Area: 2,012 Hectacres.....Population: 8,391
Situated on the A59 trunk road midway between Liverpool and Preston, few villages in Lancashire can lay claim to such a diverse and interesting history as Burscough, few can claim such an influential role in the industrial development of the county over the past three centuries, however, it remains a role that has not always been convincingly acknowledged.
The draining of Martin Mere and the building of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal had a dramatic effect on the rural Burscough township of years gone by. The highly productive 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 and 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 centre, it was a staging post for the packet boats that carried passengers between Liverpool and Wigan, some of whom would transfer to the stage coaches 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 fertilise the reclaimed farmlands of South West Lancashire and further improve the area's agricultural output.
Communities sprang up in Burscough and at New Lane, Crabtree, Top Locks and Ring O'Bells to house the boatmen and their families, many of whom came from South West Lancashire. Burscough was home to the provender stores which delivered proven and hay to the stables along the canal.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the canal to Burscough at that time. Much of its employment was dependant on the canal and the industries along its banks. 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 and Liverpool Canal, the longest 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 manufacturing industry to locate in the area.
The agricultural land of South West Lancashire was to prove crucial in feeding the rapidly expanding populations of the cotton towns of central Lancashire and Burscough became the chief supply route. At one time the loaded wagons of potatoes and brassicas would stretch a mile long between Burscough Town and the railway sidings of James Martland Ltd.
Still a focal point of transport routes, Burscough continued to thrive. For many of the passenger trains travelling between Liverpool and Scotland, Burscough Junction and Preston were the only stopping places before reaching Carlisle. In 1914 it was reported that over 100 trains a day were calling at Burscough Junction Station. Although the twentieth century has gradually seen the demise of goods transport by canal and rail, the conversion to road haulage was taken up with enthusiasm locally and many such companies still operate from Burscough.
Burscough, always fiercely independent, with its own clearly separate identity, and, along with Lathom, its own local governing council, saw much of that independence threatened by the amalgamation with Ormskirk in the 1930s, a development even now deeply resented by many residents old enough to remember.
During the Second World War Burscough became a significant military centre when the Royal Naval Air Station was built over a large tract of agricultural land to the west of Burscough Town. Camps were set up to accommodate station personnel and the Ordnance Depot was augmented to become a vital repair and maintenance workshop supporting operational units.
Post war housing has occupied much of the open space that divided Burscough Town and Burscough Bridge and seen the development of virtually a small town, now referred to more often than not by the all-embracing name, 'Burscough.'
Although much of the manufacturing industry that arrived with the canal and the railways has now disappeared, new industrial estates have sprung up, the productive agricultural farmland remains, and Burscough will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in the economy of South West Lancashire.