Our Shipwreck Heritage: Tragedies, Rescues & Profit


The Fylde Coast Shipwreck Memorial, Cleveleys. Photo by the Author.

When writing his ‘History of Blackpool’ back in 1837, Thornber included reference to the shipwrecks along the coast. He commented that ‘…a full list of them would be a very big one’. Indeed, it is recorded that he put his pen down to observe a ship in difficulties off Bispham (Clarke, 1910). After the incident, he was to be instrumental in raising awareness of the need to provide Blackpool with a Lifeboat.

Whilst records and reports clearly feature the ‘celebrity’, wrecks: Mexico (1886), Abana (1894), Foudroyant (1897), Riverdance (2008). There are however, other notable events recorded – the 12 vessels lost in a storm in 1833; the loss of Lifeboats and their crews in 1852 and 1886; and the loss of the Fleetwood Ferry in 1863, fully laden with passengers. We would be relieved to find that all but the Ferryman were saved. There are also 11 vessels listed as ‘Unidentified’, as indeed are, those lost also remain ‘Unidentified’.

The research for this paper included producing a comprehensive list of the 170+ serious incidents and multiple life loss recorded since before 1700. The list will be available at Blackpool’s Central Library.

The list testifies to the fishing families as the main rescuers before RNLI intervention. The list also indicates the volume of traffic along, to & from the Fylde Coast. The cargo types show the dependence of the Fylde area on sea traffic. This coupled with the Shipbuilding and dock facilities at Freckleton, Lytham, Grannies Bay (Fairhaven), as well as at Fleetwood.

‘Those Infernal Banks’ and unpredictable weather, have contributed to the likelihood of disaster. Mayes (2000, p105-108) illustrates the shifting of the banks over a period 1885 to 1919, only adding to the unpredictable nature of sailing this coast. The decline of the ports, legislation, advent of the RNLI and predictable weather have mitigated risks and reduced casualties.

Mention must also be made of the War time rescues, reflecting aircraft ditchings of operational and training flights from the 3 airfields in area. Other wartime records not recorded here are those of Fleetwood Trawlers lost in service and recorded on the ‘Real Price of Fish’ Memorial in Fleetwood Museum. Post war launchings have been directed to mainly leisure craft and people rescues. Fleetwood and fishing all along the coast might have provided Vessel names in the list but there are surprisingly few.

Wrecks are defined in law in Section 255 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, they include the debris of wrecks “jetsam, flotsam, lagan and derelict found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water”. Prior to the 1854 Merchant Shipping Act and the appointment of the ‘Receiver of Wrecks’ to protect them from theft, ‘Wrecking’ was seen as contributing to the good fortune and economy of those who lived round the coast. Occasionally, locals enticed ships to founder on banks and shore, in order to pillage their cargo’s. Whilst there is no evidence of that on this coast, in 1839 three Marton men were convicted of theft of silk from the stricken ‘Crusader’. In contrast, there are records of the relief felt by locals when the ‘Happy’ foundered in 1779 providing a bounty of peas to locals suffering from famine at the time.


Coin made from Copper plating of the ‘Foudroyant’. Photo by the Author.

Other commercial opportunities were presented by these wrecks. Enterprising businessmen were able to bid for the carcasses of a wreck to make money from them. Souvenirs like that on the right, cast from the copper from the hull of Foudroyant (wrecked June,1897) and furniture made from the timber, found their way in to shops and market stalls in the town, for the ‘benefit’ of the tourists.

The List also testifies to the bravery of Lifeboats’ Crews in those early years, in open, oar driven boats; often in appalling conditions. A ship in difficulties used flairs to summon help. If help came, it had to come via horse drawn trailers to the sea. There are occasions when it took hours to gather the horses and launch the Lifeboat from points along the coast, not just from the Lifeboat stations. Crew were mainly drawn from local Fishermen, who may have been out fishing at the time of the call.

The Sources used in the research, derive from the internet, local newspapers, the Cleveleys Shipwreck Memorial and historical accounts of the Lifeboat Stations of St Annes, Blackpool and Fleetwood. In one or two cases the author recalls conversations with his Grandfather about adventures of his great grandfather, a crew member and later Coxswain of the St Annes Lifeboat, Henry Melling.

A table is available HERE showing many of the Wrecks on the Fylde Coast.

Our Wreck Heritage offers many more fascinating stories yet to be told and ‘facts’ to be confirmed for someone in the future. My hope is that this article serves as a prompter to that research.

Dec 2013

Sources & Bibiography

Clarke, A., 1910, The Story of Blackpool Lifeboat: a record of Stormwrecks and Rescues on the Fylde Coast, Teddy Ashton Printing Co.

Forshaw, D., 1992, On those Infernal Ribble Banks,: A record of Lytham St Annes Lifeboats, British Aerospace.

Mayes G.I. & J.E., 2000, On Broad Reach: The history of the St Annes on the Sea Lifeboat Station, Bernard McCall, Bristol.

Morris, J., 1981, Blackpool Lifeboat: A Souvenir History, McMillan (Agent for Blackpool RNLI)

Rothwell, C., 2008, Shipwrecks of the North West Coast, The History Press,

Thornber, W. 1985, The History of Blackpool and Its Neighbourhood, The Blackpool and Fylde Historical Society. First published 1937.

Web Bibliography:

Wood, M & J., 1995, ‘A Tale of Two Shipwrecks’, available at: http://www.worldthroughthelens.com/ebook-shipwreck.php accessed 12 Dec 2013

Shipwrecks Memorial, Cleveleys, available at: http://www.wyre.gov.uk/info/200130/wyre_sea_change/529/shipwrecks_memorial, accessed 12 Dec 2013

Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackpool_shipwrecks, accessed 12 Dec 2013

Stories and Photo’s available at: http://www2.blackpooltoday.co.uk/shipwreck/ accessed 12 Dec 2013

The loss of Fleetwood Lifeboat available at: http://www.williamswarbrick.info/Loss%20of%20Fleetwood%20Lifeboat.html, accessed 14 Dec2013

Fleetwood Lifeboat available at: http://www.fleetwood-lifeboat.org/timeline.html , accessed 14 Dec 2012

Losses in Morecambe Bay available at: http://www.fleetwoods-maritime-heritage.info/?page_id=51 Accessed 15 Dec 2013

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