From the Domesday book to the present day, step back in time and take 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. It’s 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. It was 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, across the river from Fleetwood.
Over the centuries, the land passed to the Crown. Henry VIII later sold it, during the dissolution of the monasteries.
History of Fleetwood – the Rossall Estate
Edmund Fleetwood was the first of the name to reside as Lord of the Manor at Rossall Hall.
His descendant, Peter Hesketh, was to later put Fleetwood on the map. Interestingly, it was another descendant, General George Fleetwood, who with others signed the death warrant of King Charles I.
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, leading to The Mount of today, eventually disappeared because the sea continually encroached. There was extensive flooding 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 the port at Skippool for their sailings to the Americas. Nearby Poulton was the main market town of the area.
Making a Mark on History
Peter, then Lord of the Manor, High Sheriff of the County of Lancashire and MP for Preston had 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 became a name we’re all familiar with – Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood – whose statue is in Euston Gardens, off The Esplanade.
Sir Peter had good reason for believing the site held the makings of a busy seaport and popular resort. It had a river mouth and a natural sheltered harbour. In fact the expression “safe as Wyre Water” passed into folklore. There were golden sands, sea, air like wine and breathtaking views across Morecambe Bay. All that was missing was a railway from busy Preston.
The beginning of Fleetwood
Eminent architect of the time, Decimus Burton, was hired by Peter Hesketh. 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.
The big sand dune 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 is the hub of Burton’s half-wheel design. The main residential streets the spokes, and the main commerce area of Dock Street is the rim of the wheel.
Historic Buildings in Fleetwood
The oldest surviving Fleetwood building 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.
The North Euston Hotel is another old building, 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.
The North Euston was originally 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. In doing so it 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.
A third lighthouse, the Wyre Light, was built in 1839-40 by Alexander Mitchell. You can still see it, offshore on the northeast corner of North Wharf. Together, the three lighthouses safely guided ships through the Wyre channel and into port.
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.
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. The site of Blackpool Central Station is set to be redeveloped once again.
Peter’s unscrupulous agent, Frederick Kemp also contributed to his failing fortune, although he was never a declared bankrupt. Bankruptcy was to be the fate of Sir Peter’s 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 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 main building.
Plans for a pier were first made in the 1890s. Building didn’t 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 its place in the 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 with much celebration 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. 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.
After the Dock opened in 1877 at a cost of £250,000, 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.
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, 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 was a hostage of the 1960’s and 70’s Cod Wars, over fishing rights between Iceland and the UK. As a result, 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. 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 originally called Freeport Fleetwood. In 2018 it was renamed Affinity Lancashire.
While you’re here…
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