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A History of Rufford
by Fred Lee. May 2003

With its name emanating from its location by a ‘rough ford’, the original village of Rufford was located on the Liverpool Preston Turnpike Road. The village was known for it's Friday market, where monks from the abbey at Burscough sold fish, caught in the waters of the nearby Martin Mere.

Martin Mere was the largest lake in Lancashire covering some 1300 Hectares laying claim to be the last known home of King Arthur's sword Excalibur. In time the lake was drained out to the River Douglas at the south end of the village where Dam Brook Bridge now stands.

The village, over a very long period, was a cluster of houses located mainly where the Hesketh Arms now stands and spreading round the Flash Lane area. The area near the Hesketh Arms was known as The Moor and this would be the point where people would meet to buy and sell their wares.

Records indicate that the area has been manorial for well over 500 years and this is borne out by the fact that in 1339 Richard III granted to Sir William Hesketh the Lord of Rufford, a charter to hold a market on Fridays and a fair on the Feast of St Phillip and St James on the First day May each year. Many varied items were sold at these fairs including Witches Bowls and Glass Rolling pins together with livestock and produce.

It is known that a Chapel existed in 1346 being rebuilt in 1734 and leaving us with the present St Mary's Church built in 1869. The Parish of Rufford appears to have been formed when it separated from the Parish of Croston in 1793

Rufford Old Hall was built in 1530 to be followed by Rufford New Hall which was completed in 1798. The Lord of the manor employed a good proportion of the population and the Hesketh family owned most of the land and property at that period.

When the New Hall was built the Hesketh family followed the trend of that era and created Rufford Park, which extended from the boundary with Holmeswood to the boundary with Croston and Mawdesley being split by the Liverpool Preston Turnpike Road. The park development resulted in many workers cottages being demolished and the population being re-located within the village.

The Hesketh Family farmed the larger areas of agricultural land with The Home Farm being the main base. Many of the villagers who lost their small plots with the building of the parkland were re-located to the northern end of the village known as The North Fields. The area still exists as farmland and was used by the military as a horse depot in the 1914/18 war.

There was no mining or quarrying in the area but it appears that some basket weaving took place.

The building of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal commenced in 1767 and was completed in 1816 with the Rufford branch being opened 1781. This provided an important connection from the main branch at Burscough to the River Douglas at Tarleton and on to the River Ribble and Preston. Thus Liverpool and Preston were linked by an inland waterway system. The old canal wharves where goods were loaded and unloaded can still be seen in Rufford. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway also came through Rufford connecting Liverpool and Preston and onward to Glasgow and the north. There was a busy goods yard in Station Road which handled produce and where coal was brought into the village from other parts of Lancashire.

In the period 1914 to 1918 the Hesketh family disposed of most of the properties and land in Rufford in many cases to the sitting tenants. Not long after that a few of the more astute members of the community bought up much of the property and land and commenced farming or business as produce merchants employing many local people as transport workers and farm hands. Local people also recognised opportunities to earn a living from the growing trend in tourism and in the 1930 to 1950 period there were as many as eleven establishments serving meals and light refreshments catering for travellers, cyclists and hikers. There were two public houses with restaurant facilities, both well supported by visitors to the village and for some years a nightclub or roadhouse called The Tango. There were also in the region of ten shops providing groceries, meats and other necessary supplies for the residents. Holmeswood boasted three shops and two places of refreshment which were again well supported by cyclists and visitors to the area.

This period was a complete change from the manorial era and Rufford was, at this time, a thriving and popular village. Sadly the refreshment establishments started to disappear with the age of the motorcar in the late fifties and the shops dwindled as people used their cars to shop in nearby towns. The produce and transport industry carried on until the late 1980/1990 period although for various reasons, on a dwindling scale in the latter years. The agricultural activity in Rufford and Holmeswood remains much as it was with the exception of some land used for building purposes.

Rufford Old Hall was passed to the National Trust in 1936 and the New Hall when vacated by the Hesketh family, was bought by the Liverpool Corporation and was for many years operated as a pulmonary hospital. In latter years, until about 1988 it was used by the NHS as a pre-convelesant hospital employing many local people.

The last piece of land owned by the Hesketh family was their recreation ground until it was conveyed to the Rufford Parish Council in 1937 for recreational use by the public. This is the seven acres where the present Rufford Village Hall stands, which was built there in 1974.

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