The Great Formby Cockle Case*

13 February 2004

In the nineteenth century Formby cockles were greatly prized, and many fishermen made their living from cockle gathering, but it was an occupation fraught with a certain amount of danger, and also of fraud, as is shown by the appointment by the Court Leet of “Lookers after the Cockle Beds for the Manor of Raven Meols”. For one season Thomas Rimmer was appointed to this office, and the lords of the manor agreed to pay him one pound a year “for the trouble he would have”.

His duties were to “make general regulations for the preservation of the cockle beds and in particular to stake out the roads by which all persons going to and returning from the beds either on foot or with Horses, Carts or other vehicles, shall enter thereon or return therefrom and to revoke the licences of all fishermen who are guilty of a breach of any such regulations.” Also he was to grant licences to gather cockles upon the said sands, reserving an annual rental of sixpence.
Tthe trouble expected from the cockle beds happened and was reported by the Liverpool Daily Post of August 19th, 1867.

“Four men and two women parishioners of Formby were summoned for wilfully damaging certain bags containing cockles . . . and with assaulting Mary Hogan. A number of Irish people residing in Liverpool had gone down to the shore opposite Altcar with boats and carts and dug up the cockle beds. The Formby people considering this an invasion of their rights, which they enjoyed under the Lords of the Manor of Formby, to gather fish on the foreshore, rose in a body, came down upon the intruders vowing that not a sanguinary cockle should leave the shore that day, cut open the bags in which they were stored and strewed them on the beach. In the squabble one of the Irish women got pushed down, hence the charge of wilful damage and assault.”

*This interesting account is taken from ‘Viking Village’ by Edith Kelly, 1973. The License Book is in our Archives