Southport’s tall bronze sculptures – denoting a cyclist, diver, seagull, sun and shrimp respectively – are now as much a staple of the seaside town as Silcock’s Funland behind them. It’s not a huge leap to assume they symbolise the things that brought Southport to fame as a tourist hotspot: sun, sea and good shrimp. But it’s the cyclist and the one-legged diver which inspire the most curiosity.
In the early twentieth century, Southport had three famous pier divers – the most popular of these was high-diver ‘Professor’ (in name only) Albert Powsey, who headed to the town in 1903. Powsey dove from the end of Southport Pier into the sea to the delight of onlookers; one of his most daring feats was to cover himself in sacking and cotton wool soaked in petrol, which was lit on fire by one of his sons before Powsey made the leap into the water – literally in flames. His signature move, however, was performing the high-dive into an incredibly shallow pool of water, an act later to be seen at Southport fairground.
However, Powsey wasn’t the only famed high-diver in town. Professor Gadsby performed his dives through a ring of fire with only one leg, while Professor Osborne was acclaimed for riding his bike off the pier. It seems fitting then that these figures of early 20th-century Southport be awarded a sculpture as high up as they would have dived.
Unveiled in 1904, Southport’s statue of Queen Victoria stands atop a lesser known town secret: the underground Nevill Street. The old subway was filled in following numerous bouts of flooding, and its shops and businesses now lie abandoned beneath the ‘new’ Nevill Street. She originally faced the sea before being turned to look down the street.
Kate Maddison of Chrysalis Arts led a specialist team of artisans to create the artwork comprised of Nautilus, a ‘living fossil’ water feature and nearby Nautilus Seats; the Shrimper’s Seats, benches embossed with a colourful shrimp; the Community Mosaic celebrating local culture and heritage; Mermaid Seats by the refurbished mermaid fountain in St. George’s Gardens; and Sun Benches around the historic sundial. Together, the stainless steel pieces symbolise longevity and the life-cycle amidst climate change fears, of nature standing strong and fragile against the tide.
The metallic likeness of three times Grand National winner Red Rum can be found in Southport’s Wayfarer’s Arcade. The thoroughbred steeplechaser was trained on regular gallops along Southport Beach, and stabled on Upper Aughton Road – in 1978, Rummie was awarded the Freedom of Southport Sands for his legendary sporting career. The aptly named Red Rum Hotel used to stand on Lord Street on the site of the 88 Brasserie & Bar.
Shrimping in Southport is a longstanding industry dating back to the 18th century. Fishermen would transport their catch using horse and carts, which would travel along the beach behind boats, trailing nets to catch the crustaceans in a method known as shanking. Veteran shrimper Gerald Rimmer, who was in the industry for 25 years, helped bring Weld Road roundabout’s installation to life in celebration of Southport’s most notorious industry.
In May 1937, Dick Merrill and Jack Lambie made aviation history on Ainsdale Beach. Taking off in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra monoplane, they made the perilous, non-stop journey to New York in 24 hours and 22 minutes. Dubbed ‘the coronation flight’, their intention was to deliver a newsreel of King George VI’s coronation to America, but the reel did not arrive in time to make the flight.
Merrill, who was born in Mississippi, had flown the first ever round-trip transatlantic flight in 1936 carrying 41,000 ping-pong balls, which he and his co-pilot Harry Richman hoped would make the aircraft float if they had to make a water landing.
As tribute to Merrill’s Ainsdale flight, a sculpture was commissioned in 2010 of the huge metal monoplane taking flight, with the New York skyline behind. It sits on Shore Road roundabout in Ainsdale.
A curious stone man rests on the spot where the first sod of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was ceremonially dug by Charles Mordaunt of Halsall Hall in November 1770. Sculptor Thompson Dagnall crafted the Halsall Navvy, which was unveiled in 2006 next to Halsall Warehouse Bridge to celebrate the labourers who dug the canal out by hand.
When Burscough’s newest retail park was built on the site of RNAS Burscough – best known as HMS Ringtail – a memorial garden to the airbase’s integral part in WWII was designed close to Booths supermarket. The life-size statue, depicting a Navy Airman, was designed by Peter Hodgkinson and remembers Burscough’s role in training paratroopers up for the war.
Around 40 squadrons were attached to Ringtail during its years of operation, completing tactical reconnaissance training from 1942-1946. The site was perhaps made most famous in February 1946, when one of its pilots crash landed into a populated street in Bootle, killing a five-year-old girl who had been playing outside and throwing a postman from his bike.
The Beaconsfield Monument
Erected in 1884 by the Ormskirk branch of the Primrose League, Moor Street’s monument depicts Benjamin Disraeli, the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield. Disraeli served two terms as Prime Minister and was instrumental in passing the Reform Act of 1867 – an Act which ensured Lancashire got more seats in the House of Commons due to a reallocation of representation. Disraeli’s involvement eventually resulted in an MP being elected for Ormskirk in 1885, and the statue being commissioned in his honour.
Skelmersdale may be a maze of roundabouts, but a few stand out from the crowd. The Elements series was commissioned in 1999: the Magic Roundabout piece features various billboards printed with photographs of local people, while nearby, a huge sculpture of intersecting squares makes up Gateway for the Marie Curie cancer charity. The last of the three site-specific works is Peter Freeman’s Lightcube, which stands 7 metres high on Exchange Island and contains a dazzling 2,400 fibre-optic light points on its top 2 metres.
A Tribute to the Suffering
In 2018, a brand new statue by Andrew Edwards was unveiled at Maghull North Station. The life-size bronze sculpture depicts a wounded soldier supported by a nurse, and celebrates Maghull’s role in providing a pioneering treatment for shell shock during WWI.
Moss Side Military Hospital treated more than 3,600 patients between 1914 and 1919, providing psychological care for soldiers who suffered from PTSD during the war. The memorial also commemorates the 306 soldiers who were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion – particularly Jimmy Smith of the Liverpool Pals, who was buried alive by a German artillery shell in the Somme. Smith went absent without leave and was found guilty of desertion at his court martial and sentenced to death.
At the age of just 26, Jimmy was only wounded by his reluctant executioners and lay in agony on the ground before eventually being shot by one of his friends, who never recovered from the trauma.
Echoes of Asparagus
Renowned for its iconic agricultural heritage, Formby’s most celebrated crop was awarded a trail of its own by the National Trust. By Formby Beach you’ll find a range of sculptures dedicated to the very asparagus that was served to first class passengers on the doomed ocean liner Titanic.
Follow the Asparagus Trail to find a wood carving of a farmer who would have been responsible for tending the crop, huge wooden asparagus shoots and a carving of a horse and cart used to transport the vegetables.