Shipwrecks at Formby

Shipwreck walk at Formby Point

Shipwrecks off the coast at Formby tell moving stories about the area's maritime history. National Trust volunteer, Dom Delacroix, joins Sefton Coast ranger John Dempsey to learn about this history and shares his experience here.

It was with trepidation that our noble band of volunteers gathered at Lifeboat Rd and met with our be-barnacled master of ceremonies for our shipwreck walk and the oracle of all things maritime and sunken, John Dempsey.

The conditions were clear and still and as we made our way across the rippled, rigid sands for a 1 kilometre walk towards the wreck of the Ionic Star we were informed that although, super-saturated sinking sand is not a possibility on this part of the Sefton Coast, the incoming tide and its’ accompanying eddies and gullies were still treacherous and the correct timing for visiting the wrecks was of paramount importance and wellington boots an essential accoutrement.

The Ionic Star is a skeletal series of rusty and blackened outcrops, a memory in rusting metal of a time when she followed the trade routes across the equator and down to South America. She is by far the most complete of the wrecks visible from the coast. The ship was calling into Liverpool with a refrigerated cargo of meat, cotton and fruit when she ran aground in 1939. This error may have been in part due to the fact that all navigation lights were turned off due to the advent of WW2 making things considerably more difficult for the errant captain and crew.

Her Blue Star Line sister ship, the Doric Star, was sunk by the German Battleship the Graf Spee only a few weeks later. The Ionic Star was partly salvaged for scrap, despite the narrow window of access due to the changing tides, after she went down on the edge of the infamous Mad Wharf sandbank in October 1939.  The remnants were then used as target practice by the RAF and what remains is brittle and melancholic, an eerie and forlorn memory of a former era clinging to the shifting sands.

Not far from the remains of the Ionic Star is a lump of metal and a line of wooden spars that is all that remains of the Bradda, which came to grief in 1936, claiming the lives of all but one of her crew.  The Bradda was taking a shipment of coal to Ireland in bad weather when she ran aground shortly after leaving Liverpool.  The crew from the Isle of Man, under Captain Cregeen, put up flares and lit rags soaked in paraffin in a bid to attract other shipping to their plight, but the ship had been washed over the navigation channel wall. When she listed, the crew were washed into the sea.  Samuel Ball was the sole survivor. The tragic loss of life makes the remains of the Bradda a poignant place on the Sefton Coast. Her engine block and spars are reclaimed by the tides every day- a reminder of how fierce and unforgiving the sea can be, even in the shallow waters of Liverpool Bay. 

The sun was setting and the tide was turning and it was time return to dry land whist it was still safe to do so and it only remained to thank John Dempsey for his informative enthusiasm and log the tales we had heard in our memories to pass on to other volunteers and visitors the stories of the Sefton Coast ship wrecks.   

To find out about future guided walk please contact the Sefton Council and the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership on 0151 934 2964 or email