Articles, records and resources relating to the history of the Lancashire town of Preston
Barley, beer and the Lancaster Canal
Nineteenth-century Preston is commonly portrayed as a cotton town, most famously by Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times published in 1854. That’s how it is presented in the most recent history of the town in which, quite rightly given the limits of space, the chapters on that century are devoted principally to the cotton industry. 
And yet early in the century the town’s residents might not have recognised the portrayal. Preston was still the market town for the villages and small towns for miles around. Indeed, many of the town’s new residents came from those villages. An indicator of the importance of agriculture to the town was the opening of the Corn Exchange in 1824. The Preston historian Nigel Morgan used to remark that the relative importance of agriculture and textiles at this period was perhaps shown by the fact that the town got a corn not a cotton exchange.
When the Lancaster Canal arrived in Preston at the end of the 18th century it terminated at the bottom end of Friargate. Along with the canal came the cotton mills of John Horrocks, serviced by a colony of handloom weavers, operating from the cottages that sprang up around the district. The town’s first cotton mill nearby on Moor Lane had opened shortly before the arrival of the canal.
What is not generally noticed is the enterprise that the canal basin principally served: the Maudland Maltkilns that sat square on to the head of the basin. It can be seen clearly on the map (above right). The building was already there when Shakeshaft’s map of the town appeared in 1809; there was no sign of it on Langs’s map of 1774 (its position is superimposed on that map above left).
The town’s rapidly increasing population and the rise in the number of public houses to serve the thirsty workers called for vast quantities of malted barley to supply the town’s brewers. There had long been several malt kilns in the town: the court leet records supply examples.  But these were operated on a domestic scale of production, whereas the Maudlands Maltkilns enterprise mirrored the scale of its neighbouring cotton mills and could meet the burgeoning demand of the town’s brewers.
The farmers of the Fylde supplied the barley, the Lancaster Canal transported it by the barge load and the Maudland Maltkilns processed it for the town’s brewers. And as the town grew as the century progressed public houses proliferated, and with this growth the demand for malted barley would have spiralled. By the time of the first reliable trade directory in 1818 there were 70 pubs listed in the town, and possibly several more small unlisted beer houses. 
The broad sweep of the Lancaster Canal as it contoured its way from Preston to Garstang gave the Fylde’s farmers access to the perfect transport link to Preston at a time when the roads from the Fylde were notoriously bad, ‘At this time the highway to Blackpool was unpaved, thus being in winter and often in a rainy summer almost impassable’.  The canal took their barley directly to the malt kilns at its first Preston terminus.
The state of the roads into the town was still bad half way through the 19th century, prompting complaint about the state of Maudland Road from one of the early owners of the Maudland Maltkilns, John Noble (he was living in Maudland Road by the malt kilns at the time of the 1841 census and later kept the Bridge Inn across the road):
The road … is frequently used for trucks and carts, and will be used for large waggons from the Preston and Wyre Railway. In the winter months the thoroughfare is in such a state as to be ancle deep in mud, and in the course of January last, a country party, who were returning to the town, driving at the rate of about four miles an hour only, were upset in consequence of the deep ruts. One of the party was hurt and obliged to be put to bed; and another, who was a county surveyor, said that if it had been a road in his neighbourhood it would have been indicted. He had seen an indictment preferred against a road which was not near as bad. 
As the town’s population swelled rapidly through the course of the 19th century so did the demand for beer, witnessed by the rapid proliferation in public houses. Along with the demand for beer went the demand for malted barley, with the Maudland Maltkilns expanding to keep the town’s brewers supplied.
The Maudlands district had continued to develop and now contained half of the town’s cotton mills, as an 1852 election report for St Peter’s ward demonstrates. It looked as if the sitting members would be returned uncontested. Opponents then put up Noble [the Maudlands maltster] against them. This scared the cotton lords: ‘… many of the “cottonocracy” … now began to stir, probably thinking that the ward, which has within its boundaries half the mills in the town, ought to continue to have as heretofore its whole six representative members of the staple trade.’ The cotton lords won. 
The extent of the operation at Maudland is shown by the auction notice for the enterprise in 1844 :
The growth in the town’s brewing industry is shown by the fact that in an 1851 trade directory for Preston under the heading of ‘Hotels, Inns and Taverns’ there were 165 entries with a further 160 premises listed as beer houses.  The Maudland Maltkilns continued to expand. The auction notice above mentions a single malt tower, by the time of the first Ordnance Survey map of the town (below) two more towers had been built on the site.
Local farmers could not supply the demand for barley and shiploads were being brought in from Ireland. A cargo of 210 barrels of barley for the Maudland Maltkilns arrived from Dundalk in 1832.  And in 1850 came the following report:
Vessel dismasted — The sloop Chamberlain, of this port [Preston], the property of Mr Thomas Smith, ship carpenter, had to anchor inside Taylor’s Bank, near the Mersey, on Thursday week, with loss of mast, and was aground at low water. The crew were all saved. She was laden with barley, for Mr John Noble. She was towed by a Liverpool tug to Lytham, and by the steamer Alice to Preston, on Monday last. 
The 1861 census records the four malt kilns as belonging to the brewers Messrs Matthew Brown and Son and Maudland Cottage, the former maltster’s residence, as now occupied by Brown’s bookkeeper and his family.  The maltkilns were still operating in 1882, according to Barrett’s business directory for that year, the operation now listed as M. Brown & Co Ltd.  No reference to malt kilns in the Maudland district is found in Seeds 1904 Preston directory.  Later maps tell the story of the site’s decline.
4 thoughts on “Barley, beer and the Lancaster Canal”
Excellent article thank you. I have often wondered of the purpose of that small arm off the main line of the canal.
Thanks for the kind words, Barney
My father used to collect brewers grains from the numerous brew houses that were in Preston in the 1930s for cattle feed. . That was before the bigger brewers such as Catterall and Swarbrick (C&S), Thwaites and Matthew Brown started to provide beer for the public houses. Prior to then the grains were thrown away. The brew houses supplied beer to smaller public houses throughout the town. Hope all this makes sense.
Recycling is nothing new then, William. Thanks for the contribution.