Situated on the A59 between Liverpool and Preston, few villages in Lancashire can lay claim to such a diverse and interesting history as Burscough. The draining of Martin Mere and the building of the Leeds/Liverpool canal had a dramatic effect on the rural Burscough township of years gone by. The highly productive surrounding farmland had always been a major source of occupation to the local community but the draining of the Mere released yet more land for cultivation and was partly responsible for the growth of the Burscough we know today.
The completion of the Liverpool line of the Leeds/Liverpool canal in the late eighteenth century saw the development of Burscough Bridge into the most important canal town in Lancashire. Burscough became a bustling transport hub. It was a staging post for the packet boats that carried passengers between Liverpool and Wigan, some of whom would transfer to the stagecoaches travelling along the Turnpike Road to Preston and the North.
The traffic on the canal continued to grow in the nineteenth century. It was heavy and varied. Boats carried coal from the Lancashire coalfields through Burscough on the way to the Liverpool docks and brought commodities for the fledgling industries that sprang up around the canal, such as imported grain for Ainscough’s Flour Mill.
Manure was brought from the dray horses and middens of Liverpool and dropped off at the muck quays along the canal, then used to facilitate the reclaimed farmlands of South West Lancashire and further improve the area’s agricultural output. Burscough wharf was at the centre of this trade. The Wharf Buildings were purpose-built as a veterinary centre for the horses that pulled barges along the canal. The old stables, canal cottage, weighbridge, provender and chop house, barns, warehouse, harness rooms and offices can all be identified.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the canal to Burscough at that time. Much of its employment was dependent on the canal and the industries along its bank. Religion, dialect, customs and much more, were influenced by the boat people who made up so much of the local population. Even the coming of the railways, in the mid-nineteenth century, did not have an immediate catastrophic effect. The Leeds/Liverpool Canal, the largest and most diverse canal in Britain, was still carrying nearly 2.5 million tons of cargo in 1906. In fact, Burscough Bridge gained in importance, sited as it was at the junction of two mainline railways which only served to encourage the manufacturing industry to locate in the area.
The redevelopment of Burscough Wharf has since created a new chapter in the economic viability of the town centre and now acts as a focal point for both the local community and visitors to the area.