By the early 1900s, the Ribble Estuary had become increasingly polluted. This lead to several outbreaks of food poisoning from people eating shellfish caught in it. Lancashire County Council took action and set about building a set of cleaning tanks at the then considerable cost of £8,000, to be used by the Lytham and Banks Fisherman’s Co-operative Society. They were opened at a special ceremony by the chair of the Mussels Purification Sub-Committee in 1935. A law was passed to prevent anyone selling mussels that had not been carefully cleaned. By 1946, 12,000 bags of mussels were being processed each year.
There were three open air tanks, each fulfilling a separate process: a storage tank, a chlorination tank and a cleansing tank. Mussels were brought from all around the local coast, including from the large mussel beds of Morecambe Bay.
Repurposing and Reuse
In 1957, the tanks were decommissioned as changes in the Ribble estuary meant that it wasn’t possible to harvest mussels from there anymore. A restaurant called the Anchorage was built on top of part of the site. This later became a night club, first named Zanzibar and then Scruples. One of the remaining tanks became an informal swimming pool. However, by the late 1990s, the site had become derelict and had been subjected to vandalism and arson.
The council wanted to sell the site off to developers, but local residents fought hard to prevent what they saw as inappropriate uses, including a leisure centre and car park. In 1998, the local civic society paid for the building to be demolished and cleared.
Today, the site of the cleansing tank is occupied by the RNLI. Ribble Cruising Club is on the site of the chlorination tank. Some of the original walls of the cleansing tank still exist, encasing the boats. The storage tank has now been redeveloped into a seating area and renamed The Mussel Tank. This was done in 2017 at the instigation of Lytham St Anne’s Civic Society.
Martyn Bednarczuk sculpted the large oyster and the sandstone tablet on the ramp. Ceramic tiles decorating the edge of the tank were made by Lytham Sixth Form College. Lytham in Bloom planted the salt-tolerant plants.
The most ambitious part of the Mussel Tank is the ‘three dimensional’ pattern on the floor. This was produced by using CAD and water-jet cutting technology, to give an impression of the block of bricks that the mussel bags used to sit on during their washing process. It was constructed by Landscape Engineering Ltd of Padiham, to a design by BCA Landscape.
The Mussel tank was opened two years later by the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, and is now available for anyone to sit and admire the views out over the beach to the mouth of the estuary and on to the sea.
Today, the water quality of the River Ribble has improved so much that Sea Trout and Atlantic Salmon regularly swim up through it to their upland breeding grounds between November and February. The estuary also supports a diverse range of shelled molluscs, including the Common (or Blue) Mussel and the Common and Little Cockle, Razor Shells and Whelks. The ‘beach’ area in front of the Mussel Tank has become a salt marsh, a very valuable habitat for birds such as Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew, which feed on the molluscs. Salt-tolerant plants that can be seen growing there include Sea Aster, Sea Lavender, Thrift, Marsh Samphire, Sea Campion and Common Scurvy Grass.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2021
The site is open access.
There is parking nearby at Bath Street Car Park, for which there is a parking charge.
On site interpretation boards