Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sandstone, Platforms and Quaysides

There’s a tendency amongst local historians to ignore physical evidence and concentrate instead on old legal documents or past historians’ books, which is fair enough, but that’s the difference between an historian and an antiquarian, you see. Antiquarians take an holistic approach to the subject, combining history with landscape archaeology, speculation, and, for the proof of the pudding, the odd excavation.
Even a Victorian town such as Fleetwood (well…everyone knows there was nothing here before the 19th century) has its hidden history, sometimes ancient, sometimes enigmatic, but always overlooked.
Take the following photograph of the ginnel leading to Mill Lane opposite the market by way of example.

To the enquiring onlooker (or possibly just an onlooker with nothing better to do than scratch his/her head in puzzlement at the sort of things most people wouldn’t glance twice at) the random build cobbles and sandstone blocks constituting the lower section of this wall (obviously put in place before the Victorian stuff was added on top) appear incongruous.
The majority of Fleetwood, you see, is built from bricks, so any sandstone obviously predating a building’s construction (and in the case of the ginnel this was one of the very first buildings to be erected in the town) requires, in our opinion at least, further investigation.
Before we get carried away with ourselves, however, there are several other alleys and ginnels around this early section of the town that have mysterious sandstone blocks in them as well, as the photograph below demonstrates.

So, the question is, where did these blocks originate?
It seems unlikely they were deliberately imported and then topped off with bricks (especially considering that bricks, on the whole, would have been cheaper), which only leaves the possibility that there were other pre-Victorian constructions on the Fleetwood peninsula from which these blocks were conveniently borrowed.
The first of the possible ‘original’ locations can be found in Thornber’s ‘History of Blackpool’ which informs us of: “…a large paved platform, which I have often fancied had been used for a landing place.” This platform (Roman in Thornber’s opinion) once stood at Fenny (near Rossall Point) but was: ““...destroyed, for the sake of its materials.”
Materials for the ‘recycling of’ in the back alleys and outhouses of early Fleetwood, perhaps? Unfortunately Thornber doesn’t actually tell us what purpose they were put to, but it’s not the only possible origin of our sandstone blocks.
Mine End ford, running from close to the lower lighthouse, across the River Wyre to the Great Scar at Knott End, was originally written as Min End meaning ‘River Mouth’. Again it was generally believed to have been Roman in origin, and was recorded by Captain Parkinson who described it as being constructed from ‘large, red sandstone blocks’.
So, another excellent possibility, especially when you stop to consider that the ford was removed when the channel was straightened to allow boats access to the harbour during Fleetwood’s construction, and that nobody knows what became of it.
We can even hazard a guess at the size and shape of Min End’s blocks. Christopher Taylor’s ‘Road and Tracks of Britain’ (a catchy little title that makes you want to rush to the hole in the wall and withdraw the money to buy it, but an excellent book nonetheless) records that: “One constructed ford (Roman), though now sadly destroyed, was seen many years ago on the road between Rochester and Hastings, at a point near Iden Green, not far from Benenden in Kent. Here the road crossed a small stream and modern down cutting had exposed a well-constructed ford made up of a pavement of roughly squared blocks of stone. These blocks were up to as much as one and a half feet by two feet and seven inches thick.”
As you’ve probably gathered at this point, we haven’t bothered measuring any of the blocks around Fleetwood yet. We’ve been working on the principle that it’d be difficult to explain what we’re doing with a camera and tape measure to property owners and/or the police, but if anybody reading this happens to be in an adventurous, measuring sort of mood one weekend when there’s nothing on the telly, then feel free to have a go.
Perhaps the most interesting possibility, however, can be garnered from Henry Fishwick’s ‘The History of the parish of Poulton-le-Fylde in the County of Lancaster’, which tells us that: “In 9 Geo. 1 (or 1722 – 23) a survey of various ports was made, when the commissioners reported: “We appoint and set down and settle the bounds and limits of the port of Poulton…and we appoint the places herein after mentioned to be places, quays or wharfs respectively for the landing discharging lading or shipping of any goods or merchandise, that open place called the Mains Brow; that open place called James Road in Higham Pool.”
Let’s leave Mains Brow alone for now and concentrate instead on the latter location.
Higham Pool, as far as we can tell, is close to, if not part of, Fleetwood’s current harbour; James Road (again as far as we can ascertain) being the old country road as marked on pre-Fleetwood maps, following Poulton Road all the way from Fenny to the harbour mouth. It’s time for another quick photograph showing a few more blocks closer to the harbour end of Dock Street, inserted into the text at this point mainly to add a bit of colour to this posting.
George Mould’s ‘Lancashire’s Unknown River’ has this to add: “Before Fleetwood was born …there is record of the existence in 1744 of a quay for discharging ships called James Road in Higham Pool. The quay was 140 yards in length.”
A sizable quayside then, large enough to account for the numerous sandstone blocks found around Fleetwood.
Just to add a bit more speculation, we’ve pointed out in the past that the old country road was most likely of Roman construction, joining a watch tower (i.e. the paved platform at Fenny mentioned earlier, where over 600 Roman coins were discovered) to the harbour mouth before continuing over the river from Hackensall Brow to the base of Preesall Hill past another Roman coin hoard and another suspected Roman watchtower.
So, to recap, the sandstone blocks now lodged at the base of so many of Fleetwood’s earliest building, might well have once been a Roman quayside that ran close to the modern harbour.
It’s an intriguing possibility, one of several we’ve already mentioned and, who knows, perhaps several we haven’t thought of yet. But it’s not one we’re going to be able to prove any time soon so, for the time being at least, it’ll have to remain as speculation.


Jon Eaton said...

Interesting photos! It might be worth surveying some of the older churches in the Fleetwood area to see if any ancient stonework was incorporated into their structure, on the basis that the more important buildings might have got the better stonework. The incorporation of ancient stonework into the fabric of churches is quite common in Northumberland near Hadrian's Wall. Presumably it went on elsewhere also!

Brian Hughes said...


That's an excellent idea. According to Yates' map of 1785 (I'd have to recheck that date, but it sounds about right) there was a church at Flakefleet, but to date we haven't managed to pin it down. (That's mainly because we haven't tried.) Certainly at Little Thornton, behind Thornton Hall Farm, a Victorian barn had earlier sandstone blocks incorporated into it that match exactly with the dimensions and locations of a small Cockersand Abbey owned grange circa 1300, although exactly where the sandstone originated before that is anybody's guess. I reckon we'll have to take you up on that's got me thinking now.

John said...

If you don't mind me asking, but have you considered that these current buildings may have been constructed on previous ruins?

Your theory of the origin of the sandstone blocks makes perfect sense, but why start one building with stone, then finish it with bricks, and start another building with stone, and finish it with bricks, etc? Possibly each building was constructed haphazardly, and they all just grabbed whatever wa lying around, but don't you think that in this case they would have used some symmetry, or thought, in constructing a building with mixed materials?

The photos you show make it look like new buildings were built upon older foundations, which has been a common occurence in history.

Just a thought... I'm sure you guys know the history of these buildings, and the area, best.

Still, I'd like to see more posts like this!

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


We have considered that possibility. The only trouble is, according to the books (which tend to be wrong I know) there were no buildings (or even ruins) in Fleetwood before the town was built. (Actually, that's not strictly true...there was the Summer House, but that's a different story.) Also, Fleetwood was laid out according to a very strict ground plan...which would mean that any buildings already standing were also following the same plan...if you see what I mean...which just couldn't happen.

Whatever the case, the sandstone blocks certainly predate the Victorian bricks and it's unlikely that they'd have been dragged very far. The general attitude of Fleetwood residents is, if it isn't tied down then it's fair game...a philosophy that doesn't seem to have changed much over the centuries.

John said...

Didn't you say in your book that the Roman soldiers who retired in the Wyre followed city planning, and laid the town out in a certain way? Also, isn't it reasonable to assume that, once planned, later buildings would likely be nearby, if not on the same location?

Otherwise, I would think that perhaps an entire lower wall or foundation would be built with the sandstone blocks, and then brick used on top, instead of such a haphazard layout.

The possibility also exists that the stone was used to repair damaged walls, but that would more likely appear as patches in teh center or upper portions, not the foundation?

It's definitely worth investigating.

Now, about this Summer House? Tell us more... :0)

JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...


In answer to your first I don't remember ever writing that anywhere. I can only assume that you must have read it somewhere else and thought it was me and Michelle. To the best of my knowledge there were no Roman towns anywhere in the Fylde and Wyre...just isolated farmsteads and what have you. Lancaster and Ribchester are the nearest Roman towns to speak of.

As for your second point:

"The possibility also exists that the stone was used to repair damaged walls..."

That is a possibility but, as you also correctly point out, it's unlikely that anyone would use sandstone blocks to repair large holes at the bottom of their buildings (and most of the 'sandstone and brick' walls are holding buildings up, rather than just enclosing gardens). Firstly there's the problem of holes of this size not bringing the whole structure down before repair and, secondly, there's the little matter of getting the exact shaped sandstone blocks to fit the gap. It's all highly unlikely.

The problem with ruined sandstone foundations being reused is that these sandstone blocks can be found in buildings all around the oldest area of the town, buildings that were constructed according to a very specific overall groundplan. Even if there were ruined buildings in Fleetwood before the Victorian town was built (and there isn't any record of that) there certainly weren't that many...and they certainly wouldn't have been laid out according to Decimus Burton's design...if you see what I mean.

As for the Summer House it still stands on North Albert Street (although very few people realise it) and would probably make an interesting subject for a posting at some I won't go into details just now.