History of Fleetwood

History of Fleetwood

From the Domesday book to the present day, come back in time and have a look through the history of Fleetwood.

History of Fleetwood – as far back as the Domesday Book

The land on which Fleetwood stands belonged to the Hundred of Amounderness, mentioned in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086.

Three pages of Latin abbreviations and strange yet recognisable spellings tell that the region was sparsely populated, laid waste and the property of Baron Roger de Poictou. His share in the spoils as one of William’s mercenaries at the Battle of Hastings. He was later banished and Amounderness given to Theobald Walter. He was another Norman and founder of Cockersand Abbey, which is across the river from Fleetwood.

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Over the centuries, the land passed to the Crown but Henry VIII sold it in the course of the dissolution of the monastries.

History of Fleetwood – the Rossall Estate

Edmund Fleetwood was the first of the name to reside at Rossall Hall as lord of the manor. It was his descendant, Peter Hesketh, who put Fleetwood on the map. Interestingly, it was another descendant, General George Fleetwood, who with others signed King Charles I death warrant.

In the 1830s Peter Hesketh’s Rossall estate was a desolate tract, home to thousands of rabbits and sea birds. Marram-grass lined sand dunes culminating in The Mount of today eventually disappeared, because the sea continually encroached. Extensive flooding occurred in 1833 when cattle and horses were drowned and outbuildings at Rossall Hall were damaged.

Fleetwood wasn’t even on the map at this point. Fishermen and trawlers were unknown at the mouth of the River Wyre. At the time sea trade used Skippool and Poulton for their sailings to the Americas.

However, Peter, Lord of the Manor, High Sheriff of the County of Lancashire and MP for Preston had other ideas about making his mark on the history of Fleetwood. When he was later  knighted, he petitioned Queen Victoria to add his mother’s maiden name ‘Fleetwood’ to his own name. He then became Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood).

He had good reasons for believing that the site held the makings of a busy seaport and popular resort. It had a river mouth, a natural sheltered harbour (the expression “safe as Wyre Water” passed into folklore). There were golden sands, sea, air like wine and breathtaking views across Morecambe Bay on clear days. All that was missing was a railway from busy Preston.

The beginning of Fleetwood

Decimus Burton was hired by Peter Hesketh, and work on the railway and the first buildings commenced in 1836.

A single line railway from Preston opened on 15th July, 1840, following the formation of the Preston and Wyre Railway, Harbour and Dock Company. In the meantime, houses, hotels and wharf had been built. Fleetwood was a planned town, unlike others that grew haphazardly during the Industrial Revolution.

Burton’s plan was to use largest of the sand-dunes on the north-facing shore as the focus of a half-wheel street layout.

This was landscaped, and became known as The Mount. Originally called Starr Hill and the highest in the chain of dunes, it became a focal point. A summer house was placed on top from which Esau Carter Monk, one of the first town commissioners, dispensed refreshments.

The Mount served as the hub of Burton’s half-wheel design, the main residential streets acted as the spokes, and the main commerce area of Dock Street was the rim of the wheel.

Map of Fleetwood from 1890, history of Fleetwood
Map of Fleetwood from 1890

Historic Buildings in Fleetwood

The oldest surviving building through the history of Fleetwood dates from 1838. It’s now Fleetwood Museum (below) but was once the Custom House, then the Town Hall. There’s more about the Museum today at this link. Houses from as early as 1839 still also stand in the town.

Fleetwood Museum, history of Fleetwood
Fleetwood Museum

The North Euston Hotel was built in 1841. It’s a semi-circular building overlooking the bay and the River Wyre estuary. It played an important role in the history of Fleetwood.

North Euston Hotel and gardens, history of Fleetwood
North Euston Hotel and gardens

The North Euston Hotel was built to serve overnight guests making the railway journey from Euston Station in London. It was close to the point of departure for the steamers to Scotland.

At the time, there was no direct rail route from London to Scotland along the west coast. Travellers would arrive at Fleetwood and take the sea ferry to Ardrossan, then travel by rail to Glasgow.

The construction of the railway over Shap Fell in the Lake District in 1847 ended this sea/rail link and made Fleetwood’s role as a transport terminus obsolete.

Features of Fleetwood

Burton designed two lighthouses for the town. The Pharos or Upper Lighthouse and Beach or Lower Lighthouse (below), both of which opened in 1840.

Fleetwood Lower Beach Lighthouse, part of the history of Fleetwood
Fleetwood Lower Beach Lighthouse

A third lighthouse, the Wyre Light, was built in 1839-40 by Alexander Mitchell offshore on the northeast corner of North Wharf. The three lighthouses used together safely guided ships through the Wyre channel.

History of Fleetwood as a Seaside Resort

The new town grew with houses, shops, churches, schools and boarding houses. Visitors crowded in for sea-bathing, scenery, sands and dancing in the Mount hollow.

Fleetwood Railway Station, Lighthouse Stationery collection, part of the history of Fleetwood
Fleetwood Railway Station

Trips for workers’ regattas were planned. Wealthy visitors stayed on Upper Queen’s Terrace for three weeks to three months. Breakfast at the North Euston was two shillings, a bedroom four shillings a day. Fleetwood Market first opened in 1840 and is still in operation today.

During Whitsuntide Week of 1844 thousands of trippers travelled to Fleetwood on the half fares offered by the railway company. In 1846 the largest Sunday School trip was a train of 56 carriages, pulled by two engines, carrying 4,200 people.

The Fate of Peter Hesketh Fleetwood

These were boom years in the history of Fleetwood. However, a later branch railway line to Blackpool saw the growth of the neighbouring resort, and falling visitor numbers in Fleetwood.

Peter’s unscrupulous agent, Frederick Kemp also contributed to his failing fortune, although he was never a declared bankrupt. That was to be the fate of his only surviving child Louis.

Peter had spent so much of his large fortune that he had to lease out and later sell Rossall Hall. The sale of goods lasted a fortnight. He then went abroad and later settled in Brighton.

History of Fleetwoods Fishing Industry

Improvement Acts were later passed for paving, lighting and street cleansing. Isle of Man sailings were extended, steamers travelled to Londonderry, Belfast and Ardrossan.

A fleet of fishing smacks built up the town’s reputation for hake catches. Until then it hadn’t been a popular fish, but it cemented Fleetwoods place as one of the top three fishing ports in the country.

Harriet fishing smack being built by Singleton Brothers. Old Fleetwood photos
Harriet fishing smack being built by Singleton Brothers

Harriet is one of Fleetwoods fishing smacks – you can take a tour of her at Fleetwood Museum, where she rests in the boat hall at the back of the building.

Fleetwood Pier

Plans for a pier were first made in the 1890s but building did not start until 1909 and Fleetwood Pier opened in 1910. At 150m long it was one of the shortest piers in the country and the last new seaside pier to be built in the UK.

After withstanding a fire in 1952, it finally met its fate in 2008. A fire on 9 September led to its demolition later in the same month, sealing it’s place in the history of Fleetwood.

Site of Fleetwood Pier - history of Fleetwood
Site of Fleetwood Pier – history of Fleetwood

Trams to Fleetwood

The electric tram link to Blackpool was constructed in the 1890s and of course remains to this day. In 2012 major works were completed to the line and it reopened as a light railway with new trams.

The tramway was routed along East Street and West Street (now Lord Street and North Albert Street) rather than Dock Street. So commercial trade followed and the town centre grew. Fleetwood is the only town centre in Britain with trams running the full length of its main street, sharing road-space with cars.

The Dock opened in 1877 at a cost of £250,000 and Fleetwood became the third largest fishing port in the country. The fearless reputation of its lifeboat men made news in many a fierce storm. There are various memorials to lost fishermen in Fleetwood, like ‘Welcome Home’ (below) which you can see on The Esplanade at Ferry Beach.

Welcome Home Statue on The Esplanade, history of Fleetwood
Welcome Home Statue on The Esplanade

The worst flood occurred in 1927 when six people died. Sea defences were built in 1962 – to be later enhanced after the flood of 1977. The latest stretch of sea wall to be built is the Rossall Coastal Defence Scheme which was completed in 2018.

In 1933 Fleetwood became a Borough. With attractions and amenities increasing, at this point in the history of Fleetwood it was a popular place for a healthy family holiday.

Fleetwood Docks

Fleetwood was a hostage of the 1960’s and 70’s Cod Wars over fishing rights between Iceland and the UK, and commercial fishing has seriously declined. The last deep sea trawler left the town in 1982 and now only inshore fishing boats fish out of the port, although trawlers registered in other places can still be seen taking advantage of the popular fish market.

In 1973, the area around the old railway station was developed into a container port facility. P&O operated a container service to Larne in Northern Ireland which became a Roll-on/roll-off service in 1975. Twice-daily container service continued until 2004 when Stena Line bought the route and increased the service to three times a day. Stena Line withdrew the service at the end of 2010, with the loss of 140 jobs.

In 1995, the deserted Wyre Dock was developed into a marina (below). The then derelict dock landing area was developed into the retail shopping centre Freeport Fleetwood. In 2018 it was renamed Affinity Lancashire.

The Marina at Affinity Lancashire, the former Wyre Dock, part of the history of Fleetwood
The Marina at Affinity Lancashire, the former Wyre Dock

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