Fish, Trains, A Town, A Community
The town of Fleetwood at the most northerly point on the Fylde's coastline facing on to the Irish Sea and Morecambe Bay is one of many English coastal communities struggling to recover from economic decline over several decades. It is far from alone in seeking to reinvent previous era of positive growth and development. Unlike many seaside towns Fleetwood's earlier success was very much attuned to external forces brought about and heavily influenced with arrival of the railway.
Seagoing trawler fleets extended further and further towards Iceland and into the North Atlantic brought increased landings of white fish for which the town became famous : cod, haddock and hake in particular. Britain's rapid expansion of railways through the 19th century, all by private capital saw a railway mania in which no self respecting town could afford to be left adrift without a station and some level of passenger service.
As it happened Fleetwood found itself in at the right geographic point on the map of the British Isles when enterprising railway companies were looking to create their own version of HS2 in the late 1800s - seeking the fastest and most direct north south route from London as far as the second city of Empire -, Glasgow. Powering lengthy heavy wooden framed trains of carriages up the steady inclines from Lancaster to Carlisle and thence further north to the banks of the Clyde - called for powerful steam engines whose limits at the time were insufficient to haul trainloads of passengers the entire distance north beyond Lancashire.
Accordingly Fleetwood's then navigable harbour on the Wyre Estuary became a transfer point, literally adjoining the riverbank from a classically designed railway terminal. From here fast seagoing vessels traversed the Irish Sea to Belfast, and north along the coast past Cumberland and Westmorland to the Scottish Isles and the Clyde. A further transfer to train at Port Glasgow brought them into the heart of Scotland's major industrial city.
An imposing new hotel was built across from Fleetwood's railway station with its own imposing views across Morecambe Bay to the peaks of the southern Lake District - the North Euston Hotel. Much like in later years Morecambe's Midland Hotel was built at the sea's edge across from that town's own railway terminal linking it with Lancaster and Heysham. It is worth mentioning that the Owners of the White Star Line together with Pierpoint Morgan (whose bank provided the finance) travelled to Fleetwood and embarked on overnight vessels to attend the launch of the Titanic.
The railway's arrival in Fleetwood further transformed the port's trawler fleet which gained access to markets across much of England as far south as London. From the trawler fleet's large new dock just off the River Wyre served by an equally new ice making factory - sprawling railway tracks handled trains of special fish wagons collecting freshly landed catch for delivery to urban centres overnight. Remnants of the long defunct lines can still be seen attesting to the integrated operations which saw trawlers, handlers, ice production and fish trains to a seamless process more or less 24/7 over many years.
Not only was this good for the town of Fleetwood, but it was especially beneficial to the diet of inland towns and the country's industrial heartland. With increasing volumes of fish being landed, not just in Fleetwood but in east coast ports as well, the enticing allure of fried fish with chips became a staple for winter and autumn months - and one which was far more attainable price wise, than meat dishes. The British love affair with fish and chips can be said to have started with Fleetwood cod landed at Wyre Dock plus a dash of Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway relish !
Not only were the railways beneficiaries of the labours of the town's trawlermen - a high risk and arduous calling - but also the extraction of salt and other minerals from manmade caverns under the farmland across from Fleetwood. Here too special wagons were built to handle the storage and transport of salt from Burn Naze (and area) to processors and end-users around the country. Mineral wagons and trains were in fact just that - running in and out of the Fleetwood line from a busy junction at Poulton.
Today there is little to give testimony to these once frenetic scenes providing all manner of employment on Fleetwood's dockside. However efforts of the Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust together with now credible work by Business in the Community's Fylde coast team and Local Authorities in Wyre and Blackpool - are pointing towards an uptick in the fortunes of Fleetwood (and its neighbours), in which the pioneering tramroad from 1898 also played a significant boost over the following century. More to follow in this vein.
The Way We Were. Fleetwood and Wyre Dock in its prime with lines of wagons on the railway tracks now tarred over to make up 'Amounderness Way'. The Ice Factory structures remain very much in their original built state - as future heritage sites in the regeneration scheme envisage by Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust in 2018/2019.