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How the National Trust came to Formby in 1967

On Wednesday 12th April, the National Trust celebrated its 50 year association with Formby – only a short time after announcing an increased role in our community by taking over responsibility for managing and protecting another 204 hectares of land from Sefton Council. I suppose a lot of Formby residents today take this association for granted and simply enjoy the opportunities open to us as well to the increasing number of visitors attracted by the shore, woods and wildlife. Yet, as ever, these things do not ‘just happen’. There was a reason and a campaign and a lot of joint effort between the local community and the new landowners. This week let us look back to April 1967 and find out what lay behind the move and then, in a fortnight, let us look at how it began to develop over the years.

The arrival of the National Trust in Formby in 1967 arose from a national campaign to protect and preserve our national coastline with the result that the National Trust were able to buy 574 miles of coastline for us all to enjoy; today that figure stands at 755 miles of beaches, bays, estuaries and cliffs around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A realisation that our wonderful coastline needed to be protected led to the formation of a fundraising campaign by the National Trust, entitled ‘Enterprise Neptune’. The success of this campaign was a way of deterring any unregulated development and of planning for the future to preserve our heritage.

Prior to the final agreement with the National Trust, there were meetings with interested parties and public meetings to ensure that discussions reached a positive outcome. Local opinion was fully reported in the Formby Times and shows us how much local residents felt it would be a positive development for the NT to take over the running of the shore around Formby Point. There was a time limit for matters to be resolved, including the need for the National Trust to raise £20,000 through Enterprise Neptune to buy the Northern section of the Formby shore and sandhills. The regional organiser for the NT was C.H.D. Acland, better known to friends and colleagues as ‘Cubby’. He said, at a meeting of the Formby Society, that the money needed to be raised locally and thanked Formby Urban District Council for providing £3000 and Liverpool Corporation for £9,000. He was confident the target would be reached in time as a total of £16,000 was already raised.

In late October a public meeting was called by the Formby Society (a name later changed to the present-day ‘Formby Civic Society’) in order to consider in detail the proposals for the Formby sandhills and shore. The meeting was conducted under the chairmanship of Formby Society chairman, D.A. Crighton. The aim was not to provide a platform for speeches but to provide an opportunity for questions and answers from all sides of the debate. It was held at the Council Chamber, which was packed to the rafters: the Formby Times reported, “... (it) took up every seat in the room, and every seat that could be brought in from nearby rooms; they sat on table tops and stood in every available inch of standing space – and then overflowed on to the landing outside the Council Chamber and the stairs leading up to it.”

The meeting lasted two and a half hours and the newspaper reported that the verdict of the people was “National Trust – yes; County Council, no!” There was a clear feeling that the proposal should go ahead as swiftly as possible and that the County Council should support the development by building a new access road to take visitors to Formby from the by-pass directly to the shore; also, that the County should do something urgently to combat coastal erosion. Indeed, the headline to the article was that the Lancashire County Council “should leave all shore future in the hands of the National Trust”. This was quite a statement and clearly represented the feelings of the local people. It was when Cubby Acland presented a series of slides – there was no PowerPoint in 1966! – showing how the National Trust went about its business in other areas of the country, that the argument for the general public was won. Cubby’s presentations “boasted an imagination and a subtlety that won over everyone present. Many of the points made by subsequent speakers echoed the thought: ‘Why can’t the National Trust take over all of Formby shore?’ Well! Fifty years on, that seems eventually to have come about. This is not, however, to decry the work of a later council, Sefton, in working to protect the coast, and publications such as “Sand and Sea: Sefton’s Coastal Heritage” (2008), “Sefton’s Dynamic Coast” (2010) and “A Timeline of Sefton’s Changing Coastline” stand testament to the efforts of committed and talented people representing the Local Authority and their colleagues in other bodies, such as the National Trust. However, in the light of current financial imperatives, the time to hand over the remainder of the shore to the NT is appropriate.

A walk through the Formby woods for L. Rich (NT), G.E. Neal (Formby warden)

and Cubby Acland (NT)

By April 1967, the local newspapers carried reports that half of the Formby shore area had been officially taken over by the NT – the first Enterprise Neptune purchase in the North-West - and the Formby Times invited Cubby Acland, the Trust’s North-West area agent. It is a long time ago, but throughout the interview you gain an idea that Cubby was a lively and determined person with a good sense of humour. He was a ‘hands on’ person who spent 20 years creating a minor gem for anyone who loves gardens: Stagshaw Gardens, just outside Ambleside. He lived in a cottage at the foot of the garden and developed from scratch an informal woodland garden with a range of pathways and an unusual combination of shrubs, trees and plants. I wonder how many Bubble readers will know and have visited Stagshaw Gardens?

Cubby Acland described Formby as “... the nearest piece of natural shore for some six million people this side of the Pennines.” He was keen to emphasise that public access to the shore and woods would remain: “I promise that the dog and the family will never be excluded ... The Trust intends to give complete public access to the people of Formby ...” He was clear, also, that much would be done to prevent abuse such as litter, damage and noise pollution; vehicles would not be allowed on the foreshore. The work of protection and management would go ahead as a continuous process leading to gradual improvement and development. When asked what could be done in terms of preventing coastal erosion, Cubby replied, “You’re joking. The Trust is no multi-millionaire. We shall plant marram grass and trees. We cannot afford miles of concrete. On one point I can assure you: the Trust will not allow the commercial taking of sand from its land.” Visitors would have to pay for car parking to raise money to look after Formby Point. Initially the cost was 2 shillings and sixpence per car, with the option of a season ticket for £1 and 10 shillings.

Wardens – wearing armbands rather than peaked caps – would be on site for the public and to enforce the law. The first two local appointments to work on the Trust property were Arthur Brown and George Neal. Local volunteers would be encouraged to help support work in planting and tree control. In the next edition of the Bubble, let us look at the work of the new wardens and the early years of the National Trust in Formby. We will also see how the Civic Society again played a part in supporting this new venture. Have a look at this newspaper article!

Do you have any memories of these early days? If so, please get in touch with us and share them with other readers.

By John Phillips Formby Civic Society

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