Historically a part of Lancashire, tourist attractions include Southport Pier, the second longest seaside pleasure pier in Great Britain, Lord Street, a tree-lined shopping street once home of Napoleon III of France, and a fairground which was originally opened in 1912.
The town contains examples of Victorian architecture and town planning. These include much of Lord Street in addition to Cambridge Hall, Town Hall and Wayfarers' Arcade. 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.
Extensive sand dunes stretch for several kilometers between Birkdale and Ainsdale/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.
Southport, in its present form, was founded by William Sutton ("The Mad Duke") in 1792. However, there have been settlements in the area for much longer than that: the northern part of the town around St Cuthbert's Church (in the part of the parish of North Meols now known as Churchtown), was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and some areas of the town have names of Viking origin.
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. The permanent funfair, Pleasureland closed in late 2006.
Southport's suburbs are built around, and still named after, the old villages of the area. From north to south, the districts are: Crossens, Marshside, Churchtown, Blowick, Birkdale, Hillside, Ainsdale, and Woodvale; home to RAF Woodvale. The town of Formby is south of Southport, with Hightown and Liverpool further southward, along the A565 road.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street, the main thoroughfare of Southport, between 1846 and 1848, before returning to France, where he became 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.
On the night of the December 9, 1886, the worst lifeboat disaster in the history of the UK occurred off the shores of Southport. A cargo ship called the Mexico was on its way to South America when it found itself in difficulty. Lifeboats from Lytham, St. Annes and Southport set off in order to try and rescue those aboard the vessel. The crews battled against storm-force winds as they rowed towards the casualty. The entire crew from the St. Anne’s boat was lost and all but two of the Southport crew were too. In all, 28 lifeboatmen lost their lives on that night, leaving many widows and fatherless children. A memorial was erected in Duke Street Cemetery and a permanent exhibition can be seen in the Museum of the Botanic Gardens in Churchtown, Southport.
In 1925, the RNLI abandoned the station at Southport and left the town with no lifeboat. However in the late 1980s, after a series of unfortunate tragedies, local families from Southport started to raise funds and eventually bought a new lifeboat for the town stationed at the old RNLI lifeboat house. The lifeboat is completely independent from the RNLI and receives no money from them. Instead it relies entirely on donations from the public.
Existing on the West Lancashire Coastal Plain most of the town is only slightly above sea-level and thus parts of Southport used to be susceptible to flooding. This would be most frequently noticed on Southport's Marine Drive, which was regularly closed due to flooding from high tides. But in February 1997, new sea defences started being constructed and in 2002 the whole project was completed.
Southport has a maritime climate like most of the UK. Due to its position by the coast, Southport rarely sees substantial snowfall and temperatures rarely fall below –5°C so it doesn't have frequent frosts. Southport generally has moderate precipitation, unlike the rest of western UK.
Southport lies within the historic county boundaries of Lancashire, and was incorporated as municipal borough in 1866. It became a county borough independent of the administrative county of Lancashire in 1915, having reached the minimum 50,000 population (the 1911 census gave a figure of 51,643). The Birkdale Urban District, including the parishes of Birkdale and Ainsdale was added to Southport in 1912.
Under the 1971 Local Government White Paper, presented in February 1971, Southport would have lost its county borough status, becoming a non-metropolitan district within Lancashire. Rather than accept this fate and lose its separate education and social services departments, Southport Corporation lobbied for inclusion in the nearby planned metropolitan county of Merseyside, to join with Bootle and other units to form a district with the 250,000 required population. It was duly included in the Metropolitan Borough of Sefton
This decision has been regretted by some of the population. A recurring local political issue has been the cross-party movement campaigning for Southport to leave Sefton and form its own unitary authority, perhaps adjoined to the neighbouring West Lancashire authority. Support for this has been seen amongst Liberal Democrat (UK) councillors, and also within the Southport Conservative Party (UK).
In 1980, a Private Member's Bill proposed restoring Southport to Lancashire, and renaming the residue of Sefton to the Metropolitan Borough of Bootle. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England conducted a review of the area in 1987, which attracted 10,000 messages, of which "70% were pro forma". In 1990 the LGBC made suggestions that Southport, Ainsdale and Birkdale should be made a district of Lancashire: the final recommendations in 1991 "concluded that public opinion was more evenly divided than initially thought", and also that eastward transport links with Lancashire were poor compared to those southward to the Liverpool area.
The government again directed the Local Government Commission for England to make a review in December 1996 (after it had finished the work on the creation of unitary authorities), commencing in January 1997. This review was constrained by the legal inability of the commission to recommend that the current Sefton-West Lancashire border be altered. In an MORI poll conducted at the behest of the LGCE, 65% of Southport residents supported the campaign, compared to 37% in the borough as a whole. Local MPs Matthew Banks and Ronnie Fearn (MPs for Southport at various times) supported making Southport a unitary authority, with Banks wishing to see it tied to Lancashire ceremonially, but Fearn wishing to see it remain, as a separate borough, in Merseyside.
The commission noted that Southport would have a relatively low population for a unitary authority, even including Formby (89,300 or 114,700), and that it was worried about the viability of a south Sefton authority without Southport, and therefore recommended the status quo be kept. However, the commission suggested the use of area committees for the various parts of the borough and also that Southport could become a civil parish. Another request made in 2004 was turned down, the Electoral Commission (United Kingdom) must request such a review).
In 2002, a local independent party calling themselves the Southport Party was established, with many members supporting a policy of "Southport out of Sefton". Three council seats were won in the 2002 local elections, including that of the leader of Sefton Council, Liberal Democrat Councillor, David Bamber. At the following election there were no gains and a drop in the number of votes for the party. At the all out election in 2004, 1 of their councillors stood down, whilst the other 2 lost their seats. They have not regained any seats, although the group retains a campagning presence in the town.
To date, there have been no further moves to change Sefton's boundaries, but the Boundary Commission indicated in 2004 that a future review is possible:
The town possesses a variety of academic institutions, both private and state-funded. The prestigious all-girls Greenbank High School is situated next to the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, and consistently achieves high grades. It offers pupils a wide-range of subjects, particularly languages, and has educated some of the country's most esteemed talent, including the actress, Miranda Richardson. The male equivalent (also situated in Birkdale) is the all-boys' Birkdale High School, also known for its academic success. There are several other high schools prominent in the town, including Stanley High School, which is a specialist Sports College, Meols Cop High School, and Christ the King.
It has one Independent School, called Sunnymeade School, which is in Birkdale.
The town also has two Further education colleges. Southport College offers a wide range of courses for students of all abilities, while King George V College requires higher GCSE grades in order to be accepted onto the course desired, but is still proven to be very successful.
Old Southport Newspapers that are no longer in print are as follows: Independent 1861-1920's; Liverpool & Southport News 1861-1872; Southport News (West Lancs) 1881-1885; Southport Standard 1885-1899; Southport Guardian 1882-1930; Southport Journal 1904-1932; Southport Star; Southport Advertiser.
The town's commercial radio station 107.9 Dune FM was recently sold by The Local Radio Company to independent operators NIOCOM. On a regional level Southport is covered by several local and regional radio stations, including:BBC Radio Merseyside, BBC Radio Lancashire, Radio City 96.7, City Talk 105.9, and Rock FM 97.4.
Southport is situated within the television regions of BBC North West and ITV's Granada Television, but some areas of Southport can also pick up the Welsh TV stations. This might change as the analogue system is phased out in 2009, during the Digital Switchover.
One of Southport's main attractions for many years was Pleasureland, a fairground established in 1912. It was owned by the Thompson Family, and was closed in September 2006. A replacement fairground on the same site, provisionally named New Pleasureland, opened in July 2007. An earlier permanent funfair, Peter Pan's Playground, closed in the 1980s and is now the site of part of the Ocean Plaza shopping development. A former landmark of Pleasureland was the Looping Star roller coaster, which was on site from 1985-87. It featured in the video for the pop single Wonderful Life, by Liverpool band Black, which was also shot at other parts of the Sefton and North West coastline..
The Model Railway Village is situated in Kings Gardens opposite the Royal Clifton Hotel and near the Marine Lake Bridge. The Model Railway Village opened in May 1996 and was created by Ray and Jean Jones. The Jones family still run the attraction today. The Model Railway Village season extends from April to the end of October. However due to popular demand the season has extended into weekend openings during November, February and March, weather permitting. An earlier model village, the Land of the Little People, was demolished in the late 1980s to make way for the aborted Winter Gardens/SIBEC shopping development. Its site is now occupied by a Morrison's supermarket. Other major attractions in Southport include Splash World, an indoor water park situated on the back of the Dunes swimming pool which opened in June 2007.
Meols Hall, a manor house, home of the Hesketh family is open to the public from the August 14-September 14 from 2pm-5pm. Set in its own expansive grounds, it boasts a history back to the Domesday Book and is full of interesting pictures and furniture.
The Power Station, home of the town's own Radio station 107.9 Dune fm on the edge of Victoria Park, which itself is home to the Southport Flower Show
The main roads entering Southport are:
There is no direct connection to the motorway from Southport; the nearest connections are:
An east-west bypass for the A570 at Ormskirk is planned to relieve congestion on Southport's main access route to the motorway network, although the effectiveness of the proposals are still under debate.
Several areas within Southport town centre have recently undergone major road redevelopment; the largest scheme was the construction of the Marine Way Bridge (opened May 2004), which connects the Lord Street shopping district with the new seafront developments. The 150 foot high structure is thought to have cost in the region of £5m.
Also one of the main shopping areas in the town, Chapel Street, has undergone a pedestrianisation scheme to be similar to parts of Liverpool city centre.
The Liverpool line was originally built by the Liverpool, Crosby and Southport Railway in 1848. It was followed on 9 April 1855 by the Manchester and Southport Railway with a line to Manchester via Wigan.
Formerly, Southport was also served by two further railway lines:
In July 1897, both the West Lancashire and the Liverpool, Southport and Preston Junction Railways were absorbed into the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (L&Y). The L&Y had a large terminus at Southport Chapel Street and could see no sense in operating two termini at very close proximity. In 1901, the L&Y completed a remodeling of the approach lines to Central to allow trains to divert onto the Manchester to Southport line and into Southport Chapel Street Station. Southport Central was closed to passengers and it became a goods depot eventually amalgamating with Chapel Street depot. It survived intact well into the 1970s.
Southport is somewhat lesser known for its sporting prowess, but being surrounded by other North West cities this is understandable. The eastern side of town towards Blowick and Kew is home to the "Sandgrounders" - Southport F.C., a club with a long football league history and occasional FA Cup giantkillers, they play at Haig Avenue and currently find themselves in the Conference North League. There is also a league for local amateur football teams. Southport is also home to a rugby union club, Southport RUFC, who play at the Recreational Ground on Waterloo Road, Hillside.
Southport is also home to one of the largest junior football clubs in the north west, boasting both a boys' and girls' sections, as well as male and female. The youngest boys' team are Under 7s, with the girls being Under 9s. The club has been the foundations for many professional footballers, including Dominic Matteo, Shaun Teale and Paul Dalgleish.
The junior section of Southport RUFC are known as the Southport Sharks, and have sides that range from 7 years old upwards. They also play on the same grounds, and train every Sunday 10am-12noon.
However, the town is probably best known for golf; the Royal Birkdale Golf Club situated in the dunes to the south of the town is one of the venues on The Open Championship rotation and has hosted two Ryder Cups. Nearby Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club is also a two time Ryder Cup venue and Hillside Golf Club hosts many major events as well as being a final open qualifying course. Many smaller links courses also surround the town. Southport also holds its own small skatepark, located next to the Marine Way Bridge. It is open to skateboarders and BMX riders.
Southport's location by the coast also lends itself to some more specialised sporting activities - Ainsdale Beach, south of the town, is popular for kite sports, including kite-surfing. In 1925, Henry Segrave set a world land speed record of 152.33 mph on the beach, driving the Sunbeam Tiger. His association is largely forgotten locally, but is commemorated by the name of a pub on Lord St.
Marine Lake lies nestled between the town centre and the sea and is used for a variety of water-sports including water-skiing, sailing and rowing. The lake is home to the West Lancashire Yacht Club and Southport Sailing Club, both of which organise dinghy racing. The annual Southport 24 Hour Race, organised by the West Lancashire Yacht Club, is an endurance race of national standing, with an average turnout of 60 to 80 boats. In 2006, the event marked its 40th anniversary.
The flat and scenic route alongside the beach is very popular with cyclists, and is the start of the Trans Pennine Trail, a cycle route running across the north of the country to Selby in North Yorkshire, through Hull and on to Hornsea on the east coast.
Southport scouts engage in several different town events such as the carnival.
The Southport District Scout Headquarters is Waterside Lodge which is situated next to the Marine Lake. The scouts in this district and many nearby scout districts use Waterside for activities such as canoeing, kayaking, sailing, bell boating and dragon boating and various land activities.