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Extracts From
North Meols to
South Ribble
By John Cotterall

Published in 1985 By Neil Richardson ISBN 0 907511 89 9
Extracts published for reference only - All rights reserved

Buy North Meols to South Ribble Now
North Meols to South Ribble

Introduction

When all England is aloste,
Where so safe as in Chryste's Croft?
Where do you think Chryste's croft to be
But between Ribble and Moerse?

There are far worse places in which to live than between Liverpool and Preston - that is the message of the old Domesday doggerel. When it had been cleared the land was fertile and the climate equitable, and the nearer to the coast you were, the greater chance there was of a livelihood without involvement in the fightings and frustrations of busier parts of the country. "Leave us in peace," said the Sandgrounders - the folk born between the Alt and the Astland (Douglas).

The quietest, most remote, and therefore, the least written about part of "Chryste's Croft" has always been the northern part - the coastal strip from Southport to Preston - and those who have been busy dispelling the impression that Lancashire has nothing to offer but chimneys, derelict terraced houses, neglected canals and slag heaps have invariably extolled the virtues of the Ribble Valley, the Fylde and Lancaster rather than Banks, Penwortham, Tarleton and Longton.

 

Chapter 1
Well adapted to the Production of almost every vegetable


Dense forests from Penwortham to the Dee extended inland to a line through Longton, Rufford and Ormskirk - that is the picture given by the earliest maps of the area called Belisima by the Romans.

North of Southport, we still have North Meols - "nine miles long with the sea on one side and the mosses and marshes of Scarisbrick and Halsall fringing Martin Mere, on the other". (Meols - Scandinavian for a "sand hill" with "North" to distinguish it from the earlier Norse settlement on the Wirral - pronounced "Mells".) The Anglo-Saxon chronicle recalls the conquest of North Meols in 923 by the English King and its transfer from Northumbria to Mercia. At the time of the Norman conquest there were only 10,000-12,000 people living in the area between the Mersey and the Ribble. Ecclesiastical allegiance was to Lichfield until the foundation of the Chester Diocese in 1541.

Even though the coastline was cut off from the inland areas by marsh and bog, Danes and Norsemen "who infested the Irish Sea during the century preceding the Norman invasion" found it easy to land - particularly via the Alt and Douglas. The pre conquest name was Otegrimele and there were five manors. Charles Leigh commented in 1700 on the wilderness of North Meols and the small number of people. "It is little more cultivated than the deserts of Arabia" he said.

To stand in the centre of the area, before 1700, was literally a case of "water, water, everywhere!" The Ribble Estuary, far narrower than now, to the left; behind you the sea at what is now Southport - coming in further than we realise. There was enough sea in the early days of the resort to attract more visitors than Blackpool. Ahead was the Douglas and, ultimately, the Ribble. To the right, up to 1849, was Martin Mere, in its day one of the largest lakes in England - bigger than Windermere, shallow but with three islands; an area of 3,000 acres with a circumference of 18 miles from Crossens to Rufford. Originally it extended so much into North Meols at one point it was separated from the sea only by a narrow neck of land.

One writer has pointed out that by the time you reach Hesketh Bank and Tarleton you had almost entered two "moated" villages - "moats" in the form of the Douglas, the Ribble and Martin Mere, with the only permanent road out eastwards through Sollom and Rufford, and with even that liable to occasional flooding.

Thomas Fleetwood of Bank Hall was the first to attempt drainage. "A man truly ingenious, urbane and pleasant" says the Latin inscription in St Cuthbert's Church. "By means of a sluice communication with the adjoining sea, he drained and made arable the immense Meer of Martin - an enterprise which former generations dare not attempt." A desire to improve the land - and a weariness with the arguments about rights relating to the mere - spurred him on, and authority to do the work came from an Act of Parliament of 1692. two thousand labourers were employed and, amongst other things, they found a dug out canoe and the antlers of a red deer - 8,000 years old. The items are on display in the Botanic Gardens Museum.

The drainage and cultivation caused a shrinkage of the low ying peat surface and the increasing deposit of marine silt on the foreshore raised the level of the estuary channel.Mud and silt from Liverpool Bay also chocked the outfall and high seas - perticularly in 1755 - ruined what Fleetwood had attempted. In 1781, through the initiative of Thomas Eccleston, John Gilbert, Enginner of the Bridgewater Canal, was brought in to construct a tripple set of gates between the lake exit and the Crossens Sluice on the right of the road leading to Banks village. Fleetwood had been ahead of his time; Gilbert was of the generation bringing about agricultural improvements in tandem with the industrial revolution going on in the towns.

Many acres of land were reclaimed and Eccleston received the gold medal of "The Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacture & Commerce". Storms in 1813 threatened Gilbert's outer gates and they were replaced by cast iron cylinders with valves operated in conjunction with the pumping station. In the area he owned, Thomas Hesketh of Rufford built a drainage reservoir into which water was directed for pumping into the sluice by a steam engine.

The drainage of Martin Mere thus took 150 years and, since then, the local scenery has been man-made. A bigger drainage scheme came into operation in 1961 with a new pumping station. It was, at the time, the third largest of its kind in the country, costing £1,000,000 and serving 36,000 acres. 32 miles of channel were excavated and 35 new bridges built. When Princess Alexandra opened the scheme, it was heralded as "a prototype for modern land drainage schemes where the water table is to be controlled in relation to agricultural operations." "Stop the pumps here," they tell you at the pumping station "and Martin Mere would be back again in no time".

The boulder from Dumfiesshire on display across the road from the pumping station and the Eskdale granite and mountain limestone boulders in Crossens churchyard are reminders of the Ice Age earth movements which have resulted in the coastline from the Ribble to the suburban fringe of Merseyside being labelled the richest agricultural area of Lancashire. "Boulder clay deposits between Crossens and Hesketh Bank," says William Ashton in The Battle of Land and Sea "are similar to those near Llandudno, Colwyn Bay and the Clwyd Valley on the one hand and Blackpool and Fleetwood on the other".

This boulder clay is interlaid with sand and peat and, according to Hall and Folland in Soils of Lancashire, the country's most extensive deposit of peat "extends in a cresent south of the Ribble from Banks and Tarleton in the north and to Maghull in the south with easterly extensions to Rufford and Tarlescough " - near the Martin Mere wildfowl establishment. There is also a large isolated area of peat on Longton Moss. The peat varies in depth from three to nine feet and it is covered, particularly on Tarleton Moss and sporadically between Churchtown and Tarlescough, by shallow raised moss peat.

With its topping of sandy loam the peat is "well adapted to the production of almost every vegetable that has yet been brought under cultivation" according to John Holt in 1795. "It is impossible to estimate," he said, "the advantage which might be obtained by improved and superior management." Before chemical fertilisers, the boulder clay from under the surface and the sea sludge from the Ribble were spread over the land as a substitute for the "marling" dug from the pits in other parts of the country.

Once drained and cultivated, the peat areas have lived up to John Holt's prophecy and have become very fertile. Market Gardens have developed as land has become available from trhe large estates. There is a mild coastal climate but it is the soil rather than the weather which is the main reason for the specialisation which now exists. The variety in what is grown arises from local variations in the type of soil. Clay was, in the past, used for brick making - Brick Kiln Lane in Banks is a reminder of this - and stones from the deposit, rounded by ice and water, were useful for cobble stone pavements and housebuilding in Churchtown.

It was on the ridge of boulder clay going through Burscough - now the A59 - that the Romans travelled north. The country westward was so wild and isolated that they generally avoided any excursions into it, except to establish crossings of the Douglass at Rufford and Tarleton. Any travel they undertook within the area seems to have been along the side of the estuary.

Because of this lack of development, travelling from Southport to Preston - even in the early 1800's - was via badly maintained lanes as far as Tarleton, where you could join the slightly better Liverpool/Preston turnpike road, which was in existanceas early as 1777. It is prominant on the map of 1786 and was 30 miles long - three times the length of other Lancashire turnpikes. In the Tarleton/Preston stretch, the toll centres were at Tarleton, Bretherton and Penwortham. But surfaces were not good and shire horses had to leave Tarleton as early as 2:00am to be at Preston Market for the 5:00am opening.

An 1838 report suggests that there were even greater problems in the Crossens/Tarleton lanes leading to the turnpike. A corresponding to the present-day Marsh Lane in Banks (until fairly recently called Shore Rd) has existed for seven centuries but the original track was further inland because of the extent of the sea shore. Such roads, according to the report, were "so sloughy that horses drag loads of produce from Preston market over so-called roads in Banks with broad appendages to their feet called pattens to prevent them sinking knee-deep".

The only direct coach service between Southport and Preston was begun in July 1833 by H Scofield, with coaches leaving the Hesketh Arms, Churchtown, every Tuesday and Thursday at 8:00am and at 6:00am on Saturday. The return was from the New Cock Inn on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 4:00pm. As late as 11th February 1888, the Preston Guardian reported that "the portion of the main Southport to Preston road between Banks and Tarleton is in a very unsafe and neglected condition owing to the rough materials used on the pavement and to the wide drains which run almost the entire length of the road andto want of proper and sufficient fencing to protect the traffic along the road from the ditches." Mr Hodge, Surveyor of Roads, who wrote the report quoted in the paper, described Southport as "moated off". "This delightful watering place," he said, "is stated to be the only town in the Kingdom that is specified on the cyclists' map as being only approachable by railway!"

And even the railway was late in the day in serving Southport and Preston. The first part of the Liverpool/Southport line was opened as early as June 1848;Stephenson died in the August. The link operated from 1855 with an extension to Manchester six years later. But is was 1878 before the Southport to Preston linestarted to function and then only as far as Hesketh Bank. The full line was not ready until 1882. The West Lancashire Railway, brainchild of the Southport city fathers who feared the monopoly of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, was completed eleven years after approval, yet the line only operated under its own steam for eight years. It went bankrupt because the line was too short to be viable; there was not enough commuter traffic and the area served by the line did not develop as it might have done.

A branch was constructed from Longton to the Blackburn line but, because the company was so impecunious, it was impossible to buy new rolling stock for the extended service. The line, therefore, had the distinction of using some second-hand carriages and engines - yellow with dark green edging - from the very progressive London, Brighton & South Coast Railway. There was even the suggestion of developing Crossens as a west coast Grimsby. But - and it is again an indication of the quietness of the area - the line had the dubious distinction of being mentioned in the Beeching Report, eventually closing in 1964. Poor as business might have appeared to Dr Beeching, the railway was a particular help to children travelling to and from school and to holiday makers coming to Southport from Scotland.

Because the area was so untouched by the transport revolution and the new roads, the waterways - the Ribble, the Douglas and with it the Leeds Liverpool Canal - were important.

Chapter 2
A River of Romance and an Interesting Waterway


Rising near Rivington, the Douglas flows via Horwich and Blackrod to Wigan, where it passes through a coalfield. Passing through Parbold and Rufford to Tarleton, the Douglass eneters the Ribble Estuary at Hesketh Bank opposite Freckleton Naze. A mile from Tarleton, the Douglass is joined by the Yarrow, which rises on Rivington Moor and passes through Duxbury Park, near Chorley, Eccleston and Croston. Water from Martin Mere also flowed into the Douglas. It has, therefore, always been a vital outlet for the drainage of a large part of Lancashire.

The lower reaches of the Douglas have traditionally been called the "Asland" ("Ash-Land"), a title aptly describing the hazels and nuts once common along the river bank. These reaches were hiding places for large serpents or pythons, Vikings sailed here, but a claim that is said to be without foundation is that "Asland" is really "Dubglass" in the tales of King Arthur. There is a relevant passage in Tennyson:

Lancelot spoke
And answered him in full, as having been
With Arthur in the fight which, all day long,
Raged by the white mouth of the violent Clem;
And in the four wild battles by the shore
Of Douglas.

"The Douglas," says one of the King Arthur/river Douglas enthusiasts, "from its birth in Rivington Pike to its being swallowed up by Old Father Neptune to me has a glamour of its own which nought can foil."

Scholars, however, dismiss this special claim to fame as being "derived from a passage in the spurious Welsh compilation of the legends". "The true character of the presumed Arthurian victorieson the Douglas have not been demonstrated with such certainty as to obtain universal assent" says another authority.

Almost a river of romance, and certainly a river upon which the area depends for its water safety, the Douglas has been vital to the prosperity of Tarleton and Hesketh Bank. There are records from the 1500's concerning iron, salt, oats, wheat, sacks of peas and herrings coming ashore from the banks of the Douglas. Thanks to the ingenuity of Thomas Steeres, one of the first Englishmen to enter the full-time profession of civil engineering, work started in 1719 to make the Douglas navigable for small ships to and from the Wigan coalfield. "The making of this river navigable from the River Ribble to a place called Mirey Lane End in the township of Wigan will be very beneficial to trade, advantageous to the poor and convenient for the carriage of coals, cannel, stone, slate and other goods and merchandise," said the preamble to the Act of Parliament authorising the work, which was not approved without opposition. The Bill was sponsored by William Squire and Thomas Steeres, "Gentlemen of Liverpool", and the freight rates were 2/6d a ton.

In 1715 Steeres had built Liverpool's first dock and he was also involved in navigation schemes for the Mersey, the Irwell, the Weaver and the Newry Canal in his native Ireland. The Douglas development was one of the many schemes for making rivers navigable associated with the South Sea Bubble,. The work was achieved with difficulty - the first surveys had been carried out in 1711 but it was 1742 before it was ready for shipping; there were "financial difficulties with more than a suspicion of fraud". In addition to accidents, navigators' lives were lost through drinking bouts and disease. The area of Plox Brow - down Coe Lane, opposite St Mary's (Tarleton) and turn right - was where the labourers lived rough. When the river became navigable, caroges were transferred to larger vessels at the enterance to the Ribble. These ocean going ships then sailed to Ireland and other ports in this country. Coal went, via the Ribble, to a quay near the foot of Fishergate, where it helped to meet the needs of the growing industrial activities of Preston.

However, the pioneering venture was overtaken in 1774, when Wigan was provided with more elaborate inland navigation by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Completed in 1781, long before the main canal was ready, the Rufford branch ran from Burscough to a junction with the Douglas at Tarleton - a distance of 7.5 miles. The final stretch takes over the original course of the river, with the new course coming along side the canal just above Tarleton. There are remains of an obsolete lock at Sollom. "The channel takes on the appearance of a Fenland Dyke through tall reeds," says one waterway writer. Canal and river merge, via a solid lock, about half a mile from Tarleton on the Hesketh Bank side.

One of the first actions of the Leeds and Liverpool company was to buy out the old River Douglas Navigation. The locking of the canal into the Douglas allowed schooners of 80 to 90 feet into the canal basin at Tarleton, where cargoes could be transfered to barges. One of the conditions of the takeover was that the canal company would continue to maintain the Douglas and its banks. In 1857 training walls were built between Hesketh Bank and the entrance of the Douglas into the Ribble. The stone for the walls came from Parbold.

By the early 1800's there was enough trade to justify a customs officer at Hesketh Bank and, in 1850, 100 vessels arrived with cargo from overseas - three times that number called in coastal trading activities. Coal came in from Wigan and gunpowder went there for the pits, together with iron for furnaces from Millom. "The coasting trade of the Douglas and the canal connected with it," said an 1891 report, "is considerable."

But an Act of 1855, imposing dues on shipping using the Douglas, was ultimatly to be the death knoll for the trade. The customs officer was withdrawn in 1859. However, sea-going activities still continue and the Shell Book of Inland Waterways describes the present day Tarleton Boatyard as "useful and catering mainly for sea-going craft". "The final lock falls to the tidal Douglas and is operable at high water; only 4 miles of the original 17.5 miles is now navigable," says the book.

 

Chapter 3
Often times I have crossed the sands


As well as using the waters of the Ribble and the Douglas, travellers in the coastal area between Southport and Preston found it helpful to reduce the length of their foot slogging journeys by fording the two rivers wherever risks were not too great. The journey from Chester to Lancaster was reduced by 28 miles by going over the river at Hesketh Bank rather than Preston.

Freckleton Naze was a point of departure from the northern bank and, in the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), the route across was to a point north east of Banks. The guide house was marked "Ball's Farm" on old maps and it can still be identified between Far Banks and Hundred End. Later, the crossing moved to Hesketh Bank and the guide house there became Whiteheads Hotel, later renamed the Hesketh Arms. Travellers waited there until the tide was right. Baron Albert Bussel of Penwortham, who died in 1186, owned land on both sides of the water, so the tradition of a ford thereabouts was long established.

In August 1644, 2,000 royalist trooups under Lords Goring and Molyneux, after defeat at Marston Moor, fled southwards over the river at the turn of the tide. In true Biblical fashion their pursuers - the Parliamentary forces commanded by Sir John Meldrum - were prevented from reaching them by the rising tide. Their deliverance was shortlived and Meldrum later routed the Royalists at Ormskirk. Cromwell knew the area; "its all enclosures and miry ground," he said.

The ford was used two hundred years later by the Reverend Charles Hesketh, who left Bispham on the 1st October 1835 with his wife and two ladies en route to take up the living of St Cuthbert's, North Meols. "We crossed the river," said the new Rector, "at Hesketh Bank Ford in the carriage and gig and carts full of furniture and live-stock. The cart with the live creatures, namely pigs, dogs, cats and poultry, stuck in the river but was got out in time." An 1842 publication confirms that at high water, the Ribble at Hesketh-with-Becconsall was a full three miles across but fordable when the tide was out. Guide Road, running from what was the Hesketh Arms to the river, still exists, showing the route followed. But the ford dissapeared in the 1850's with the building of embankments and the narrowing of the channel for navigation; with its dissappearance the importance of Becconsall declined.

There is a tombstone reminder in the Becconsall Lane churchyard, even though the Ribble would appear more treacherous than the Douglas (Astland), the smaller river could nevertheless claim the occasional life, experienced as the traveller might have been. Of James Blundell, drowned on 6th July 1844, a gravestone post says:

Often times I have crossed the sands,
And through the Ribble deep.
But I was found in Astland drowned,
Which caused me here to sleep.
It was God's will it should be so,
Some other way we all must go.

 

Chapter 4
Abram, Bond, Ball Blundell...


So much then for the area as a whole. What of the villages that comprise it?

On a journey along the coast from Southport to Preston, Banks is the fist port of call. The name Banks may have come from the mounds of earth behind which sea salt was trapped for use in the preservation of meat from cattle kept on the marshes. Or perhaps it came from embankments or "sea cops" built to protect the low-lying fields from the sea - all parts of the process of draining Martin Mere. In the early 1800's labourers came from Hesketh Rossall Estates and, probably helped by the Irish navvies who had worked on the canals, built what are now the outer banks. Despite the tons of stone they used, their work was ruined by an abnormally high tide one Sunday in 1834. The mark left by the sea water on that occasion can be seen on Bony Barn, which is between Far Banks (where you could swim at the beginning of the century) and Hundred End.

On 19th January 1863 there was further flooding right up to the Methodist Chapel in George Lane; a hole appeared in the bank on Hugh Ainscough's land near New Lane. "The Southport Visitor" reported gaps in the banks varying between one and forty yards. "The sea cop for about a mile beyond Crossens and opposite Banks," said the paper, presents a most dilapidated appearance." The brownside Houses and the farm run by the Ainscoughs were said to be in particular distress. Potatos, carrots, turnips and grain were lost and livestock affected.

Sir Charles Scarisbrick built new banks and 1,200 additional acres were enclosed. The most difficult problem was at Old Hollow - an area near the farm of the same name at the end of the private road which runs to the embankment at the right hand turn where New Lane Pace joins Marsh Lane. There is still water in the hollow to the landward side of the bank, where the final phase of the work was completed with difficulty and, eventually, with much rejoicing.

The pumping station mentioned earlier in connection with Martin Mere is in Ralph Wife's Lane. (Ralph was a smuggler whose wife perished from exposure here) Lanes with strange names are quite common - New Lane Pace and Sugar Hillock being typical examples. Until World War I, the Crossens Sluice, where the pumping station is located, was the focal point of the Banks fishing industry. Punts and open boats sailed from bridges over the sluice and larger boats were moored at Hesketh Bank, in the Crossens Channel or the Bog Hole near the Southport Pier. Extensive boat building went on in Bonds' Yard; the most popular boat was shallow, 30-40 feet long, with sails and a rounded stern. A survey shows that Crossens and Banks between them could muster a hundred fishermen in 1860.

 

Chapter 5
Rippling in the sunlight like a Lake of Emerald

A is for Access, B for Boundary; C for Celery and D for Drainage. That is a fair summary of what you can say about Hundred End.

The access is to the Ribble Marshes National Nature Reserve, "acquired in 1979 to protect the habitat of the many thousands of wadres, ducks, geese, gulls and tern which depend on its sandbanks, mudflats and salt marshes for feeding." There is a path at the Crossens pumping station on the Southern end of the 7 kilometer public footpath which marks the landward boundary of the Banks Marsh. The access to the Northern end of this path is at Hundred End. You become aware of the existence of the reserve at this point because of the notice board directing visitors, if they wish, back along Marsh Lane to Old Hollow Farm, where the reserve's full time warden has his headquarters.

The useful leaflet which the warden provides explains that visitors can walk along the green marsh - the vegitated salt marsh - providing they keep clear of the study sanctuary zone. The leaflet exudes vastness. The area itself is over 2000 hectaresin size; fifty to eighty thousand wading birds stop off each autumn en route from the Artic, where they breed, to Africa, where they winter. There are alkmost as many birds as people living in nearby Southport!. Knot, dunlin, bar-tailed god-wit rub shoulders - or wings - with oyster catchers, grey plovers and redshank. Thirty thousand of these waders stay over the winterand they are augmented by fifteen to twenty thousand wildfowl - widgeon, pink footed geese, teal and pin-tail. In the late spring, 6000 pairs of black headed gulls, 2000 pairs of redshank, 100 pairs of common redshank and 100 pairs of tern nest on the marshes.

B is for Boundary. Hudred End marks the division between the Hundreds of West Derby (which went down to the Mersey) and Leyland. English shires were divided into such hundreds from Anglo Saxon timesuntil the ninteenth century; in theory, each hundred consisted of 100 hides. The word "hide" is beautifully defined as, "The amount of earth which can be ploughed by one plough pulled by a team of oxen in one season." As soil was very light in some areas and heavy in others, hides and therefore hundreds, varied in size. Each hundred had its own court or moot, which met monthly to deal with local affairs and to apportion taxes.

For over a thousand years there was a gigantic boulder called the Snotterstone at Hundred End, marking the boundary. The local story is that it was sold by a council workman for £5 and might eventually come to light!

J A Perkins reports on the existencee, until quite recently, of a hundred stone at the entrance to Sutton Aavenue, which is off Hesketh Lane. The positioning of these stones was checked yearly under the authority of the Court Leet.

Skips of old tree trunks are commonly seen at Hundred End as a reminder that the present-day ploughing is still unearthing remnants of the vast forests which once covered the area.

C is for Celery. There was a station here on the old Southport/Preston line (the West Lancashire Railway) which was nicknamed Celery Junction. Mr Philips, who worked at the station and still lives in the old station-house, recalls problems in lighting the oil lamps when gales were blowing across the estuary. The days of the station - built originally to meet the needs of the tenants of Sir Thomas Fermor-Hesketh - were numbered as soon as motor lorries began to steal the cartage business for local farm produce.

The existence of the station was responsible for what little housing development there has been at Hundred End. At one time very few people visited the area because there was a bottomless pit(possibly dug in the hope of finding coal), where the Hesketh Moss Methodist Chapel is today, at the beginning of Moss Lane.

Some indication of the history of this chapel is found in a newspaper report of 22nd June 1901. "primitive Methodism," it says, "has a flourishing existance at Hesketh Moss and this view is substantiated in the laying of the memorial stones of the new chapel which took place on Tuesday afternoon. The scattered population of the toilers of the soil - and scattered they certainly are - tramp o'er the Moss and may come several miles to attend service at an old dilapidated building about a mile from Hundred End Station." This original chapel was built in 1863.

D, in the context of Hundred End, is for Drainage. When it took place inthe mid-1800's, two Roman coins (Vespasian pennies) were found, although there is no suggestion that there was ever a Roman settlement at Hundred End. As mentioned earlier, Roman armies, in subduing the county, avoided the dense woods and treacherous bogs of places like Hundred End by marching along the shore. In 1939 a stone hammer was unearthed; it was probably 4,000 years old and used to help clear forest areas for cultivation.

Hesketh is the next stop along Marsh Lane from Hundred End. The present day map, showing Hesketh New Marsh and Hesketh Old Marsh, is a reminder that a significant amount of reclamation has taken place. "The outer sea bank." said one writer, after a reclamation scheme had been completed, "will now be above a mile from where a vessel was, within living memory, washed onto the sea bank near a farm called Dunkirk." This wa, presumably, in the area of the present New Manor Farm. The inner sea bank, referred to locally as the "old Bank", was built in 1860 and a similar lentgh, three quarters of a mile further out in the estuary, between 1880 and 1884. Before the reclamation, Hesketh and Becconsall were right on top of the estuary.

Names associated with the reclamation are Dick Iddon and Dick Dytcher, and the teams they controlled included many itinerant Irish labourers. The building of the second embankment - undertaken, of course, by hand - was a particular battle with the sea and the favourite rendevous for the workers was the Hesketh Arms, now Mount Farm at the corner of Station Rd and Hesketh Lane, where pints were drawn in anticipation of the customers' arrival. It was the only Inn and a rowdy place at times. Later, the Becconsall was established and leased by the Southport Brewery Company. This inn was rebuilt in the 1920's after a fire.

Because of these visitors, the area enjoyed great prosperity and there was much through traffic. Before the land was reclaimed and given over to agriculture, it supported alot of game and provided for coursing events. Coaches came from one Hesketh Arms to another - from Rufford to Hesketh Bank. Two gamekeepers were kept busy and there was alot of salmon poaching, with crowds coming from Wigan and Preston. "Most people go by train to Hesketh Bank," says Bulpit, "and then walk hal a mile to the village of Hesketh." The crews of coasting vessels in the Douglas lived in Hesketh and spent money - some of which, it is suggested, was obtained from smuggling activities in the Isle Of Man. The visitors came "for bathing and marine recreation," and they were plentifully supplied with salmon and flounders." Even when Blackpool and Southport surpassed what Hesketh Sands could offer, the enclosure of the marshes and the West Lancashire Railway brought new prosperity.

Hesketh is part of Hesketh Bank, which was once two villages, Hesketh-with-Becconsall, (The Danes put "keth" at the end of a name to signify a landing place. Hence Tulketh and Hesketh.) Hesketh was the subordinate village to Becconsall, which is round the corner when the road takes a right hand turn into Station Road for Tarleton. This high ground at the south east corner of Hesketh is a continuation of the Tarleton Ridge and wwas once the only habitable part. Indeed, the word Becconsall means Beacons Hill and there is an artificial mound in the area, made to defend the fords across the river. This mound was crowned by an oratory, where a priest prayed for seafarers - when he was not supervising the firing of the beacon. Access is now off Station Road into The Brow. Here there are old cottages and a courtyard behind what was the Hesketh Arms, used by the coaches before or after going along Guide Road and the ford over the Ribble.

We have now reached the Douglass, and Hesketh Bank grew initially because it marks the point where the Ribble and the Douglas meet. Seafaring activities continued to the mid ninteenth century.

Until satisfactory sea defences were established, the village suffered from serious flooding. Sunday and Monday, 18th and 19th December 1720, were particularly disasterous, with lives and property lost because of the coincidence of a change of moon, a specially high tide and a severe storm. Flooding from the river or the mere was bad enough but the sea water brought salt with it which soured the ground. Collections taken in church under Letters Patent from the King were of little consolation in such circumstances. The point reached by the high tide on the 31st December 1833 used to indicated by an iron markeron the boundary wall of what was the Hesketh Arms, knocked in by one George Spencer. The experiences of that day in 1833 determined the height of the banks which were subsequently built.

Larger sea going vessels loaded and unloaded from barges at various pointsalong the mouth of the Douglas. Vessels could only enter and leave the Douglas on the spring tides, once a fortnight - and when that happened the scene was very impressive. "When they set sail," says Bulpit, ""they did so in such numbersthat they were like a fleet of His Majesty's Ships when they put to sea." Coal came from Wigan, via the Douglas and the sea, to the river Nile north of Southport, and a branch stream which went behind the Belle Vue Hotel in Lord Street West. Jigger flats went to North Wales for slate and to Ulverstone and Barrow and they also delivered bricks to Lytham.

Because of the seafaring activities in Becconsall, a branch of the Fleetwood family lived in Hesketh and William Fleetwood, boorn there, became the recorder of London in 1560. He was the author of a number of law books and a great legal celebrity of his day. He died in 1592.

The earliest reference to Hesketh Bank is in 1259. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the villagers worked mostly for the Lord of the Manor, with some common grazing land. By the mid sixteenth century it was possible to rent and lease land and stretches of the river bank.

Local History | See also Transcripts from Baines, 1836

 

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