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Shipwrecks off the Fylde Coast

While people may remember the recent running aground of cargo ship Riverdance, which attracted huge crowds to the beach at Anchorsholme, the Fylde Coast is a hot spot for shipwrecks over the centuries, providing a crucial habitat and encouraging a hugely-diverse range of species, as well as giving rise to local folklore.

These include delicate sea horses, velvet, spider and tiny pea crabs as well as brittle stars, sea cucumbers and seven-armed starfish.

As part of its popular ‘breed, rescue, protect’ campaign, aquarists at SEA LIFE Blackpool are encouraging visitors to learn more about local shipwrecks and the dynamic eco-systems they support.

As well as talks in the new ‘Four Corners’ marine conservation display area, which helps people to better understand the importance of reefs and wrecks in creating and sustaining rich marine environments, they’ll also be answering questions about wrecks and the species that can be found around them.

For example, pouting are often nicknamed ‘wreck fish’, given how frequently schools of them are found near wrecks. Shipworm and isopods, also known as ‘gribble’, frequently pepper wooden wrecks with small holes, playing a key role in their eventual breakdown.

Lobsters are also common around wrecks, sheltering during the day before venturing out across the sea floor at night to hunt for prey.

Despite their name, the common skate is now considered critically endangered and ship wrecks provide them with an important shelter and hunting ground.

Matthew Titherington, general manager of SEA LIFE Blackpool, said: “Wrecks provide a vital eco-system for a rich diversity of species. We’re encouraging people to think more about the shipwrecks off their coastline and the kind of marine life they support.”

Around 40,000 shipwrecks are waiting to be discovered along the British coast, according to Historic England. Storms in recent years have uncovered hidden wrecks and exciting, new finds are expected in the coming years.

Experts at Historic England say there are still tens of thousands of missing ships which are yet to be found and coastal explorers are encouraged to keep an eye out, particularly after bad weather.

Just a short walk out of the Promenade doors at SEA LIFE Blackpool is one of the UK’s most extensive, although little known, ship’s graveyards. There have been 22 recorded vessels wrecked on the beaches of Blackpool and the Fylde coast, each with their own unique stories.

The oldest recorded wreck is that of the Travers in 1755. Carrying a cargo of valuable lace, much of its payload is said to have disappeared before the coast guard arrived on the then sparsely-populated coastline.

Many Fylde Coast residents were said to have ‘Travers Lace’ curtains in their homes for many years after.

A further wreck followed in 1779. While the name of the ship is not recorded, its cargo of peas has led to the incident being referred to as the ‘pea soup wreck’.

Further wrecks occurred in 1797 when the Liverpool-bound Happy foundered off Lytham, followed by the Fanny in 1821. Like with previous wrecks, much of the Fanny’s payload of flannel cloth was missing by the time authorities arrived.

In 1833 a ship was wrecked off Gynn Square, an area of the coastline notorious for being particularly treacherous for ships and individuals alike. The crew were saved by steering towards a light in the upper windows of the old Gynn Inn, which stood at the centre of what is now Gynn Square. The incident is commemorated on the signage of the current Gynn pub.

Cargo ships continued to be wrecked on the beaches of Blackpool, including the Crusader in 1839, the Aristocrat (1840), William Henry (1861), St Michael (1864), Favourite (1865) and the Lexington (1865).

The loss of the Fleetwood-based Bessie Jones in 1880 resulted in calls for a lifeboat station in St Annes, which is still in use today. Lifeboats played a crucial role two years later when 10 crew members were saved from the wreck of the Arethusa.

In 1892, the Norwegian Sirene was caught in a storm shortly after departing Fleetwood on-route to Florida and was ultimately dashed against North Pier.

All 11 members of the crew managed to jump from the foundering ship onto the pier and safety. Sirene’s wheel is on display at Blackpool lifeboat station.

Two years later, the steamer SS Huntcliff eventually ran aground close to Squires Gate, after snapping her anchor chain off Llandudno.

The same year, what is possibly the most well-known wreck along the Fylde Coast took place, the remnants of which are still clearly visible today.

The Abana, another Norwegian ship heading for Florida, was caught in a storm and was wrecked off Little Bispham, after mistaking the then newly-built Blackpool Tower for a lighthouse.

The crew of 17, as well as the ship’s dog, were rescued by a lifeboat crew, eventually making it safely back to shore after the lifeboat was grounded on a sandbank. The ship and lifeboat crew alike were taken to a party at the Red Lion Hotel in Bispham, while the ship’s bell was given to the landlord of the Cleveleys Hotel in gratitude for him having raised the initial alarm. The bell still hangs in St Andrew’s Church in Cleveleys.

Three years later, HMS Foudroyant, the former flagship of Admiral Nelson, was raising funds for a restoration project after an illustrious career by travelling to a number of UK seaside resorts.

Caught in a storm off Blackpool, the 80-gun, 56-metre former Ship-of-the-Line was wrecked close to North Pier. Unable to be re-floated, the wreckage was used to make furniture fittings, including the wood panelling of the former Blackpool FC boardroom at Bloomfield Road.

Wrecks continued into the 20th century, including the Commandant Bultinck in 1929, MV Thorium in 1964 and Holland XXIV in 1981. The last of the wreckages on the Fylde coast took place in 2008.

The ferry MS Riverdance was swept ashore at Anchorsholme on January 31st that year, landing close to the remnants of the Abana more than 100 years earlier.

All 23 crew were airlifted from the stricken ferry, which was ultimately scrapped on site after attempts to re-float her were abandoned. Shortly after, the motor cruiser Coco Leoni ran aground close to Lytham, becoming the 22nd and most recent ship to be caught up on the Fylde Coast sands.