Do you know the story of the sunken village of Singleton Thorpe? True or not, folklore has it that just off the coast of Cleveleys is one of the earliest local examples of relocation because of flooding.
It’s the subject of speculation – some believe that it did exist and others don’t. Here at Visit Cleveleys we’ll tell you what we know and you can make your own mind up!
David Evans is an Authorised ITG2 official Blackpool guide and a mine of local historical information. He runs a company called ‘Brown Badge Guides’. David’s provided us with information to begin this article about the sunken village of Singleton Thorpe.
Inundation from the Sea
There was indeed an inundation from the sea in the mid 1500’s. Destruction is documented in many coastal places, along with the Fylde Coast. As few people could write back then, evidence is sketchy. But it’s widely thought to all have been at the same time, in one terrible night in September of 1554/5.
12 villages between Carlisle and Southport were certainly destroyed when a tsunami hit the West Coast of the UK in or around that year, three of which were on our peninsula.
No one survived at Wadham Thorpe, which is supposedly around the Squires Gate area of Blackpool.
Then there was Kilgrimol near St Annes (from where we get Kilgrimol Gardens) where again no one survived.
However, for 50 years or more afterwards, the submerged graveyard of Kilgrimol church periodically deposited coffins of decaying bodies on the beach the day after a storm. As they were disturbed from their graves, they rose to the surface to be washed ashore. Much to the horror of any innocent person walking their dog on the beach the next morning. (Although their dogs were probably happy with all the free bones!!)
The Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe
And finally Singleton Thorpe. It was sited off Rossall, and it’s cobbled road can be seen heading into the waves at a Neap Tide (the lowest tide of the year). David tells us that his uncle walked it many years ago.
Apparently just four survivors escaped from there who moved seven miles inland, dropping the word Thorpe and setting up what we now know as Singleton. The clue is allegedly in the name. The village was the “ton” (or dialect for village), on the shingle beach, hence S(h)ingleton Thorpe, or the village on the shingle beach.
Mentioned in the Domesday Book
Singleton is nowhere near a shingle beach, hence its name perhaps belies it’s more westerly origins. The villages of Singleton and Singleton Thorpe, were actually both mentioned in the Domesday Book, so obviously the inland village was already established before the inundation of the mid 1500’s. Although maybe there was a connection between the two places which gave rise to them having the same names. (Did people from Singleton move to the coast at Singleton Thorpe, only to be later flooded out?)
To this day, the superstitious fishermen of Fleetwood will return immediately to port if they think they hear the bells of Singleton Thorpe church, tolling from under the waves.
Among other things, David Evans does tours of the Cleveleys Cottage Exhibition site around the West Drive area as part of Heritage Weekend. Despite it’s world importance and (allegedly) world’s first status, little is written or known about it. Nor is it listed in any form at all, despite it’s strong links to Sir Edward Lutyens.
A metal detectorist called James added some more information about the lost village of Singleton Thorpe.
“It’s strongly indicated that in 1532 where South Blackpool/Squires Gate is now, the sea rapidly surged inland for some distance. The village of Waddam Thorpe was destroyed in the inundation and there is no record of any survivors. The original building at the site of Rossall School was also lost way back then. After some time the sea finally receded to the coast line we are used to at present.
“A similar thing is said to have happened at Cleveleys in 1555, though the records are not clear of the exact date. 1554/1558 is also cited. The sea surged upon the land destroying the village of Singleton Thorpe, but unlike at Waddam Thorp, most of the villagers escaped. They went to live at Singleton – some 7 miles inland.
“It’s been suggested that the “villages” were no more than a farm or two which is why hard evidence is difficult to find. There’s also rumour of a series of violent storms happening at this time.”
Information from the Past
Ken Emery from Wyre Archaeology gave a talk about the Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe at the Rossall Beach Group Meeting (more on that below). His historical quotes and information from over the years gave a fascinating insight into the devastation caused by the sea over hundreds of years.
Remember that this is a time long before the modern concrete sea defences which we are so familiar with today. It was a time when the power of the sea went unchecked and did whatever damage it liked.
Inundation of 1532
The inundation of 1532 was said to have swept inland for up to 2 miles. It swept away the original Rossall Grange and the village of Wadham Thorpe at South Shore Blackpool/Squires Gate.
Inundation of 1555 and the loss of Singleton Thorpe
In 1555 another inundation swept inland, documented by a Victorian clergyman called Rev Thornber. He took his source from Dodsworth who reputedly said that there was an ‘eruption’ of the sea. Rossall Grange and the village of Singleton Thorpe were swept away by the sea. Survivors fled to erect their tents at Singleton.
Now although Rev Thornber was a Victorian historian who reputedly liked his Port and pleasures of the flesh (!) he goes on to describe what sounds like we’d describe as the conditions of a tsunami. An inundation which swept as far across land as the River Wyre. Twenty six other place names were lost off the map at this time. That substantiates the theory of it really being a tsunami. Whatever, it was it was certainly a storm of significant force.
In 1893 an expedition was led by the editor of the then Blackpool Times, who went out at a low spring tide to look for evidence. Of course he found the submerged forest. But he also found evidence of building foundations including a trench, cobble stones, lime mixes and rafters.
As these were all built in straight lines with defined angles they were certainly evidence of a building. There’s every reason to believe that it was part of a bigger village or area of habitation.
The area is also marked Singleton Skeer on maritime maps.
Talk about the Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe
On 12 October 2016, Rossall Beach Residents & Community Group held a meeting with speaker Ken Emery from Wyre Archaeology Group. An unprecedented number of people attended, to hear about the lost village of Singleton Thorpe.
It was a fascinating evening. Contributions came both from local historians and members of the public who all chipped in with their own information, sightings and anecdotes.
One of the Wyre Archaeology group members talked about an excavation they’d carried out. On a low neap tide in April 2016 they’d been out on the beach to excavate, and found the remains of houses and habitation.
Re-Run of the Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe
The talk was so successful that the Rossall Beach Group asked Wyre Archaeology back to do another talk. This time photos and evidence accompanied lots of information from the guest speaker and the audience. Even at the end of a fascinating hour, the jury was still out about whether the Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe really did exist!
Where is the Sunken Village of Singleton Thorpe?
You’ll hear various descriptions of where the lost village of Singleton Thorpe is believed to be – all in the vague area of ‘Rossall’.
One of the members of Wyre Archaeology Group who’d been out digging at low tide in April 2016 was at the Rossall Beach Group meeting.
He explained that they’d gone out to the shore line directly in front of the seafront car parking area off Rossall Promenade at Cleveleys, known as Rossall Beach. They’d found A frames and evidence of buildings submerged in the beach.
What lies under the sand off Rossall Beach?
Brian Hughes, also a member of Wyre Archaeology, penned an article about Singleton Thorpe on his ‘Wyre Antiquarian’ website in 2008. There he explains:
“…traced the foundations of what was evidently the wall of a house.” The wall, true to the construction of mediaeval random-build houses, consisted of: “…rough lime mixed with large cobblestones…the stones getting smaller towards the top…It measured about 22 feet in length, though we could not find a clear and unmistakable finish to it at one end.”
This wasn’t the only building, however: “We found in another place, about 150 yards from the fallen rafter, the same evidence of some sort of building. The rubble foundation, and the coarse lime and pebble mixture upon it was plainly visible; but it was too near the waves to follow it to the end.”
Marion McClintock, MBE, BA, has worked for the whole of her professional life in higher education, including more than forty years at Lancaster University, where she was Academic Registrar from 1994 to 2006. She’s currently Honorary Archivist and Honorary Fellow of the University, as well as pursuing historical and related pursuits in Lancashire and Cumbria.
Marion tells us “I think what is being talked about is a bog quake. Because the peat bogs, including salt marshes and mud flats, were so unstable, at times (and probably under pressures of tide and wind not recorded) they would erupt to a great height and then fall down as rapidly. It would be followed by extensive flooding. There was one, I seem to remember, in 1701 that was particularly memorable.
“To some extent they occur to this day. The most recent at Pilling being in about 1980, although mostly controlled by sea walls and other contrivances.”
Apparently these bog quakes are also known as bog bursts.
At very low tide along Cleveleys beach there are also remains of petrified forest to be found. These have been dated back to the Ice Age. Whether the tree stumps and trunks can be seen depends on beach levels.
Piece of the petrified forest at Cleveleys. Photo: Andy Ball
Closer to shore and lost in more recent inundations, Higher Carr farm was at the seaward end of Carr Gate. It’s now lost to the sea, but is visible on Victorian photographs.
Lower Carr farm was where Carr Gate and Thornton Gate meet at the grassed area known locally as the duck pond.
If you’ve got anything to add to this, by all means get in touch and share what you know. Just email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
Links to external websites
Wyre Archaeology Group on Singleton Thorpe
The History of Blackpool by Nick Moore
History of the Fylde of Lancashire by John Porter, written in 1876. This takes you from the ancient Britons, Romans, Anglo Saxons and Danes to Queen Victoria, looking at all the local places in turn.
The view of Cleveleys promenade from the beach. Did people once live in this spot?
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