The Flying Governess

by Sara Lane – 09 March 2008

The earliest family connection with the Formby area I can find is a letter from my great grandfather, Thomas Anderson, dated l837, addressed to his sister Janet at the family home, Kilblain House, Greenock. At this time he was a Liverpool merchant and still a bachelor. He married late in life – he had been born in 1797 – and produced four children: two daughters and then twin sons; one of these was my grandfather, Andrew Malcolm Anderson. I don’t know where the family lived at this time. Thomas Anderson died when the boys were quite small and my great grandmother took the family to Germany and they lived at Stuttgart for some years, where the boys went to school . The twins returned to Liverpool in due course,and my grandfather was well settled and a member of Thompson Anderson, & Co.,merchants and shipowners, of Fenwick Street, by the time he married my grandmother in December,1899. He gives Chapel Lane, Formby, as the address on their marriage certificate, though the West Lancashire Coast Chronicle describes him as Andrew Malcolm Anderson of Kilblain, Freshfield. So maybe he already had the house. My grandmother, Katharine Eleanor Carr, was from Scremerston, Northumberland, but she too had a Formby link, since she is described in the paper as the niece of the late Mr. Arthur Ashton, stockbroker, of Dale Street Liverpool, and of Firwood, Formby. (Perhaps she was visiting him when she met her future husband?)

My mother was born at Kilblain in 1902 and spent a happy Edwardian childhood at Freshfield. I know it was a happy time, because she loved to talk about it, and I enjoyed looking at the old photographs she kept in a silver box. She would tell me about the people in the pictures and, particularly, stories about what she and her younger sister, Marian, got up to when they were small. They were taken out for walks by their much -loved nursery governess, Ger, who was always ready to play with them. Later on, they had a donkey cart and were allowed to go out in it for day-long adult-free expeditions with their friends. Children had a lot of freedom in those days. 

There was one story, however, which I never heard until my mother was into her nineties, shortly before she died. Once, when I was visiting her, she mentioned that there had been a Flying Club at Formby, on the sands, where they used to go with Ger to gaze at early flying machines. One day, she said, a dashing young airman offered to take Ger up for a spin, and she accepted! I think she must have told the children never to tell anyone (I suppose she may have feared she might lose her job) and the children never did tell – at least not until my aunt was dead and my mother a very old lady….

A few years ago, one of my cousins produced two old photographs of Kilblain. We have friends in North Wales whom we visit periodically, and we had a visit due, so we decided to route ourselves via Liverpool, and spend a couple of days there to have a look at the city and explore the Anderson connections.

On Tuesday 24 July we took an early train from London, arriving at Liverpool in the late morning. It was a beautiful day so we checked in at our hotel, ate a sandwich and then took a train out to Freshfield armed with one or two old photographs from the box, and the two pictures of Kilblain, my grand-parents’ house, together with a photocopy of the Chronicle’s detailed account of their wedding at Holy Trinity, Formby. in December, l899. We wanted to see if the house was still there.

So we made our first inquiries at the local post office-cum-chemist at the corner of Old Town Lane and Gores Lane where – friendly and kind like everyone we met that day – they directed us to Pritchard’s bookshop in Formby who, they thought, might put us in touch with Joan Rimmer, who has published several books about old Formby. This indeed Pritchards did (and while they were kindly telephoning on our behalf, we walked across the road to look at the outside of the church where my grandparents were married). Then we walked to Joan Rimmer’s house and she took us off to see Dr. Reg Yorke, and we showed him the two photographs of the house. It is a large semi-detached house and we had seen nothing like it, but Reg thought College Avenue would be a good place to start looking. So we all got into Joan’s car and off we went. The first house we looked at did not match our photographs, but Joan had moved along the road to the next pair of houses and drew our attention to No. 2. We could all see that this was it. Although the adjoining house had been altered somewhat, No. 2 had changed very little structurally, though a garage had been built and the back garden walled off. There was no-one at home, though the house was inhabited, so we all stood in the front garden comparing features of the house with the photos and I felt very moved to be standing in the very garden where my mother and aunt played so happily as children and to which – as far as I know – they never returned. Shortly after the first World War my grandparents and their daughters moved south. 

After this thrilling discovery, Joan Rimmer very kindly dropped us off at the red squirrel reservation where we saw several squirrels, their beautiful feathery tails glowing in the evening sunlight. It was so peaceful we could hear the squirrels cracking their pine nuts. Then we walked down through the dunes to the sea. Suddenly I realised that many of the old photographs in the silver box, which I had thought to be holiday pictures, were in fact taken very close to home, since I recognised their backgrounds in the dunes, the beach and the pines. We walked back to Formby along the shore.

Since our return I have been in correspondence with Reg Yorke, who informs me that Kilblain was still known by that name, and unoccupied, in 1925. He has also confirmed that there was indeed a Flying Club on the sands at Freshfield, and that at least three hangars were built there. Reg referred me to Chris Aspin’s DIZZY HEIGHTS; THE STORY OF LANCASHIRE’S FIRST FLYING MEN, and he very kindly sent me a delightful photo (1910) of a group of interested spectators inspecting a biplane on the sands. Standing behind the plane are two little girls and a lady who just might be Janet and Marian Anderson with the intrepid Ger…… 

We will never forget our wonderful day in Formby, nor will we forget all the kindness and trouble people took to help us find my mother’s old home in an impossibly short time. It is so good to feel we have a link with Formby and I hope we’ll be back one of these days.