Formby Sand Winning
Jack Gore - March 2008
In connection with this project at the end of the year 2007 I interviewed four elderly people who had knowledge of sand winning operations around Formby.
The first was a former director of Woodwards, once a major business in Formby. They started taking sand just after the First World War and continued right up to the 1960s, mainly in the Lifeboat Road area. They supplied it to the foundries in the Midlands and Yorkshire where it was used for moulding (the fine wind-blown sand produced excellent castings) and it also went to glassmakers such as Pilkingtons and the Garston Bottle Company in Liverpool. As a dramatic reminder of the size of the operation, I was given a photograph from a magazine article which showed a large excavator loading sand into a lorry, both dwarfed by the ‘cliff’ of sand above.
A very useful source of information was a man who had lived in the Alexandra/Albert Road area for many years. Indeed he used to play as a child on the Formby Promenade, now buried many metres below the dunes. It was he who gave me a very accurate list of the names of the principal and smaller contractors involved through the period and some descriptions of the incidence of lorries churning up the local roads and occasionally getting stranded in the deep sand and mud. His opinion was that Woodwards were the major player, followed closely by Steven and Hooks and Sherstones. However, he thought, collectively the minor operators might have removed as much material as one of those three.
I spoke with the former Building Surveyor for the then Formby Urban District Council for the period 1958-74. He estimated that there were ten thousand lorry-loads of sand removed from Formby through the period. His involvement was to monitor the operators following concerns that some were excavating below reasonable depths. He stipulated that sand should not be removed below high tide sea level, and also insisted that the contractors restored a bank at least 25 feet high to protect against flooding. He, too, remembered the poorly surfaced roads and the unpopular lorries which sometimes made conditions difficult for local residents.
Finally I obtained much information from a man who was a life-long railway enthusiast and who still lives close to the station at Formby, which once had busy sidings and there was frequent goods traffic on the line.
He was able to give me much information about the narrow-gauge railway which ran from the other side of the main line at the Power House down towards the shore. There was a reception siding next to the Southport-bound line, and the contractors used small hopper wagons drawn by a petrol locomotive to bring sand up to an elevated stretch of line alongside, where it would be tipped into the larger railway wagons. Every day a goods train from Liverpool would run during the night, picking up the full wagons and dropping off some empty ones.