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History Group Report - September 2012

By Reg Yorke September 2012

Work has slowly continued in gathering background information on the modern history of Ravenmeols and in particular during the last month or so, the story behind the attempted development of the intended resort of ‘Formby- by-the-Sea’. We have been very fortunate in receiving considerable documentary evidence relating to this. In particular the Formby Land and Property Company, and the associated attempt by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company  to construct a loop line, with stations both at Formby -by-the-Sea and Victoria Road, Freshfield.

Analysis of the Formby Land Company, documentation, reveals that some quite important individuals had interests at different times in the Ravenmeols property. These include William (later Sir William), Brown, the benefactor of the Liverpool Museums and Art Galleries and at a later stage, the Vestey brothers.  It is now possible to understand not only the sequence of 19th /early 20th century intended development but also reasons for the failure of development of the coastal section of Formby-by-the –Sea. We can also now understand the consequences for the Sefton Coast had this development succeeded!

Beyond that we have now considerable evidence of the usage of the few properties actually developed, both from first-hand accounts but also the records of various philanthropic organisations who made good use of no less than seven of these properties for philanthropic purposes in the first half of the 20th century. In this we are grateful to Clare Walsh, British Province Archivist. The  Archive of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur for information on  properties rented by  the Sisters of Notre Dame , Pat McAvoy , Nugent Care Society  for information on Father Berry’s Homes and Roger Hull , Researcher, Liverpool Record Office, for much other background information.

We were able to reveal and discuss some of these findings at our Heritage Open Day event, organised jointly with Sefton Coast and Countryside service on Sunday 9th September. This was called, 'Formby-by-the Sea, Rediscovered', and in view of the fairly light but helpful prior publicity, the turnout of over 160 visitors, was a welcome outcome.  The feedback from  visitors has been rewarding and encouraging, particularly as some had personal memories and knowledge of the area. This meant that it was also a learning experience for ourselves. We are particularly grateful to Mark Adams and his 'lost settlement' archaeological team for doing an exposure of the lower promenade steps, the first time these have seen the light of day for many years!

We are also grateful to former residents Brian Brankin and Phil Clulee, for joining us but particularly to Jonathan and Molly Rathbone for allowing us to visit their back garden on a couple of occasions in order to discuss the history of Sandhills Cottage, both from an architectural and a family history point of view. This was a joint effort with Sefton Coast and Countryside and I would particularly like to thank Rachel Northover and her team for their physical support and particularly her returning to Ainsdale to print out 30 more Guide-leaflets during the afternoon, to Phil Smith for his very much appreciated wild-life notes specially written for the occasion and those members of the Committee who considerably and ably assisted on the day.

At the end of the day I was convinced there is real public interest, not only in 'Formby-by-the-Sea', but Ravenmeols as a whole and this promises well for the final outcome of the Ravenmeols Heritage Trails project in a year's time.  In the meantime we have registered the project with the new Civic Voice

It was thought that we might mount a display on the history of Formby-by-the-Sea, in the Duke Street library during the next few weeks, but on reflection I feel it would be better to delay this until next year, when we will be able to include several more extended Trails and perhaps then make it a two-day event.

‘Formby, Then and Now’. Our new publication is currently with the printers and we are told will be in the shops by 1st November, courtesy of the History Press, who we think have made a very good job of design and layout. We have inserted a sentence at the beginning of the book to say that this publication represents this societies (somewhat late) contribution to Civic Day.

Archives. Following the recent hasty relocation of most of our physical archives from Swift’s shop, where conditions were rather poor,  Colin Cooke has kindly responded to a request for help and has already commenced an on-going audit. This has started with the Sibley originals collection. Thanks to the previous work of Jim Hersey, Alan Burton and Tony Bonney, this has all been listed and indexed but I feel it prudent now to go through the originals, item by item to audit the collection and check the condition of individual items. In parallel with this, Tony Bonney has offered to photograph the water coloured sketches as the colour rendition achieved by the technology originally available does not do them justice.

Enquiries. We continue to receive many interesting e-mail enquiries mainly from people who have had family connections here, and discovered our website. The importance of a good website has become very clear and I hope we can continue to develop the local history section.