Southport does not have a long history reaching back into the mists of time. It is
most unlikely that the Romans ever built their seaside villas here; the Vikings passed
through on their way inland, and nowt but fisherfolk actually settled on the sands
until relatively recent times.
Modern Southport owes its rapid development to a Duke. Not a member of the aristocracy,
but ‘The Mad Duke’ or ‘The Old Duke’ William Sutton!
The Origin and History of Southport
The town began in 1792 when William Sutton opened a hotel, built on a site which
is nowadays at the junction of Lord Street and Duke Street. It was in this area that
the first houses in Southport were built, and from this time, groups of dwellings
arose between Birkdale in the south and Churchtown in the north. One of these groups
became known as 'South Hawes'.
The present name first appeared as 'South-port' in 1798. Records say that a small
stream, nicknamed the 'River Nile,' found its way on to the beach near Sutton's Hotel.
The sea ran up some distance inland, forming an estuary. Tradition speaks of a 'fine
bay of eleven fathoms of water within half a mile from the shore, where vessels occasionally
lay securely at anchor.' To the local fishermen and farmers of that time, it was
a port, so it is not surprising that the new village lying south of the 'Domesday
Book' village of Churchtown should have been re-named 'Southport' - a name which,
with modernised spelling, has been in use since 1826.
We could say that Southport is the Paris of the North, but it would be more accurate
to describe Paris as the Southport of the South! It's a little known fact that Prince
Louis Napoléon (Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of the ‘Corsican Tyrant’) lived
on Lord Street from May 1846 following his escape from imprisonment in France, before
returning to his homeland in 1848. He declared himself Emperor in 1851, and just
a year later, no doubt inspired by his stay in Southport, set the Prefect of the
Seine, ‘Baron’ Georges-Eugène Haussman, to work redesigning the city of Paris. Much
of the medieval centre of Paris was replaced with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered
walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street.
Meanwhile, back at home, a rail service became available from Liverpool to Southport
in July 1848, visitors having previously travelled by canal and road. Then, from
1853, people could travel by train to the resort from Manchester,via Wigan, and the
lovely seaside town attracted thousands of workers from the Lancashire mill towns.
The Victorian era has left the town with a glorious legacy - the spaciousness of
Southport, the parks and gardens and wide tree-lined streets. Lord Street, one of
Britain's finest boulevards, is the main shopping thoroughfare - straight and wide
for almost a mile. Along one side are shops with Victorian glass topped canopies
and on the opposite sides are gardens, fountains and classical buildings.
Today, Southport has developed into a large town with a constellation of smaller
villages such as Birkdale, Ainsdale, Hillside and Churchtown. Over recent years,
many millions of pounds have been spent in renovating, restoring and improving the
town’s appearance and facilities, and not for nothing is it now known as ‘England’s
Fortunino Matania’s posters for the Cheshire Lines Railway in the 1930s highlighted
the fashionable and modern image of the resort.
Southport is not some kind of faded resort, trading on past glories. It is a thriving,
modern town which seeks to include the best of the past with the best of today.
No sea-side resort is complete without a pier. Southport has the second longest,
and the oldest and newest iron pier in the UK! Originally opened in 1860, it was
dismantled in the late 1990s, all the parts refurbished or replaced, and then completely
rebuilt with a full-size pier tram, and a new, twenty-first century, pier pavilion.
But whereas, as recently as the 1920s, there was enough water to float a steam ship,
the rising of the land has meant that, now, it is often possible to walk round the
end of the pier.
There is often a conflict between the demands of man and the demands of nature, but
the Marine Lake is a man-made body of water designed to provide leisure facilities
to both residents and visitors alike. Boating and sailing, water skiing and other
aquatic pursuits remain top of the list. The new Marine Way Bridge has been constructed
to provide a link for pedestrians and motorists across the Marine Lake. The effect
of the suspension cables is to form a ‘sail’ which highlights the purpose of the
Lake, and is particularly spectacular when lit up at night.
The natural world is not neglected, however, as the marshlands to the north east
of Southport form one of the largest habitats for migratory and water birds in the
whole of the UK. Not far from Southport is Martin Mere, which forms one of the principal
properties of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Martin Mere Wetland Centre is home
to over 100 species of rare and endangered ducks, geese, swans, flamingos...and otters
Southport, and Formby to the south, also form one of the few remaining habitats of
the native red squirrel, and the extremely rare natterjack toad.
There is a thriving social and cultural scene in Southport, too. We are fortunate
to have no fewer than three theatres: the Little Theatre offers a varied programme
of entertainment from local amateur theatrical companies; the Arts Centre features
professional theatrical and musical events, and the Southport Theatre, part of the
newly refurbished Conference Centre, offers a wide range from Pantomime at the Christmas
Season, through comedy, and ‘shows.’
Cinema is catered for by the new multiscreen at Ocean Plaza, on the waterfront, adjoined
by various restaurants, and tenpin bowling lanes.
Being an area designed for visitors, Southport has a number of really excellent restaurants,
catering for many different tastes and cuisines, from mainstream British and European,
to Arab, Indian, and Asian.
But no mention of Southport would be complete without a certain four-letter word:
GOLF. Home to the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, and the periodic visits of the British
Open Championships, there are more than a dozen other first-rate golf courses within
half an hour’s drive of the town. A paradise indeed for devotees of the game.
And now, of course, another four-letter-word joins the pantheon. BANS. Southport
welcomed all the delegates to the BANS 2011 Congress, and we hope that all of you
went home having enjoyed your stay in England’s (and Lancashire’s!) Classic Resort.
Hover your cursor on the image to see it in full detail
The newest, the oldest, and the second longest iron pier in the United Kingdom
London Square and the War Memorial, the centre of Lord Street. Click HERE to learn
more about what Lord Street has to offer!
The Marine Way Bridge was opened in 2004. The bold, modern, design was adopted in
preference to a reconstruction of the previous Victorian cast iron bridge which had
to be replaced.