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Formby beach 1.jpg
Formby beach
Grid reference: SD293074
Location: 53°33’31"N, 3°3’60"W
Population: 24,996
Post town: Liverpool
Postcode: L37
Dialling code: 01704
Local Government
Council: Sefton
Sefton Central

Formby is a seaside town and parish in Lancashire. It has a population of approximately 25,000.

Three manors are recorded in the Domesday book under "Fornebei" as Halsall, Walton and Poynton.[1] The town's early recorded industry points to cockle raking, and shrimp fishing (in addition to arable ventures) last through into the 19th century.[1] By 1872, the township and sub-district was made up of two chapelries (St. Peter and St. Luke), and contained Birkdale township, the hamlets of Ainsdale and Raven-Meols and Altcar parish.[1][2] Formby was built on the plain adjoining the Irish Sea coast a few miles north of the Crosby channel where the sands afford shelter to the towns.[1]

Formby is affluent[3][4] with high owner-occupation and car ownership.[4] Strong economic ties are retained with nearby Liverpool to which it acts as a dormitory town for some of its residents.[5][6]

The greater area is a popular tourist destination during the summer months, with day trippers attracted to its beaches, sand dunes and wildlife - most particularly the red squirrels. and Natterjack toads.[7] The area is a conserved by the National Trust, and designated a site of Specific Scientific Interest.[4][8]


Erosion of sand on the beach at Formby is revealing layers of mud and sediment, laid down in the late Mesolithic to the late Neolithic,approximately 8000 – 5000 years ago, and covered in the early Bronze Age.[9] These sediments often contain the footprints of humans and animals (Red deer, Roe deer, Wild boar, Wolf, Aurochs) and birds (Oystercatcher, Crane and other waders) from that period.[10]

The common place-name ending -by is from the Scandinavian byr meaning "homestead", "settlement" or "village". The village of Formby was originally spelt Fornebei and means "the old settlement" or "village belonging to Forni".[1] At that time Fornibiyum was also a well-known Norse family name. He could have been the leader of the invading expedition which took possession of this coast. Until its closure in 1998, Oslo Airport in Norway was situated in a town called Fornebu.

It was from Ireland in about AD 960 that these Norsemen or Vikings[11] first came to the west coast of Lancashire, initially trading or raiding and then settling. Tradition says that the Viking invaders failed to defeat the native Anglo-Saxons on the coast of Formby, so they sailed inland, up the River Alt, and attacked from the rear.[12] Dangus Lane, on the east side of the village, is sometimes called Danesgate Land, being connected by local traditions with this incursion.

Formby Hall is a Grade II listed building dating back to 1223. It has traditionally been the home of the Lords of the Manor. Much of the land around it is now a golf course.

Formby Beach is the location of the first lifeboat station in the UK. Established as early as 1776 by William Hutchinson, Dock Master for the Liverpool Common Council. It was the first lifeboat station in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world.[13] One night, two years previous, eighteen ships were stranded at the mouth of the Mersey drowning 75 people.[14][15] The foundations of the last of the lifeboat station buildings remain on the beach.[16] The last launch took place in 1916. Remarkably a film survives of this event.[17]

Formby is home to RAF Woodvale, a small RAF station on the outskirts of the town.[18] The airfield opened in 1941 and is an ex World War II fighter station with three active runways, the main runway being a mile in length.[19] Today it is used by RAF for light aircraft and fighter training, as well as a few civilian aircraft. The station was also home to Merseyside Police's helicopter,[20] known as 'Mike One'.[21] The RAF station was also home to the last ever operational service of the British legend, the Spitfire. In 1957 the last Spitfire was to fly with military markings in British took off from RAF Woodvale on an operational mission.[22] Woodvale is also home to the Woodvale Rally, one of the biggest shows on an active MOD station in the North West.[23]

Holy Trinity Church is believed to be the only church in the country which holds a special service in which seasonal greenery collected by the menfolk of the parish and then twined into wreaths by the ladies is lifted into place as part of a service of worship in the run-up to Christmas.


Formby Beach looking toward Liverpool

Formby is a coastal town of roughly seven square miles. The town is built upon the west of a large flat area of land called the West Lancashire Coastal Plain. The town is 1.5 feet below sea level at its lowest point. Formby's highest point is within the sand dunes that separate the Irish Sea from Formby. The sand dunes are ever changing in shape and formation so there is no fixed point.[24] The River Alt runs into the Irish Sea just south of Formby at Hightown.

The town is rurally landlocked; the land between Formby and the areas of Southport, Ormskirk and Liverpool is green belt land and is used for arable agricultural purposes. The areas around the urban fringe are drained by irrigation ditches and open areas get boggy in the winter months. Earth in urban areas is well drained, very loose and sandy.

The section of land between Formby and the coast is varied in vegetation, wildlife and terrain. This area includes pine forests: natural and man-made, sand dunes, marram grass, deciduous woodland, seasonal ponds and lakes. Large areas of this land are protected by the National Trust.

Formby is in a temperate climate zone, with mild winters and warm summers. Formby's coastline faces an ongoing threat from water based erosion, with high tides washing away yards of sand dunes. In an attempt to stem this, each year discarded Christmas trees are collected and planted by rangers to help slow this effect.


The main shopping area is locally known as the Village; here the town upholds an array of shops. These shops are located around the main shopping street of Chapel Lane and Brows Lane, there are also a number of coffee houses. The tree-lined Avenue runs for about a third of a mile with shops either side for 325 yards of it. There are several other smaller shopping areas around Formby and Freshfield mostly convenience stores and some specialist outlets such as an independent optician, and book shop. Formby also has a main post office and two smaller post offices.

Formby has no major industries; however there is a small industrial estate on the outskirts of the town.

Recent studies into the town show that between 10 and 30% of its residents commute to Liverpool.[5]


Formby Beach

Formby has a significant tourist industry most notably between the warmer months of May and September.[25] In particular it's popular with day trippers from Liverpool and other industrial towns in Merseyside and West Lancashire. There are two main spots along the Formby Coast which are particularly popular with the public.

The Lifeboat Road site is about 1½ miles from the town centre; there are three linked unpaved car parks with several routes cascading out into the sand dunes and woods. The car parks are about 900 yards from the beach.

Victoria Road is north of Lifeboat Road and is busier due to the red squirrel reserve being here. From the junction of Larkhill Lane and Victoria Road is where the reserve begins and there is a charge to park from this point onwards. Parking is available adjacent to the reserve and at the end of the road there is a large unpaved car park for easier beach access, the beach from the car park is about 100 yards.

There is a privately run caravan park called Formby Point on Lifeboat Road, open between March and October. There are around 300 caravans on the park and 20 plots for touring caravans. There is a phone box on site, public toilets, a play area and until 1995 there was a small convenience store.


The Formby Bypass (A565) was built over fifty years ago to take the major Liverpool to Southport route out of Formby and cut alongside the fringe of the town. The bypass is a dual carriageway with two roundabouts and two sets of traffic lights. The B5195 links Formby with Ormskirk and Maghull. Motorways are easily accessible, the M58 and M57 are both six miles from Formby.

With the town's major growth period around the early 20th century and Formby never really having any major industry, the road system followed an American style method of road building. Major roads in the town are wide and in an almost block formation with housing estates being built into those blocks. The vast majority of residences have drive-ways for parking. Thus traffic congestion is rare in the town and usually only experienced in the town centre locally known as the Village.

There are two railway stations, the first being Formby railway station and the second less than a mile north, Freshfield railway station. Both are on the Northern Line of the Merseyrail network, which runs from Liverpool to Southport. Trains are frequent and are a popular way of commuting, especially to Liverpool city centre.

Bus services in the town include services to Southport, Liverpool, Formby District Hospital and Merseytravel's Formby circular routes.

The nearest airport is Liverpool John Lennon Airport which is 25 miles away. Manchester Airport seconds that, which is 43 miles away. Blackpool Airport is 39 miles from Formby. Liverpool Airport is reachable using Liverpool's suburban railway network, Merseyrail.

London is under 2 hours away via train from Runcorn railway station which is 25 miles from Formby, or from Liverpool Lime Street railway station which is 13 miles away.

In addition to motorised transport, Formby is served by excellent cycle routes, mainly centring around the pinewoods along the coast leading to both Southport and Liverpool. There are also many cycle lanes on the roads leading to the larger conurbations to the north and south.


There are seven primary schools in Formby; Woodlands, Redgate CP, Our Lady of Compassion RC, St. Jerome's RC, Trinity St. Peters C. of E., Freshfield CP and St Luke's C. of E.. Trinity St Peter's C. of E. in Formby is the amalgamation of two former primary schools - St. Peter's and Holy Trinity - which closed down in July 2006. The school was formed as part of a major reorganisation of primary education in Sefton. In 2006 Our Lady of Compassion had the best results with a Key Stage 1 and 2 combined averages of 289, way above the national average of 242. Raven Meols Primary School closed as a school and is now used as the Raven Meols Community Centre.[26] Formby has two large high schools, Formby High School and Range High School, both schools are high performers. With a national average of 45.8% of pupils gaining five or more A*-C at GCSE, Range scored 84%. and Formby High scored 82% in 2013. The Liverpool Echo rated the two schools as the best state schools in Sefton, with Range High School narrowly beating its neighbour.


Formby has a long tradition of scouting which began in the town in 1909. This was just over a year after Baden Powell's legendary experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. The first group aptly named the 1st Formby was set up at Holy Trinity Church Hall by Mr Murray Spense. There are currently 6 active groups out of the nine that were set up over the last century, especially since the 1960s housing estates expanded the town. Scouting still thrives in Formby today, recently celebrating Scouting's centenary with a march to the beach and an outdoor ceremony. Scouts can be seen marching through the village every year on St George's Day when a service at Holy Trinity reminds scouts, cubs and beavers of the role of scouting and all members renew their Scout Promise. With the beach, sand dunes and pinewoods just minutes away from the town centre the scouts are able to access a wide variety of activities such as orienteering, outdoor 'Wide' games, backwoods cooking, sports days and district camping events at 'The Paddock' field next to Formby Cricket Club. The scouts also help organisations such as the National Trust by planting trees and maintaining footpaths along Formby's changing coastline.


To the west of the town lie pinewoods and sand dunes.[27] The whole of the coastline here is managed as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)[28] for its important wildlife reserves by Sefton Coast Partnership. The pine woods at Victoria Road have been established as a National Trust reserve for the red squirrel, listed on the endangered species list. Formby is one of several sites in Britain where the red squirrel can still be found although it is now being threatened by the |grey squirrel.[29]

Formby is also famous for the presence of Natterjack toads. Formby is only one of a few sites in England where they will breed. Later in the evening the male's distinctive song can be heard and is known locally as the ‘Bootle Organ’. In spring the males gather at the edge of shallow pools in the dune slacks and sing to attract a mate. The Sefton Coast and Countryside Service are working hard to keep these pools from growing over so that that they are ready each spring for this annual event.[30]


This stretch of coast is famous for links golf courses such as Southport & Ainsdale, Hillside, West Lancashire, Hesketh and Royal Birkdale. Formby is home to another championship quality golf course - Formby Golf Club.[31] However, the club, unlike its neighbour Royal Birkdale, does not have the capacity to host large events such as The Open Championship.[32] Formby has a cricket club based at Cricket Path in Freshfield that plays in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition; this also has squash courts and a large AstroTurf hockey pitch.

The town also had a football team called Formby F.C. who played in the North West Counties Football League First Division. They played at Altcar Road, behind Tesco just off the A565 Formby Bypass, having moved in the summer of 2002 from their town centre home at Brows Lane. That site is now occupied by Formby Pool which opened on 27 January 2007. The biggest game in the club's history was in November 1973 when they faced Oldham Athletic in the First Round of the F.A Cup.

In addition a variety of youth sporting groups are based in Formby. These include Formby Junior Sports Club (FJSC) known locally as "Rourke's League" after Jim Rourke MBE (1912–2006)[33] who founded the club on 2 January 1959.[34] Jim continued to attend the club into his 90s.[35] Over 600 children ranging in age from 5 to 16 years meet at Deansgate Lane Playing Fields to play football at various times throughout Saturday mornings during the football season. The club welcomes children of all abilities, there are no trials or criteria to meet; every member plays every week. The club also fields numerous representative teams in local junior leagues (e.g. the Craven Minor League).[36] Formby is also home to Formby Dons Football Club, who operate 3 teams, playing their home games at Duke Street Park. In 2007, Formby Vikings Rugby Union Team was established to include a wide range of ages including a colts first 15 team.

Public Houses, bars, clubs and restaurants

Formby has 8 pubs which are The Pinewoods, The Village Inn, The Bay Horse, The Royal, The Cross House, The Railway, The Freshfield and The Grapes. It has 3 social clubs which are the RAFA club and the British Legion Club and the Gild Hall. There are many restaurants in Formby, such as Zenzero, Left Bank Brasserie, Sorrento, Don Luigi, The Gallery and The Balti House. Bars include Woodwards and The Gallery. Shorrocks Hill nightclub reopened in 2010.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Farrer, William & Brownbill, J (1907). A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Victoria County History. pp. 45–52.  The Section dedicated to Formby.
  2. Wilson, John Marius (1874). Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-1872). A. Fullarton & Co. 
  3. Tom Briwstow (2011-09-20). "Formby’s fury at Boundary Commission plans to tear village in two". 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Formby, Ainsdale & Birkdale - Inspector Jim Atherton profile". Merseyside Police. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "City Relationships: Economic Linkages in Northern city regions. Liverpool City Region". 
  6. "Sefton Council Core Strategy Options Paper May 2011. Profile of Sefton". 
  7. Carolyn Garlick. "Formby coastal walk". 
  8. "Formby". The National Trust. 
  9. Roberts, Gordon Ephemeral, sub-fossil mammalian, avian and Hominid Footprints within Flandrian Sediment Exposures at Formby Point, Sefton Coast, North West England. Taylor and Francis Group, Ichnos, 16:33-48, 2009
  10. ibid. Smith, Philip H. (1999). The Sands of Time: an introduction to the Sand Dunes of the Sefton Coast. National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside. ISBN 1-902700-03-1. 
  11. Viking Mersey, written by Stephen Harding. ISBN 1-901231-34-8
  12. Southport.TV
  13. Newspaper
  14. (FCS) Formby Civic Society
  15. Larn, Richard; Larn, Bridget. Wreck & Rescue Round the Cornish coast. Redruth: Tor Mark Press. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-85025-406-8. 
  16. PDF file Handout issed by Seftom MBC and Mersey Travel
  17. Yorke, Barbara & Reginald. Britain's First Lifeboat Station, Formby, 1776 - 1918. Alt Press. ISBN 0-9508155-0-0. 
  18. * The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force 1918-1988, J.J. Halley, Air-Britain, Tonbridge, 1988, ISBN 0-85130-164-9
  19. Mersey Reporter History Section
  20. Merseyside Police
  21. Aeroflight - UK Police Aviation
  22. Mersey Reporter History Page
  23. "A Fantastic Weekend For ALL The Family!". Woodvale Rally. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  24. # The Sands Of Times, an introduction to the Sand Dunes of the Sefton Coast Line, written by Philip H. Smith. ISBN 1-902700-03-1
  25. BBC
  27. National Trust
  28. NM BAP Action Plan
  29. Country File, BBC TV, 28.89.2008
  30. Coastlines
  31. Local Pager Report
  32. UK Golf Info. website
  33. Southport Reporter Obituary
  34. Formby Times
  35. Liverpool Echo
  36. Formby FC Juniors

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Formby)