Formby Sand ‘Winning’ – An Introduction

Reg Yorke  – March 2008

Although the modern term for this activity is ‘sand extraction’ the traditional term ‘winning’ continues in popular usage. The word win is here used in the ‘mining’ sense of getting ore, etc from a mine. According to the OED this is derived from the OE winnan meaning ‘toil, endure’, Goth, winnan and ON vinna. These words do seem very appropriate to the process in earlier times when sand-winning was entirely manual, loading solid tyre wagons using large flat shovels. Each No 11 shovel-full is said to have lifted half a hundred weight of sand!

My first (personal) exploration of the area south of Shorrocks Hill was in February 1955. Sand had by then been excavated down to the ground water level (the “ream”) and had frozen over at that time. There was then a complete absence of the willow and poplar scrub vegetation which now covers this area.This dune area between Wicks Lane and Lifeboat Rd. is one of the principal areas of interest for the present study. (Wicks Lane marked the boundary between the Weld-Blundell and Formby warrens). It is very likely that the earliest organised sand-winning occurred here on Formby family dunes and also the last in the 1960’s.

According to Joan Rimmer the story of Sand Winning on this coast began in the depression following World War 1. As this drew to an end, 17 year old Noel Woodward, the son of a smallholder in Old Mill Lane was in business repairing cycles and motorcycles, and with his friend Gerry Norris used an old truck to take his father’s produce to market in Liverpool. One day whilst they were in Liverpool they were asked by a Liverpool builder to bring some sand from Formby. So Noel decided that on the days he wasn’t delivering the fruit, vegetables and flowers for his father, he would cart sand for the builder. 

Gerry Norris became General Manager of Woodwards and was succeeded by Arthur Sutton, who told me that local land owner Jonathan Formby, living at Firwood, had problems meeting family death duties and decided to solve this by selling sand from two large sand-hills known as Shorrocks Hill and Beacon Hill, off Lifeboat Road, behind St Luke’s Church. This area subsequently became known as “Death-duty Hill” and became a superb business opportunity for young Woodward and his friend. Apart from building, wind-blown Sand was also needed for making concrete, glass-making at Garston and for foundries In fact the story of sand winning in Formby is not as simple as that. It probably goes back to the late 19th Century, was usually on a small scale to begin with, unregulated, did nor require any official permission and so official records are not available, other perhaps than the few surviving family papers of the land owning families and others involved. 

We now have to piece the story together, partly with the help of the memories of those still alive but involved at some stage but also the scraps of documentary evidence that have survived in Official Minutes and Newspaper accounts. The landscape itself however has a tale to tell if we take the trouble to read it and understand it. We can begin with a study of maps and photographs of the area.

What is the map evidence for the areas of extraction ? The 1848 OS 6inch to 1 mile. Map, the earliest accurately surveyed map of the area, shows no enclosed or defined areas west of the Old Church Yard. Beetle Hill and Shorrocks Hill, but by 1906 there are several ‘delineated’ numbered and measured areas west of Beacon Hill Until proved otherwise it seems logical to assume that these small roughly rectangular areas represent areas of sand-extraction. Apart from Rabbit warrens, conifer planting, asparagus cultivation and bird-catching, the only other known activity on the dune back-land was in fact sand-extraction and the adjacency of these areas to Lifeboat Road is in keeping with verbal descriptions we have of sand winning in that area. 

Close examination of the 1928 map also shows these many small roughly rectangular areas marked by dotted lines. By 1955 close to Lifeboat Road, the previously noted roughly rectangular areas present on the 1928 OS Map are again clearly seen.

In 1952 Woodwards applied for permission to remove sand from an area along the N side of Lifeboat rd. We are told that loading the wagons was initially done manually at a price of 6 pence per ton. After the available sand had been extracted from the original site, extraction operations apparently moved to the opposite side of Lifeboat Road, immediately behind the frontal dunes. In 1952 Mr Paul Rathbone of Sand-hill Cottage (near Firwood) wrote to the Formby UDC protesting at the “destruction of the sand-hills” and now his descendant Mr J. Rathbone of Sandhill Cottage, remembers a “big pit” between Lifeboat Rd. and Alexandra Rd. reached by a rubble-surfaced track from Lifeboat Rd. This is clearly marked on the map. Sand may also have been removed from here via Alexandra Road. A light railway originally used for the construction of the Promenade by the Formby land Co. may possibly have been used to some extent for the removal of sand? 

By 1955, in the area S. of Lifeboat Rd. now Ravenmeols Local Nature Reserve, similar rectangular areas are marked. The area closest to Lifeboat Road was, soon after excavation, leased to become the Formby Point Caravan Site. Further south Mr Harry Jones, (West Coast Sand and Lime Co), obtained permission to take sand from the end of Range Lane. Very large amounts of sand were extracted from this area over a period of 3-4 years at the western end of Range Lane including the area used as a ‘Starfish’ decoy during WW2. This is said to have gone to Pilkington’s and also for building. Mr Sherstone then came into the business. Six men were employed full time. Further extraction took place at the southern limit of the Formby boundary at Cabin Hill, 

The removal of Cabin Hill became a ‘cause celebre’ as it was considered that the dune flood barrier had been reduced so much that the danger of flooding from the sea had been significantly increased. An artificial sand-ridge was then created to replace the natural sea defence. Much of this sand was removed via a light railway running along the Hoggs Hill Track created by Mr Sherstone.and removed by Stephen and Hooks, went to Liverpool and Manchester for house building. The 2ft wide light railway connected to a siding off the main Liverpool – Southport Railway line near the Railway Power-Station. Sand then went via the railway to the Midlands were it was used for foundry castings. This was particularly important during WW2 and in effect was an important contribution to the war effort

The last Sand Extraction Application was submitted by Woodwards in 1965, for the Area where the Wicks Lane “man-made lake” is today. Another area was to the west of Atherton Cottage’ near Shorrocks Hill. This was for “high quality sand for specialised industries – without it many important industries could be seriously effected” This application was opposed by many local people and Formby UDC, so went to public enquiry, held in the Formby Council Offices. The appeal was finally successful but even so Woodward’s were unhappy with the conditions imposed by the Minister and appealed again in July 1966. They wanted to remove 150,000 tons of sand over a 2 year 3 months period. This would mean over 15.000 10-ton lorry loads passing through Formby. This occurred but was probably the last significant industrial extraction here.

In the early days this was entirely manual using the famous Number 11 shovel, kept suitably sharp and polished, said to lift half a hundred weight at a time, onto a flat bed lorry. Some time in the 1950s the process became mechanised with the use of dragline and bucket. A dragline bucket system consists of a large bucket which is suspended from a boom. The employees not actually working during the loading process were required to plant lines of Marram grass over the previously worked areas!

Known sand excavating and haulage firms include H. Woodward and Son, Steven and Hooks, Wm Kellets (and Sherstone), W.Rainford, West Coast Lime and Sand Co, (Jones Brothers), and Southport Sand Co