue canvas to keep the interior suitably dark.  There was a flying grid backstage and full sound and lighting.  Their season was marred, however, by a particularly poor summer with high winds and considerable heavy rainfall, which pooled in the canvas of the theatre's structure.  They were also competing against the noise from a go-cart track which had been installed adjacent to the puppet theatre site.

September 2007