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St Anne’s on the Sea: the Rossendale connection

Posted on: September 15th, 2013 by admin


The Lancashire County Council Community Heritage project ‘St Anne’s on the Sea: the Rossendale connection’ explores the links between the Fylde Coast town and Rossendale. It looks at the associations between the two areas and the importance of Rossendale people in the emergence of the seaside town. The project includes talks in both St Annes and Rossendale, Local History walks and a project working with local schools. The Community Heritage team would  be interested in hearing from anyone with any further information, stories and images about this subjectYou can email them at


SunnyBank Mill c.1900

SunnyBank Mill c.1900


The Clifton family, owners of the Manor of Lytham, guided by their land agent James Fair, began planning for the new town of St Anne’s on the Sea as early as the 1840s. During the 1850s they invested in the railway between Lytham and Blackpool which was opened in 1863. In the early 1870s a road was laid from what is now Fairhaven to the present St Anne’s Square and a further road continued to the Parish Church of St Anne, built in 1872/3 and funded by Lady Eleanor Cecily Clifton. The name of the new town comes from the Parish Church.


In 1874, the St Anne’s on the Sea Land and Building company was formed by eight Rossendale men led by the chairman Joseph Wood Whitehead.  This company negotiated 999 year leases with Thomas Fair who had succeeded his father James as the Clifton’s agent and  sought to develop what became known as the Square Mile. The architects for the project were Maxwell and Tuke of Peel Chambers, Bury.  James Maxwell himself was from Haslingden.

The ambitions for an exclusive  and select resort can be seen in an early company document which states, “of late years Blackpool has become so much the resort of Excursionists that a decided want is felt for a watering place which, whilst possessing the same bracing atmosphere and commanding position, shall secure a more select and better class of visitors”!


W.J.Porritt cuts first sod for drainage scheme - St Anne's 18th August 1892

W.J.Porritt cuts first sod for drainage scheme – St Anne’s 18th August 1892

The first lease between the Company and the Clifton estate was signed on 14 December 1874. Work began on the development of the Promenade and the St Anne’s Hotel began in February 1875 and the foundation stone of St Anne’s on the Sea was laid on 31 March of that year.











Perhaps the most important Rossendale influence on the development of St Anne’s was William John Porritt who was born in Ramsbottom in 1828. With his father Joseph he built Sunnybank Mill in Helmshore in 1866 and bought Higher Mill in the same town in 1880. He was present at the laying of the foundation stone of St Anne’s and soon after joined the board of the Land and Building Company, being the chairman from 1881 -1896.



Construction of 1 Oxford Rd., St Anne's , 1912

Construction of 1 Oxford Rd., St Anne’s , 1912


The success of the scheme to develop St Anne’s on the Sea wasn’t guaranteed. In the 1880s and 1890s it was struggling financially and various factors such as the opening of the pier and, most significantly, the continued investment of William Porritt ensured its success. He is particularly well known for the ‘Porritt Houses’ that were built north of the pier. It’s thought that he built property to the value of £100,000 in St Anne’s – by today’s standards he invested millions of pounds in the area.


Porritt Houses, C.1900 - 16700

Porritt Houses, C.1900 – 16700

To some extent Porritt can be seen as the saviour of St Anne’s on the Sea but many Rossendalians contributed in smaller ways to the success of the town. As a new town St Anne’s attracted people from all over the country to work on its development and in its new businesses, shops, hotels and guest houses.










Given the links through the Land and Building Company it perhaps isn’t surprising that, looking at the 1891 census, we find many people from Rossendale. Amongst these people we find joiners, corporation labourers, laundresses, housekeepers, domestic servants, stonemasons, char-women, slaters, timber merchants, tin plate workers, boarding house keepers and grocers. So, as well as providing some of the investment Rossendale was embedded into the working fabric of St Anne’s on the Sea from its earliest days.


Beach and Porritt houses, North Promenade, St Annes on Sea c.1884

Beach and Porritt houses, North Promenade, St Annes on Sea c.1884


Lifeboat and Pier, St Annes on Sea c.1920

Lifeboat and Pier, St Annes on Sea c.1920


These and other photographs are from the image archive available at


Other useful resources include:

Peter Shakeshaft’s book, ‘St Anne’s on the Sea: a history’ and