Formby's History


The first people to live in what is now the village of Formby, Merseyside were vagrant Viking's who wandered about in their boats and for some reason felt comfortable setting up an isolated settlement in the marsh land adjacent to the river Alt in the 9th Century.

Formby village is now in the borough of Sefton, Liverpool, Merseyside. Formby is between Liverpool and Southport on the coast north of the River Mersey adjacent to the Irish Sea and its location makes it a very desirable place to live. Finding building land in Formby is very difficult as its boundaries are set and held in place by green belt.

Old Formby

Old Map of Formby (click to enlarge)

Formby is bounded on the west by the sea, and extensive, high sand hills, covered with a luxuriant growth of creeping willows and star grass bound the beach, the latter being systematically planted to keep the sand from drifting away. Wild life abounds on these hills, rabbits and foxes can be regularly seen, the land is strictly preserved, with The National Trust being involved in its management and only a few footpaths cross the forbidden ground in some places. The sand hills afford shelter from the sea winds for what were to the three villages of Formby, Formby-by-the-Sea, and Freshfield, which now form one village. The area consists of flat, sandy land, surrounded by fields intersected by ditches, where rye, wheat, potatoes and a variety of market produce flourish, including fields of asparagus, a specialty in the district. Fishing for shrimps and raking the sands for cockles affords employment to some of the inhabitants. Formby sand hills are famous to local botanists as the habitat of several uncommon and characteristic wild plants, among which may be mentioned the Wintergreen, Pyrola rotund folia, var. maritima.

Historically a part of Lancashire, three manors are recorded in the Doomsday book under "Fornebei" as Halsall, Walton and Poynton. The town's early recorded industry points to cockle raking, and shrimp fishing (in addition to arable ventures) last through into the 19th century. By 1872 the township and sub-district as of 1872 was made up of two chapelries (St. Peter and St. Luke), and contained Birkdale township, the hamlets of Ainsdale and Raven-Meols and Altcar parish. Formby was built on the plain adjoining the Irish Sea coast a few miles north of the Crosby channel where the sands afford shelter to the towns.

The greater area is a popular tourist destination during the summer months, with day trippers attracted to its beaches, sand dunes, and wildlife - most particularly the red squirrels. and Natterjack toads. The area is a conserved by the National Trust, and designated a site of Specific Scientific Interest.

Erosion of sand on the beach at Formby is revealing layers of mud and sediment, laid down and covered in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age, approximately 3,500 - 4,000 years ago. These sediments often contain the footprints of humans and animals (most commonly aurochs) from that period.

The common place-name ending -by is from the Scandinavian byr meaning "homestead", "settlement" or "village". The village of Formby was originally spelt Fornebei and means "village belonging to Forni". At that time Fornibiyum was a well-known Norse family name. He could have been the leader of the invading expedition which took possession of this coast. Until its closure in 1998, Oslo Airport in Norway was situated in a town called Fornebu.

It was from Ireland in about 960 AD that these Norsemen or Vikings first came to the west coast of Lancashire, first trading or raiding and then settling. Tradition says that the Viking invaders failed to defeat the native Anglo-Saxons on the coast of Formby, so they sailed inland, up the River Alt, and attacked from the rear Dangus Lane, on the east side of the village, is sometimes called Danesgate Land, being connected by local traditions with this incursion.

Formby beach is the location of the first lifeboat station in the UK. Established as early as 1776 by William Hutchinson, Dock Master for the Liverpool Common Council. It was the first lifeboat station in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world. One night, two years previous, eighteen ships were stranded at the mouth of the Mersey drowning 75 people. The foundations of the last of the lifeboat station buildings remain on the beach. The last launch took place in 1916. Remarkably a film survives of this event.

Formby is home to RAF Woodvale, a small RAF station on the outskirts of the town. The airfield opened in 1941 and is an ex WW2 fighter station with three active runways, the main runway being a mile in length. Today it is used by RAF for light aircraft and fighter training, as well as a few civilian aircraft. The station was also home to Merseyside Police's helicopter, known as 'Mike One'. The RAF Station was also home to the last ever operational service of the British legend, the Spitfire. In 1957 the last Spitfire was to fly with military markings in British took off from RAF Woodvale on an operational mission. Woodvale is also home to the Woodvale Rally, one of the biggest shows on an active MOD station in the North West.

Until 1974, Formby was an urban district (Formby Urban District) within the administrative county of Lancashire. Since 1 April 1974, it has formed part of the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton, in Merseyside.

Formby Dunes

Formby Sand Dunes

Formby is a coastal town roughly 7 sq miles (17 km²) and part of Sefton in the north west of Merseyside. The town is built upon the west of a large flat area of land called the West Lancashire Coastal Plain. The town is 1.5 feet (0.5 metres) below sea level at its lowest point. Formby's highest point is within the sand dunes that separate the Irish Sea from Formby, sand dunes are ever changing in shape and formation so there is no fixed point. The River Alt runs in to the Irish Sea just south of Formby at Hightown.

The town is rurally landlocked; the land between Formby and the areas of Southport, Ormskirk and Liverpool is green belt land and is used for arable agricultural purposes. The areas around the urban fringe are drained by irrigation ditches and open areas get boggy in the winter months. Earth in urban areas is well drained, very loose and sandy.

The section of land between Formby and the coast is varied in vegetation, wildlife and terrain. This area includes pine forests: natural and man-made, sand dunes, marram grass, deciduous woodland, seasonal ponds and lakes. Large areas of this land are protected by the National Trust.

Formby is in a temperate climate zone, with mild winters and warm summers. Formby's biggest threat is global warming as the town is built on a flood plain, being situated next to the coast and being below sea level.


Formby has a significant tourist industry most notably between the warmer months of May and September. In particular it's popular with day trippers from Liverpool and other industrial towns in Merseyside and West Lancashire. There are two main spots along the Formby Coast which are particularly popular with the public.

The Lifeboat Road site is about 1½ miles from the town centre; there are three linked unpaved car parks with several routes cascading out in to the sand dunes and woods. The car parks are about 900 yards from the beach.

Victoria Road is north of Lifeboat Road and is busier due to the red squirrel reserve being here. From the junction of Larkhill Lane and Victoria Road is where the reserve begins and there is a charge to park from this point onwards. Parking is available adjacent to the reserve and at the end of the road there is a large unpaved car park for easier beach access, the beach from the car park is about 100 yards.

There is a privately run caravan park called Formby Point on Lifeboat Road, open between March and October. There are around 300 caravans on the park and 20 plots for touring caravans. There is a phone box on site, public toilets, a play area and until 1995 there was a small convenience store.


Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel National Trust Freshfield

To the west of the town lie pinewoods and sand dunes. The whole of the coastline here is managed as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its important wildlife reserves by Sefton Coast Partnership. The pine woods at Victoria Road have been established as a National Trust reserve for the red squirrel, listed on the endangered species list. Formby is one of several sites in Britain where the red squirrel can still be found although it is now being threatened by the grey squirrel.

Formby is also famous for the presence of Natterjack toads. Formby is only one of a few sites in England where they will breed. Later in the evening the male's distinctive song can be heard and is known locally as the ‘Bootle Organ’. In spring the males gather at the edge of shallow pools in the dune slacks and sing to attract a mate. The Sefton Coast and Countryside Service are working hard to keep these pools from growing over so that that they are ready each spring for this annual eve