Fleetwood. I recommend depressives visit Fleetwood. Visit it when the sky is leaden and a feeble sun plays on the mudbanks of the abandoned docks mocking hope. Gloom at this level is enchanting.
There are architectural beauties… Queens Terrace, the North Euston. And there are the neatest terraced houses I have seen.
A BRIEF DOOM RIDDEN HISTORY OF FLEETWOOD
Cardinal Allen who was born down the coast at Rossall Grange advised the Spanish Armada and hoped to become Archbishop of Canterbury when the Spanish Armada restored Catholicism.
Look at the OS map and you will see a Roman Road that is leading to… well possibly Fleetwood. There is the strong possibility that the road did not exist. Nobody has been able to find it. There may even been a pre-Roman port at Fleetwood since there was a link between Ireland and the Setantii tribe who occupied this area in pre-Roman times. The mythical Irish hero Cuchulain was a Sentatii and his adventures may have taken place in the North West of England. But then again they may not. There may have been a hill fort at Bourne Hill. The Roman Road on maps happens because Blackpool’s first and wonderful historian the boxing Clergyman William Thornber managed to convince OS compilers that it was there. Maybe he said he’d punch them if they didn’t put it in. Discussing the location of Setantiorum (the missing Roman port) is a graveyard for lunatics ( same league as the location of King Arthur’s kingdom). So here goes… on the one hand there is a lack of archaeological evidence, on the other hand there are three coin hordes and many individual coins found around the Wyre Estuary including at Rossall Point current location of Fleetwood Golf Course.
Anyway if you like to think that Fleetwood was the location of Setantiorum it does add to the theme of abandonment. There is in Fleetwood a street called Abbots Walk. It is said that the name precedes the building of Fleetwood. Abbots crossed the Wyre to collect and supervise their holdings in the Fylde. Rossall Hall was originally a Grange… monastic land managed by a tenant.
Modern Fleetwood started with Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood who was cursed with with the ability to foretell the future inaccurately. He believed that a Northern Seaside Resort served by that new-fangled railway machine was a great idea. He was wrong in thinking it was Fleetwood. Decimus Burton was the architect and the beautiful buildings of Fleetwood… Queen’s Terrace where Burton lived and the North Euston.. have a Regency look.
Long story short, Hesketh-Fleetwood near bankrupted himself, he was a bad money-manager and his political life… he was a Tory MP kept him busy while his charming steward robbed him. At the time it was thought that the railway could not deal with the gradients of Cumbria so that Fleetwood would be the Northern Terminus and travellers to Scotland would go North by Steamer. More powerful engines made Cumbria and Scotland accessible. Queen Victoria came to Fleetwood by rail to continue to Scotland by steamer.
Poor Sir Peter lost his wife and his beloved daughter Maria who is in a glass coffin in the family vault at St Chads, Poulton. He had to sell off his land to pay his bills and became more reclusive. To add to his troubles he lost an eye following an illness.
They built a railway from Preston to Fleetwood in 1840. A man from Preston drank too much and died falling off the train. Fleetwood thrived although Sir Peter lost money. Then they built a line from Poulton to Blackpool. Fleetwood’s career as a holiday resort was over.
Sir Peter died a disappointed man. He was a Tory and therefore a tosser but he was a humane man, opposed to capital punishment and slavery and concerned for the welfare of workers.
Fleetwood still survived around the Port and the fishing industry. The second biggest fishing port in England. And then it declined.
FLEETWOOD: A PERAMBULATION
You realise the loss. First it was the Romans, then it was the Northern Railway Terminus, then it was the fishing industry and the railway and the ferry and the Roll on Roll Off Containerport… Fleetwood is always being abandoned. Trawlermen were well paid and in the terraced houses there is a feeling of a prosperous past, adornments you do not see in other towns…
The feeling of abandonment is intense round the docks where the huge abandoned remains of the Roll on Roll Off Containerships lie next to the abandoned Fishing Docks in the track of the abandoned railway and all around there are abandoned buildings associated with fishing, the are is dotted with abandoned containers… and the eerie connection between abandoned human activity on a giant scale and the muddy Wyre.
There is something tragic about the god awful things that have replaced seafaring. Freeport with its hair raisingly vapid sketch of a port with a couple of faux lighthouses and the strange empty new housing with skin crawling names like Trawler Close.
System built houses are engineered to give an illusion of individuality. And the whole bloody thing is a kind of heritage based pastiche of what somebody thinks is a connection with the past when the houses could be in Shangai or Dar Es Salem or Milton Keynes as if a name confers an identity…
Well maybe it does. I like to think of those weird unpeopled newly built housing estates with names like Fisherman’s Walk as a kind of Las Vegas. Maybe this is the future and it is kind of funny…
Fleetwood may have its faults but at least it isn’t Lytham and it is the most beautiful of the Fylde towns. And before we get carried away with Fleetwood’s glorious past… If you take a fishing port the most memorable in its history except tragedy. There is a monument to the Gault which sank in a storm. I was surprised to read that the crew did not come exclusively from Fleetwood… one was from Blackpool and one from Preston. And there is something left over… something noble about Fleetwood.
It is this mixture of abandonment, tragi-comic fake heritage and wonderful architecture that make Fleetwood a powerful antidepressant. It is a metaphor of elements of melancholy that end up making you feel elated. Wherever you go there is the mysterious smell of fish.
I like to bring Marx into things because the old devil’s been abandoned like Fleetwood so let me try this. Fleetwood workers were dependent for their lives on cooperation and were community minded where Blackpool residents thrived on competition and individualism.
I have been told that (this was in the seventies and eighties) that hard drugs were not tolerated in Fleetwood. And that Fleetwood did not suffer from the drug fuelled crime that was characteristic of Blackpool. A bank worker told me that when it was easy to get loans Blackpool people used to ask for a loan for a new kitchen and take themselves off to Benidorm for a month. Fleetwood residents didn’t. Of course all this tight knit community malarkey has a downside… intolerance of difference.
THE PIER AT FLEETWOOD
Fleetwood Pier along with the aurora boralis and the Taj Mahal is something that you have to see. Well actually more important. You time travel seventy years back. Mr Harry Allen the hangman who hanged Hanratty gave out change here after he retired from hanging. John Lennon who took a great interest in the Hanratty case used to go on holidays here as a child. I am not unconvinced that Fleetwood Pier was not a creation of Salvador Dali.
Wilfred Owen the war poet spent two months in Fleetwood in 1916, where he supervised the shooting range, which is where Fleetwood Golf Club stands. His mother sent him a letter telling him to get a warm coat and he did. Going to Blackpool (by tram?) to Rawcliffes (?). There is something infinitely sad that Owen’s mother was concerned about the cold. As if that was the problem. He died in action on 4 November 1918.
There are many gymns in Fleetwood. It is as if people try to recreate the physical life of the Port with activity. And do I like Fleetwood… I don’t like it I adore it.
And who know something might crop up. A new port facility? A hydro-electric barrier? Here is what I saw walking round Fleetwood.
And there is Fisherman’s Friend. It seems that trawlermen were often heavy smokers and that these helped clear there bronchials on deck in the Arctic. I misremembered Paul Simon: “My father was a prominent frogman. My mother was a Fisherman’s Friend. ”
With its inquisition supporting traitor Cardinal Allen and Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood’s daughter in her glass coffin, and its lost trawlers, and its jolly change giving hangman on the pier, and its doomed poet Wilfred Owen, those of a morbid disposition , such as me, can find a gothic element. In February 1989 Harry Baines an odd job man and father of two had been playing snooker in a Fleetwood pub. He left and he has never been seen since.