Formby by-the-sea 2009

Reg Yorke  12 Dec 2009

Albert Road - looking towards the Sea

Having lost half its area to the sea by the 13th century, the remaining approximately 650 acres of Ravenmeols is nowadays considered to be one of the quietest areas of the Sefton coast. In this prime location there is just one house with wonderful views overlooking the Liverpool Bay with four or five houses, (one of them listed) about half a mile inland and that is almost all unless you include Shorocks Hill on the corner of Lifeboat Road.

It nearly didn’t turn out that way.

The remains of the ancient manor of Ravenmeols whose settlement was lost to the sea and sands in the middle ages was purchased by John Formby of Formby Hall in 1757 Dying within a few years it passed to his son Richard Formby, perpetual curate of the ancient Formby Chapelry, Richard then became Lord of the Manor. The Revd. Richard Formby was in the mid-18th century an active man of great initiative and among other things the first local landowner to successfully establish a mixed plantation on the dunes, choosing Ravenmeols as the site for this then surprising experiment. Apart from a small additional amount of (mostly conifer) plantation, mainly planted about the beginning of the 20th century, to this day most of Ravenmeols consists of vast expanses of sand hills, rabbit warren’s and on the landward side a small area of arable and asparagus farming which over the years has brought in little income either to its owners or tenants. but beautiful to look at.

In the last quarter of the 19th century however an unexpected thing happened

A company was incorporated in 1875 under the title of the Formby Land and Building Co., and proceeded to purchase 105 acres of Raven Meols, for £12,100 – a roughly rectangular area extending from Andrews Lane, to the shore.[see slide].

The Company’s objects included “The laying out, forming, and sewering of streets, roads, parks, gardens, squares, crescents, terraces, boulevards, Promenades and other open spaces; but also The making of piers, jetties, and landing places in, upon and connected with lands purchased; The laying of tramways, railways, and running carriages thereon, by steam or other motive power, for hire or profit; The forming of waterworks and reservoirs, for supplying water for rent or for sale; The erection of gasworks, and the’ manufacture of gas and the selling of the same; The erection of markets, docks, hotels, laundries, baths, water gardens, aquariums; The manufacture of bricks and tiles, and selling the same.

The first step was to run a narrow-gauge track from the siding at Formby station for the conveyance of building materials, etc.from Andrews Lane to the coast, and there they constructed the first item on their programme, a double-tiered promenade of brick and cement, joining up the westerly ends of the two new roads. Albert Road and Alexandra Road. The “first sod” was cut in 1876. Behind the promenade, and parallel with it, two other roads were partly made; one was named Lord Street. Houses of the sea-side boarding-house type were erected on the promenade and in Alexandra Rd. but a great deal more property was built and survives to this day around Elson Road and Carrs Crescent. This account is however about the proposed ‘sea-side’ portion.

In 1878 Mr. Thomas Hawksley, an eminent engineer who was advising the company, thought that Formby could become a potential rival to Southport!v In actual fact apart from the development of the inland area the company fortunately achieved very little. In July 1902 it was wound up.

One likely reason was the distance from public transport

To facilitate the expected sea-side development, shortly before World War I a loop-line to connect with the L.pool-Soutport Line was pegged out for at least a portion of its length in fields belonging to Marsh Farm and Cabin Hill Farm. Application for the necessary authority was made in May 1915, but not passed until 1918 . The Board of Trade then made an Order “authorising the Lancs, and Yorks. Rly construct Light Railways at and near Formby”. There was to be one station at, or near Alexandra Rd. Fortunately it didn’t come about but in the 1930’s the route of this line was instead officially considered for the construction of a coastal road. It is very possible that had the light Railway proposed from Hightown to Formby Point and continuing later to Southport come about the scheme would have succeeded. 

Of the few properties actually built nearest the shore all but one have now disappeared. but their former sites can still be discovered by the keen observer.
Later in this short account I will try to say a little about the life of those properties. 

The most striking reminder of this failed but ambitious experiment is today the thousand foot long double tiered promenade now completely covered by sand apart from a single flight of steps which has been exposed at one point. The promenade was commenced in 1876. 

In July 1902 the company was wound up. It is interesting to wonder what made these men launch out as they did but it seems that the success of many other new seaside resorts made them hopeful that this could in fact be carried out successfully here at Ravenmeols. In Catherine Jacson’s book ‘Formby Reminiscences’ she says that her aunts at Formby Hall foresaw the possible development of a town and pictured the villas and parades of a ‘bathing place’ at Formby Point. She says that they had an “eye for profit”.

An attempt to resurrect the idea of the railway was made in 1924 by the LMS Railway Co to complete the railway authorised by powers granted in 1918. The plans for the railway were in fact quite detailed and included a bridge over Lifeboat Road, 36 foot wide, the construction of six level crossings at Kirklake Road, Alexandra Road, Albert Road, Between Albert Rd and Cocklepath Rd., (the continuation of Range Lane) and on Marsh Farm. There was to be a station at or near Alexandra Rd, with a platform, shelter and sanitary convenience and the Railway Co were to be given facilities for sewers water and gas pipes. 

By 1930 the route of this proposed railway was in fact suggested again for a new Coastal Road. A plan for this was given in an official report on the future development of South West Lancashire published in 1930 by the South West Lancashire Joint Town Planning Advisory Committee.