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History Group Report  to AGM  April 2013

By Reg Yorke

The History Group Winter programme, 2012-13,  included talks and presentations on ‘Marshside Fishermen’ by Gladys Armstrong;  ‘Thomas Fresh, Inspector of Nuisances’, by  Norman Parkinson, ‘Women in WW1’by  Brenda Murray, ‘Liverpool Children in the 1950’s, by ‘ Pamela Russell, ‘Viking finds on Merseyside’ by Robin Philpot, and in April an excellent presentation on ‘Incredible Liverpool’ by society Member and Blue Badge Guide, Elizabeth Newell.  Unfortunately one talk on Dr.Richard Caton, Liverpool Physician, had to be cancelled because of indisposition of the speaker, so we had a talk about Ravenmeols Heritage instead.

Member, Dilys Firn, has kindly transcribed a considerable number of interesting Tudor period documents relating to a dispute about the Formby Parish boundary in the 16th century. This has been done using high quality document photographs obtained from the Public Record Office dating from 1553 to 1562. Not surprisingly some of these are rather illegible, but Dilys has been able to transcribe most. These are all statements under oath given by contemporary residents of Formby and Halsall in connection with a legal dispute between the  Lords of the Manor of Formby and Halsall. They describe important landscape features at that time and this information is very helpful in our understanding of  the Formby Parish Boundary.

We continue to receive many interesting e-mail enquiries mainly from people who have family connections here, and then discovered our website. The importance of this has become very clear and strongly motivates us to continue to develop the local history section. ‘Formby-by-the-Sea, rediscovered’ was the theme for our Heritage Open Day event on  Sunday 9th September , a day to remember an ambitious Victorian attempt here in Ravenmeols  to create a new resort  “to rival Southport”. We also had to consider the reasons for its failure and the probable consequences if it had succeeded.!  The venue was the site of Valley House, Alexandra Road, Attended by over 160 people the central feature of the day, organised in conjunction with Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership,  was  a  way-marked  self-guided walk using a specially prepared ‘pocket – guide.  Concurrently Mark Adams (Liverpool  Museum) organised the excavation of the buried lower flight of Promenade steps  which for many years has been buried under  dunes which have built up since the Promenade was first constructed.  

Following the hasty relocation of most of our physical archives from a local shop, where conditions had become unsuitable, member Colin Cooke kindly responded to a request for help and is now well into an on-going audit, starting with our valuable collection  of Sibley original sketches and watercolours. Thanks to the previous work of Jim Hersey, Alan Burton and Tony Bonney, these have all been listed and indexed but I felt it prudent to go through the originals, item by item to audit the collection and check the condition of individual items. This has enabled us to identify some which had escaped listing.

We receive regular requests  from local organisations for talks on aspects of local history and try to respond to them all.  Popular topics include ‘Early Flying at Freshfield’, ‘Sefton Coast at War’, ‘Ravenmeols Heritage’ and ‘Formby-by-the-Sea, rediscovered’ given to a number of very different groups including recently the History Group of the Liverpool Athenaeum Club. The next will be on ‘Britain’s First Lifeboat Station’ at St Lukes Meeting Room on 23rd May.

We continue to gather interesting information for the Ravenmeols project, now in its last year. Particularly interesting have been accounts and photographs from a brother and sister  now living in Canada who both spent very happy childhood holidays at Stella Maris under the auspices of a Salford philanthropic organisation in the late 30’s. One of their memories is of (happily) waving to HMS Thetis as it passed Formby Point on its tragic fatal diving trials off Anglesey on 1st June 1939.

Stuart Evans the well known expert on the Arts and Crafts movement is coming to re-visit the ‘listed’ Sandhills Cottage early next month, at the invitation of its present residents and to fill us in on its renowned  Architect , A.H. Mackmurdo, one of the leaders of that movement, whose most important legacy on Merseyside is Port Sunlight.

Having been encouraged to submit an application for funding of a ‘stand-alone interpretive web-site for the Ravenmeols Heritage Trails. Noel Blundell and I have given a lot of thought to this and prepared a draft application. We  are also thinking about our approach to on-site interpretation.

‘Formby, Then and Now’ published by the History Press last November has been well received  and seems to be selling well.

The History Group are planning events for the Festival of British Archaeology in July and Heritage Open Day in September. The programme of History Group Meetings for the rest of this year is now organised and published in the Newsletter and on the website. This notably includes a unique chance to see the recently discovered 8,000 year old Lunt Meadows Stone-age archaeological site before it is filled in. Its excavation has been led by Ron Cowell of Liverpool Museums who will be our guide.  As space for car-parking is very limited at the Lunt access point members are asked to share cars if joining this visit.

I would like to finish by saying that Local History is very much alive and well in Formby. We are well connected to Local History activities in Lancashire (through membership of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire), with Liverpool , (through the Liverpool History Society) and nationally through the Federation of Local History Societies.  In connection with maritime matters the Liverpool Nautical Research Society and finally in connection with Archives, the Community Archive & Heritage Group.