It’s a town that’s famous for its fishing industry, and still has a fish processing industry today. Have a look at Fleetwood Docks. It’s past intertwines with the present, and this page is a mixture of then and now.
Fleetwood Docks Today
The town once had a huge fishing industry, with boats landing their catch here to be sold all over the UK. The industry’s not what it once was, but commercial fishing does still continue from the dock.
As a visitor the the area, the extent of the docks isn’t very obvious from the main roads of Fleetwood. Most of it is hidden from view behind buildings and security gates. Take a look at the map a little further down the page and you’ll see how the channel of the River Wyre and the docks themselves cover a large area of land.
We went for a look around in January 2021 –
Fishing and Fish Processing
Despite the woes of the fishing industry, there’s still a healthy fish processing industry in the area.
Project Neptune (featured in the first video) will see a whole section of the dock area redeveloped and a new fish park created for local businesses.
Through the inland end of Wyre Dock is the fish dock – that’s the one you can see as you drive along Amounderness Way past the Three Lights pub.
Fish processing is carried out there and in the nearby Sidings/Copse Road area. A number of companies are based there, employing several hundred people in processing all kinds of fish and shellfish.
Did you know? Nigel told us that the Martin family of Fleetwood designed a machine for dressing and battering scampi. They exported all over Europe and to such famous restaurants as the Trocadero in a London. On the other hand, ‘poor man’s scampi’ was thick seam tripe, boiled in saltwater and cut into scampi sized pieces before being battered and fried. Many hotels and guest houses had it on their menu as Scampi. It should have been called epigrams of tripe!
Getting into the Dock
You can see from the map below that boats access the docks via a channel from the River Wyre. Small boats use the sides of the channel for mooring.
The first dock is Wyre Dock, the one you walk alongside when you go shopping at Affinity Lancashire. See it in this video –
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The docks at Fleetwood are managed by Associated British Ports (ABP).
Stena Line withdrew the ferry service from Fleetwood to Ireland at the end of December 2010. The parking lot for the ferry terminal at Dock Street is now derelict land.
The loading gear for the ferries at Queen’s Terrace (opposite Fleetwood Museum) also stands disused.
History of Fleetwood Docks
Way back in the 1840’s
Frederick Kemp was Peter Hesketh Fleetwood’s land agent. By the time that Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood was just about bankrupt, Frederick Kemp’s career was going well. He’d set up the Fleetwood Estates Company to manage the land, and in 1843, the North Lancashire Steam Navigation Company to manage the expanding steamer trade.
- More about the early history of the town of Fleetwood
- Lots of old photos from the 1800’s to recent times
From the 1860s Fleetwood expanded its port activities. Steamers began pleasure and commercial services to the Isle of Man, Ardrossan and Belfast.
1⁄2 mile (800 m) of stone quays were built along the frontage of the River Wyre. The railway line was extended to the steamer pier opposite Queen’s Terrace, and in 1883 the imposing new railway station was built there.
Growth of the Fishing Industry
The port of Fleetwood was still mainly a cargo terminal at this time. The fishing industry began to grow as vessels expanded their catchment area from the Irish Sea fishing grounds (first fished in the 1840s) to the haddock grounds of the North Atlantic Ocean.
At this time, all the fishing vessels out of Fleetwood were sail-powered fishing smacks, not many of them were over 40 tons deadweight. Harriet was one of Fleetwood’s fishing smacks – you can go and visit her today at Fleetwood Museum.
Fleetwood Docks Act
The Fleetwood Docks Act of 1864 enabled the construction of a dock and embankment for both fishing and general cargo.
Work began on what was to become Wyre Dock in 1869, but was suspended for financial reasons. A second Act in 1871 gave construction authority to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. It’s construction was completed in 1877.
By the early 1890s, the construction and expansion of rival cargo ports in the North West and the building of the Manchester Ship Canal heralded the decline of Fleetwood’s prominence as a cargo port. However, it was more than offset by the rapid expansion of the fishing industry, signalled by the launch in 1891 of the first steam powered trawler, the Lark.
West is Best
All the other major fishing ports in Britain – Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen – were on the East coast, so there was a competitive advantage for a West-coast port with good rail links. By the start of the 20th century, Fleetwood’s position as one of the three major fishing ports in England was cemented.
James Marr brought a fleet of steam trawlers to Fleetwood and actively started to change the port by selectively fishing for hake. Until then the fish had been a much less desirable catch. It was the Marr family who owned another well known fishing boat, Jacinta.
An Expanding Industry…
The docks were expanded in 1908 with the construction of the Fish Dock, accessible through Wyre Dock, and still used today for the inshore fleet.
By the 1920s, the fishing industry was at its height, employing over 9,000 people.
Many industries related to fishing grew up along the rail corridor on the eastern side of the town. Other unrelated industries moved into the area to take advantage of the availability of labour.
Which then Declined…
By the 1960s Fleetwood began to decline economically. Most serious was the collapse of the fishing industry, largely destroyed by the Cod Wars of the late 1960s and early 70s. That was the bitter dispute between Iceland and the UK over fishing rights.
As Fleetwood’s trawlers mainly fished the North Atlantic for cod, the loss of the fishing grounds hit the town hard. The last deep sea trawler left the town in 1982 and now only inshore fishing boats fish out of the port.
The last ferry to the Isle of Man sailed in 1961. The sailings have been revived periodically since then, although sadly not in recent years.
Fast forward to 1973 and the area around the old railway station was developed into a container port facility. For many years P&O were operating a container service to Larne in Northern Ireland. In 1975, this became a Roll-on/roll-off service. This development led indirectly to some renewal of the then largely derelict Dock Street area, and improved road access to the town to support the container traffic. Twice-daily container service continued until 2004 when Stena Line bought the route and increased the service to three times a day.
In December 2010 Stena Line announced that the ferry service to Ireland would be withdrawn at the end of the year. The service moved to Heysham with the loss of 140 jobs in Fleetwood.
But it’s not all bad!
Fish is still a big industry in the town, though the jobs are mainly in processing rather than fishing. You’ll see trawlers registered in other places, taking advantage of the local fish market.
Fleetwood Freeport and Marina was built in 1995 on the site of the former Wyre Dock. In 2018 it changed its name to Affinity Lancashire.
The Grand Opening of Fleetwood Docks
Ashton Printers are still printing in Fleetwood. They gave us a copy of this leaflet which their ancestors produced in 1877, for the procession and opening of Fleetwood Dock.
We’ve transcribed the details so you can read the fascinating list of trades people, bands and churches who took part in this great event. Many of them are now ghosts of the past.
OPENING OF FLEETWOOD DOCK
Monday October 8th, 1877
ORDER OF GRAND PROCESSION
The Procession will assemble in the Company’s Field, Poulton Lane, at half past nine, and will start at ten am in the following order:
BAND OF THE 1ST DRAGOON GUARDS
Members Local Board
Gentry and Tradesmen
Life Boat and Crew
BAND 15TH REGIMENT
Ship Carpenters and Sailmakers
BAND OF ELLESMERE CLUB
Fishermen with Boat complete for Fishing
Workmen Thos. Riley and Sons, Saw Mill
ACCRINGTON VOLUNTEER BAND
Workmen of Curwen & Swain (Limited)
BAND 3RD ROYAL LANCASHIRE MILITIA
Church of England
ARTILLERY VOLUNTEER BAND
By the kind permission of Col. Lord J Taylour the 94th Regiment will line the route
Poulton Road, West Street, East Street, North Albert Street, Bold Street, Archery Ground, Upper Queen’s Terrace, Lower Queen’s Terrace, Dock Street and onto the Dock.
On the return the Procession will be reversed and proceed along Dock Street, Church Street, St Peter’s Place, Alfred Terrace, and disperse in the Square, North Albert Street.
It is particularly requested that all parties strictly adhere to the Order of Procession prescribed by the Committee, and also obey the orders of the Marshalls appointed.
Mr J. G. Shield, Marshall
W. Ashton (late Stanley), Printer and Stationer, 14 Dock Street, Fleetwood
Watercolour Fishing Boats
We’re also artists and designers here at The Rabbit Patch, have you looked at our work in the Seaside Emporium?
This original watercolour painting of ours features some of the fishing boats, moored in the dock.
While you’re here…
Have a look at the homepage of the Visit Fleetwood website for more of the latest updates.
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