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A Walk Down Chapel Lane In 1901

Now that autumn is upon us, we can look back over the summer – and one sunny afternoon I particularly enjoyed was in mid-August. As part of the Formby Civic Society Summer Programme, a group of us met together at the War Memorial to walk down Chapel Lane and see if we could between us build up a picture of what it might have looked like in 1901. That was quite a difficult task. Many of the group remembered the Village very well from the different periods in the last century, but 1901 was a touch too long ago. Nevertheless, we did have clues.

We had started with the 1901 Census for Formby, which told us something of the people who lived in Chapel Lane and which buildings were shops and which were dwellings. We also had a Street Directory for Formby for 1914 and the 1911 Census to give us an idea of how Chapel Lane had developed over the decade. Other invaluable sources of evidence were some photographs from about the time. The sense we had of the Village at that time was clearly one of somewhere rural and with a much smaller population than now: in 1901 it would have been around the 6,000 mark. More trees, fewer people and no cars!

This is the Village at the beginning of the 20th century. The white cottage burnt down in about 1903; it stands on the site of what is Barclays Bank today.

However, most of us were also keen to have a good look at the buildings; not just the shop fronts of today but also the upper portions of the shops as well as the various pavements and side entrances. Of course, a lot of Chapel Lane is relatively new and change is constant: how many bars were there at the turn of the 21st century? As society changes, so does our Village. I was reminded recently when I looked at the programme for the 1996 events to mark VJ Day that at the time there was only one “wine and cocktail bar” in Formby – ‘Goodfellas Speakeasy Bar’. No prizes to anyone for knowing what it is known as today! Remember, though, it was not in Chapel Lane.

Formby Village was growing gradually and had been doing so ever since the coming of the railway in the mid-19th century. We found some dates on shops that told us when they had been built originally and who had paid for the work. The date 1888 can be seen on two adjacent buildings, one being where Boots is today; the letters WB presumably refer to the Weld Blundell family. On the same building can be found the sign ‘The Village’ (remembered in the previous edition of the ‘Formby Bubble’ by Ray Mawdsley) which would have appeared at the same time and reminds people of the name by which this area had been known for some time although it had been officially re-named ‘Chapel Lane’. In the 1891 Census it had been called ‘Brows Lane’.

Can you spot the date? The building on the left is now Boots.

If we look at local books and almanacs from the time, we can recognise a village identity from well before 1911. An advert from 1893 that I discovered recently welcomed people to visit the Blundell Arms (today the ‘Cross House’) as it was only “five minutes’ walk from (the) railway station”. It also offered “extensive stabling accommodation and every other convenience for Tourists and Excursionists passing through the district”. A century ago, then, Formby was growing. As the Ravenmeols Trails show us, there had been a serious attempt to create a new resort at Formby-by-the-Sea, and the local Council minutes from the time demonstrate that there were different opinions about the future. Some saw the community as growing and becoming a town whilst others wished to protect the beauty of its natural, rural environment.

However, whilst our group was able to look at the buildings, we were not able to look back in time and see the people who lived and worked here. Photographs can help here again, but our folk memories go back only to what our family and friends from long ago were able to describe for us. In our group was a welcome guest, Joan Rimmer, who has shared many memories with us about Formby people in her own times and in so doing has enriched our knowledge and understanding of people and families here through most of the 20th century. Also, FCS member Margaret Madden had travelled to join us and describe for us her days living in the Village in the shop known for so many years as Kershaw’s that had been opened by her father in the early 20th century. She described what he had sold and how he traded within the community. Only a few weeks ago, in one of Ann Crowther’s fascinating articles, she described people living in Chapel Lane in the 1950s.

Staff standing outside the Post Office on Chapel Lane

There is still so much to be learnt about our Village in the past, both recent and more distant. History is about people: although the people from the past are gone, we can still use our historical knowledge as well as our imagination to put together an understanding of our community’s past and what life might have been like over a century ago. Just look at the photograph of the post office staff from about that time– standing outside what was then the Post Office – and the level of social change over a relatively short time is clear.

Perhaps in the future Formby Civic Society could take a Chapel Lane walk for any interested members of the community?

By John Phillips

Formby Civic Society

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