The becks of Lancaster

As part of a wider project imagining a ‘drift economy’ powered by the flows around Lancaster, I’ve got interested in tracing the becks and streams of the area, including ones that have now all but disappeared for one reason or another. There is so much that can be said about how the transformation of these becks is a microcosm of wider changes in the relationship of human societies to energy, and the societal impact on the landscape – but that can wait for another posts.

To find them I’ve been using contemporary and historical maps, but also Google Earth and site visits to see what the topology reveals. But the British Geological Survey’s online geology viewer has also been very useful.  Over time, rivers, lakes and marshes build up deposits which reveal their location even after they’ve gone. Here’s a view of the geology of South Lancaster. These are the surface deposits (up to 3 million years old) that lie over the older sandstones and mudstones – I made it transparent so that it’s clear how the deposits relate to the contemporary street layout. If you click on the map it will open up a larger version in a separate tab.

Here’s a simplified key:

  • yellow areas indicate river deposits
  • darker brown (like along Haverbreacks Road and the canal) are bog/peat
  • pale brown indicates former lakes (such as the one between Parkfield Drive and Bowerham Road)
  • very pale brown (like around Moorlands) just means ‘no deposits recorded’
  • pink areas are sand and gravel from melting glaciers
  • blue (basically everything else) is glacial till – finer deposits from glaciers

So basically the yellow streaks show the course of rivers, becks and streams.  I’ve numbered them on the map to show the course of the main becks, starting from the top and going anticlockwise – a green number indicates the source, blue the mouth.  Each black line is my best estimate of the original course before human interference (except for the end of Lucy Brook where it meets the Lune).

1 – Newton Beck

1 is Newton Beck, that runs north then west around the Ridge Estate. Interestingly, it looks like it was once fed by a lake on the east edge of the LGGS playing fields.

2 – Jelle Beck

‘Jelle Beck’ and the Mill Race on Docton’s map of 1684.

2, not visible on the geology, is Jelle Beck, sometimes called Jolly Beck, that in the Middle Ages marked the boundary between Lancaster and the separate township of Newton. (St Leonard’s Gate originally led to the leper hospital of the same name that was built just north of Jelle Beck, so as to be outside the town limits.) The beck still comes down from above Derwent Road, along the south side of Whalley Recreation Ground, and apparently now runs under Factory Hill and then curving left probably under B&M Bargains and then the carpark.  Docton’s 1684 map (pictured right as it was reconstructed in 1957) shows Jelle Beck then flowing into the medieval artificial mill stream that now runs westward under Parliament Street, North Road and Damside Street, and now enters the Lune from an archway under the Millennium Bridge.

3 – Lucy Brook

3 is Lucy Brook, which nowadays runs southwestward from Carr House Farm near the bridge under the railway line, past the end of Cromwell Road and then curves westwards through the Fairfield Nature Reserve, round the bottom of Abraham Heights and past Freeman’s Wood to the estuary.

Lucy Brook still running east of the railway on 1845 OS 6″ map.

But the geological map above suggests that it originally used to run from what is now the NE corner of Dallas Road car park near the cut to Fenton Street. Presumably it picked up rainfall from the south slope of Castle Hill. It then used to run diagonally crossing what is now Dallas Road and towards the bridge under the railway at Carr House Lane. I’m not sure if the very top bit still flowed in historic times, when the area was used for food production – the maps suggest not.  But according to the OS maps, such as this from 1845, a bit of it (from the end of what is now Blades Street to Carr House Lane) seems to have survived even the arrival of the railway line in the 1840s, flowing between fields at least till 1890. But with the development of Dallas Road it seems to have disappeared.

4 – Greaves-Stodday Beck


Greaves-Stodday Beck on the 1791 Rennie map

Greaves-Stodday Beck on the 1818 Greenwood map.

Greaves-Stodday Beck on the 1829 Hennet map.

4 is the one I’ve spent most time on. I’m going to call it the Greaves-Stodday Beck, because I haven’t found a name for it yet (in an earlier version of this post I thought that in records of eighteenth-century Lancaster Boundary Ridings it was called Howgill Beck, but that was an error – they just called it a ‘Brook or running water’). The geology and the old maps show that it used to run from just west of the Pointer (the RLI car park to be precise), south through Greaves (between what are now Binyon Road and Princess Avenue), then westwards just north of Bridge Road, across Ashton Road and through the grounds of Nazareth House, through peaty marshland that ran through the field just south of Haverbreaks Road, past where the canal is now and southwards towards Stodday Lodge (now Lunecliffe Hall), then flowed west, then south towards Stodday, then west to the estuary. It must have been fairly substantial because in the Middle Ages it powered a corn mill to the north of Stodday, later converted into a snuff mill. Its course survives in municipal boundaries: the higher reach, east of the canal, formed part of the municipal boundary between Lancaster and Scotforth; west of the canal the course of the beck forms the boundary of Aldcliffe – first with Lancaster, then with Ashton-with-Stodday.

The beck is marked on the 1791 Rennie map (see above) as flowing from roughly where Bridge Road goes under the railway, but the 1818 Greenwood map and 1829 Hennet maps suggest that the upper reaches east of the beck not only survived the arrival of the canal in the 1790s, but even then still flowed from all the way back near the Pointer. Then with the building of the railway in the 1840s the Greaves section west of the railway disappears off the map – in fact I suspect that the branch line going to Lancaster station on South Road was just built over it.

Greaves-Stodday Beck between railway and Haverbreacks Road on 1890 OS 25″ map.

Greaves-Stodday Beck between railway and Haverbreacks Road, 1910 OS map.

Greaves-Stodday Beck west of the canal today, courtesy of OS 1:25,000 map.

But it presumably flowed under the ground somewhere to add to the flow west of the railway, because the section between the railway and the canal just survives on the 1890 OS map above left.  It appears just west of the railway, running just north of Bridge Road (where Magnet Kitchens is now) and under Ashton Road and southwest from there across what is now the grounds of Nazareth House. But by the 1910 OS map this section is also starting to disappear. Nowadays the beck’s course between Ashton Road and the canal is clear from the shape of the land – and the occasional pond lying in the thalweg (the line that joins the lowest points of a valley) – but this stretch doesn’t flow anywhere, above-ground at least.

The beck still flows overground west of the canal (I don’t know if it’s still fed underground from flow east of the canal or not).  It appears for a brief stretch in a field just north of Lunecliffe Road, is piped underground again, and appears in earnest along the top of the Lunecliffe Hall estate and eventually flows along the south of the sewage works to the estuary – but nowadays it’s very small.

5 – Burrow Beck

5 is Burrow Beck.  The geology suggests that the main channel used to start near the M6 north of Moor Hospital, but now I think it starts near Standen Park, runs through the cattle market grounds, catches a few small becks off Lancaster Moor to the West, runs through the park in Newlands where the big mill pond used to be for Scotforth corn and saw mills, through the bottom of Hala, crossing the A6 (where it formed the Scot’s Ford that gave its name to Scotforth) and eventually to Ashton (where there was another medieval mill), through the fishing lake in Ashton Hall grounds and into the Lune estuary.  It’s been a very important beck in Lancaster history, and is still a very nice beck of ‘many moods’ to walk along.

6 – Ou Beck

Ou Beck on the 1786 Yates map.

6 is Ou Beck, which is the only Lancaster-related stream in the Conder catchment area.  It still runs south from the top of Hala (though its top reach must have been moved slightly eastward when the Hala houses there were built), and through Bailrigg village. From there, it used to go basically south, through a one-time lake and then where the University duck pond (Lake Carter) now is, across the now campus and crossing Green Lane near where it now joins the A6. But at some point Ou Beck must have been diverted after Bailrigg Lane to go diagonally across the field that is soon to be the Health Innovation Campus to run along the A6. After going under the canal, it still joins the River Conder west of Galgate, which then flows out into the Lune at Conder Green.