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A taste of life in Burscough at the beginning of the 20th century.

Ruth Parr (nee Baldwin), pictured here in c1980. Born 1888.

In the summer of 1901, at the age of thirteen Ruth Baldwin entered canal society. The long skirted small figure, whose clogs clattered over the cobbles of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal Company's Burscough Yard at 4am for the start of a journey to Leeds, had taken the place of her mother who now remained at home in nearby Stanley Street.

Ruth's job ? Seeing to the needs of her father and two elder brothers, transporting of a cargo of Australian wool for the Yorkshire mills. The responsibility for two small cabins was now hers. These were situated in the bows and stern of the barge. A small coal burning stove provided heat for water, and 'boiling and frying.' Each cabin was illuminated by an oil lamp which cast a cosy glow when the vessel was moored at night.

On the return journey as they neared home, there would be the reek of paint and varnish as an Ainscough's boat was 'dotched' at Sheldon's boatyard at Parbold and the familiar sight of a partially built vessel under construction at the yard of the Tyrer family at Glover's Bridge, Lathom.

Five pounds nineteen shillings and eightpence was the Baldwin family's joint weekly income from the canal company, and at Burscough they were part of a self supporting community knitted together by a common interest in the prosperity of their waterway and the Ainscough flour mill.

Servicing the community were a number of folk engaged in various ancillary activities. James Hunter, whose tailor's shop was in Lord Street, always referred to as 'Owd Broth,' he employed two men in a cottage industry, pre washing flannel, and made full length white coats for winter wear. He also made and repaired the fustian breaches which were the atandard wear of the boatmen and Ruth was often handed a pair going thin at the knees and seat, and told to 'tek these t Owd Broth to foorface and seat.'

In the front of his house in Orrell Lane, Tommy Mawdsley made shoes of a distinctive brogue, with lace-holes covered by a flap to exclude water. Fred Russell, clogger, would knock up a pair for 3s. 3d. or re-sole with wood and iron for 1s. 3d. His premises were on the north side of the canal bridge and adjoined those of Jack Royal, saddler.

William Stringfellow ('Owd Sad'), whose home and workshop were also in Lord Street, was a basket maker, supplying storage hampers. Catering for horses, which were the barges motive power was Harry Martland (Harry Gully), blacksmith, assisted at his Victoria Street forge by young Jimmy Mason. Earning a nickname was a tradesman's sign of indispensability.

Helping to enliven the sombre background of the black shortboats was Liza Disley, seamstress. She was responsible for the boatwomen's
summer wear. Almost a uniform, this consisted of an ankle length red and blue striped cotton top skirt or 'linsy' with a flannelette under skirt and plain cotton, twelve buttoned bodice, protected by a 'rough brat' or apron. The outfit was completed by black woollen stockings with buckled and iron shod slipper clogs and a black bonnet. Winter wear was a thick woollen top skirt and an extra flannelette under skirt.

As winter closed in red and white storm lamps would be brought into use on the shortboats on dark evenings and in fog. Journeys to the sugar refinery of Tate and Lyle in Liverpool would take Ruth and company across the West Lancashire plain, with overnight stabling at the Ship Inn, Haskayne or at the Horse and Jockey near Maghull, known loacally as 'Own Nannys.'

All part of the experience of a young Ruth Baldwin (later, Mrs Ruth Parr). Ruth as a 91 year old widow (see photo) continued living near the canal and mill which were the focal point of the community to which she belonged to at the turn of the 20th century.

(Photo courtesy - Julie Thompson, Story courtesy - Ruth Parr).