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Fleetwood is a town within the Wyre district of Lancashire, England, lying at the northwest corner of the Fylde. It had a population of 26,840 people at the 2001 Census. It forms part of the Greater Blackpool conurbation. The town was the first planned community of the Victorian era. For most of the 20th century, Fleetwood was a prominent deep-sea fishing port, but, since the 1970s, the fishing industry has declined precipitously and the town has undergone economic difficulties. Fleetwood is also a seaside resort, serving as a quiet contrast to nearby Blackpool.

Ptolemy’s Geographia in the 2nd century AD records a tribe known as the Setantii living in what is believed to be present-day West Lancashire, and a seaport built by the Romans called PORTVS SETANTIORVM (‘the port of the Setantii’) abutting Moricambe Aestuarium (presumably Morecambe Bay). There is also evidence of a Roman road running from Ribchester to Kirkham (12 miles southeast of Fleetwood) which then makes a sharp turn to the northwest. Together, these suggest that Fleetwood may well have been the location of this Roman port. No direct evidence of the port has been found, but in 2007, an Iron Age settlement was discovered at Bourne Hill, just south of present-day Fleetwood, suggesting the area was populated in pre-Roman times.

There is evidence that the eastern side of the River Wyre was occupied during the Danish invasions of the 9th and 10th centuries, and by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, the land on which Fleetwood now stands was part of the Hundred of Amounderness.

A manor house at present-day Rossall, in the southwest of the town, was in the possession of the Allen family by the time of Henry VIII. The Allens were prominent Roman Catholics, and Henry VIII repossessed the land. Cardinal William Allen was born at the manor house in 1532. It was ultimately sold to Thomas Fleetwood, comptroller of the Royal Mint, whose son Edmund, expanded the house into Rossall Hall. The land remained in the Fleetwood family for 300 years.

By the 1830s, the house and estate was in the ownership of Edmund’s descendant Peter Hesketh, High Sheriff of Lancashire and MP for Preston. A man of somewhat liberal views for his time, Hesketh believed that the sheltered harbour and views over Morecambe Bay gave the area the makings of a busy sea port and popular resort for the less-affluent. With no rail link between London and Scotland, He envisaged Fleetwood as the transfer point between the rail and the steamers to Scotland, and set about encouraging a railway link from Preston. With a new career in parliament to prepare for, he engaged Frederick Kemp as his agent. He originally considered naming the new town Wyreton or New Liverpool, but after changing his name to Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood in 1831, he settled on the name Fleetwood. After some delays, he hired the prominent architect Decimus Burton, whose work in St Leonard’s-on-Sea he had admired, to lay out what would be the first planned town of the Victorian era. The plans were complete by 1835, and construction of the first buildings and the railway line began in 1836.

Burton’s plan was to use largest of the sand-dunes on the north-facing shore as the focus of a half-wheel street layout. This was landscaped, and became known as The Mount. It served as the hub of Burton’s half-wheel design, the main residential streets acted as the spokes, and the main commerce area of Dock Street was the rim of the wheel. The oldest surviving building in the town, once the custom house, later the town hall, and latterly Fleetwood Museum, dates from 1836 and housing from as early as 1838 still exists in the town. The crown jewel was the North Euston Hotel, built in 1841, a fine semi-circular building overlooking the bay and the river’s estuary. The hotel was built to serve overnight guests making the railway journey from Euston, and was close to the point of departure for the steamers to Scotland. This journey was made by Queen Victoria in 1847, but by the mid-1850s the completion of the western railway link between London and Scotland over Shap Fell rendered Fleetwood’s role as a transport terminus obsolete.

Burton designed two lighthouses for the town: The Upper Lighthouse, usually referred to as the Pharos (after the Pharos of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), can be seen for 13 miles, and Beach Lighthouse is visible for 9 miles. Both opened in 1840. A third lighthouse, Wyre Light, built in 1839-40 by blind engineer Alexander Mitchell, offshore on the northeast corner of North Wharf, was the first screw pile lighthouse to be built in Great Britain. Fleetwood is the only town in the United Kingdom to possess three lighthouses and the two within the town itself remain fully operational. Wyre Light has now fallen into a state of disrepair.

Fleetwood Market, still a prominent permanent market, first opened in 1840.

By 1838, Hesketh-Fleetwood had run into serious financial difficulties, with costs for the railway in particular ultimately exceeding £300,000. He had numerous financial arguments with Frederick Kemp, who borrowed against the estate revenues to finance the expansion of the town, and was suspected of taking financial advantage of Sir Peter. Hesketh-Fleetwood became short of cash and was forced to mortgage his properties. Depressed, he gradually withdrew from the project, and by 1844 he had been obliged to sell much of his estate. He leased Rossall Hall itself to the Church of England, which intended to set up a boarding school as a North of England equivalent of Marlborough School. Under the auspices of Rev. St. Vincent Beechey, the vicar of Fleetwood, it was to become Rossall School. Virtually bankrupt, Hesketh-Fleetwood retired to Brighton, giving up his parliamentary obligations in 1847. Meanwhile, Kemp’s influence expanded. He had set up the Fleetwood Estates Company to manage the land, and the North Lancashire Steam Navigation Company in 1843 to manage the expanding steamer trade. However, by the late 1850s, the combination of the new western railway route and the rise of neighbouring Blackpool as a prominent seaside resort signalled a decline in the town’s fortunes.

From the 1860s Fleetwood expanded its port activities. Steamers began pleasure and commercial services to the Isle of Man, Ardrossan and Belfast. Half a mile 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. At this time, all the fishing vessels out of Fleetwood were sail-powered fishing smacks, few being over 40 tons deadweight. The Fleetwood Docks Act of 1864 enabled the construction of a dock and embankment for both fishing and general cargo. Work on what was to become Wyre Dock began in 1869 but was suspended for financial reasons. A second Act in 1871 gave construction authority to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, under chief engineers Sir John Hawkshaw and Harrison Hayter. Construction itself, by John Aird & Sons, was completed in 1877. Heavy industry came to the area in the late 1880s with the construction of a salt-processing works on the southeastern edge of the town by the Fleetwood Salt Co. Ltd, using salt mined in Preesall, across the river.

By the early 1890s, the construction and expansion of rival cargo ports in the North West 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 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. Many of the houses in the old area of town around the Mount and Lord Street were built in the 1890s. In keeping with the thriving economy, these terraced houses were large for their era. An electric tramway link to Blackpool was constructed in the 1890s and remains operational to this day. The trams were routed along East Street and West Street (now Lord Street and North Albert Street) rather than Dock Street, and commercial trade followed, making those streets the commercial centre of the town. Fleetwood is the only town in Britain with trams running the full length of its main street, sharing road-space with cars. The docks were expanded in 1908 with the construction of the Fish Dock, accessible through Wyre Dock and 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 United Kingdom.

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 (1935), golf course (1931) and Model Yacht Pond (1932) all date from this era. In the 1920s, the salt works, by now owned by the United Alkali Company (after 1926 part of ICI), was considerably expanded, and became an ammonia-processing plant. ICI built an adjacent chemical processing plant, known as ICI Hillhouse. ICI would become the town’s third-largest employer, after the fishing and tourism industries. The first fully automated telephone exchange in Britain was put into operation to serve the town on 15 July 1922.

The town was hit by a huge flood in October 1927, which put 90% of the area of the town under water. Only the higher lying areas around the Mount escaped. Additional housing was built in the 1920s and 1930s in the less developed central areas of the town, and a further development boom occurred in the 1960s in the lower lying western portion of the town (Larkholme). Many industries related to fishing grew up along the rail corridor on the eastern side of the town, and a number of unrelated industries also moved to the area to take advantage of the availability of labour.

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 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 transportation 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, a dispute over fishing rights between Iceland and the UK. 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 Fleetwood 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 revitalizing the waterfront and town centre was submitted to the Wyre Borough Council.

Since the Local Government Act 1972, effective 1 April 1974, Fleetwood has been part of the Borough of Wyre, together with the neighbouring communities of Thornton Cleveleys and Poulton-le-Fylde, the Over Wyre villages, and Garstang. The administrative headquarters is in Poulton-le-Fylde. The borough is a constituent part of Lancashire County Council. Although Wyre Council has an overwhelming Conservative majority (40 out of a total of 55 councillors), all 13 of Fleetwood’s councillors belong to Labour. Prior to 1974, Fleetwood had been a Municipal Borough since 1933, and from 1894 to 1933, an Urban District. The town is divided into five wards, Mount, Pharos, Warren, Park and Rossall.

A Fleetwood parish council (known as Fleetwood Town Council) was established following a referendum in June 2009. The boundaries of the parish are coterminous with the boundary of the five borough council wards of Fleetwood and the council has 13 councillors. For the 2010 General Election, Fleetwood was joined with Lancaster and some Over Wyre locations to form the new Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency.

Fleetwood is located on the Fylde Peninsula, eight miles (13 km) north of Blackpool, on the western side of the mouth of the River Wyre. The town itself is on a peninsula, almost two miles (3 km) wide, bounded to the west by the Irish Sea, to the north by Morecambe Bay, and to the east by the River Wyre. Access to Fleetwood is thus restricted, and for many years there were only two roads into and out of the town. A large sandbank, the North Wharf, extends some two and a quarter miles north into Morecambe Bay, and is exposed at low tide. The river channel forms the eastern boundary of the bank. Together with the larger Bernard Wharf on the other side of the river, this makes navigation of the river difficult. Conversely, the port is highly sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.

Like the remainder of the Fylde, the land is extremely flat, the highest point being the Mount, the large sand dune in the northern part of the town, from which the original street plan radiated. Parts of Fleetwood, especially to the north and west, are barely above sea level at high tide, and a large retaining sea wall runs along much of the western edge of the town. Nevertheless, Fleetwood was flooded in 1927, and again in 1977. The latter flood, although much smaller, affected more properties as there had been considerable development in the 1960s in the lower-lying parts of the town. The soil is broadly sandy, but there is considerable marshland to the south and east, by the river. The town itself encompasses an area of just under four square miles.

At the 2001 Census, Fleetwood had a population of 26,840. This is a decline of about 6% from the figures in 1971, at a time when the overall population of the Borough of Wyre rose by 11%.

Fleetwood’s economy still revolves around the traditional areas of fishing, tourism, port activity and light industry, but since the early 1970s the town has continued to struggle economically. A Government report in 2006 stated that three of the town’s five wards fall into the 5% to 10% most deprived wards in England.[11]

The same Government report noted that the demise of the fishing industry cost Fleetwood some 8,000 jobs, employment in fishing-related industries falling from 9,000 to less than 1,000, mostly in the fish-processing sector. The closure of the ICI Hillhouse works cost the region a further 4,500 jobs. Industrial and commercial development has been at a standstill for fifteen years and only a single commercial employer based in the town has more than 200 employees. The stock of both commercial and residential property is in decline.

The town’s largest and most prominent single employer is Lofthouse’s of Fleetwood, Ltd., manufacturers of Fisherman’s Friend—a menthol lozenge popular worldwide and especially in Japan.

In July 2007, a new “Masterplan” for revitalizing the town around a “vibrant waterfront and a revitalized town centre” was submitted to the Wyre Borough Council. Some of the funding would come from an EU cash grant. The Masterplan was funded by Wyre Council, the Northwest Development Agency and English Heritage. The plan has three main areas for development:

  • Transport: Improvements to the A585 link road. Restoration of the railway link including a new railway station in Fleetwood. Improved links to the riverside coastal paths and Fleetwood Marsh Nature Reserve.
  • “Seafront scene transformation”: new waterfront environment with housing, beach sports, family area and bigger entertainment attractions. The original plan placed housing on land opposite the Mount Hotel on land currently used as a nine-hole pitch and putt course, but, after opposition from residents, this part of the plan was dropped. The waterfront would have a discovery and entertainment centre focused around a re-fashioned Marine Hall, with better health and fitness facilities nearby.
  • “Attractive new look for centre”: the Masterplan includes plans for more open spaces and more national name shops on Lord Street, with Albert Square and Station Road earmarked as public squares. A new landmark square and heart of the town is proposed on both Lord Street and London Street with cafes, bars and restaurants.

The town’s most prominent feature is The Mount, a 7-acre (2.8 ha) park facing the sea-front, laid out by Decimus Burton, and built on a large sand dune originally known as Tup’s Hill. It is surmounted by a pavilion built in 1902 incorporating a clock added in 1919. The wall on the inland side of The Mount is built from pebbles, in traditional Fylde style. The Mount and the entire length of Fleetwood Promenade has an uninterrupted view across Morecambe Bay, a view described by author Bill Bryson in Chapter 23 of his book Notes From a Small Island as “easily one of the most beautiful in the world, with unforgettable views across to the green and blue Lakeland hills: Scafell, Coniston Old Man, the Langdale Pikes.” Directly across The Esplanade from the Mount lies The Marine Hall and Marine Gardens, Wyre Borough’s largest entertainment venue, opened in 1935.

Fleetwood Pier, also known as the Victoria Pier, was a feature of the town from its construction in 1910 until it was destroyed by fire in September 2008. Built at the end of the ‘golden age’ of pier building, it was the last pleasure pier to be built in the United Kingdom, other than a 1957 pier built in Deal, Kent to replace a structure damaged in World War II. At 492 feet (150 m) in length, it was one of the shortest piers in the country. At various times, it was an amusement complex, bar and dance hall. In 1952 the pier was badly damaged in a fire which started in the cinema, and it did not reopen until 1958. The pier was closed again in 2006, and plans were drawn up to convert the structure into an apartment complex. However, the pier was again heavily damaged by fire in the early hours of 9 September 2008. On September 26, 2008, Wyre Borough Council announced that the pier would be completely demolished, and two weeks later confirmed that the pier would not be rebuilt.

Fleetwood has two prominent retail locations. Freeport Fleetwood, opened in 1995 and named after the American town of Freeport, Maine, is a waterfront outlet shopping village, on the site of the former Wyre Dock, with 45 shops in a marina setting. Freeport was re-branded and re-launched in 2006 at a cost of £8.6m. Fleetwood Market on Victoria Street is one of the largest covered markets in the North West, with over 250 stalls. It was first opened in 1840, although the present stone building dates from 1892.

Fleetwood Museum stands on Queen’s Terrace. The building, designed by Decimus Burton, was completed in 1836 and is the oldest surviving building in Fleetwood. It was originally the Customs House, and from 1889 to 1974 it served as Fleetwood Town Hall, until local government activity was moved to Poulton. It was designated as the town’s museum in 1992. The museum tells the story of the fishing industry in the town. In January 2006, the museum was threatened with closure by owners Lancashire County Council (LCC). However, volunteers helped re-launch the museum in April 2007, setting up the Fleetwood Museum Trust to run the museum in partnership with LCC for twelve months with the intention of the trust eventually running the museum themselves. The museum also operates The Jacinta, the town’s “heritage trawler”, stationed in the Wyre Dock Marina and open for public viewing throughout the year. Built in 1972, it was moved to Hull in 1982, before being handed over to the Jacinta Charitable Trust in 1995 when restoration work began on the trawler.

Fleetwood’s parish church, St Peter’s, designed by Decimus Burton in 1841, stands at the corner of Lord Street and North Albert Street. It formerly had a spire, but this was demolished in 1904. St Mary’s, the town’s main Roman Catholic church, stands nearby. Built in 1867, it was designed by E.W. Pugin. A more modern church of interest is the copper-roofed St Nicholas, on Poulton Road, designed by Laurence King and completed in 1962.

Numerous other buildings designed by Decimus Burton remain in the town. Prominent are the Pharos and Lower Lighthouses, opened in 1840 and still in operation. Ships sailing down the Wyre channel line up the two lights, one above the other, to guide them. The Pharos is the only functioning lighthouse in the United Kingdom built in the middle of the street. It now forms a traffic roundabout. The North Euston Hotel, opened in 1841, is still the largest hotel in Fleetwood. Queen’s Terrace was completed in 1844 and is regarded as an outstanding example of classical architecture. Now mostly used for offices and private flats, at various times it has been used as a school, hospital, railway offices and wartime consulates for European nations.

The Fylde Folk Festival is held each year at the Marine Hall and other venues in the town. It is a festival of traditional and contemporary folk music, song and dance. The festival has been held continuously since 1971. The opening concert each year is staged aboard Jacinta, the town’s heritage trawler. The 2012 festival is set to run from Friday 31 August until Sunday 2 September. Another annual music festival, originating in 2005, is Fleetwoodstock, named after the famous New York Woodstock Festival and held in the autumn. The usual venue is the Marine Hall.

Fleetwood Transport Festival, also known as Tram Sunday, has been held annually on the third Sunday of July since 1985. It is a festival of vintage vehicles highlighted by a number of historical tram-cars, which parade along Lord Street.

Fleetwood Beer & Cider Festival is held in February each year and is organised by the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre branch of CAMRA. The festival offers a choice of around 100 real ales as well as a selection of ciders and foreign beers.

From the 1930s to the present, the Model Yacht Pond, one of Europe’s largest, has been host to numerous national and international championships, held under the aegis of the Fleetwood Model Yacht and Power Boat Club.

Fleetwood Reservoir on Copse Road provides coarse fishing facilities. The fishing club is affiliated to the National Federation of Anglers. Matches take place every Sunday and Friday during the summer months.

Fleetwood is a popular location for kitesurfing and other power kite sports. There are several suitable beaches and training is available at the local kite school.

Fleetwood lies at the northern end of the Blackpool tramway, which is operated by Blackpool Transport. It is about 12 miles (19 km) from Fleetwood to the southern terminus at Starr Gate, and about 8 miles (13 km) to Talbot Square, Blackpool. Trams run the full length of both Lord Street and North Albert Street, undivided from regular road traffic, cars passing trams on the kerb side. Bus service to Blackpool is provided by Blackpool Transport and Ribble, who also provide service to Preston and other local destinations.

There are frequent ferry sailings from Fleetwood across the River Wyre to Knott End-on-Sea.

Passenger sailings to Douglas are not currently on a regular timetable. Ferries were operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company from 1876 to 1961, and again periodically from 1971. However, in recent years the service has been restricted to once or twice per year. From 2004, Stena Line provided some passenger accommodation on its thrice daily service to Larne in Northern Ireland. However, Stena Line withdrew the service at the end of 2010.

The town being built on a peninsula, for many years there were only two roads into and out of Fleetwood: Broadway/Rossall Road, through Cleveleys, designated as the A587, and Fleetwood Road, through Thornton, designated as the A585. To cater for container traffic, Amounderness Way was built in the late 1970s and re-designated as the A585. In the 1990s, Amounderness Way was extended into town to the end of Dock Street along the former railway bed.

The town was for several years the northern Fylde terminus of the railway line to London, hence the hotel opposite the site of the now demolished Fleetwood railway station is called The North Euston. The line also carried landed fish from the docks to distant markets. There has been no railway service to Fleetwood since 1970. Poulton-le-Fylde and Blackpool North are the nearest stations.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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