Southport, in its present form, was founded by William Sutton (“The Mad Duke”) in 1792. However, there have been settlements in the area for much longer than that: the northern part of the town around St Cuthbert’s Church (in the part of the parish of North Meols now known as Churchtown), was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and some areas of the town have names of Viking origin.
Southport grew quickly in the 19th century as it gained a reputation for being a more refined seaside resort than its neighbour-up-the-coast Blackpool. The permanent funfair, Pleasureland closed in late 2006, but has since been re-opened under new management.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte lived in exile on Lord Street, the main thoroughfare of Southport, between 1846 and 1848, before returning to France, where he became President and subsequently Emperor of the French. During his reign, he caused much of the medieval centre of Paris to be replaced with broad tree-lined boulevards, covered walkways and arcades, just like Lord Street. On the strength of this coincidence, it has been suggested that the redevelopment may have been inspired by memories of Southport’s town centre.
On the night of the 9 December 1886, the worst lifeboat disaster in the history of the UK occurred off the shores of Southport. A cargo ship called the Mexico was on its way to South America when it found itself in difficulty. Lifeboats from Lytham, St. Annes and Southport set off in order to try and rescue those aboard the vessel. The crews battled against storm-force winds as they rowed towards the casualty. The entire crew from the St. Anne’s boat was lost and all but two of the Southport crew were too. In all, 28 lifeboatmen lost their lives on that night, leaving many widows and fatherless children. A memorial was erected in Duke Street Cemetery and a permanent exhibition can be seen in the Museum of the Botanic Gardens in Churchtown, Southport.
In 1925, the RNLI abandoned the station at Southport and left the town with no lifeboat. However, in the late 1980s, after a series of unfortunate tragedies, local families from Southport started to raise funds and eventually bought a new lifeboat for the town stationed at the old RNLI lifeboat house. The lifeboat is completely independent from the RNLI and receives no money from them. Instead it relies entirely on donations from the public.