Formby Roots 2007

by David Hallowell – 28 July 2007

About 18 months ago, Ann and I finally started to research our family history. This was one of those undertakings always deferred for lack of time, which finally became possible with my semi-retirement. The real stimulus though was the BBC TV programme ‘Who do you think you are?’

We quickly realised, with much regret, that we had wasted our best resource – our parents and other relatives, most of whom were no longer there to be questioned. In a way this made us more determined to produce something that could eventually be taken on by our children and grandchildren.

Family historians seem to fall into 3 camps – those whose main aim is to contact as many living distant relatives as possible; those who want to construct a tree of all possible relatives no matter how remote; and those, like us, who simply want to find out where and how their lineal ancestors lived. 

With some relief we soon discovered that, such is the vast amount of information available online, we could construct a fairly comprehensive family tree without straying far from the laptop.

However, we also found that this was not sufficient to satisfy our curiosity – to make a real connection with our ancestors we would need to visit the areas in which they lived. We appreciated of course that many of the actual buildings and streets may no longer exist, but many of our ancestors lived in once rural areas so we had some hope of finding their former homes.

Researching one’s family history sometimes throws up odd coincidences. When searching the 1841 Census for Ann’s father’s family we discovered them living in Walton-on-the-Hill. It seems this was an old ‘detached’ parish of Liverpool that included Formby. The coincidence lies in the fact that we also live in Walton-on-the-Hill – but in Surrey.

We knew nothing off the Formby area – I had been to Liverpool on business once but apart from that the closest we had come was zooming up the M6 on the way to the Lake District. On the internet we found the Formby Civic Society website which was very helpful in giving us some background and we must thank Reg Yorke for his patient and helpful responses to our questions. We joined the Society as a means of staying in touch with a place that played a large part in my wife’s ancestry. (We don’t expect to be regular attendees at meetings!).

The above is a somewhat longwinded explanation of why, in the middle of May, we set off on the 500 mile round trip from Surrey to Merseyside. Our objective was to get a feel for the area and to find the addresses at which Ann’s ancestors had lived.

Ann’s maiden name is Eccles. She and her father were born in Surrey, but her grandfather (Fred) was born in Formby (in 1904) as were the vast majority of previous generations. Other, apparently well – known, local names that feature in this side of Ann’s tree include Aindow, Segar and Rimmer. However, our main focus was on the Eccles, for whom we had most information. 

We quickly found 4 Foster Road, where Fred was born. Oddly enough the house was up for sale so we were able to take a peek inside via the estate agents’ website. 

Fred’s parents were Thomas Eccles and Margaret Ann (nee Reeves). Thomas spent his early life at Raven Meols Farm (more of which later) and later became a postman in Formby. 

Thomas’s parents were Joseph Eccles and Elizabeth (nee Aindow). In 1851 she lived with her parents at Cloven – le – Dale which we also found (up the track from Freshfield station).

In fact, we managed to locate pretty well all the places on our list but the most important was Raven Meols Farm. Various members of the Eccles family farmed here apparently for at least 60 years (presumably as tenant farmers) between 1841 and 1901, and possibly for much longer. 

When we reached the farm, the owners were in the front yard and on learning our interest, kindly invited us in. This was quite an emotional moment for Ann and turned a successful trip into a memorable one. The new owners have taken on a major renovation project but have accomplished this in a truly sympathetic manner. We are now in touch with their progress by e-mail.

Apart from this quest, we spent a couple of hours at the splendid Rufford Hall, and visited Crosby Beach to see Anthony Gormley’s figures. Last and definitely not least, we plodded through the sand dunes to find the lifeboat station ruins. We have been unable to find any connection between ‘our’ Aindows and the ‘lifeboat’ Aindows but could not go home without such a visit. What a wonderfully unspoiled stretch of coastline this is. I, for one, am so glad that Gormley’s figures have not been planted here! 

Having accomplished all that we set out to, there is no pressing need for us to return to Formby. However, we liked the area so much that we probably shall – perhaps this time with our children and grandchildren in tow!