Between Land and Sea – 10,000 years of Sefton’s Coast

The Atkinson’s new museum opening Friday 13 February 2015

Over 2000 people flocked to The Atkinson last October for the opening weekend of the new Egyptology Gallery.

Friday 13 February sees the launch of the final part of the museum – and its inspiration is drawn from rather closer to home.

The new permanent exhibition, Between Land and Sea – 10,000 years of Sefton’s Coast, explores the rich and varied history of the Sefton area and its amazing coastline.

Amongst those celebrated for their roles in the story of Sefton are:

• the daring female motor-racing pioneers dubbed ‘scorchers’, ‘motorinas’ and ‘motoristes’ who tore up Southport beach in the 1920s. One of their party, Dorothy Levitt went on to break numerous records as a speedboat driver, racing driver and aviator and even taught Queen Alexandra and her three daughters to drive.

• the cartoonist behind Dan Dare, Frank Hampson, who was a pupil at King George V Grammar School (now King George V College) in the 1930s. The sci fi hero Dan Dare famously appeared in the Eagle comic, which was first produced in 1950 in a studio called Old Bakehouse in Churchtown, Southport. The Eagle’s founder, the Rev John Marcus Harston Morris, was vicar of the St James church Birkdale at the time.

• the formidable Mrs Mirabel Topham, the former Gaiety Girl, who ran Aintree race course in the 1950s and 60s. One of the most famous horses to race at Aintree, Red Rum was trained by Ginger McCain on Southport sands.

• Frank Hornby, the inventor of Meccano, Dinky toys and Hornby model trains. The Maghull resident, a father of three, had no formal engineering qualifications and experimented with ideas in his home workshop. In 1901 it is said he borrowed £5 from his employer to patent the invention of Meccano. His boss quickly saw the merit in his idea and soon became his business partner.

• 19-year-old polar explorer and Southport resident FJ ‘Percy’ Hooper, one of the search party who discovered Captain Scott and his team’s bodies at the end of their ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. Sacrificing his own skis to fashion a cross as a memorial, Hooper made his way back to their boat using Captain Oates’ (he of “I am just going outside, and may be some time” fame) skis and sticks. A blue plaque was erected outside Southport Town Hall to commemorate Hooper in 2012.

• the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, mother and child who made their way across Formby sands to gather food, leaving their footprints as an echo from the region’s distant past.

Although there is much to celebrate, the Sefton coast has suffered from its share of hard times as well as good. The Bootle Blitz of 1941 saw 90 percent of the town’s houses destroyed or damaged. And in 1886, the worst lifeboat disaster in history unfolded off Birkdale’s coast, with 27 lifeboat crew losing their lives.

Bootle docks were a key target for Luftwaffe bombers during WWII. A recently conserved map from a downed German plane, to go on show in the new permanent exhibition, clearly indicates the grain stores at Alexandra Dock as the focal point for the many air raids that devastated the surrounding area. Around 4,000 people were killed in the Merseyside area during the Blitz, second only to London.

The story of the Bootle blitz is told through a range of objects donated by local residents, including fragments of bombs, gas masks, wartime rations and ration books, shrapnel and personal memoirs of evacuation and memories of the air raids as well as archival film footage. The Atkinson has also drawn on Sefton Library’s extensive photographic archive. Visitors will be able to search through a large selection of contemporary images and maps documenting the extensive bombardment.

On Dec 9 1886, the lifeboats Eliza Fernley of Southport and Laura Janet of St. Anne’s put out in a storm to the rescue an iron ship, The Mexico of Hamburg. Neither boat reached the vessel, although the former approached so close that according to the narrative of the two survivors, one of the lifeboat-men was about to throw a line but the boat swung broadside on to the sea and a huge mountain of water lifted it up and turned it over, burying the majority of its crew beneath it.

Important artefacts from the failed rescue include the oars from the Mexico and personal belongings of the deceased. Said Emma Anderson, Director of The Atkinson: “The heritage of this coastline combines unspoilt beaches with some of the UK’s largest dockland areas and a rich maritime history.

“It is an area of contrasts – working ports and dense urban areas rub shoulders with areas of outstanding natural beauty. This is an important and valuable heritage for its tensions, contrasts and contradictions that capture changes in society, industry and the environment.

“The Atkinson’s new museum tells the stories of this extraordinary, changing and contested coastline. The new museum displays reflect the histories of communities and individuals along Sefton’s coast, and have a strong emphasis on the influence and experience of the coast – in terms of fishing and shipping industries, including lifeboats, wrecks and tragedies, as well as the development of leisure and tourism.

“Our project has strategic, regional significance because, over the last 10 years, regeneration projects up and down the coast have stressed the importance of creating and enhancing sense of place – building up the uniqueness and integrity of places through culture and heritage.”

For more information on The Atkinson’s Museum and exhibitions please visit us online at or call Box Office on 01704 533333.


Between Land and Sea – 10,000 years of Sefton’s Coast
Friday 13 February
The Atkinson

Posted on 14 January 2015 under Museum

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