• David Walshe

Scarisbrick Avenue: What lies beneath? The story of ‘Anderson’s Square’

Updated: May 12

Scarisbrick Avenue, a Victorian thoroughfare, constructed during the mid to late 1880’s, connecting pedestrians from Lord Street to the Promenade. The Avenue, as we know it, was complete following the demolition of the old Scarisbrick Arms Hotel in 1889 (built 1821, originally as the Hesketh Arms) and the subsequent rebuilding of a new hotel in the time following.

Scarisbrick Avenue in Gala Dress, first published by the Southport Guardian in their Centenary Celebrations booklet 1892. Courtesy of Michael Braham

Prior to the demolition of the old hotel, Scarisbrick Avenue was slightly wider at the Lord Street end, as shown on the 1894 OS map which was surveyed in 1889. This wider entrance, was also replicated on a proposed street scene from that period however, following the construction of the new hotel, Scarisbrick Avenue became slightly narrower. It has previously been published in some books that the current Scarisbrick Hotel was built in 1881 however, this confusion probably arises from the fact that the three lives lease ended upon the death of proprietor Joseph Mawdesley in 1880. An engraving, published by the London Illustrated News in 1883, shows the Scarisbrick Arms still in its original form, with no entrance to Scarisbrick Avenue.

In Geoff Wright‘s book, Southport A Century Ago a reprint of an 1889 guide tells us that the old hotel is in the process of being demolished. The new hotel, was built in the years 1890/91 to the designs of J.E. Sanders.

A photograph of the newly built hotel from c1891 shows what looks like unglazed windows and a scaffold like structure around the bottom of the tower, perhaps showing that work was on-going, or that preparations were being made to coincide with the Centenary Celebrations that took place in the temporary ‘Exhibition Grounds’ within the Municipal Gardens commencing in June 1892.

Section of OS map surveyed in 1889 showing Scarisbrick Avenue. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

Proposed sketch of the Scarisbrick Arms Hotel as featured ’Southport A Century Ago’. Courtesy of Geoff Wright

Section of an engraving of Lord Street published by the London Illustrated News 1883 to coincide with the British Associations meeting in Southport

Lord Street c1891. Image credit Sefton Library Services

However, back in the days when Southport was a mere bathing village, the scene was quite different, with buildings along the ‘main street’ surrounded by a wilderness of sandhills or as they were known locally, ‘The Star-Hills’. Immediately to the south-west of the Hesketh Arms Hotel stood a cluster of modest buildings called ‘Anderson’s Square’. These dwellings were basic one-storey brick cottages, mainly inhabited by fisherfolk or, as Frank Robinson put it in his 1848 guide, ‘the humbler classes’. The Square was bound on its north side by the hotel stables, large enough to accommodate 39 horses, and also a large ‘barn type’ building which was mainly used for billiards and managed by a Mr.Dodd. To the seaward side stood the ‘kaleidoscope-like’ Star-Hills, flanked by a pathway & track, which both lead to the flat golden sands. It was the proximity of these shifting sandhills which made Anderson’s Square more than susceptible to frequent bouts of sand encroachment.

To scale reproduction of James Leigh’s 1824 plan of Southport

This meant that the residents regularly had to rely on friends, family and if they were lucky their landlords, to dig them out of their homes! The Square, still shown and named on Walker’s plan of 1834, had disappeared according to Francis Bailey by the time James Whitehead had moved into Melling’s Buildings on Lord Street in 1841. Frank Robinson’s 1848 guide tells us that Anderson’s Square was ‘inundated by a great storm some years ago, before the construction of the promenade’. The building of the Promenade commenced c1835 with it open to the public by 1839, therefore it is possible that the great storm of November 1834 as detailed in Bland’s Annals could have caused the final chapter of Anderson’s Square, as the cottages finally gave way to nature’s course, becoming ‘covered permanently up to the ridge tiles with sand’.

Following the event, one resident known as ‘Long Nan’ was subject to a cruel trick at the hands of some pitiless pranksters. It is said that her chimney was still visible above the level of the blown sand and that some thought it would be funny to drop the carcass of a black greyhound down the stack of her sand covered cottage. When the grinning teeth and glaring eyes of the deceased dog abruptly appeared in her fireplace, poor Long Nan thought the devil had come for her at last! Sadly, the residents had to give up their homes, as eventually the weight of the sand forced the cottage roofs and walls to cave in. A relief fund was set up, lead by spinster Miss Sarah Gillet of Nevill Street, to re-house the homeless and to help with replacing their crushed furniture.

Frederick Beattie painting of the Scarisbrick Arms Family & Commercial Hotel. Image credit Sefton Library Services

James Whitehead’s recollections also inform us that the problem persisted throughout the 1840s, with the communal yard areas of Melling’s Buildings (on Lord Street) regularly being engulfed with blown sand. One year over the course of a week, the sand reached a height of over eight feet, covering a perimeter wall which prompted the residents to begin a huge clearance. It was during this clearance that relics of Anderson’s Square were uncovered. Many years later, during the construction Scarisbrick Avenue in 1886, the remains of an ‘old road leading to the shore’ were uncovered nine feet below street level. This will have been one of the tracks either side of Anderson’s Square. It was also noted in Bland’s Annals that, ‘no more stone was removed than necessary’.

So the next time you walk along the Victorian thoroughfare that is Scarisbrick Avenue, remember the story of the ill fated Anderson’s Square, poor Long Nan and part of ‘Old Southport’ that lies beneath your feet!

David Walshe (Secret Sand Land) Copyright 2021.

‘SANDY TRACKS’ A poetical & illustrated journey through Southport’s past available now via online shop.

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Lord Street 1867 showing The Scarisbrick Arms as it was prior to demolition c1889

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