Blackpool’s Ship Graveyard

What remains of the Abana, wrecked on Blackpool Sands in 1894

Blackpool’s beach is one of the most famous in the country, the primary attraction that drove the town’s booming popularity during its Victorian heyday, as well as a major contributing factor that attracts over 18 million people to the resort every year. However, less well known is how treacherous this section of coastline has proved to passing ships over the years, leaving it as one of the most extensive ship’s graveyards in the British isles.

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. 

Blackpool’s seafront as it appeared in 1784, five years after the first recorded wreckage. Image: William Ashton (Public Domain)

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. 

The current sign of the Gynn pub, depicting the incident

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 ten crew members were saved from the wreck of the Arethusa. 

Crusader marked the beginning of the end for the lucrative practice of looting goods from wrecks, with several residents from Marton being jailed for theft of cargo. The wrecking of the Aristocrat involved the first recorded fatalities, with two passengers drowning, while 10 of the Favourite‘s crew were lost.Another crewman was lost during the rescue attempt following the wreck of the Bessie Jones. 

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 eleven members of the crew managed to jump from the foundering ship to 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 Abana shortly after wrecking at Blackpool. Image: Blackpool Gazette/Wikicommons

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. 

The Foudroyant, shortly after being wrecked. Image: Blackpool Gazette/Wikicommons

Three years later, HMS Foudroyant, the former flagship of Admiral Nelson, was raising funds for a restoration project after an illustrious career by traveling 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 refloated, the wreckage was used to make furniture fittings, including the wood paneling of the former Blackpool FC boardroom at Bloomfield Road. 

MS Riverdance after wrecking on Cleveleys beach in 2008. Image: Susan Noble/Wikicommons

Wrecks continued into the 20th century, including the Commandant Bultinck in 1929, killing three of the crew. The MV Thorium followed 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 31st January 2008, landing close to the remnants of the Abana from more than 100 years earlier. All 23 crew were airlifted from the stricken ferry, which was ultimately scrapped on site after attempts to refloat 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. 

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