Southport is a seaside town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton in Merseyside, England. During the 2001 census Southport was recorded as having a population of 90,336, making it the eleventh most populous settlement in North West England. The endonym for people from Southport is "Sandgrounder".
Southport lies on the Irish Sea coast of North West England and is fringed to the north by the Ribble estuary. The town is situated to the north of the city of Liverpool and southwest of the city of Preston.
Historically a part of Lancashire, the town in its present form was founded in 1792 when William Sutton, an innkeeper from Churchtown, built a bathing house at what now is the south end of Lord Street, the town's main thoroughfare. At that time the area, known as South Hawse, was sparsely populated and was dominated by sand dunes. At the turn of the 19th century the area became popular with tourists due to the easy access from the nearby Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the town quickly grew. The rapid growth of Southport largely coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era. Town attractions include Southport Pier with its Southport Pier Tramway, the second longest seaside pleasure pier in the British Isles and Lord Street, an elegant tree-lined shopping street, once home of Napoleon III of France.
Extensive sand dunes stretch for several miles between Birkdale and Woodvale to the south of the town. The Ainsdale sand dunes have been designated as a National Nature Reserve in England and a Ramsar site. Local fauna include the Natterjack toad and the Sand lizard. The town contains examples of Victorian architecture and town planning, on Lord Street and elsewhere. A particular feature of the town is the extensive tree planting. This was one of the conditions required by the Hesketh family when they made land available for development in the 19th century. Hesketh Park at the northern end of the town is named after the Hesketh family, having been built on land donated by Rev. Charles Hesketh.
Southport today is still one of the most popular seaside resorts in the UK. It hosts varied events including an annual air show on and over the beach, and the largest independent flower show in the UK in Victoria Park. The town is at the centre of England's Golf Coast and has hosted The Open Championship at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
The earliest recorded human activity in the area was in the Middle Stone Age when Mesolithic hunter gatherers were attracted to the area by the abundant Red deer and Elk population, as well as the availability of fresh fish, shellfish and woodland. Recent research has shown that people were especially attracted to this area because of the local delicacy of Samphire, which is only found in a few places in Western Europe.
There is also evidence of Romans stopping in the area, with the founding of Roman coins, even though they never settled in South West Lancashire. The Vikings also came to this area.
The only real evidence of an early settlement here occurred in the Domesday Book where the area was called Otergimele. The name is derived from Oddrgrimir meaning the son of Grimm and inked with the Old Norse word Melr meaning Sandbank. The Domesday Book states that there were 50 huts in Otergimele, housing a population of 200. The population was scattered thinly across the region and it was at the North-East end of Otergimele (present day Crossens) where blown sand gave way to new fish supplies from the River Ribble Estury that a small concentration of people had occurred. The alluvium provided fertile agricultural land.
It was here, it seems that a primitive church was built, which gave the emerging village its name of Churchtown, the parish being North Meols (pronounced "meals" and not "mells"). This church was called St Cuthbert's and is still at the centre of Churchtown to this day.
With a booming fishing industry the area grew slowly and hamlets became part of the parish of North Meols. From south to north these villages were South Hawes, Haweside, Little London, Higher Blowick, Lower Blowick, Rowe-Lane, Churchtown, Marshside, Crossens, and Banks. As well as in Churchtown, there were vicarages in Crossens and Banks.
Parts of the parish were almost completely surrounded by water until 1692 when Thomas Fleetwood of Bank Hall cut a channel to drain Martin Mere to the sea. From this point on attempts at large-scale drainage of Martin Mere and other marshland continued until the 19th century, since which the water has been pumped away. This left behind a legacy of fine agricultural soil and created a booming farming industry.
In the late 18th century it was becoming fashionable for the well-to-do to relinquish inland spa towns and visit the seaside to bathe in the salt sea waters. At that time doctors recommended bathing in the sea to help cure aches and pains. In 1792 William Sutton, the landlord of the Black Bull Inn in Churchtown (now the Hesketh Arms) and known to locals as "The Old Duke", realised the importance of the newly created canal systems across the UK and set up a bathing house in the virtually uninhabited dunes at South Hawse by the seaside just four miles (6 km) away from the newly constructed Leeds and Liverpool Canal and two miles south-west of Churchtown. When a widow from Wigan built a cottage nearby in 1797 for seasonal lodgers, Sutton quickly built a new inn on the site of the bathing house which he called the South Port Hotel, moving to live there the following season. The locals thought him mad and referred to the building as the Duke's Folly, but Sutton arranged transport links from the canal that ran through Scarisbrick, four miles from the hotel and trade was remarkably good. The hotel survived until 1854 when it was demolished to make way for traffic at the end of Lord Street, but its presence and the impact of its founder is marked by a plaque in the vicinity and by the name of one street at the intersection, namely Duke Street.
Southport grew quickly in the 19th century as it gained a reputation for being a more refined seaside resort than its neighbour-up-the-coast Blackpool. In fact Southport had a head start compared to all the other places on the Lancashire coast because it had easy access to the canal system. Other seaside bathing areas couldn't really get going until the railways were built some years later. The Leeds and Liverpool canal brought people from Liverpool, Manchester, Bolton and Wigan amongst others. By 1820 Southport had over 20,000 visitors per year.
Southport Pier is referred to as the first true "pleasure pier", being one of the earliest pier structures to be erected using iron. A design from James Brunlees was approved at a cost of £8,700 and on 4 August 1859 a large crowd witnessed the driving home of the first support pile. The opening of the pier was celebrated on 2 August 1860.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street, the main thoroughfare of Southport, between 1846 and 1848, before returning to France to become President and subsequently Emperor of the French. During his reign, he caused much of the medieval centre of Paris to be replaced with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street. On the strength of this coincidence, it has been suggested that the redevelopment may have been inspired by memories of Southport's town centre.
From 1894 to 1912 Birkdale and the adjoining village of Ainsdale were separate from Southport and administered by Birkdale Urban District Council before becoming part of the county borough of Southport in 1912. This was a huge expansion of the town.
In 1925, the RNLI abandoned the station at Southport and left the town with no lifeboat. In the late 1980s, after a series of tragedies, local families from Southport started to raise funds and bought a new lifeboat for the town stationed at the old RNLI lifeboat house. The lifeboat, operated by the Southport Offshore Rescue Trust is completely independent from the RNLI and receives no money from them. Instead it relies entirely on donations from the general public.
On 21 March 1926, Henry Seagrave set the land speed record in his 4-litre Sunbeam Tiger Ladybird on the sands at Southport at 152.33 mph (245.149 km/h). This record lasted for just over a month, until broken by J.G. Parry-Thomas. Southport Offshore Rescue Trust