The Fog Bell :: RSPB reserve
A Brief History
In Roman times the coast between what is now the Ribble and the Mersey estuaries was depicted on maps as being a large bay, with the River Mersey entering the River Dee Estuary. The rivers leading into the bay were the Alt, Nile, Crossens and the Astland or Douglas. The sea was shown as bordering on what is now Rufford and Burscough. It may be that the map makers mistook the edge of the Martin Mere as being the sea and they did not venture to the west of the Mere. It is probable that the Mere, at one time, was joined to the sea. In the 6thC maps show a narrow strip of sandy land between the mere and the sea.
As the landmass of Britain slowly sinks in the east so it is rising in the west, forcing the sea to gradually recede. With sand blowing of the exposed sandbanks the coastline is going further and further west. As it does so it becomes cultivated and habited. Vikings from Ireland and the Isle of Mann settled here. Many local place and family names are derived from the Norse.
The Church of St.Cuthbert was built on high ground as was the hamlet of Cross Ness. In the 13thC monks from Penwortham Abbey who were living in the area fished for eels in the Snotterspool (later Otters Pool, now Botanic Gardens Lake and The Stray). They also built the first sea embankment, from Cross Ness (Crossens) to the Church in Church Town settlement, along the line of what is now Rufford Road and Bankfield Lane. In the 1930’s a wooden fishing dock was found several feet below the surface when they were erecting the new gates at Meols Hall.
As the sea continued to recede further embankments were built. One was on the line of what became the railway embankment of the Southport to Preston railway. This was near to the site of Sugar Hillocks where a ship laden with sugar from the West Indies went aground. The receding sea left some areas of sandhills standing higher that the surrounding land and these were settled with small cottages built from ship’s timbers and driftwood. The first of these was at Westward, (near to Cambridge Road, Hesketh Road junction) and one or two of these dwellings can still be seen.
Other settlements had names such as Hodge’s Brow, Cotty’s Brow, Clenger’s Brow, Chase Heys, Little Ireland (where the Hesketh Golf Club house stands today) and Danglert’s Lane (now Shellfield Road – so called because it is built on the shells of cockles and shrimps thrown out by the pickers).
The main channel from the sea was Fairclough’s Lake. It was called a lake as it was surrounded on three sides by sand. It was in this chaneel that a ship carrying potatoes from Ireland to England ran aground. This lead to the surrounding peat lands becoming famous as a potato growing area, the first in this country.
The locals in this area which became known as Marsh Side, lived mainly off the sea. First as fisherman, from locally made boats or ‘Southport Hobbys’, then as the sea receded further and the channels got blocked they fished for shrimps on foot – ‘putting’ or if they could afford one – a horse and cart - ‘shanking’ hence the term ‘shankers’ still used to describe the shrimp fishermen who now used mechanical ‘rigs’ to fish for shrimps.
Many fishermen lost their lives on the treacherous shore, the most notable occurrence happened on the 26th January 1869 when seven local men were lost on the shore in heavy fog. All perished. A fund was set up to help the families, ‘The Marshside Calamity Fund’ and a fog bell was erected on the sea bank with a wooden hut for the bell ringer. Two years later it was destroyed in a gale. Later the present brick Fog Bell building was built and it also housed a weather or ‘anemometer’ station which operated until 1959.
In 1913 there was a ‘Marshside Fisherman's Strike’ caused when wholesalers brought in cheaper foreign imports of shrimps from Holland. The fishermen rioted, overturning the imports in Larkfield Lane, on their way from Churchtown Station to the wholesalers. The local Police from Southport, two mounted and ten foot Officers attended and arrested those involved. The strike was only called off at the outbreak of war in 1914 when the fishermen enlisted in the Army or Navy.
The 1960’s saw the last new sea bank being built. Household rubbish was used for the core of the bank and later the coastal road was built on top. This bank enclosed a large area of salt marsh which later became fresh water marsh. In 1994 the RSPB leased the marsh from Sefton Council and the RSPB Marshside Nature Reserve was formed.
The reserve is now part of the Ribble Regional Park Nature Reserve, one of the largest breeding grounds of wading birds in the UK and recognised as internationally important.
An application has been made for a Lottery Grant to enable better access to the coast for locals and visitors. A network of public footpath and cycleways are proposed and the Fog Bell building will be the focal point of the access. Maps and interpretation displays about the history, culture, environment and natural resources will inform people about the area, making for a better understanding .
R.S.P.B - www.rspb.org.uk