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How The Formby By-Pass Was Opened In 1938

We have written in this column about ‘the past’, such as a fortnight ago when we looked at Chapel Lane in 1901. Perhaps, when we think about ‘history’ we expect to go even further back in time – possibly to the times when Vikings first landed on Formby’s shores, or the times of the Normans, Tudors or Victorians. This year we have remembered the terrible times on the Somme in 1916 – history is about people in the past and the past can be any time before now. It was very disappointing to see the doors of a fairly new concern, the Hop and Horn, close last week – a Formby venture that was very popular while it was open. Yet it now takes its place in a list of former-businesses in the history of the Village, like our two bookshops and many other worthwhile ventures.

This week, as we move firmly into autumn yet still retain some fine weather (don’t speak too soon!), I was reminded recently by a Formby Bubble reader and contributor that in December we will be celebrating the 78th anniversary of the opening of the Formby By-Pass. Celebrating a road? Perhaps that is going too far, yet if we try to imagine what the growing effect of increased traffic on the village of Formby was like in the 1930s then maybe ‘celebrate’ is the right word. It is difficult to imagine what our town would have been like today if that by-pass had not been built. There was already concern amongst residents with the increased traffic including heavy wagons that wound their way through streets here. Formby lay on the route between Liverpool and Southport and so a large amount of vehicles used the same roads used by the increasing number of people here. So what was the main route through Formby before the by-pass was built? If you were travelling by road between Liverpool or Crosby and Southport, you would have to drive around no fewer than 16 right-angled bends in the stretch of road that lasted three and a half miles. The route had developed following the fields, farmland and cottages and was well-known in the wider area for being slow and tedious. The Formby Times in 1938 described it as “narrow and tortuous and the built-up nature of this Township precludes the possibility of improving to any appreciable extent the existing road which in recent years has become an important route carrying a large amount of traffic to the resorts of Southport and Ainsdale.”

The need for action had been recognised years ago but it needed funding to get the job done – it was eventually to cost £195,000, a significant amount at that time. A Traffic Census showed that between 1928 and 1938, traffic on the Formby road had doubled (apart from the number of horse-drawn vehicles which had declined by half – no surprise there). The first efforts had been to widen the road at some of the tightest bends in order to ease the situation, but that was not expected to solve the growing problem. In 1937, local Councillors declined an application to erect a Petrol Station in Formby at roughly the spot where Tesco’s is now: Councillor Lomax said that, “...the place might easily become one where danger might arise as it would be used by heavy vehicles such as the one involved in the fatal accident in Duke Street ... recently.” There were also, almost certainly, two petrol stations in existence in Formby at the time: one owned by the Formby Motor Company near the Royal Hotel and another at the front of the Embassy Cinema. When the by-pass did open, the proposed petrol station duly appeared along with a second.

The Opening Day was on Saturday 10th December, 1938. A covered stand was erected for the occasion at the Southport entrance to the new by-pass and the four-mile stretch of modern road was officially opened by Lord Derby. When he cut the cord which was stretched across the road he said that he was of a superstitious nature and believed that when you are given an instrument which cut, you should give silver in return: “So here’s two bob for you.” He added that, “I only wish that in this world we could straighten out crooked things as well as you have straightened them out on this occasion. I have only one complaint to make about it myself. When I think of the old road between Knowsley and Formby Golf Course I regret that you have waited until such time as age and rheumatism tell me I am not able to play golf much longer!”

On the 2nd January 1939, the Formby Times reported that Woodward’s opened their petrol station with the “latest type of Electric Ready Reckoner pumps. installed” and new motor showrooms. The Formby Motor Company opened another, as can be seen from their advert shown on this page. The Formby By-Pass was clearly much needed and a success when opened. However, as with all roads, there would be traffic accidents. The newspaper reported two incidents in the same month as the by-pass opened. First, a driver from West Derby who was driving a motor van at the junction of the by-pass and Liverpool Road at Little Altcar was in a collision with a pedal cycle ridden by a Henry Ramsbottom of Crosby, who suffered a broken leg. The other incident, rather more light-hearted in nature was reported as follows: “Shortly after eleven last Saturday morning, (a Formby resident) was driving a motor car along the new by-pass road having entered it by mistake through an open barrier at the Formby end, when it collided with the ceremonial rope, which had been placed across the road for the official ceremony the same day. The hood of the car was damaged.”

The date of the opening, though, tells us that darker times lay ahead and Formby was indeed fortunate to have got that by-pass, built and paid for when it did. In another year’s time it would not have been possible. World War II was but months away.

By John Phillips

Formby Civic Society

Photo of the BP garage on the bypass in 1938 is courtesy of Joan Rimmer

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