FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Maidstone

Maidstone is Kent’s county town, so you’d think it would get some attention, but somehow it seems to slip under the radar. Google Maidstone and you’re more likely to get directed towards generic Kent websites and information about things round Maidstone than anything about the town itself. Attractions nearby include Leeds Castle (yes, Leeds), the picturesque countryside or its position in the heart of the ‘Garden of England’.

But is there anything to be said for the town itself? Ultimately, is it worth a visit? Well, here’s Five Fantastic Stories that may lure you in.

 

Maidstone, Maidstone or Maidstone Sir?

Maidstone East Station

Maidstone has got three railway stations. Greedy? Well, when the railways came to this part of the world, the locals weren’t too keen on noisy, smoky trains. It was felt that they would destroy the nice little business they had using the River Medway for the transport of goods. The first main line linking London to Dover went via Ashford, with a branch line to Maidstone. That was in the 1840s. Then, in 1905, the Headcorn and Maidstone Junction Light Railway linked the town to the Kent and Sussex Railway. These days, the town has Maidstone East (which is in fact the more northerly), on the secondary line from London to Ashford, and Maidstone West, on the Medway Valley Line. It also has Maidstone Barracks, also on the Medway Valley Line.

 

Muggles!

Muggleton

The Muggleton Inn

No, not Harry Potter, but Charles Dickens. Dickens was famously based in Kent and used to enjoy his strolls around the county. He also used his observations in his books, and Maidstone is referred to in Pickwick Papers as ‘Muggleton’, and its inhabitants as ‘Muggletons’. These days, there’s a pub in the centre of the town called ‘The Muggleton Inn’ – a JD Wetherspoons actually.

This building was in fact built in 1827 as the new offices of the Kent Fire Insurance Company. They used to store their horse-drawn fire engine around the back of the building. The Royal Insurance Company took the building over in 1901 and stayed there for 90 years. Without burning down.

 

Hazlitt?

William Hazlitt

The Hazlitt Theatre on Earl Street

No, not the stuff I always had in my sandwiches at school , a sort of meatloaf, but the writer and philosopher, William Hazlitt. A son of a Unitarian minister, Hazlitt was born in Maidstone, and there’s a plaque to commemorate the fact.

Eassyist and Critic

This states Hazlitt was an ‘Essayist and Critic’, which is doing him down somewhat. He was in fact something of a polymath. A writer, a drama and literary critic, a painter, social commentator and philosopher no less. In fact, some felt he was the finest art critic of his age. Not bad for a lad from Maidstone. One of his many quotes was ‘The more we do, the more we can do’, although given the times we live in, that could be taken either way.

 

A Fine CV

A Fine CV indeed

While we’re on famous sons of Maidstone, I give you Andrew Broughton. He also has a plaque in the town (it’s on the front of the Ask restaurant in Earl Street), and it carries one of the finest CVs I’ve ever seen. Brief, and to the point, it states Broughton was ‘Mayor and Regicide’.

He was indeed Mayor of Maidstone, in 1648. Two months after being appointed, he became Clerk of the Court at the High Court of Justice. It wasn’t great timing, as Clerk of the Court, it was his duty to read out the charge against King Charles I of England at his trial. He also had to ask the King how he pleaded and, at the end of the trial, declare the court’s sentence of death. That must have been a brown trouser moment.

At the Restoration, he was exempted from the general pardon under the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, so understandably he legged it. To Switzerland, where he spent the final 25 years of his life in exile.

 

From Brewing to Shopping

Fremlin Walk

Maidstone boasts a lovely new shopping centre called the Fremlin Walk. Its development is the perfect example of the way the town’s local economy has transitioned from making things to selling them. The centre is named after the town’s brewery, Fremlins, which brewed beer in the town until 1972. Fremlins was famous for focusing on bottled beer rather than supplying the licensed trade and was known for its elephant logo. Once the largest brewer in Kent, Fremlins was taken over in 1967 by Whitbread.

The old entrance into the brewery

Fremlin Walk is one of the most successful shopping centres in the south east apparently, with particularly high yields. It was very busy when I went there, and that was on a Sunday. That said, Sunday seems to be when most people do their shopping these days as far as I can see.

 

There will be more on how I experienced Maidstone in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … The River Lea

The River Lea is sometimes called London’s ‘Second River’, which is odd, seeing as it starts in Leagrave, just north of Luton in Bedfordshire. Even that is disputed though. There’s a drain nearby which is often taken for the source, but it isn’t, it’s a rainwater runoff. However, the fact that the trickle that starts from the bog is soon joined by a stream originating in Houghton Regis, two miles away, might give the latter a stronger claim to be the true source.

 

So Good They Named It Twice

 

The River Lee near Enfield Lock

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the river though, is its name. It is the Lea or the Lee – or even the Lee Navigation? The answer is, it’s all three, at different times. It’s generally agreed that the natural river is called the Lea, while the manmade channel is the Lee. It becomes the Lee navigation where it is suitable for boats. Generally, this is taken as after it reaches Hertford.

Limehouse Basin, where the Lea finds the Thames

The modern Navigation resulted from a 1766 Act of Parliament which authorised ‘canalisation’ of sections of the river. In other words, adding locks and new sections such as the Limehouse Cut. Further improvements followed with the Lea Conservancy Act of 1868, along with further improvements in the 1920s and ‘30s, often for flood relief. All this said though, the first Parliamentary action to improve the river for navigation stretches back to 1425. On top of that, the Vikings also plied their pillaging along the river, so it has a long history.

 

Britain’s First Regional Park

The Lea Valley Walk is well signposted

The Lea Valley Regional Park was Britain’s first regional park. It stretches for 26 miles from Ware in Hertfordshire to the East India Dock Basin of the River Thames. It includes a diverse mix of green spaces, heritage, nature reserves and, of course, water. It was established by Act of Parliament as recently as 1967 and was the brainchild of Sir Patrick Abercrombie, who set it out in his Greater London Plan of 1944.

 

Brocket Hall

Brocket Hall in Herts – now a golf course.

There’s a public footpath alongside the Lea that takes you through the grounds of Brocket Hall. If you think you’ve heard the name before it might be because it’s been the home of two Prime Ministers. These were the Lords Palmerston and Queen Victoria’s favourite, Melbourne. On the other hand it might be because of the antics of the current Lord Brocket. He rose to notoriety when he pretended some of his collection of Ferraris had been stolen (when they hadn’t). After paying his dues to society he went on to do rather well in the ITV series ‘I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’. These days, the hall is a hotel and the grounds are a golf course.

 

Thirty Billion Litres

Flood Relief Channel near the King George Reservoir

Two huge reservoirs, the King George V and the William Girling, occupy three miles of the Lea Valley Walk. Together, they account for thirty billion litres of water, and are known collectively as the Chingford Reservoirs. That’s a lot of water. They were inaugurated in 1913 and 1951 respectively and are separated by the A110 trunk road and are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

 

And Beyond

The Olympic Stadium – now home to ‘The Hammers’

There was an oft-repeated line in the excellent BBC Comedy 2012 about preparations for London’s Olympics where one of the characters, played by …., would justify an initiative on the grounds that it would benefit the ‘whole of the Upper Lea Valley and beyond’. There can be little doubt that the Olympics did benefit the river, and it flows just beneath the main Olympic Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Park.

 

There will be more on how I experienced sections of the River Lea (or should that be Lee?) in my book. Register your interest here.

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

WGC Welwyn Garden City

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Welwyn Garden City

How much do you know about Welwyn Garden City? Okay, it was a New Town and …. it’s a garden city (well … but more on that later). What else? Go on …. Thought not.

Read on:

 

100 Up

Ebenezer Howard

Plaque to Sir Ebenezer Howard, founder of the New Town movement

In 2020 Welwyn Garden City will be celebrating its centenary. Yes, it’s almost twice as old as Milton Keynes! Somehow that doesn’t feel right, I don’t quite know why, but there you go. Yes, in 1920 Sir Ebenezer Howard bought a plot of land to start building his second garden city. Where was the first? Go on, you know this. Think. Yes, it was Letchworth. Gold star for all who got it right.

Later, when the town was fit to be lived in it was advertised as an opportunity to ‘Live In The Sun’. Nice try lads. Just goes to show that advertising was as ambitious a hundred years ago as it is now.

By the way, I know I might be accused of being obsessed by this (Northampton, Milton Keynes take note), but Welwyn Garden City is a town. Not a city. Again, nice try lads.

 

Blue Plaques

The First House to be occupied in WGC – nearly 100 years ago!

Welwyn GC (which is what I’ll call it from now on to disguise the whole ‘city’ thing), had eleven blue plaques. These celebrate places and people who’ve played an important part in the town’s history. Yes, town’s history. Just to whet your appetite, these include such luminaries as Jack Catchppol, Louis De Soissons and C. B. Purdom. Yes, not exactly big names, but big names for Welwyn GC, so let’s not knock them.

 

Roman’ Around

Welwyn GC has its own Roman Baths. Yes, the New Town has a connection with the Romans. They sit around 500m east of the village of Welwyn, and whilst not fully excavated, can be visited. They are, it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) a scheduled ancient monument. In fact, the baths sit in a steel vault sitting under the A1(M) at its junction with the A1000.

 

Never Eat Shredded Wheat

The actress Flora Robson lived in WGC for a while, where she worked at the  local Shredded Wheat factory. This was about the time here career was taking off, in the early 1920s. Funnily enough, this coincided with the time that Welwyn was taking off too. She also has her own blue plaque (see above).

Welwyn GC was once synonymous with Shredded Wheat, whose large white silos acted as a landmark on the rail line between London and the north of England. The factory was designed by Louis de Soissons. Hold on, haven’t I heard that name before? Yes, he is another of those blue plaque holders. They get everywhere.

The factory is now a Grade II listed building, but production of the famous breakfast cereal moved to Staverton in Wiltshire in 2008 when Nestle, the company that owns Shredded Wheat, decided it needed too much money spent on it to keep it sustainable. Tesco had a go at buying the site, but public protest stopped that.

 

Bandits at One O’Clock

Scenes for the 1969 film The Battle of Britain, directed by Guy Hamilton and produced by Harry Salzman (of James Bond film fame) were shot at the Panshanger Aerodrome in Welwyn Garden City.

The future of the aerodrome currently hangs in the balance – there are plans for 650 homes there, but also plans to bring it back to an aerodrome. There are also plans for a combination of both. Who knows?

 

That’s it. There will be more on how I experienced Welwyn Garden City in my book. Register your interest here.

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Newport Pagnell

Like Keele earlier on the Diagonal Walking route, Newport Pagnell is probably best known for its motorway service station. Pull off the motorway however, and there’s enough there to keep you interested, if only for a while. Let’s take a look …

 

 

The Place for Lace

From the sixteenth century until recently, the whole of northern Buckinghamshire, and Newport Pagnell in particular, was famous for its lace. Particularly prized was Bucks Point, a bobbin lace. Sometimes known as English Lille, this was similar to French Lille lace, and was made in one piece on a lace pillow (it’s also sometimes called Pillow Lace), widthways, not in strips. Simpler than Belgian lace, designs tended towards the floral and geometric. Lace making was a cottage industry, with the skills, once learned, earning a better income than spinning or sewing. There’s a monument to the successful lacemaker Thomas Abbott Hamiliton by the side of the parish church.

 

 

From James Bond to Brooke Bond

The Aston Martin Lagonda Heritage Showroom

For a long time, Newport Pagnell was home to the car maker Aston Martin, the favoured ride of James Bond. Production moved here in 1947 when the company was bought by David Brown in the first of what has been a series of financial rescues. It stayed here until it outgrew its premises and transferred to Gaydon in Warwickshire. Most of the factory was demolished with the land behind it sold to Tesco. To round things off, in December 2017, production of Aston Martins returned to Newport Pagnell. Twenty five track-only DB4 GTs are being built here, so maybe the story isn’t over yet?

 

Incidentally, Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond books, spent some time in Buckinghamshire, visiting both the Aston Martin plant and nearby Bletchley Park.

 

Not Just Any Old Iron

Tickford Bridge, Newport Pagnell

Newport Pagnell is home to the Tickford Bridge over the River Ouzel (or Lovat). Built in 1810, this still carries the main road traffic and has the distinction of being the oldest iron bridge in the world still in constant use. A plaque near the footbridge by its side gives dates and construction details. Erected in 2010, this marked the bicentennial of the bridge. Spanning 17.68 metres across the river, the engineers behind the bridge were Thomas Wilson and Henry Provis, with the former having been the supervisor on the Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland.

 

Skin-Deep

The Un-Prepossessing Entrance to William Cowley

Newport Pagnell is the location of the country’s only vellum producer. Vellum, made from calf or goat’s skin has been used to record every Act of Parliament for 1,000 years. Recent moves to end the practice to save money led the Cabinet Office to provide the necessary funds from its own budget. Vellum is said to be preferred over paper because it lasts much longer. The Magna Carta for example, written more than 800 years ago, is still legible. William Cowley of Newport Pagnell have been producing the stuff for four generations, and thanks to the Cabinet Office perhaps, can look forwards to a fifth. Their output is also used from drums, bespoke furniture and wall coverings. Lovely, a dead animal on your wall. Hold on, isn’t that quite popular in some quarters?

 

Some Like It Hot

William Taylor, a chemist by trade, created the first English mustard sold ready-prepared, and he operated from Newport Pagnell. His recipe was kept a closely guarded secret, but is favoured by those who like their mustard hot and smooth. The factory in Newport Pagnell closed in 1990, after which it was produced by Colman’s of Cheshire, and it is now manufactured by Black Foods of Glasgow.

 

Time to get back onto the motorway, or perhaps head south into Milton Keynes, which now dominates the area, and in whose shadow Newport Pagnell lives, although has it ever produced a fiery hot mustard? I thought not. There will be more on how I experienced Newport Pagnell in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories About …. Northampton

For many of us, Northampton may be one of those far away towns about which we know nothing. Even if we did know something about it, it would probably involve shoes.

Shoe Town

But there is more to Northampton than that. Okay, not a great deal more, but let’s see if we can come up with five fascinating facts about the town. By the way, don’t call it a city. Northampton has twice applied for city status, in 1996 and 2000, failing both times, so the subject may be a bit raw.

 

The Best Brewery Outside Denmark … Probably

Like most reasonably sized towns, back in the day Northampton had its own local breweries. In 1906 there were 24 breweries in the town, although by 1940 this number had fallen to eight, and to five by 1960. The two main ones remaining were Phipps and the Northampton Brewing Company. These merged in 1957 to become Phipps NBC, making them the largest brewer in the Midlands.

However, this entity was acquired by Watney Mann and in 1974 it was replaced by a Carlsberg plant.

This was the first Carlsberg plant outside Denmark. It was opened by none other than HRH Princess Benedikte, who must have enjoyed herself, as she made a return visit in 2012 to honour trade links between the town and Denmark. Some good news for non-lager drinkers. The Phipps NBC marque was revived in the late 2000s and now brews in the restored Albion Brewery.

Phipps, NBC

 

The MP Was Once a PM

Anyone who likes a good pub quiz will know that the first and, so far, only British Prime Minister to be assassinated was one Spencer Perceval (not Percival by the way). What less people know however, is that he was also the only Solicitor General or Attorney General to achieve that rank. And that he was the MP for Northampton, elected in 1796.

His assassin was one John Bellingham (hang onto that name if you want extra bonus points in a quiz). He shot the unfortunate Percival in the House of Common lobby in 1812. Bellingham had been falsely imprisoned for debt in Russia and was aggrieved that the British Embassy there wouldn’t help him. He tried to plead insanity at his trial, but it didn’t work. He was hanged at Newgate two days after his victim’s funeral.

 

A Pressing Engagement

Like a nice piece of pressed tongue? Well, Northampton has the dubious honour of hosting England’s only ever recorded case of someone being ‘pressed to death’. This form of execution involved adding stones or iron weights on a felon’s chest until they confessed. In Northampton’s defence, there are other claimants to this title, but none of them pressing  ….

 

Up, Up and Away

Northampton’s most famous landmark is probably its Express Lift Tower. Standing at 127.45 metres tall, (that’s 418 feet to you), it’s visible from most parts of the town (not a city remember). Opened by the Queen in 1982, it was used for testing lifts. Well, it has to be done somewhere I suppose. It has a few nicknames locally, including the ‘Cobbler’s Needle’ and the ‘Northampton Lighthouse’. It’s rise (see what I did there?) was followed by a fall. It wasn’t in use for long and in 1997 was granted Grade II listed status. It’s available for abseiling should you be so inclined. Or not.

 

Sea Air

Northampton feels like it’s slap bang in the middle of England. As anyone who follows this site will know, they’re not far wrong, it’s just down the road in Fenny Drayton.

As such, it may feel far from the sea. However, ever since 1761, when the River Nene was made navigable, it’s been possible to go all the way to the coast from here by boat.

river nene

This is down to the West Bridge Arm, which reaches into Northampton. It goes all the way to The Wash in fact, to a place called Crab’s Hole. That’s 88 miles and 38 locks away. Good luck!

Enough about fascinating facts about Northampton for now. There will be more on how I experienced the city, sorry, town, in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

pot bank in stoke on Trent

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories about … Stoke on Trent

Okay, we all know that Stoke is the centre of the Potteries, but what else? Well, first let’s get those Potteries out of the way. Although Stoke makes much of its pottery past, many of its ceramics firms disappeared towards the end of the last century. These days there’s still Wedgwood just outside the town (although most of their production take place in Indonesia), and Portmerion (which also owns Spode and Royal Worcester) in Stoke. Others still around include Emma Bridgewater in Hanley, Aynsley China and Churchill China in Tunstall.

 

 

Six for the Price of One

 

Stoke is polycentric. This means it isn’t one town but six, all gathered together under one roof and made a city. Stoke was taken as the umbrella name as it had the railway station as late as 1910. Arnold Bennett famously wrote of five towns in his classic Anna of the Five Towns, but then he didn’t count Stoke. The five (plus Stoke) are: Hanley (the main centre), Burslem (often referred to as the Mother Town as it was the birthpace of the pottery industry), Tunstall, Longton and Fenton (not the dog in the famous video).

 

 

Oatcakes

 

No, not the Scottish ones. Pah! These are a local speciality . They’re a savoury pancake made using oatmeal, flour and yeast and cooked on a hot plate or griddle. They are extremely versatile, going well with both sweet and savoury fillings, and can be had for breakfast, lunch or tea. They tend to be sold either ready-filled or in plastic bags with six or a dozen in them. If you fancy your hand making some there’s a recipe here. 

 

 

Lobby

 

On the subject of food, another local speciality is lobby. In the same way that Liverpudlians had Scouse (see my earlier blog),Staffordians had lobby. This is another stew with various ingredients, but typically diced potatoes, beef, carrots, onions, beef stock and whatever comes to hand. There’s a recipe for it here.

Visit a local pub and you’ll likely see it on the menu, so now you know what it is you needed make a complete idiot of yourself by asking. It’s warm, it’s filling, it’s perfect for Winter. What’s not to like?

 

 

D-Road

 

Most places have A roads and B roads, but Stoke has a D road. This is the A500, with 500 the Roman numeral for 500. See what they did there? This runs from Crewe, southbound, towards Hanchurch. It even does the vague shape of a D – if you’ve left home without your glasses, anyway.

 

 

Second Oldest

 

Stoke City Football Club (it’s probably best to draw a veil over local rivals Port Vale), is the second oldest professional football club in the world. Care to take a guess as to the oldest? Go on. It’s Notts County. Originally Stoke Ramblers, which is kind of appropriate for this site, there is some dispute as to when the club actually started, and it was liquidated in 1908, but 1863 is the date the club used to celebrate its centenary in 1963 and it’s on its current crest, so it’s probably too late to do anything about it now.

 

Fun fact. Stoke City are responsible for the introduction of the penalty kick. They were playing in an FA Cup game in 1891 when a defender on the opposing side punched the ball away. A free kick was awarded, but the defending side put eleven men on the goal line. The referee that day later campaigned for the introduction of the penalty. The oppossion that day? Oh, Notts County of course.

 

 

Enough about Stoke, onwards and upwards. There will be more on how I experienced the city in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

 

Chinese arch Liverpool

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories About … Liverpool

Yeah, yeah, yeah … linger for more than a few minutes in Liverpool and you’ll get some kind of Beatles reference. That or something to do with the two main football clubs (a veil is generally drawn over Tranmere Rovers), but there is more to Liverpool than music and football. So, here’s five fantastic stories you might not know about the city …

 

Liverpool and Scouse

 

No one really knows how Liverpool got its name. However, everyone knows Liverpudlians are known as ‘Scousers’, but why? ‘Scouse’ is in fact a sort of stew eaten by those on the poverty line in the city up until the 1900s. Recipes vary, but generally include some kind of meat, probably, lamb or beef, plus an assortment of cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onion. Probably whatever fell off the back of the local greengrocer’s stall. There’s a recipe here, but the picture looks like the inside of someone’s stomach after they’ve eaten it and is probably best avoided if you’ve just had your breakfast.

 

Culture and Parks

 

Liverpool was a European City of Culture in 2008. However, these days it seems more of a comment if a city haven’t been a City of Culture at some point. In 2019 Plovdiv in Bulgaria is going to be one. Exactly. I’m sure it’s lovely. Liverpool does have a reasonable claim though, even if the scheme ran for twenty years before they got the accolade. The city has the largest collection of Grade II listed buildings outside London. In total there are 2,500 listed buildings and 250 public monuments. Not bad.

 

It also has the most parks in Britain, again falling second to London. The most famous of these is Stanley Park, which is bookended by the grounds of Liverpool and Everton football clubs. Damn, now I’m doing it. On a more elevated level, Liverpool was also home to the world’s first lending library, school for the blind and School of Tropical Medicine. Must be all those liners and the exotic diseases they brought back.

 

Chinese Community

 

Talking of the exotic, Liverpool has Europe’s largest, and oldest, established Chinese community. The Chinese first started to arrive in numbers as seamen working on the Alfred Holt and Company line, better known as the Blue Funnel. Mostly from Shaghai, they settled in the area of Cleveland Square, Pitt Street and Frederick Street in the early 1800s. By way of celebration, the city also has Europe’s largest Chinese Arch. This stands at 13.5 metres tall and spans Nelson Street.

 

The Bells! The Bells!

 

It’s pretty well known that Liverpool boasts two cathedrals, one Protestant and one Catholic (known colloquially as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ or ‘The Pope’s Launching Pad’). What’s less well known is the bells on the Protestant version are the heaviest in the world. There are 13 bells capable of being rung, which weigh in at a total of 17 tonnes. As if that wasn’t enough, another of their bells, Great George, weighs in at 15 tonnes and has a 3 metre diameter. That makes it larger than Big Ben. So large in fact, that it has to be struck with a hammer. It beats a ‘test your strength’ machine I guess.

 

Liver Building

 

Built in 1911 and a Grade I listed building (Pah! to all those Grade IIers), the Liver Building is synonymous with Liverpool. What’s less well known is its clock faces are the biggest in the country. Just sayin’ like.

 

 

Enough about Liverpool, onwards and upwards. There will be more on how I experienced the city in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.

Sefton Coast

FFS – Five Fantastic Stories About … Formby

Five fantastic stories about … Formby.

 

 

 

Formby Asparagus

 

This stick-like vegetable that looks like a willy and makes what comes out of a willy smell a bit (or not, it’s a genetic predisposition apparently) is a local speciality. Originally known as sparrowgrass, or spara gus (you can see where this is going), Formby adopted the vegetable with the coming of the railway. Ready crops could be transported easily into the growing metropolis of Liverpool. At the same time, Liverpool had a problem with its growing pile of human ordure. You can probably put two and two together after that.

 

This latter detail was probably little known, for Formby asparagus went into London’s Covent Garden (the market, not the Opera House) on a daily basis. It’s also said that the First Class passengers on the Titanic were dining on the stuff just before they hit the iceberg. Insert your own social comment here. Asparagus is still grown here, but it’s estimated there’s only five acres of cultivated. There’s a walk called the Asparagus Walk in Formby. There’s more here if you haven’t had your fill of the stuff.

 

 

The Formby Lifeboat

 

The first lifeboat on Britain’s coast was established in 1776 on Formby Beach. The local Dock Master for the Liverpool Common Council, William Hutchinson, was behind it. A Mersey Gig was probably the type of boat involved. The last launch from the site took place in 1916, and a hundred years later the new Wetherspoons pub in Formby was named The Lifeboat in its honour. Make of that what you will.

 

 

RAF Woodville

 

RAF Woodville, just outside Formby,opened in 1941, just after the end of the Liverpool Blitz. It was used in the second world war to ‘rest’ spitfire squadrons from defending London. During this time they were there to defend Liverpool. The first squadron to arrive was actually Polish, the 308 (Krakowski) Squadron. The airfield’s main claim to fame however, is probably that the last operational Spitfire flight took place here in 1957.

 

 

The Ionic Star

 

The Ionic Star was a cargo ship of the Blue Star line plying the trade routes across the equator down to South America. In 1939, she was delivering a refrigerated cargo of meat, cotton and fruit when disaster struck. She ran around, probably because all her navigation lights had been switched off due to the outbreak of war. Attempts at salvage were thwarted by the tides and in the end the ship was used as target practice. Despite the Navy’s best efforts, a lot of the ship remains visible, with much still embedded in the sand, rust-covered outcrops visible out to sea from the Formby coast.

 

 

George Formby

 

George Formby wasn’t Eric Morecambe. Anyone with a memory of 1930s comedians would know this, but when you hear that George was born George Hoy Booth, it might be reasonable to think, what with him being a Lancastrian and all, born in Wigan, that he took his stage name from this coastal town.

 

Alas, no. He in fact took it from his father, George Formby Snr. So, why wasn’t he born George Formby? Well, he was the offspring of a bigamous marriage. Born blind, he dislodged an obstructive caul covering his eyes during a violent sneezing fit when still a babe in arms. Not a bright pupil at school, his father sent him away to be a stable boy, so his son didn’t see his act. Formby Snr was a music hall performer and reckoned ‘one fool in the family was enough’. It didn’t work. George Jnr’s act was basically an imitation of his father’s until his wife, who sounds like she was a canny lass and was also his manager, suggested he take up the ukulele. The rest, as they say, was history.

 

 

That’s it for Formby – more on how I experienced it in my book. Register your interest here.

 

If you would like to be kept up to date with future blogs from this site, why not use the RSS feed on the main menu. For more information, click here.