Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

News and Views

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Jun 2013

Tue 11 Jun 2013
Dr & Mrs Yorke- Britain's First Lifeboat Station, Formby 1776-1918

The now defunct Manpower Services Commission was given the task of tidying up Formby beach and uncovered piles of bricks and a firm base under the sand. This led Dr Yorke and his wife to undertake early research into what this site was. It led them to the Liverpool Records Office which uncovered the fact that the site was a lifeboat station.
Records show that throughout the 18thC Liverpool was a port that was growing in size and importance. It, however, sits on the eastern bank of the River Mersey, a very dangerous river that was prone to shifting sands and a 7 knot current. All shipping had to cross the Bay of Liverpool when approaching or leaving the Mersey and records show that between 1740 and 1946 there were 304 major sea casualties, large ships coming to grief, in the bay.
Liverpool’s port authorities, in order to become more attractive as a commercial port constructed in 1719 the world’s first enclosed commercial dock. This led to growth in shipping, which in turn led to further expansion of the enclosed dock area.

Dr Reginald Yorke

Liverpool’s approaches were treacherous in bad weather and bad visibility and a beacon had been situated at Formby Point to aid shipping. Indeed, Formby Point had been the site of a beacon for over 200 years.
It was through efforts of various men that a boat was station at Formby Point specifically in order to save people’s lives at sea. One such was a William Hutchinson, dock master in late 18thC, who produced a chart showing sandbanks and buoys. A reward of 1 guinea was paid for every life that was saved within the Port of Liverpool.
Another was through the efforts of a Reverend Richard Formby who was a landowner and involved with 3 Liverpool churches. He mixed with ship owners, master mariners, doctors and dock authorities. He actually physically assisted with the saving of people’s lives.

1880s photo of the lifeboat

The modern aerial view of the site clearly shows where the
Lifeboat Station stood at the end of Lifeboat Road, Formby.

Although the first boat was probably a Mersey Gig, 2 sails, 2 hands, tragedy often hit those who tried to save others. It was clear a purpose built boat was required and the dock authorities held a national competition to find one.
Advances in trying to save ‘drowned’ persons were also made in the 18thC. Mouth to mouth resuscitation was already being administered in Holland and a Liverpool apothecary, Thomas Houlston, who trained in Leyden, Holland brought this method home. So called ‘houses of reception’ were set up, often in public houses, where drowned people could be received and cared for.

Being consumed by the sands

However, it was the mid 19thC that a crew, not volunteers, was contracted by the dock committee and paid 5 guineas a year. Crewing a lifeboat was never easy and remains that way to this day with occasional disasters.
Dr Yorke illustrated his talk with images that included charts and photos of members of the Aindow family who were involved with the lifeboat for many years. The lifeboat’s final practice run in 1916 was caught on camera and it was finally de-commissioned in 1918. Life for the building continued for many years afterwards as the Lifeboat Cafe.
Returning to title of the talk who actually claims the world’s first lifeboat station title for Formby? Well, Dr Yorke said it is in a book called Rescue at Sea written by a leading Canadian maritime historian called Clayton Evans.
Dr Yorke provided us with an interesting story of a site of historical maritime importance on our doorstep and that alone made it an enjoyable evening.

Peter Robinson





Unfortunately Mrs Yorke was unable to attend

Second-hand copies of the book can be obtained
from the AbeBooks website

Mon 03 Jun 2013
Good News!

The boundary post marking the border between Whittle-le-Woods and Chorley on the Blackburn Road B6228 (formerly A674) was smashed by Council workmen in 2011 when they were fixing new metal rails to the edge of the culvert. In recent days the stone has been repaired and re-fixed. The work was probably done by the Milestone Society.


A few days after the top photo was taken
the stone received a coat of paint

Sat 01 Jun 2013

Lancaster canal (now Leeds and Liverpool canal) 210years old today

Most people will be familiar with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which passes to the east of Chorley. There is no doubt that it was one of the major contributors to the rapid rise of Chorley’s industrial past. Along with neighbouring towns in Lancashire and the north-west of England they contributed almost half of this country's wealth in the 1850s. At the time there were no motor vehicles and even the railways were in their infancy, making the canal network the only practical method of bulk distribution.

The tunnel portal in Whittle-le-Woods
where the first barge emerged on 1st June 1803

The 1st June 2013 marks the 210th anniversary of the first barge making the through journey from Chorley to Walton Summit where its load was transferred to horse drawn wagons running on rails and then on to Preston.

The canal took many decades to complete and even though they started in Leeds in the 1770s other sections were being excavated between Preston and Kendal and also from Liverpool.

The link to Leeds would not be completed until 1816 and the canal at Chorley was still known as the Lancaster canal as it was being constructed by the Lancaster Canal Company.

Whittle basin on the Lancaster canal outside
the Duke of York.

Whittle Springs at the canal junction. The left footbridge is over the original
line of the Lancaster Canal (1803). To the right is the bottom lock on the Leeds and Liverpool canal (1816)

In 1797 it reached the area originally knows as Knowley. Subsequently it was called Botany Bay. The men doing the work were called navvies and had a fearsome reputation for being hard-working and hard-living. Riotous behaviour was not uncommon. By 1799 they had reached Whittle Springs but at that time the locks towards Blackburn had not yet been built. To connect with Preston a major tunnel was needed under Whittle Hills. This was eventually completed and the first barge passed through on 1st June 1803. There was no formal opening but the Blackburn Mail newspaper reported the following:

On the first instant, a boat laden with coal was navigated on the Lancaster Canal thro’ the tunnel at Whittle Hills, and her cargo was discharged into waggons at the termination of the canal at Walton. Twenty seven waggons were laden, each containing about one ton, and were drawn by one horse, a mile and a half, along the rail road, to the works of Messrs Claytons at Bamber Bridge. The waggons extended one hundred yards in length along the rail road, Geo. Clayton of Lostock Hall Esq., rode upon the first waggon and the tops of the others were fully occupied. The intention of navigating a boat through the Tunnel, upon this day, was not generally known; it was quickly circulated; old and young left their habitations and emoluments to witness a sight so novel, and before the boat reached her discharging place, she was completely crowded with passengers, who anxiously rushed into her at every bridge. The workmen were regaled with ail, at Bamber Bridge.
When the barges reached the Walton Summit terminus they must have been an incredible sight, loaded with goods and overloaded with people.

People enjoy a Church outing on the canal.

The original plan was to build 32 locks to descend to the River Ribble but the money ran out and a rail tramway was constructed instead. The tramway bridge still exists over the River Ribble and in 1803 a steam winch hauled the trams up through Avenham Park and on to the canal connecting Preston with Lancaster.

Walton Summit at the termination of the Lancaster Canal (1965)

Back at Whittle Springs the final link to Leeds would have to wait until 1816. The length of canal between Blackburn and Whittle-le-Woods was completed and connected via a system of 7 locks at Johnson’s Hillock. The canal then became the longest in the UK at 127.25 miles long.

The Lancaster canal length from Whittle Springs to Walton Summit was finally filled in when the M61 motorway was constructed in the late 1960s and opened in 1969.