Formby Magistrates Court

Barbara Yorke – Jan 2011

The need for a Magistrates Court in Formby was established in 1912 when Birkdale and Ainsdale were being amalgamated with Southport. 

One of the first cases to be heard at the Formby Court, which was held in the then Council Offices, Moorhouse Building, on the corner of Old Mill Lane and Church Rd. on April 6th 1912, when several people were convicted for non-payment of Poor Rate having been reported by the Overseers. Another person was fined seven shillings and sixpence for not having a dog licence and a burglar was sent to prison for one month. A case of speeding resulted in a fine of 5 shillings plus costs with the alternative of 14 days in prison.

On July 6th 1912, a Banks resident was prosecuted for having a dog without a licence, another for having an expired driving licence having “forgotten to get a new one”. The case was dismissed. Another person was convicted for being asleep in charge of a horse and cart and another of using obscene language. Further cases later concerned trapping wild birds, cycling on footpaths, not paying a railway fare and not having a fireguard.

In 1923 there were 11 licensed houses in Formby which then had a population of 8,800. This meant one licensed house per 1,100 population and one off-licence for 2,200 population. There were six licensed public houses but only one conviction for drunkenness. The overseers of Formby and Banks applied for a number of residents to be excused from paying poor rate on the grounds of poverty, age and infirmity. In 1923, a driver was prosecuted for having passed through a measured half mile on the road in one minute 23 seconds which was equivalent to 20 miles eight hundred yards per hour. For this serious offence he was fined £4. The driver of a steam lorry was similarly prosecuted for a speed of 18 miles 320 yards in one hour. The driver replied that he didn’t think his lorry would go that fast! In addition there had been no name on the lorry, and perhaps it had no speedometer?

Other cases involved the moral obligation of a son to help his mother pay the Poor Rate after advice from the Overseer. Another for not sending son of 12 yrs to school (St Lukes), 17 out of 90 times. The mother, being in good circumstances, was given a 20 shilling fine. 

On March 10th 1923 the death of Magistrate Sir Charles Scarisbrick was reported. The Chairman remarked that Sir Charles had not sat on the Bench for some time. He had been interned during the war and since then had been “too infirm to attend”. On April 7th a man was summoned for ill treating his horse, a bay gelding, by causing it to pull a cart load of turf when it had canker and the vet said it should be put down. The owner was fined £5 and adown. The owner was fined £5 and a farmworker 10 shillings. 

On May 5th 1923, Mr Thomas Dickinson, newly elected Chairman of Formby UDC, made the “usual declaration” and took his seat as a Justice. A driver of a steam wagon was prosecuted for going too fast and damaging the road surface by so doing, having been travelling at the excessive speed of 9 MPH, (limit 5 MPH). He explained in mitigation that if he adhered to the speed limit he would be unable to complete the round trip to Southport and back in the same day! 

A more serious case came up on 9th June when a lady clerk in the Post Office was prosecuted for sending a “grossly indecent postcard” to herself. The Magistrates decided that she should be sent to quarter sessions and fined £3 x 3.

New Court for Formby.

On December 14th 1927, the Formby Council Offices in Freshfield Road were formally opened by Colonel J. F. Formby of Formby Hall. The design for these purpose-built premises included Council Offices, Library, and Committee Rooms, as well as the Magistrates Court which was also used as the Council Chamber. It served well until Local Government reorganisation in 1974. Its design was said to reflect the “old historic atmosphere combined with the simple quiet dignity” required of a public building.

Colonel John Formby died in 1933, aged 81. Among his many public offices, his obituary states that he was a County Magistrate for both Lancashire and Westmorland, his appointment being made in 1889. He was one of the senior Magistrates for the West Derby Hundred. He was the senior Magistrate for the Southport Petty Sessional Division and frequently presided at the sittings of the Bench at Birkdale and latterly (since amalgamation) at Formby. He was one of the Magistrates specially summoned to attend the Liverpool Quarter Sessions.

He is an example of Magistrates not having to retire at 70, as they do today. Compulsory retirement to the Supplemental List at the age of 75 was commenced in 1949 but the age was reduced to 70, as today, in 1968.

With the creation of the North Sefton Bench, courts for the Division were held at Southport and for a short while in Formby, but, after alterations to Alexander Hall in Crosby. Courts were finally able to be held in Crosby. As early as 1900, pleas were being made in the Crosby Herald asking for local courts but this had to wait over 70 years. As in Formby, emergency occasional courts were held in police stations such as Seaforth and Formby. The Crosby courts were closed in 1992 and now it has been decided the Southport Court will also close.

Unfortunately this means that soon all Magistrates Courts in Sefton will be held in Bootle.