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. [1]

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.

Sections of Lang's map of Preston Lancashire UK of 1825 (left) and Baines's map of Preston of 1825
Fig. 1. Lang’s map of 1774 (left) and Baines’s map of 1825 (right)

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).

Related articles:
John Noble — the Maudlands maltster
Frenchwood Tannery — another agriculture-related enterprise was developing at the same time as the Maudland Maltkilns
And more on the history of the district:
Irish ghettoes in 19th-century Preston
Victorian Preston’s ‘worst slum’

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. [2] 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. [3]

Map of Preston Lancashire UK market area in 17th century with Lancaster Canal superimposed
Fig. 2. Map shows the inner zone of the Preston market area in the 17th century with the path of the Lancaster Canal running through it superimposed. The slow organic development of Preston and its surrounding area through the 18th century would mean the situation had little changed by the time the Maudland Maltkilns needed barley by the barge load. [4]

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’. [5] 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. [6]

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. [7]

The extent of the operation at Maudland is shown by the auction notice for the enterprise in 1844 [8]:

1844 auction notice for Maudland Maltkilns Preston Lancashire UK
Fig. 3. Preston Chronicle auction notice for the Maudland Maltkilns.

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. [9] 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.

1840s map showing Maudland Maltkilns in Preston Lancashire UK
Fig. 4. The Maudland Maltkilns on the 1st edition 60in Ordnance Survey map showing the district in the late 1840s.

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. [10] 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. [11]

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. [12] 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. [13] No reference to malt kilns in the Maudland district is found in Seeds 1904 Preston directory. [14] Later maps tell the story of the site’s decline.

Map of Maudland district Preston Lancashire UK 1890s
Fig. 5. The Maudland Maltkilns still seem to be in operation in the 1890s, to judge by this section of the 1 in 500 OS map. Note that the Canal Works has switched from cotton to jam making
1912 map of Preston Lancashire UK showing Maudland district
Fig. 6. By the time of the next Ordnance Survey edition in 1912 it looks as if the St Walburge’s Institute has taken over the Maudland Maltkilns’ original building, and the canal basin appears to have been abandoned.
Map of part of UClan university campus Preston, Lancashire UK
Fig. 7. The Maudland Maltkilns buildings superimposed on the modern Open Street Map showing the UCLan buildings that now occupy the site.

1 David Hunt, A History of Preston, 2nd ed. (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2009).
2 David Berry, trans., ‘Preston Court Leet Records’,
3 Lancashire General Directory for 1818. Part First, Comprising Blackburn with Accrington, Church, Clitheroe, Darwen and Whalley; Bolton with Astley Bridge, Breightmet, Burnden, Chowbent, Dean Church and Leigh; and Preston with Chorley and Walton, and the Suburbs of Each Town (Manchester: T. Rogerson, 1818).
4 T. W. Freeman, H. B. Rodgers, and R. H. Kinvig, Lancashire, Cheshire and the Isle of Man (London: Nelson, 1966), 50.
5 R. Sharpe France, ‘The Highway from Preston into the Fylde’, The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 97 (1945): 27.
6 ‘IMPROVEMENT COMMISSIONERS’ MEETING’, Preston Chronicle, P8, Col 1, 9 May 1846, British Library Newspapers,
7 ‘ELECTION OF COUNCILLORS’, Preston Chronicle, P6, Col 3, 6 November 1852, British Library Newspapers,
8 ‘Advertisements & Notices’, Preston Chronicle, P1, Col 5, 8 June 1844, British Library Newspapers,
9 Mannex and Co, A History, Topography, and Directory of Westmorland and the Hundreds of Lonsdale and Amounderness in Lancashire, reprint of 1851 edition (Whitehaven: Michael Moon, 1978).
10 ‘Preston Port News’, Preston Chronicle, P3, Col 6, 6 October 1832, British Library Newspapers,
11 ‘LOCAL INTELLIGENCE’, Preston Chronicle, P4, Col 5, 26 October 1850, British Library Newspapers,
12. 1861 England Census, Database On-Line. Images reproduced by, RG 9/3131, folio 60, p.7,
13 General and Commercial Directory of Preston, Blackpool, Fleetwood, Lytham, St. Anne’s, Poulton-Le-Fylde, Garstang, Longridge, Walton-Le-Dale, Leyland, Croston, and Adjacent Villages and Townships (Preston: Barrett, 1885).
14 Seed’s Preston Directory; Including Ashton, Fulwood, Broughton, Barton, Penwortham and Walton-Le-Dale (Preston: Richard Seed, 1904).

4 thoughts on “Barley, beer and the Lancaster Canal

  1. 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.


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