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The Parish of Burscough
in the County of
-- Lancashire --

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Burscough is a village about 3 miles north of the town of Ormskirk. Although small it has several interesting phases in it's past which have shaped the village as it is today.

The name Burscough is thought to be of Viking origin – Burh-skogr which means 'fortress in the woods'.

Burscough Priory

The earliest mention of Burscough is about 1189 when Burscough Priory was founded by Robert Fitz-Henry, Lord of Lathom for Augustinian canons. The Priory survived until it was dissolved c.1536 by Henry VIII although some remains still exist (pictured below). The Priory bells were removed to Ormskirk Parish Church where a Tower had to be built to house them as the existing steeple was not strong enough to hold them. Thus Ormskirk Parish Church became one of only 3 or 4 Churches in England to boast both tower and steeple. Although no longer in use, one of the Priory bells is still on display at the back of Ormskirk Parish Church.

The Ruins of Burscough Priory
The Ruins of Burscough Priory

The Canons at Burscough Priory were also responsible for the 'market town' status of Ormskirk as in 1286 they obtained the 'grant of a market and five days' fair' for Ormskirk from Edward 1.

Martin Mere

Burscough has always existed primarily as a rural farming community but it's boundaries were restricted by a huge lake to the north known as Martin Mere. Martin Mere was formed at the end of the last ice age and in a map dated 1579 stretched over an enormous area from Rufford in the east to Churchtown in the west and Holmeswood/Mere Brow in the north to Scarisbrick and Tarlscough in the south. Several attempts to drain this lake were made – in the 1690s &1780s using ditching and channels with limited success and then finally, in the mid 19th century, steam pumping provided the answer to keeping the water at bay. The remains of this lake at Martin Mere are now the site of Martin Mere Wetlands Centre where visitors can see many and varied birds and wildlife attracted by the wetlands that remain.

Martin Mere Martin Mere
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved] © Copyright Andrew Huggett and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Leeds Liverpool Canal

With the draining of Martin Mere came the building of the Leeds Liverpool Canal right through Burscough in the late 18th century. This had a dramatic effect on the village with Burscough Bridge becoming one of the most important canal towns in Lancashire. Burscough became a staging post for both passengers and goods. The impact on the village cannot be underestimated with many local agricultural workers turning to the canals for work and several 'canal families' who worked the waterways for generations can trace their roots to Burscough and the surrounding areas. The canal wharf is still there and, after many years of neglect, has recently been redeveloped as an attractive craft and shopping area.

The Leeds Liverpool Canal in Burscough
The Leeds Liverpool Canal in Burscough

If you are searching for canal ancestors visit this excellent site hosted by Ormskirk & District Family History Society,

The Railways

As well as the canals Burscough was also blessed with 2 railway stations – Burscough Bridge carrying north/south traffic from Liverpool to Preston and Burscough Junction carrying east/west traffic from Manchester to the coast at Southport. Until the 'Beeching' cuts in rail services in the 1960s these stations were 'joined' by a track called the the Burscough curves which enabled travellers to change travel direction without walking the mile between the two stations.

Burscough Today

With such a rich and interesting history Burscough has developed into an attractive and independent village. It still has the canal which is now a leisure attraction, both railway stations still in operation (although without that convenient link of the Burscough Curves) and the village High Street is surviving despite the influx of supermarkets.

Burscough High Street
Burscough High Street
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