Blog number 3 – The River Wyre Historic Ports – Wardley’s and Skippool
Ok for blog number 3 I have chosen to cover Skippool creek and smuggling along the river Wyre. It was suggested by a follower and after a bit of research it looked a great topic to write about. For the purpose of the blog we are including Wardleys , which is on the other side of the Wyre as well as they were linked and share similar sorts of history. There has been a little more interest in the sites recently as they have been a topic which the Blackpool dungeons have covered and indeed its one of their primary exhibitions in the Tower complex.
The location of skippool is in a meander of the river Wyre , near to shard bridge and the modern River Wyre pub. It is very popular with walkers who enjoy the boats and the scenery . Wardleys is almost adjacent to Skippool on the other (over Wyre) side of the river , near to the village of Hambleton. Today Skippool is home to a sort of boat cemetery , housing roughly 20 disused boats, some of these boats are very old and some are of considerable size. The area also holds the annual popular race called the dash which is over a 100 years old. The areas are still littered with architectural and archaeological finds. The old quayside of Wardleys is still found in a back garden in a nearby cottage and is inscribed with roman numerals. In fact at Wardleys a member of the public found a 17th century diamond ring.
Skippool and Wardleys
Skippool (and wardleys) was initially a very busy port and a settlement existed during the times of the Saxons. The name supports the origin and is probably derived from the word skiff. A skiff is a type of boat, with the word originating in middle English. The ports grew around the 1600s but eventually fell into trouble as the port of Fleetwood took away its trade. Large boats visited the port particularly in the 1700s, it is worth pointing out that geographers believe that the Wyre would of been wider and had less silt in the past allowing a commercial port to be successful . The port provided flax and cotton for the mills further in land. Russia was the biggest producer of flax at the time and many a Russian boat unloaded at the port. Incidentally Russian flax was used in the Northern Irish linen industry during the 20th century as it was known for its quality. The trade of Russian flax at the ports dates from as early as 1590 when a Thistleton (a hamlet further inland) family imported it. Boats from all over the world visited rum , sugar and tobacco were imported from as far away as the Caribbean islands. Boats from Africa brought the exotic guano “bird droppings” which were used in the country as a fertilizer. Skippool also dealt with local British trade , it was sometimes easier to travel around the country by boat with roads , particularly in the border areas, dangerous and often poor quality. Stone from areas such as the lake district were imported and cheese made locally was exported via Skippool. Even smaller trips were made with oats coming in from the northwest and coal being landed via the port at Preston.
There were a cluster of business in the vicinity including a bone factory and warehouse type units in the area near the docks. The bone mill was called silcocks , it is also home to a local ghost story in which an alleged ex worker hung himself and haunts the building with some workers backing this up with claims of paranormal occurrences. Tomlinson’s animal feed storage unit was also located nearby (coincidentally the modern port at Glasson docks mainly deals in animal products , continuing the areas long history) Eventually when the port of Fleetwood , which was built in the 1840s opened , the ports were out of favour. The modern port was better situated and could hold bigger boats which were required for the time. Fleetwood’s position at the mouth of the Wyre , its financial backing and more importantly its rail link, called an end to majority of commerce at the ports. Fleetwood was to be used as a stopping point on to Ireland , with the famous Euston hotel being built to cater to the gentry, Queen Victoria herself visited (on another separate note her private secretary Arthur Bigge who was responsible for changing the royal name to Windsor was educated at Rossall school) Fleetwood before it lost favour to other locations. Fishing around the area continued and its possible some smaller boats used the two ports. In the 1930s mussels caught at wardleys creek were highly sort after and noted for their quality. Prior to the building of Shard bridge , a local ferry service ran between the two ports, allowing people to travel between the two and access over Wyre.
Wardleys is situated on the river banks of the Wyre on the over Wyre side in Hambelton along with Skippool it was the Fylde’s port serving the nearby town of Poulton. Poulton dates earlier than Blackpool and holds a historic market , with the market cross dating from the 17th century. In fact there is clue to the towns maritime history in its coat of arms which has a ship pictured. Wardleys is derived from the old Norse’ ward leys’ which roughly translates as watch tower.
As well as offering untaxed delights to the locals , its maritime position was not always a blessing and there is evidence that the creeks were used by press gang ships. Impressment as it is known , is where people , usually of a maritime background were taken by force and against their will to work on the navy warships often in bad conditions. Any males between the ages of 18 and 45 were at risk. Because they needed maritime men , small ports were often hit , hence why they targeted the Fylde with its boating past. The practice started in the mid 1660s when we were at war with the Dutch and was used up until the 19th century
Hope which sailed to Australia was reportedly built at Skippool in 1835. This may be the boat the MV Good hope which is one of larger boats stranded at skippool creek and can be seen by walkers today.
There is an old smugglers pub situated at wardleys creek although it has since closed down (at one point it was a cannabis drug farm, which sort of carried on its long history of illicitness). In the past many an item would be traded out of site of officials. The modern building dated from the 1700s and was one of the oldest pubs in the area, unfortunately it was extensively damaged by fires. It is well possible that there was some sort of structure in the same place dating earlier allegedly dating back to 1563 in the times of Elizabeth 1.The fire was in 2011, after a spate of vandalism , it took 20 firefighters to tackle the blaze and the damage was estimated at half a million. The pub was very rough akin to a saloon in the wild west , specifically tailoring to the port and in particular the smugglers. Prostitutes used to ply their trade here and were known locally as ‘ambelton ‘ookers , providing ‘home comforts’ to the maritime men. Away from the authorities disputes would be settled by power and violence. Duelling was common in dealing with disagreements for a few centuries and there is no doubt in my mind that the area, without law enforcement, would of entertained such matches. Along with the skippool the area was described as a hotbed of cock fighting activity. If the pub at Wardley’s is eventually knocked down it will of no doubt be of interest to archeologically groups who may find early artefacts dating to the ports heyday.
There are other smuggling pubs around the Fylde including one in Freckleton , meanders on quiet rivers near to the estuary were great places to land and unload smuggling ships of goods. Remembering that the area was not as built up and Blackpool itself was a series of small cottages. There were villages around but no police force and the coast was sufficiently away from the bustle of say Preston. Nearby Hambleton was a small township in the doomsday book of 1066 so the area was not deserted. Near to skippool was the old ouzel inn dating from the mid 18th century and undoublty linked with smuggling , it used to stand on the car park of the modern day Thornton lodge pub.
Smuggling is the landing of goods without paying the rates set by the state. It happened for obvious reasons in coastal areas where the ships could land without attracting too much official attention. They favoured areas such as the Wyre where they were some distance away from authority allowing them time to unload. Like any ship landing goods they needed facilities and men to help unload the goods and being a rough crowd they liked a drink, woman or fight, so valued pubs in the area where they could relax on land. They tended to smuggle goods with high taxes so they could make a premium by selling them under what official sellers could charge yet still allowing a healthy return for their troubles and risk. The goods depended on demand and local laws but wool was particularly popular and with the local cotton industry and agriculture in the area it is probably what was most brought into the two ports. Other things included grain, weapons, French wine (in times of war)etc. Indeed many locals were happy to purchase smuggled items and some smugglers were seen as roguish heroes . The smugglers still had to be on guard as customs officials were known in the area, most smugglers landed during the night to minimise risk. The business was huge , a lot of the smuggled material on the Fylde originated from the nearby isle of man which had developed itself as a smuggling hotspot. The Fylde coast itself also dealt with smugglers and it is rumoured that a tunnel exists under the modern day Rossall school (under the gazebo , the oldest site structure, dating from pre 1733) which was used to transport smuggled goods inland without being detected.
The question over slavery
There is some debate as to whether or not the two ports dealt with slaves. This is possibly the biggest question surrounding the story and is of much interest to historians. It appears that with the information available and through what I can decipher , no one actually knows. There are arguments that would suggest the port did directly deal with slaves however no concrete evidence has come up to verify this yet. We do know a few things that suggest it had dealt with slaves. We know the port was a sizeable operation , some reports suggest at its heyday the two ports dealt with more goods than Liverpool itself. We also know that slavery was done in large scale when the port was operational and we know that nearby ports dealt with slaves. Liverpool became the largest slave port in history and it was only located 30 or so miles away , if something happened to the port etc then the ships may have been diverted etc. We also know that ports much closer to Wyre estuary namely Lancaster and the two down river ports on Lune (Glasson and Sunderland point) dealt with or were involved with slavery. The story of the famous Sambo grave ,situated on the other side of the Wyre estuary at Sunderland point (on the mouth of the river Lune) springs to mind of evidence of slave activity. Sambo (probably not his native name) , is said to arrived in 1736 (right when the two ports were busy) as a slave for a local ship master on a boat from the west indies. The ship could of been heading to Lancaster it may of been too big to navigate the Lune and docked at Sunderland point. Sambo was kept up in the local inn and probably died from exposure to an English disease he had no immunity to. We also from records that ships from Africa docked at the 2 Wyre ports. These tend to suggest that the port could dealt in Slaves. What in my mind is more likely is that port did indeed flirt with slavery, it was used to repair ships etc and they must of dealt with boats associated with slavery. Also there were plenty of maritime men in the area , some invested in slavery others would of worked on the ships and it is my mind that many a story of slave expedition would of been told in the local pubs over a glass of strong ale. The evidence is therefore up for interpretation , I would say there would of been a good chance of the ports dealing in slavery and that they probably has something to do with slavery indirectly in the area , whether that be the repairing/building the ships , funding expeditions or providing maritime men for the trade. Until there is some concrete evidence found or uncovered we will not know for sure. There are some records on the two ports , which may even hold the clue to the question, stored on archiveshub.co.uk and an even better collection in the Eric Hardwicke rideout archive at the University of Liverpool. Due to time / money constraints and a member of the archives staff being away I haven’t been able to access the rideout archives. They from what I can gather tend to deal with the customs aspect of the two ports. I don’t know if the archives have been properly studied recently (you would be surprised by the number archives that remain unread) and indeed interpreted online by a historian but it is possible that these will shed some light on what and indeed who landed at the two Wyre ports.
Anyone who would want to research it further should make the archives their first port of call (no pun intended). Indeed if I ever published some of these stories in detail I will visit it myself. Likewise as with all my posts / blogs I welcome feedback and if you have any more information on the subject please leave feedback via the comments section (for my benefit as well as everyone else’s). I have used some photos from the internet which I didn’t take myself I work not for profit but if you have an issue with me using these images please message me and I will remove them from the blog site. If you have any suggestions for future blogs please let me know. I will be blogging about some shipwrecks on the lancashire coast in the future , one of which the santa anna , playing its role in the civil war and the protection of lancaster , was wrecked just up stream of the two ports.