Winter 2003

Sefton's Coastal Heritage

Article by Reg Yorke, Chair, History and Archaeology Task Group.

For over a century the Sefton Coast has been highly regarded for its wildlife interest and its natural beauty. Since1965 much has been achieved in respect of wildlife conservation, culminating in the present SSSI and candidate SAC status, of most of the undeveloped length of coastline. The historic, cultural and archaeological interest of the coast, has however, perhaps been slightly overshadowed, if not overlooked. This may now be coming to an end. The Coast Partnership, History and Archaeology Task Group feel that it would give Sefton Coast greater recognition and protection if the aim in The Sefton Coast Management Plan, 1997 - 2006 of achieving 'Heritage Coast' status for the Sefton Coast; could finally be achieved.

The desirability of processing a Submission to the Environment Agency was discussed at a Sefton Partnership Board Meeting on 30th January when it was agreed that this should be further explored. Particularly in the light of the Waterfront Regional Park proposal, it would seem that we now share an aspiration to raise the Cultural and Heritage profile of our coastline.

As defined by the Countryside Agency, Heritage Coasts are those stretches of coastline which: "comprise a coastline of exceptional quality; extend one mile in length or more; are substantially undeveloped; contain features of special significance and interest whether natural or manmade, provide existing or have the potential for public access and are managed to ensure the future protection and conservation of the coastline".


The main objectives of Heritage Coast status would be;-

1. To conserve, protect and enhance the natural beauty of the coasts including their terrestrial, littoral and marine flora and fauna and their heritage features of architectural, historical and archaeological interest;

2. To facilitate and enhance their enjoyment understanding and appreciate by the public by improving and extending opportunities for recreational, educational, sporting and tourist activities that draw on and are consistent with the conservation of their natural beauty and the protection of their heritage features;

3. To maintain and improve (where necessary) the environmental health of inshore waters affecting Heritage Coasts and their beaches through appropriate works and management measures;

4. To take account of the needs of agriculture forestry and fishing and of the economic and social needs of the small communities on these Coasts by promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development which in themselves conserve and enhance natural beauty and heritage features.

The Heritage Coast programme has run for over 20 years and provides non-statutory protection to sites of exceptional quality which are substantially undeveloped. Designation is the responsibility of the Countryside Agency in England, on the submission of the Local Authority and approximately 1/3 of the coastline of England and Wales is so designated.

On the coast of NW England from the Dee to Solway Firth, only a short section of the Cumbrian coast is designated as a Heritage Coast.

Ours is indeed a magnificent coast with many associations and features of significant historical, cultural, maritime and other interest. At present it could be said that we have a 'quasi-heritage' coast, which unfortunately still lacks the insurance against inappropriate development, that Heritage Coast designation would provide. Having it so designated would increase local pride and underline the cultural value of our coastline, both to local people and the large number of those who visit our coast, at least in respect of the undeveloped 17.5 km section of this coast between Birkdale and Hall Road, as proposed in the Coastal Management Plan in 1997; possibly for an even more extended stretch of our Coastline.

It is intended to explore the story of man's cultural impact on the coast at a special conference to be held in Sefton in September 2004, under the title of "Sefton's Coastal Heritage". This will be of interest to all, not only the 'experts'. Watch out for details.

Sefton Heritage Coast; some significant sites and features.

Some examples of features of historical or archaeological interest on the Sefton Coast are:-

a. Early Neolithic (4,900BP), track-way on high water line at Hightown. The discovery during recent years by the National Museums and Galleries of Merseyside of this wooden track-way highlights the importance of this coast for human settlement during the Neolithic period.

b. Inter-tidal Holocene human and animal footprints. The preservation of human and animal (Aurochs (Bos primigenius), Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), Horse (Equus caballus) and crane) footprints in Holocene sediments in the foreshore at Formby Point is of particular importance in relation to the coastal evolution of the Mersey Basin. The stratigraphic evidence indicates a Neolithic/Bronze age for the footprints.

c. Altmouth, (Altcar Rifle Range). Alt Grange (site of former Cistercian grange, and 13th century monastic Tide-mill). The barn, used as a clandestine place of worship during the 17th- 18th Centuries, survives. The Alt estuary, accessed from the Formby Channel, was an important haven and access route to the interior, from a very early period, to the 18th century.

d. The remains of the 'submerged forest' near the mouth of the Alt at Hightown. The remains of stretches of "Submerged Forests" were discovered here in the late 19th century but are still of great interest and the associated peat layers are now yielding much information on the development of our coastline and early habitation on our coast.

e. Remaining former Navigation marks and tide-poles. (of Mersey tidal measurement significance). The erection of Navigation Marks or beacons on the Mersey was part of the successful 18th Century attempt to improve safety of shipping entering and leaving the Mersey by the original Liverpool Dock Committee. Most have now disappeared but two still remain. The Tide Poles on the foreshore at Formby are remnants of the original methodical measurement and recording of tidal rise and fall in the Port of Liverpool

f. Remains of 'Britain's First Lifeboat Station at Formby. 1776. This was established by the Liverpool Dock Committee at Formby in 1776. Research carried out in the late 70's showed that this was the first such station for life-saving from the many wrecks anywhere on the British coast. This conclusion published in 1982 has been supported by the RNLI and 'Lifeboat' historians. Unfortunately only the foundations of the building remain

g. Site of Napoleonic War; Signalling Station at Formby; (OS map reference SJ 269063). Ca 1814. This was established by the Admiralty and was the most northerly of a chain of stations between Point Lynas, Liverpool and Formby, designed to provide early warning of enemy presence in Liverpool Bay. The building is still seen in photographs taken in the 30's but no longer used. A system of semaphore signal stations was subsequently established around Liverpool Bay but in turn were discontinued after the arrival of telegraph and telephone communication.

h. The Site of some of Britain's earliest Flying experiments at Freshfield, and Southport. (1910 - 1911). In the period circa 1910 - 1911, five of the 15 licensed (national) aviators were flying at Freshfield. The Hangars were wooden huts on the edge of the dunes. Some long forgotten but heroic flights took place here.

i. One of the first National Nature Reserves; (recommended 1915). Ainsdale Sand-Dunes was third on the first list of 'Primary important Areas in England 'considered worthy of preservation' on account of its wild life value, in 1915. Although carefully guarded by its private land-owner, its botanical and ornithological interest and value were highly recognised and valued. Despite again appearing in a list of intended National Nature reserves in1945, it was not until 1965, that it finally achieved that status when it was taken over by the then NatureConservation Council, later to become English Nature.

j. Asparagus cultivation Fields, 19th to early 20th Cent; Formby/Freshfield. This coastal area was, until the mid-nineteenth century, sometimes regarded as a "sandy waste", useful mainly as rabbit warren. Asparagus cultivation was subsequently developed over some 200 acres and became a very important local crop, the quality of which made Formby well known nationally.