Wednesday 6 September

We were up and about earlier than usual this morning.  Storm took Max for a longer than usual early morning walk and then came back for breakfast.

Today we left Max in charge of the boat while we went back to Blackpool on the No 42 bus from Garstang.   We were heading for Fleetwood on the tram.  The trams run every ten minutes from Stargate, south of Blackpool, to Fleetwood Quays.  We caught it from North Pier and the journey took about half an hour.   Storm couldn’t use his bus pass on the tram and so our return journey cost us £5 each although we could have travelled up and down the tramline all day for that price.

The tramway was built in the 1890’s and Fleetwood is the only town in Britain with trams running the full length of its main street, sharing road-space with cars. Cars have to move out of the way of the trams as the trams cannot veer off their rails.  This seems to make car drivers  a little nervous.

The tram ran beside the sea for much of the way and a stiff breeze was whipping up the waves so there were a lot of white horses.  I hope they’ve died down by Saturday when we’re booked to return down the River Ribble.   We won’t be allowed to cross though unless the water is calm.

Fleetwood has a fascinating history.  The town was founded in the early 1800’s by Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood who had a desire to develop a holiday resort and port, like he’d seen on the south coast.  He also provided financial support for the construction of a railway line between Preston and Fleetwood that opened in 1840.   Unfortunately he just about bankrupted himself in trying to achieve his vision and by 1847 he’d retired to Brighton, having sold much of his estate.

He hired Decimus Burton, a prominent architect who’d designed Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch and who’d worked on Buckingham Palace, to design his new town and construction began in 1836.

Burton’s design was based on a half-wheel street layout, the main residential streets acted as the spokes and the main commerce area of Dock Street was the rim.

The oldest of his buildings is the Dock Office, now the Fleetwood Museum and dates from 1836.

The North Euston Hotel built in 1841 is a fine semi-circular building overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Wyre Estuary.  The hotel was built to serve overnight guests making the railway journey from Euston towards Scotland where they got off the train to catch a steamer to Scotland.  A room cost 59d per night in those days!

However by the mid 1850’s the completion of the western railway link between London and Scotland over Shap Fell rendered Fleetwood’s role as a transport terminus obsolete.

Burton also designed two lighthouses for the town.  Pharos Lighthouse and Beach Lighthouse and both remain fully operational apparently.

Beach Lighthouse

Pharos Lighthouse

From the 1860s Fleetwood expanded its port activities. Steamers began pleasure and commercial services to the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland.  800m of stone quays were built along the river front, and the railway line was extended to the steamer pier opposite Queen’s Terrace, where the imposing new railway station was built in 1883.

The port was still mainly a cargo terminal at this time, but the fishing industry began to grow as vessels expanded their catchment area from the Irish Sea fishing grounds first fished in the 1840s, to the haddock grounds of the North Atlantic Ocean.

By the early 1890s, the construction and expansion of rival cargo ports in the North West, such as Liverpool and the building of the Manchester Ship Canal heralded the decline of Fleetwood’s prominence as a cargo port. However, at the same time this was more than offset by a period of rapid expansion of the fishing industry, signalled by the launch in 1891 of the first steam powered trawler, the Lark.

All the other major fishing ports in Britain, Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen, were on the east coast, so there was a competitive advantage for a west-coast port with good rail links. By the start of the 20th century, Fleetwood’s position as one of the three major fishing ports in England was cemented.

James Marr of Hull brought a fleet of steam trawlers to Fleetwood and actively started to change the port by selectively fishing for hake, which until then had been treated as a much less desirable catch.

We didn’t find any evidence to suggest that James Marr brought workers over to Fleetwood from Hull, but we both thought that the town very much resembled the area of Hull where its fishermen lived, namely the Hessle Road area.

Many of the houses in the old area of town were built in the 1890s. In keeping with the thriving economy, these terraced houses were large for their era. The docks were expanded in 1908 with the construction of the Fish Dock, accessible through Wyre Dock and is still used today for the inshore fleet. Plans for a pier were first made in the 1890s but building did not start until 1909 and it was opened in 1910. It was the last new seaside pier to be built in the UK but unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in the 1980’s.

By the 1920s, the fishing industry was at its height, employing over 9,000 people. Over the next few years, the sea front along the north shore was developed in resort fashion, to encourage visitors for whom the brashness of Blackpool was too daunting. The Marine Hall entertainment complex, golf course and Model Yacht Pond all date from this era.

The first fully automated telephone exchange in Britain was put into operation to serve the town on 15 July 1922.

By the 1960s, however, Fleetwood began to decline economically. The last ferry to the Isle of Man sailed in 1961. The sailings have been revived periodically since. The main railway station was closed in 1966 as a result of the Beeching cuts, and the passenger terminus was moved to Wyre Dock railway station. This in turn was closed in 1970, as the branch line from Poulton was taken out of service. Additional light industry developed along the former railway bed. The rise of package holidays abroad led to fewer visitors generally to British resort towns.

As Blackpool expanded its attractions, fewer day visitors came to Fleetwood, and as transport became more efficient, more overnight visitors became day visitors. The Hillhouse plant was heavily cut back, and was finally closed in 1999. Most serious, however, was the collapse of the fishing industry, which was largely destroyed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Cod Wars. As Fleetwood’s trawlers mainly fished the North Atlantic in search of cod, the loss of the fishing grounds hit the town hard. The last deep sea trawler left the town in 1982 and now only inshore fishing boats fish out of the port, although trawlers registered in other places can still be seen taking advantage of the fish market. Fish is still a big industry in the town, though the jobs are mainly in processing rather than fishing. A pair of bronze figures on the promenade by the pier depicts the idea of families welcoming back the fishermen from sea.

In 1973, the area around the old railway station was developed into a container port facility, with P & O operating a container service to Larne in Northern Ireland. In 1975, this became a Roll-on/roll-off service. This development led indirectly to some renewal of the then largely derelict Dock Street area, and improved road access to the town to support the container traffic. Twice-daily container service continued until 2004 when Stena Line bought the route and increased the service to three times a day. In December 2010, Stena Line announced that the service would be withdrawn at the end of 2010, with the loss of 140 jobs.

Since the 1970s there have been several attempts to enhance Fleetwood’s economic profile, In 1995, the now-deserted Wyre Dock was developed into a marina. The derelict dock landing area was developed into Freeport, a retail centre, and housing has been built at the north end of the marina. Most recently, in July 2007, a new “Masterplan” for revitalising the waterfront and town centre was submitted to the Wyre Borough Council.

We could appreciate the wealth that Fleetwood once enjoyed but there are signs of deprivation today suggesting that Fleetwood hasn’t yet started to revitalise the waterfront or town centre.   We didn’t walk as far as the docks on the River Wyre though.

We had a quick bite of lunch at the cafe adjacent to the Euston Hotel before dashing to catch the tram back to Blackpool and the bus back to Garstang.

This evening, we met up with Roger, a friend of Pip and Mick’s, who is hoping to travel with them down the Ribble on Saturday.   We met at The Tythe Barn where we ordered beef burgers which sadly arrived on bread boards, rather than plates.

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