“No whitewashed pebbles, no up and no down
Formby (1848) is the third station in Lancashire to feature in the lyrics. It completes a hat trick for the county because, just like Chorlton and Openshaw (Gorton), it is still open today. Formby never actually closed and is now handling 1.51 million passengers a year. It is by far the busiest saved station to feature in the song.
It is quite hard to believe that this station, opened by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway on the route between Southport and Liverpool, was even ever scheduled for closure.
But it certainly was. In fact, the Beeching Plan called for the closure of the whole Southport to Liverpool route too. Luckily, the line was soon reprieved and then in the late 1970s it was integrated into Liverpool’s new underground system.
Services: Past, Present & Future?
Back in 1962 there were trains every 20 minutes linking Southport (17 minutes) with Liverpool Exchange (23 minutes). All the trains on the line would have been formed of the 1939-built class 502 electric units, then less than 25 years old.
Today the (before COVID) service is even more frequent with 4 trains an hour. They still head to or from Southport (15 minutes) but they now connect into Liverpool’s underground via Moorfields (27 minutes) to Liverpool Central and then further south to Hunts Cross.
Late 1970s vintage Class 507/508 trains are now used on all the services, but new rolling stock is just about to be introduced. The line and the station are more secure than ever.
The Station Today
The station was quite impressive.
The main entrance was from the bridge. The red brick building, although done up very nicely in the yellow Merseytravel colours, still had its original L&YR tilework in place.
Inside there was a manned ticket office which apparently is always open when services are running. There was also a ticket machine close by as well.
Stairs (there are also lifts) led down to the two platforms either side of the tracks. The original buildings were still standing on both.
There was an extra entrance from the free car park (for rail users) on the southbound side.
Although Formby is a coastal town, it is not really a traditional seaside resort. The main centre is quite a way inland and, whilst there are car parks for visitors, there is no real commercial development close to the sea. Formby is mainly a residential and a commuter town for both Liverpool and Southport.
We started with a half mile walk from the station in the opposite direction to the sea. We headed first to Formby Village, the main shopping centre. It was all very pleasant: tree lined streets with shops either side. Mostly the normal national chains but a few independent shops.
We returned to the station and then walked more than a mile to reach the beach. As we got closer to the sea the vegetation changed significantly. First, we encountered pine forests, then a section of open grassland and then just before the beach: sand dunes.
On a coldish Saturday morning in spring, there were not that many people about and walking through the sand dunes was very pleasant. I played a lot in the sand dunes when I was growing up in Lytham St Annes and they always fascinated me.
Finally, through the sand dunes, we got to Formby’s wide beach. There were a few more people walking along the beach, but it was so vast (the tide was out too) that we still felt we were pretty much by ourselves.
Formby was the location of the first lifeboat in the UK (possibly established as early as 1776) and although it closed more than 100 years ago, there are still some remains of the building, but the fact is still commemorated by the lifeboat road car park, one of the two major car parks for Formby beach.
The weather was clear and looking south we could see the coast of North Wales very clearly. As we turned and walked north along the beach, we could see the hills of the Lake District in the distance. After a mile or so of walking north along the beach we turned inland, again negotiating the sand dunes. We encountered a little memorial to the area’s previous incarnation as a place for growing asparagus.
A lot of the coast around here is protected by the National Trust and they have set up an asparagus trail. There is also a reserve for red squirrels here too. We finally emerged at the Trust’s car park at Victoria Road, it was starting to get busy as we walked past.
We continued walking back inland along Victoria Road. Formby has the some of the highest priced real estate in the whole Merseyside area; walking along this tree-lined lane and looking at the size of the houses and the number of security cameras, that was easy to believe. The football stars of Liverpool and Everton are among the rich and famous to have houses in the area.
After a mile or so we were back at the railway again. Formby has two stations and we had arrived at the second one: Freshfields. We were now one stop closer to Southport. We jumped on the next train heading there.
Southport was a regular haunt for me when I was growing up. My parents used to bring me a lot and once or twice we even caught the train to Liverpool Exchange.
We had a good wander around the town, got a coffee at one of the many cafes in elegant Lord Street and then walked out to the beach. We had a hike along the second longest pier in England (with its view of Blackpool in the distance) before returning to the station.
The town was quite crowded on the first full weekend after the 3rd lockdown had ended. The guy in the Merseytravel kiosk back at the station told us that it was nice to see everyone finally coming back. There were certainly quite a few people on the train back to Formby.