Historically a part of Lancashire, Formby was built on the plain adjoining the Irish Sea coast. Largely a residential town, Formby becomes a tourist hot spot during the summer months, with day trippers attracted to its beaches, sand dunes, and wildlife.
Erosion of sand on the beach at Formby is revealing layers of mud and sediment, laid down and covered in the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 - 3,500 years ago. These sediments often contain the footprints of humans, animals (most commonly aurochs) from that period.
The common place-name ending -by is from the Scandinavian abyr meaning "homestead", "settlement" or "village". The village of Formby was originally spelt Fornebei and means "village belonging to Forni". At that time Fornibiyum was a well-known Norse family name. He could have been the leader of the invading expedition which took possession of this coast. Until its closure in 1998, Oslo Airport in Norway was situated in a town called Fornebu. It was from Ireland in about 960 AD that these Norsemen or Vikings first came to the west coast of Lancashire, first trading or raiding and then settling. Tradition says that the Viking invaders failed to defeat the native Anglo-Saxons on the coast of Formby, so they sailed inland, up the River Alt, and attacked from the rear. It is more probable that the Viking invaders simply found that the area was thinly populated and took control without any blood being shed. It is thought that the Romans used Formby as a major pass through for their troops during the time of their settlement.
Formby beach is the location of the first lifeboat station in the UK. Established perhaps as early as 1776 by William Hutchinson, Dock Master for the Liverpool Common Council. It was the first lifeboat station in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world. The foundations of the last of the lifeboat station buildings remain on the beach. The last launch took place in 1916. Remarkably a film survives of this event.
Formby is home to RAF Woodvale, a small RAF station on the outskirts of the town. The airport, opened in 1941, is a former WW2 fighter base with three active runways, the main runway being a mile in length. It is used by RAF for light aircraft and fighter training, as well as a few civilian aircraft. The station is also home to Merseyside Police's helicopter, known as 'Mike One'. The RAF Station was also home to the last ever operational service of the British legend, the Spitfire. In 1957 the last Spitfire was to fly with military markings in British took of from Woodvale on an operational mission. Woodvale is also home to the Woodvale Rally, one of the biggest shows on an active MOD station in the North West.
Formby forms part of the constituency of Crosby and is represented in the House of Commons by Labour Member of Parliament Claire Curtis-Thomas. In the last local election in 2006, the Labour Party won with 48.2% share of the vote, some 17,000 votes, while the Conservatives' share was 32.1% and the Liberal Democrats receiving 17.4% of the vote. There is also small support for the United Kingdom Independence Party in Formby; with 1.3% of the votes.
Formby is a coastal town roughly 17 km², part of Sefton in the north west of Merseyside. The town is built upon the west of a large flat area of land called the West Lancashire Coastal Plain the town is 0.5 metres below sea level at its lowest point. Formby’s highest point is within the sand dunes that separate the Irish Sea from Formby, sand dunes are ever changing in shape and formation so there is no fixed point. The River Alt runs in to the Irish Sea just south of Formby at Hightown.
The town is rurally landlocked; the land between Formby and the areas of Southport, Ormskirk and Liverpool is green belt land and is used for arable agricultural purposes. The areas around the urban fringe are drained by irrigation ditches are open areas get boggy in the winter months. Earth in urban areas is well drained, very loose and sandy.
The section of land between Formby and the coast is varied in vegetation, wildlife and terrain. This area includes pine forests: natural and man-made, sand dunes, marram grass, deciduous woodland, seasonal ponds and lakes. Large areas of this land are protected by the National Trust.
Formby is in a temperate climate zone, with mild winters and warm summers. Formby’s biggest threat is global warming as the town is built on a flood plain, being situated next to the coast and being below sea level.
Formby has a significant tourist industry most notably between the warmer months of May and September . In particular it’s popular with day trippers from Liverpool and other industrial towns in Merseyside and West Lancashire. There are two main spots along the Formby Coast which are particularly popular with the public.
The Lifeboat Road site is about 1½ miles from the town centre; there are three linked unpaved car parks with several routes cascading out in to the sand dunes and woods. The car parks are about 900 yards from the beach.
Victoria Road is north of Lifeboat Road and is busier due to the red squirrel reserve being here. From the junction of Larkhill Lane and Victoria Road is where the reserve begins and there is a charge to park from this point onwards. Parking is available adjacent to the reserve and at the end of the road there is a large unpaved car park for easier beach access, the beach from the car park is about 100 yards.
There is a privately run caravan park called Formby Point on Lifeboat Road, open between March and October. There are around 300 caravans on the park and 20 plots for touring caravans. There is a phone box on site, public toilets, a play area and until 1995 there was a small convenience store.
With the town’s major growth period around the early 20th century and Formby never really having any major industry, the road system followed an American style method of road building. Major roads in the town are wide and in an almost block formation with housing estates being built in to those blocks. The vast majority of residences have drive-ways for parking. Thus traffic congestion is rare in the town and usually only experienced in the town centre locally known as The Village.
There are two railway stations, the first being Formby railway station and the second less than a mile north, Freshfield railway station. Both are on the Northern Line of the Merseyrail network, which runs from Liverpool to Southport. Trains are frequent and are a popular way of commuting, especially to Liverpool.
In addition to motorized transport, Formby is served by excellent cycle routes, mainly centring around the pinewoods along the coast leading to both Southport and Liverpool. There are also many cycle lanes on the roads leading to the larger conurbations to the north and south.
There are seven primary schools in Formby; Woodlands, Redgate CP, Our Lady’s, St Jerome’s, Trinity St Peters, Freshfield CPS and St Luke's C. of E. Trinity St Peters in Formby is the amalgamation of two former primary schools - Holy Trinity and St Peters - which closed down in July 2006. The school was formed as part of a major reorganisation of primary education in Sefton. In 2006 Our Lady’s performed has the best results with a Key Stage 1 and 2 combined averages of 289, way above the national average of 242. Ravenmeols primary school closed as a school and is now used as the Raven Meols Community Centre. Formby has two large high schools, Formby High School and Range High School, both schools are high performers. With a national average of 45.8% of students gaining five or more A*-C at GCSE, Range scored 74% and Formby scored 76% in 2006. Formby High School saw one of the biggest increases in grades in the country in 2006. After years of hovering around 50-60% mark the school increased 20% outdoing their rival Range.
Formby is also famous for the presence of natterjack toads. Formby is only one of a few sites in England where they will breed. Later in the evening the male’s distinctive song can be heard and is known locally as the ‘Bootle Organ’. In spring the males gather at the edge of shallow pools in the dune slacks and sing to attract a mate. The Sefton Coast and Countryside Service are working hard to keep these pools from growing over so that that they are ready each spring for this annual event.
In addition a variety of youth sporting groups are based in Formby. These include Formby Junior Sports Club (FJSC) known locally as "Rourke's League" after Jim Rourke MBE who founded the club in 1959. Over 600 children ranging in age from 5 to 16 years meet at Deansgate Lane Playing Fields to play football at various times throughout Saturday mornings during the football season. The club welcomes children of all abilities, there are no trials or criteria to meet; every member plays every week. The club also fields numerous representative teams in local junior leagues (e.g. the Craven Minor League). Formby is also home to Deansgate Rovers and Redgate junior football clubs.
In 2007, Formby Vikings Rugby Union Team was established to include a wide range of ages including a colts first 15 team.