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A ‘Thomas Fresh’ Evening

Reg Yorke - 09 December 2008

Organised by the Formby Civic Society with support from Express Sefton 08 and held at the Freshfield Hotel, Freshfield on Saturday 18th October 2008.

This was a special celebration organised by the Formby Civic Society of one of the many links between Liverpool and Formby, - an ‘outlier’ event during Capital of Culture Year. It was supported by Express Sefton, with music by the Jill Fielding Band and supper supplied by Priory Kitchens, Formby.

Attended by about 90 people the available tickets were all sold some three weeks prior to the event. Those who managed to get tickets enjoyed an unusual evening’s entertainment combined with insights into both Liverpool’s and Formby’s history, particularly on how  Freshfield got its name

After an initial drink, guests were welcomed by Society Chair, Ray Derricott following which Dr Reg Yorke provided a presentation on the background story, which he has researched with assistance from staff both present and past of the Liverpool Record Office and elsewhere. This story is about the mid 19th century recognition of the reasons for the then dreadful health of the inhabitants of towns such as Liverpool, first raised at national level by Chadwick, and followed here in Liverpool by the appointment of the country’s first Medical Officer of Health, (Dr William Duncan), the country’s first ‘Sanitary’ Inspector, (then called ‘Inspector of Nuisances’- a former Police Inspector, Thomas Fresh and also the UK’s first municipal engineer, James Newlands. This trio transformed conditions and demonstrated to the world the need for and the way to achieve satisfactory public health in industrial cities like Liverpool. This is a quite dramatic story with some unexpected twists but also a story which also relates very much indeed to the 19th century development of Freshfield and its delicious locally cultivated delicacy, asparagus.

This presentation was followed by a welcome hot-pot supper provided by Prior Kitchens to music from the Jill Fielding Band.

Val Walsh, Chair of the Duncan Society, then spoke about the significance of this pioneer Liverpool work, not only locally but as a demonstration project for, (not only) the rest of the UK but indeed the rest of the world. The lessons then learned are still very relevant in very many developing countries today. She then proposed a Toast to Thomas Fresh.

A response and thanks for this were then provided very convincingly by well-known actor David Davies in suitable costume and manner. David had entered into the spirit of Thomas Fresh and his earthy background, using the vivid pen-portrait provided for posterity by none less than the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who living in Southport for 10 months in 1859 actually met and conversed with Fresh as fellow commuters on the Liverpool – Southport steam Train.

The very interesting and indeed happy evening ended with more music. This was a unique occasion and the Formby Civic Society is grateful to Express Sefton and the various participants for giving their help to make it a great success.

*Thomas Fresh made a very significant contribution to the improvement of living conditions and health of the inhabitants of central Liverpool in the mid 19th Century. Remarkably he was also the person who obtained the construction of a new railway station at Freshfield. This in turn led to the growth of the area of Formby which since his time has been known as ‘Freshfield’ .

David Davies as Thomas Fresh