On The Waterfront 1

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This page last updated Thursday, 16 April 2020
Water water everywhere...

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On the Waterfront profiles the rivers and canals in and around Warrington.
Other local canals and rivers on the border will also be profiled, such as the River Weaver.
See also the complementary Warrington Green sections.

Note: some of this material is from Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia. Please see the foot of the Feedback page  for important copyright information

Featured on this page

Introduction River Mersey  Sankey Canal (1757) Bridgewater Canal (1761)
On Warrington's Waterfront River Irwell Mersey and Irwell Navigation James Brindley

In Part 2 we look at the Manchester Ship Canal, the Old Quay (Black Bear) Canal, Warrington's
own Titanic, the Anderton Boat Lift and other local rivers and canals beyond the borders of Warrington.


Introduction - Ancient Canals

The oldest-known canals were built in Mesopotamia in circa 4000 BC. The Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan and North India (from circa 2000 BC) had the first canal irrigation system in the world. The longest canal of ancient times was the Grand Canal of China. It is 1,794 kilometres (1,115 miles) long and was built to carry the Emperor Yang Guang between Beijing and Hangzhou. 
The oldest sections of the canal have existed since 486 BC, and it was extended in 605 AD during the Sui Dynasty. Even in its narrowest urban sections it is rarely less than 30 m (100 ft) wide.

In this country, canals first saw use during the Roman occupation of Great Britain, and were used mainly for irrigation. However, the Romans did create several navigable canals, such as Foss Dyke, to link rivers, enabling increased transportation inland by water.

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In the Middle Ages, a spate of building projects, such as castles, monasteries and churches, led to the improvement of rivers for the transportation of building materials. In the post-medieval period some natural waterways were 'canalised', or improved, for boat traffic in the 16th century. The first Act of Parliament to canalise a river was obtained by the City of Canterbury in 1515 to extend navigation on the river Great Stour, followed by another Act of Parliament for the river Exe in 1539, which led to the construction in 1566 of a new channel, the Exeter Canal. (some information from Wikipedia)

Horse-drawn rides on
the Llangollen Canal on
27 May 1990 give an
idea of how the horses
worked the boats
in the early days.
Photo and caption
Copyright © P Spilsbury

On Warrington's Waterfront

The historic market and industrial town of Warrington stands on the border of modern day Lancashire and Cheshire. In the ninth century this area was the border between the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia. The river which flows through Warrington was called the Merse (click here and here for references to land between the rivers Ribble and the "Merse" in the county of Lancaster). The river's name comes from the Anglo-Saxon Maeres-ea meaning "border river". Today we call it the Mersey.

The River Mersey

The Mersey is formed from three tributaries: the River Etherow, the River Goyt and the River Tame. The modern accepted start of the Mersey is at the junction of the Tame and Goyt, in central Stockport, Greater Manchester. It lies entirely below 150 feet (45 metres), draining large areas of the Lancashire and Cheshire plains.

The river's name comes from the Anglo-Saxon Maeres-ea meaning "border river". In Anglo-Saxon times the Mersey was a boundary between the two ancient kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria. 

The River Etherow

The River Etherow rises at Featherbed Moss in South Yorkshire, then broadens into the Longdendale Chain of reservoirs in the Peak District National Park. It emerges again in Tintwistle, Derbyshire, at the foot of Bottoms Reservoir dam.  At Melandra Castle, Gamesley, it is joined by the Glossop Brook (which takes in waters from Shelf, Yellowstacks and Chunal). It enters Tameside at Hollingworth in the foothills of the Pennines. It passes through Stockport and the Etherow Country Park, then joins the River Goyt.

The River Goyt

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The River Goyt begins in Derbyshire. It rises at about 1,600 feet (488 m) on the moors of Axe Edge, near the River Dane and the Cat and Fiddle Inn. The area is known as the Upper Goyt Valley. The Buxton to Macclesfield road crosses the river at Derbyshire Bridge, which was the old boundary between Derbyshire and Cheshire. The river then reaches an old packhorse bridge which was moved when Errwood reservoir was built in the 1960s. 

Further downstream there is another reservoir, the Fernilee reservoir. The original line of the Cromford and High Peak Railway can be seen near this point. The Goyt then passes through Taxal and Horwich End where it is joined by the Todd Brook. Thereafter it passes through Whaley Bridge, New Mills and Marple Bridge, before joining the River Tame at Stockport, and then becoming the River Mersey.

Bridge over River Goyt at
Strawberry Hill (between
Marple Bridge and New
Mills) SJ967873.
Taken 24th July 2004.

Public license Creator, Dave.Dunford

River Tame

riiver_tame_reddish_vale.jpg (70503 bytes) The River Tame rises on Denshaw Moor near the West Yorkshire/Greater Manchester border, and flows south through Delph, Uppermill, Mossley, Stalybridge, Ashton-under-Lyne, Dukinfield, Houghton Green, Denton and Hyde. It joins the River Goyt at Stockport to form the River Mersey. The Greater Manchester borough of Tameside is named after it. Like the River Goyt, it rises at about 1,600 feet (490 m).
The River Tame in the lower part of Reddish Vale Country Park, about one mile above the junction with the Goyt.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License Mr Stephen 28 April 2006.


Stockport to Warrington

From Stockport, the River Mersey flows near Didsbury, Stretford, Urmston, Flixton, and then at Irlam it flows into the Manchester Ship Canal, which canalised the River Irwell to this point. The course of the Mersey has been obliterated by the Manchester Ship Canal past Hollins Green to Rixton, although the old river bed can be seen at Warburton (see a photo in the Manchester Ship Canal section in Part 2). At Rixton the River Bollin enters the canal from the south and the Mersey leaves the Canal to the north, meandering through Woolston, where the Ship Canal Company's dredgings have formed the Woolston Eyes nature reserve at Warrington. It is tidal from Howley Weir in Warrington, although high spring tides often top the weir.

The River in Warrington                

Butchersfield Canal

Two cuts were made to bypass a large loop in the River Mersey near Lymm. The first, dating from around 1760, had one lock in it, which became known as Old Lock. The second, dating from 1829, had a double lock (side-by-side) at its lower end and the long section, measuring 360 yards, was known as the Butchersfield Canal.

Woolston New Cut

The Woolston New Cut was a short canal built in 1821 to avoid the bends in the River Mersey. It was abandoned in the 1950s although it continued to supply water to the nearby Black Bear (Old Quay) Canal. The area of the New Cut is bordered nowadays by a nature reserve, Paddington Meadows, and is accessed from Larkfield Avenue, off Manchester Road in Woolston. Read about Paddington Meadows in Warrington Green.

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Warrington plays a very important part in the history of the region. From 8000 BC until the 13th century it was the only crossing point of the Mersey, by way of a ford at Latchford. Since then, six bridges have been built over the Mersey at Bridge Foot, Warrington, and the course has been altered to cater for new industrial developments, especially around the Bank Quay and Atherton's Quay areas. 

< The site of the ancient ford near Black Bear Bridge in Latchford on the A50, now covered by an industrial unit.

Further along we see Howley Weir and Howley Suspension Bridge. The footbridge was officially opened on 2 August 1912 and links Howley with Victoria Park, which was built on the Old Warps estate.

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Howley suspension bridge

Howley suspension bridge

Latchford weir

Howley suspension bridge links the district with Victoria Park. It was built in February 1912 by David Rowell & Co., who were prolific builders of many similar steel suspension footbridges, and it was officially opened on 2 August 1912. It is a Grade II listed monument (listed on 4 April 1975).

Each end has 2 tapering square piers of open ironwork, with round arches across the pathway. It was originally meant to be 60 feet wide and 150 feet long to help with traffic congestion at Bridge Foot. The original proposed bridge was to be made out of cast iron and designed by Thomas Telford (who built the Menai Suspension Bridge that connects Anglesey to mainland Wales). Telford’s bridge at Warrington would have cost £12,000, but due to lack of funds, only a footbridge was built, costing just £600.

Warrington Bridge

At Bridge Foot, the main crossing point of the river in modern times, we have the magnificent single-arched road bridge, Warrington Bridge. This is the sixth bridge on this site. It was opened on 7 July 1913 by King George V, but wasn’t completed until 1915.

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The first bridge is known to have been in existence in 1304. 

The second bridge, made of wood, was built in 1364. The third bridge, with four stone arches, was erected by the first Earl of Derby for the visit of King Henry VII to Knowsley in 1495. The remains of the Duke of Hamilton’s army surrendered to Cromwell at Warrington Bridge after the Battle of Red Bank near Winwick in 1648. King Charles II, accompanied by the Duke of Buckingham, fought in a skirmish here in 1651. The Earl of Derby crossed the bridge in the same year on his way to execution at Bolton. The central arches were destroyed in 1745 to prevent another army crossing the Mersey by use of the bridge.

The fourth bridge was built of wood in 1813. The fifth bridge, with three stone arches, was built in 1837 during the reign of Queen Victoria and named Victoria Bridge. You can see the capstone of that bridge on the town centre side of the bridge.

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The 1913 Bridge. Official opening by
King George V.

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In the latter part of the 20th Century, two more bridges have been added near Bridge Foot. The first opened in 1986, and forms part of a large roundabout junction to ease traffic flow over the 1913 bridge, which now has one-way traffic northbound in four lanes.

The 1986 bridge was officially opened by His Worshipful The Mayor, Councillor E. Bowden, on 25 July, 1986. 

The most recent bridge links Chester Road with Centre Park, a commercial estate, opened on 21 September, 1990. Centre Park is built on the site of Thames Board Mills and Arpley Meadows. At 5.03 p.m. on 14 September, 1940, a lone German plane dropped two bombs on the site, killing 16 men, women and children, and injuring many others. On that day, 2,500 people were enjoying a summer gala. A commemorative plaque is on display in the middle of Centre Park, surround by a lake and nature reserve.

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The Bridge Foot Bridge
of 1986, taken in June 2003.
Bridge linking to Centre
Park (14 March 2007).

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The final bridge in the area of Bridge Foot is the railway bridge on the old Warrington and Altrincham Junction Railway of 1851 (see Making Tracks for more). One more crossing point of the Mersey close to town centre is Kingsway Bridge near Westy, about a mile from Bridge Foot. This bridge was opened on 5 December 1934 after King George V gave his permission for it to be so-named. waterfront_mersey_kingsway_bridge_070510_1.JPG (80125 bytes)
The railway bridge (above)
and plaque on Kingsway
Bridge (below). 14 March 2007.
Warrington Rowing Club make full use of the Mersey for training and competitions
(10 May 2007).
Kingsway Bridge (above)
and the second of two
plaques on the bridge (below)
10 May 2007.

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The original route of the Mersey after Bridge Foot ran through Wilderspool; its route being remembered by River Road, seen here in this photo, left. It now runs alongside Chester Road (photo, right).

Images 9 July 2004 and 14 March 2007

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In the 17th century Thomas Patten built his copper works on the banks of the river near Bank Quay. Industry has dominated Bank Quay ever since, with Unilever being one of the biggest companies, producing products such as Persil soap powder, which was first manufactured in 1909.

Warrington Transporter Bridge

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The Transporter Bridge over the River Mersey at Bank Quay on 23 January 2007. Work started on construction of the bridge in 1913, but delays due to the start of the First World War meant it didn't open until 1916. The bridge was owned by Crosfield soap works and although was originally designed for road vehicles, railway wagons were carried over it from the 1940s. It has a span of 187 feet (57 metres), a width of 30 feet (nine metres) and a height of 76 feet (23 metres). It was designed by William Henry Hunter and constructed by Sir William Arrol to take up to 18 tons in weight. It has not been used since 1964 and is now a Grade II* listed Scheduled Ancient Monument on the English Heritage At Risk Register. The photos were taken on 23 January 2007.

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On 19 March 2015 I interviewed Margaret Ingham on Radio Warrington about her idea to save the transporter bridge from decay. She announced a public meeting later that evening at the Waterside Inn on Centre Park to drum up support for her campaign. She later published a summary of the meeting on her Facebook campaign page. Here is that summary in her own words.
The meeting was well attended by 30 people, sadly some who wanted to be there could not make it on the night. We had a great mix of skills present, civil engineer, heritage consultant, historical researcher, web designer, publicist, activist, health and safety, illustrator and film maker to name a few. There was a lively discussion with a great many very useful ideas. We formed a committee for what will be the Friends of Warrington Transporter Bridge (FOWTB). We agreed that we will become a formal constituted society in order to make credible advances to WBC, Grant Authorities and so on. The meeting formally selected Margaret Ingham as Chairman. The next stage will be a committee meeting at which we will draft a constitution and plan strategy. Keep watching.
Margaret later published some extracts from the Warrington Guardian.
Good work by Guardian reporter Aran Dhillon see below 'Cllr Steve Parish (LAB - Bewsey and Whitecross) has raised the possibility of securing a grant to set maintenance work underway' and former council leader John Gartside says 'Anything that can help the town is great and I am sure it could be a good thing for Warrington.', although like Andy Farral he thinks the new bridges must come first. Hopefully WBC will now agree to let us seek grants to get the job done, so that the money need not come from WBC coffers.
The campaign also received interest from BBC Northwest Tonight.
To join the campaign, see the Facebook page , Save Warrington Transport Bridge.
Email the group
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Industry has dominated
Bank Quay for hundreds of
years with companies like
Crosfields and Fairclough's
flour mill (23 Jan 2007).
Improvements to the Mersey
contributed to the town's
wealth during the Industrial
Revolution (18 Feb 2007).
The arrival of the railways
provided competition to the
shipping trade, now superseded
by road (23 Jan 2007).
Part of the River Mersey
as it flows towards the
railway bridge and Bank
Quay. Close by are the
remains of the Old Quay
Canal (20 Mar 2007).

Fiddler's Ferry


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Fiddler's Ferry pencil
drawing by David Potts.

As the River Mersey meanders towards Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea, it passes by Fiddler's Ferry in West Warrington. The information here is in response to a request from a reader in Australia who lived in the area for many years. My thanks go to David Potts at Groundwork Mersey Valley and Warrington Borough Council Ranger Service for permission to use their artwork and extracts from their text. The copyright owner of the original painting used for David's drawing is not known. If you are the owner, or know who is, contact me for a full credit.


The Fiddler's Ferry area is located in part of the 15-mile Sankey Valley, which follows the course of the oldest canal in England since the Industrial Revolution, the Sankey Canal (originally known as the Sankey Brook Navigation and later the St Helens Canal), opened in 1757. Sankey Valley covers an area between St Helens and Spike Island at Widnes, close to the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge. This area in turn forms part of the wider Mersey Forest, the largest of 12 community forests in England.

A ferry crossing existed in this section of the River Mersey for over 800 years. It is the narrowest section between Warrington and Runcorn, and passengers were ferried between Penketh and Moore.

So, who was the fiddler? Soon after the Norman invasion of 1066, Adam le Vieleur was the Lord of the Manor of Penketh. Vieleur is a French name and translated as ‘viol-player’ or ‘fiddler’. The lord owned the rights to the ferry, so it was ‘Fiddler’s Ferry'.

In the Middle Ages ownership of the ferry passed to Norton Priory. A 9-foot (2.75 metre) statue of St Christopher, patron saint of travellers, was erected, which now stands in the museum at Norton Priory, Runcorn.


ferry_in_040707_1.jpg (80772 bytes) These are views of the Ferry Inn (or Tavern) today. During the summer of 2004 I walked from my house on what would have been a 90-minute journey to get there, had I not done it in stages - but after six separate days, the pub was a very refreshing break! For more pictures see Sankey Valley page.

Photos 7 Jul 2004

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The present inn building dates back to 1762. Nobody knows how long an inn has stood on this site, but it would have played an important role for travellers along this section of the river.

One traveller in the 1800s wrote, 'here is also a muddy but fairly large rowboat which plies from the stone jetty outside the inn to some point on the Cheshire side. This is not identified by either farm or road access. The inn seems to be quite comfortable for visitors of a mildly adventurous mind. At night the sound of the tide must echo through the room, and in the wind there will be resounding notes.'


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A view of Penketh Reach
on the River Mersey
(28 Apr 2007).
Gateworth Nature Reserve
alongside the Mersey
(18 Feb 2007).
Fiddlers Ferry Power Station
from Gateworth Nature
Reserve (18 Feb 2007).
A view from the banks of the
Manchester Ship Canal on the
opposite side of the river
(20 Mar 2007).

The ferry service came to an end around 1890, as the construction of the new Manchester Ship Canal, which opened in 1894, cut off access from the south. Today, the Ferry Inn is still a regular resting point for travellers on the 350 mile Trans Pennine Trail, which stretches from Hornsea on the east coast to Liverpool and Southport on the west. It takes in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Warrington along the way.

Read a history of the Ferry Inn on their website.


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Fiddler's Ferry Yacht Haven and the power station. 7 Jul 2004

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Close by is Fiddler’s Ferry Yacht Haven, opened on 3 August 1985 by the former Mayor of Warrington, Councillor P. Mounfield. The Yacht Haven has a boat yard that offers a range of services, including dry storage, boat repair facilities, fresh water, toilet facilities, sewage disposal, trailer and cradle storage, lift out facilities, battery charging, electrical instrument repairs, a rest room, chandlery and engine repairs.

Gatewarth is a landfill site and offers a haven for wildlife, including birds, stoats, weasels and dragonflies. There are some wonderful views of the tidal river and the surrounding area. There is so much to enjoy in this tranquil part of west Warrington.

The Sankey Valley Park Rangers can be contacted on 01925 571836. You can find out more about Warrington’s parks and gardens at the Warrington Borough Council website. Also check out the Groundwork website. My thanks to Warrington Borough Council and Groundwork Mersey Valley for assistance with this section.

Runcorn Gap                              

West of Warrington the river narrows, and passes between the Cheshire towns of Runcorn and Widnes, through the Runcorn Gap. The Manchester Ship Canal also flows through the Gap, along the southern bank of the river.


From the Runcorn Gap, the river widens into a large estuary, which is seven miles wide at its widest point near Ellesmere Port. The course of the river then heads north, with Liverpool to the east and the Wirral Peninsula to the west. The Manchester Ship Canal continues along the Cheshire bank of the river as far as Eastham Locks, where it enters the river. The eastern part of this estuary is much affected by silting, and part of it is marked on modern maps as dry land instead of tidal. These wetlands are of importance to wildlife, and are listed as a Ramsar site.

The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 154 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1,674 wetland sites, totalling 150 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. See more at www.ramsar.org


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The estuary then narrows to flow between Liverpool and Birkenhead, where it is constricted to a width of 1.2km (0.75 miles), between Albert Dock and the Woodside ferry terminal. It then flows into Liverpool Bay on the Irish Sea, after a total course of around 70 miles. The conurbation on both sides of the river in this area is known as Merseyside.

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The image on the left shows the approach to the Silver Jubilee Bridge from Widnes with the railway bridge alongside. The image, right, shows
the view to Fiddler's Ferry looking over Spike Island and showing the location of the old Transporter Bridge. Photos taken 18 February 2007.
In recent times the areas alongside the Mersey were turned back into nature reserves to enable wildlife to flourish and also to provide facilities for the general public to enjoy that nature. With funding by Halton Council, The Mersey Waterfront and Groundwork Mersey Valley, this haven on the marshes stretches alongside the Widnes section of the Mersey. It includes a viewing platform and illustrated information panels.
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Sankey Canal and the Mersey. View to Runcorn. Spike Island.
Photos taken 18 February 2007.

River crossings                                

The first crossing point of the River Mersey has been mentioned already, by way of a ford at Latchford, Warrington.

For centuries it was the only point west of Stretford, Greater Manchester, where a bridge could be built over the Mersey. Several pub names in Warrington had a connection with the waterways - The Ship, the Mermaid and the Packet House Inn; the latter is said to be the ticket office for boats travelling from here to Liverpool.

Two road tunnels run under the Mersey at Liverpool: the older Queensway Tunnel (opened 1934) connecting with Birkenhead, and the Kingsway Tunnel (opened 1971) connecting with Wallasey. There is also a railway tunnel dating back to the 1880s, which carries passenger services on the Wirral Line of the Merseyrail franchise.

The Mersey Ferry runs between the Pier Head at Liverpool and the Birkenhead terminals at Seacombe and Woodside.

The Runcorn Gap, mentioned earlier, is currently bridged by Runcorn (Jubilee) Bridge and Runcorn Railway Bridge. A project known as the Mersey Gateway, to build a new road bridge over the Mersey east of the existing bridges, is currently under consideration and has received some government support.

Widnes - Runcorn Transporter Bridge

The Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge crossed the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal linking Runcorn and Widnes. It was completed in 1905 and was Britain's first transporter bridge. It remained in use until 1961 when it was replaced by a the Silver Jubilee Bridge (discussed later). The transporter bridge was then demolished.


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At the beginning of the 20th Century the only means of crossing the River Mersey at Runcorn Gap were by rail on the Runcorn Railway Bridge (which also had a footpath) or by using the ancient ferry (which was a rowing boat).  

In the 1890s the Manchester Ship Canal had been constructed and this meant that the journey by ferry had to be made in two stages, with a climb over the wall of the canal between the stages. A road bridge was clearly needed but it would have to pass high enough over the canal to allow the passage of ocean-going ships. The cost of doing this was felt to be prohibitive. In 1899 the Widnes & Runcorn Bridge Company was established under the chairmanship of Sir John Brunner to investigate the options.

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This view was taken from
the Widnes side in 1961,
the year the bridge closed.
Photo Copyright © P Spilsbury

The view from Runcorn in
1959 showing the bridge in
action over the Mersey and
Manchester Ship Canal.
Photo Copyright © P Spilsbury

Their decision was to build a transporter bridge. This would be cheaper than an orthodox type of bridge and the passage of the transporter car could be timed to allow the passage of the ships. An Act of Parliament was obtained in 1900 giving approval for the bridge, and the Act also allowed for the formal ending of the ferry. It was designed by John Webster and John Wood. Construction began in December 1901. The two towers were 180 feet high and the distance between them spanned by a girder was 1,000 feet.

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A ticket for passage over the Widnes-Runcorn Transporter Bridge. For young readers who don't know what a perambulator is, read pram, buggy, push chair! The cost of 1/9 is 9p in today's money. 

Photo Copyright © P. Spilsbury

The weight of the cables suspending the girder was 250 tons. The underside of the girder was 82 feet above the high water level.  The transporter car was 55 feet in length and 24 feet 6 inches in width, and was designed to carry 4 two-horse farm wagons and 300 passengers. A shelter was provided for the passengers.
The bottom of the car was 12 feet above high water level and it cleared the Ship Canal wall by 4.5 feet. It was suspended from a moving trolley 77 feet in length.

In conditions of reasonable weather and load the journey took 2½ minutes. The driver was sited in a cabin on top of the car from which he had an uninterrupted view in all directions.

In order to provide power for motors on the trolley, a power house was built within the tower on the Widnes side. Approach roads of 320 feet on the Widnes side and 470 feet on the Runcorn side were built.

Construction was completed in 1905 at a cost of £130,000. The transporter bridge was opened (in the absence of King Edward VII who was indisposed) by Sir John Brunner on 29 May 1905.

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The old Transporter
Bridge office building still
stands on Mersey Road
in Widnes, seen here
on 18 February 2007.

During the following years there were problems both with the functioning of the bridge and with its financing. The Company could not make it pay and in 1911 it was sold to Widnes Corporation.

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A number of improvements were made to the bridge over the years. In its later years it made 49,000 journeys annually, carrying 280,000 cars, 145,000 commercial vehicles and over 2 million passengers.

However it was inadequate for the growing needs of the region and its physical condition was deteriorating. A fixed high-level bridge was needed and this was eventually opened in 1961, after which the transporter bridge was demolished. (some information from Wikipedia)

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The scene on 18 February
2007 from the Widnes side.

One of two plaques commemorating the
former bridge crossing.

Runcorn Railway Bridge                     

The Runcorn Railway Bridge crosses the Mersey at Runcorn Gap. It was built for the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) to a design by William Baker, chief engineer of the railway company.


In 1846 the Grand Junction Railway Company obtained an Act of Parliament to build a bridge to cross Runcorn Gap. A time limit of 7 years was imposed. Shortly after obtaining the Act, the Company amalgamated with other companies to form the London and North Western Railway. Other projects took precedence, the 7 years time limit passed, and so the powers to build the bridge lapsed.

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In 1861 Parliamentary approval for a bridge was again obtained as part of building a line from Aston, to the south-east of Runcorn, where it joined the line from Crewe to Warrington at Weaver Junction, to the west of Widnes. Here it joined the line from Warrington to Garston at Ditton Junction. Work commenced in 1863 and the first stone was laid in 1864. 

The bridge was completed by 1868 and on 21 May there was an introductory opening when the contractor's locomotive 'Cheshire' drew 20 wagons over the bridge. It was formally opened for traffic on 10 October. The first goods traffic crossed it on 1 February 1869 and the first passenger train crossed on 1 April of that year. The bridge consists of three wrought iron spans of 305 feet each on two sandstone abutments, with foundations at a depth of about 45 feet below water level.

The railway bridge with
the road bridge behind.
Public license image is in the
public domain

It carries a double line of tracks, and a footpath for pedestrians was built on the east side of the bridge. It has a clearance of 75 feet above the high water mark to allow sailing ships to pass beneath it. There are 6 lattice girders, two to each span. Each girder contains 700 tons of iron and is fastened by 48,115 rivets. From the north side of the river the bridge is approached by a viaduct of 49 arches, then a short piece of embankment, followed by 16 more arches. From the south it is approached by a viaduct of 33 arches.

The bridge is named after Aethelfleda because the southern abutments and pier were built on the site of the Saxon castle erected by her in 915 AD. Parts of the bridge are castellated (battlement design) to reflect this. There are three shields above the footway, showing, from the southern end, the Coat of Arms of the City of London, Britannia (from the crest of the railway company) and the Liver Bird of Liverpool. Because of the crest the bridge is also known as the Britannia Railway Bridge.

The footway was closed in 1965 and the bridge is still in use as part of the West Coast Main line between Liverpool and the south via Crewe. (based on a Wikipedia article)

Widnes - Runcorn Silver Jubilee Bridge    

The Silver Jubilee Bridge is a compression arch suspended-deck bridge built in 1961, linking Widnes to Runcorn over Runcorn Gap. It is a grade II listed building.


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Ferry crossings have been recorded at this spot as early as the 12th century.

Work on this bridge started in 1954, and was opened to the public by Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1961. The bridge was designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson and built by Dorman Long. (The old Redpath Dorman Long factory in Hawleys Lane, Warrington is now the Warrington base for the Eddie Stobart road haulage company.)

A view of the bridge taken
13 August 2005 from an
inbound flight to Liverpool
John Lennon Airport.
See Feedback for full
copyright notice on use of
this GFDL image.

The original construction was a two lane road traffic bridge built to replace the Runcorn-Widnes Transporter Bridge mentioned earlier. In 1975 the bridge was widened to four lanes to cope with increased traffic demands. Until 1977 it was known as the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge, but was renamed the Silver Jubilee Bridge in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. In the past, this bridge was never known solely as 'Runcorn Bridge' except by those who were mis-informed. However, 'Runcorn Bridge', over time, has come into common usage, especially by residents on the Widnes side.


The 'Silver Jubilee Bridge' is built from approximately 6,000 tonnes of steel, but in combination with all the other building materials, including the vehicle deck and the approach viaducts, its total weight approaches 10,000 tonnes. At the time of its construction it cost nearly £3 million to build.

The bridge is one of the largest of its kind in the world with a main span of 330m, with its crown being approximately 86m above sea level. It is the largest bridge of its type in the United Kingdom and its proportions are approximately 2/3rds the size of the world-renowned Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The bridge is lime green in colour and is continually being painted. It takes on average five years to paint, end to end. To fully repaint the bridge from scratch would use anything up to 50,000 litres of paint.

The bridge was built using suspended cantilever construction, with the aid of temporary towers and ties to support the structure and reduce the hogging moments at the bases during construction. This form of construction is avoided in many parts of the world where high winds are frequent, due to the risk of collapse during construction.

Mersey Environment

Water quality in the River Mersey has been severely affected by industrialisation in the region, and in 1985, the Mersey Basin Campaign was established to improve water quality and encourage waterside regeneration. In 2002, oxygen levels were high enough to support fish along the entire length of the river.

Salmon are now found in the river. They can be viewed on the Salmon Steps at Woolston between the months of September and November. They were always to be found in the river before the Industrial Revolution. (Some information from Wikipedia)


River Irwell

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The River Irwell follows a course through Lancashire and Greater Manchester (seen here alongside Manchester cathedral). It is one of several rivers that helped facilitate the Industrial Revolution in northwest England. With its source at Cliviger, Lancashire, it flows through (and divides) the city centres of Manchester and Salford, before joining the River Mersey. Its tributaries are the rivers Medlock, Irk, Croal, Tonge, Roch and Spodden with the Tonge having three brooks running into it, Bradshaw Brook, Astley Brook and Eagley Brook. There is also Kirklees Brook at Bury.

It is hard to image boats sailing up to here now, but the River Irwell and the Mersey were made navigable in the mid-nineteenth century. The New Cut at Woolston was part of the route. Manchester Cathedral is seen here in the centre in this view from 9 June 2007. Photo and caption Copyright © P Spilsbury.

Rising on the moors at Cliviger, it flows south through Bacup, Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom and Bury, before merging with the River Roch near Radcliffe. Turning west it is joined by the River Croal near Farnworth and runs south east, where it meanders around the centre of Manchester, joining the rivers Irk and Medlock. Again turning west, from Salford until it meets the Mersey south of Irlam; its route was altered in the late 19th century to form part of the course of the Manchester Ship Canal.    (Some information from Wikipedia)

Mersey and Irwell Navigation

In the late 17th century, the Warrington businessman Thomas Patten, had made the River Mersey navigable as far as Warrington and suggested that there would be significant commercial value in extending this along the Irwell as far as Manchester. In 1721, Parliament  authorised the alteration with the "Mersey and Irwell Navigation Act", and by 1736 work had been completed by creating eight canal locks along the 20 mile route from Warrington to Manchester, allowing access to boats of up to 50 tons. The waterway played a central role in the cotton industry of the 18th century that spear-headed the Industrial Revolution. It ran from Warrington Bank Quay to Hunt's Bank in Manchester (now Victoria Street).

Sankey Canal (1757)

In 2007, the Sankey Canal celebrated its 250 anniversary.

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Also known as the Sankey Brook Navigation and St Helens Canal, it connects St Helens with the River Mersey via Warrington. It is now disused, but there are plans for restoration. When opened in 1757, it ran from the mouth of the Sankey Brook at Sankey Bridges, near the Mersey, along the valley of the Sankey Brook, ending at Broad Oak, north west of St. Helens, a distance of about 16 miles - 8 miles for the main canal and a further 8 miles in its branches. Later extensions were made at the Mersey end, firstly to Fiddlers Ferry, then to Widnes in 1833, and at the northern end, where it was extended into what became the centre of St. Helens.

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Sankey Brook at Winwick
(17 Feb 2007).

Sankey Brook at Winwick
(17 Feb 2007).


Previous navigations had, in the main, simply improved the depth of rivers, and/or used short artificial "cuts" to join long navigable stretches, or had connected nearby stretches of different rivers. The name of the waterway shows that it was promoted as a continuation of this tradition, an undertaking to make navigable the Sankey Brook.  

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However, the Sankey Brook has such a tortuous course that it is thought unlikely that the promoters seriously intended to make it navigable. Clauses in the Act allowed for such cuts and diversions as the builders thought necessary to accomplish their aim. What they actually built was a completely separate channel, away from the Brook itself. In doing so they constructed the first wholly artificial modern canal built in England, the first of the Industrial Revolution and open two years before the Act was passed for the building of the Bridgewater Canal, which is often credited with that distinction.  

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Sankey Brook at Dallam
(17 Feb 2007)

Sankey Canal at Dallam
(17 Feb 2007)

It has always been assumed that it was the single long artificial cut of the Sankey Brook Navigation that inspired Brindley to appreciate the potential for the Bridgewater Canal, the success of which instigated the Canal Mania of the late 18th century.


The Sankey Canal was the first in England since the Romans built the Foss Dyke in Lincolnshire for drainage and navigation around AD 50. The Sankey Canal was built principally to transport coal from the Lancashire Coalfield mines to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool, though iron ore and corn were also important commodities. These industries rapidly expanded, and spread back along the line of the Canal to St Helens, Earlestown and Widnes, which were small villages until this period. The Sankey can thus be credited with the industrial growth of the region.

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The line of the canal was surveyed by Henry Berry (Liverpool's Second Dock Engineer) and William Taylor, the former being appointed Engineer for the navigation. With Thomas Steers, Liverpool’s First Dock Engineer, Berry had a part in building the earlier Newry Canal in Northern Ireland. Berry took over from Steers in 1750.

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The remains of the filled-in section of the Sankey Canal at Winwick.
The route of the M62 motorway now travels right across the line of the old canal.

The Act of Parliament authorizing the construction of the navigation was passed on 20 March 1755, entitled An Act for making navigable the River or Brook called Sankey Brook, and Three several Branches thereof from the River Mersey below Sankey Bridges, up to Boardman's Stone Bridge on the South Branch, to Gerrard's Bridge on the Middle Branch, and to Penny Bridge on the North Branch, all in the county palatine of Lancaster.

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The canal was open and carrying coal by 1757: carriage of all goods was charged at 10d (ten old pence – approximately £0.042) per ton. As the title of the Act states, in addition to the mainline between the Mersey and St Helens, there were three branches to nearby collieries: the Middle Branch to Gerrard's Bridge (1759), the North Branch to Penny Bridge (1762 and 1770), and the South Branch to Boardman's Stone Bridge, near St Helens (1772).

The building here dates back to 1841 and was used as part of the maintenance yard, specifically a large wood and metal workshop.
A crane was used to lift the boats into the yard and all manner of repairs to timber, metal, etc, would be undertaken here.

A second Act of Parliament was obtained on 8 April 1762, amending the earlier act, entitled, An Act to amend and render more effectual, an Act made in the Twenty-eighth Year of the Reign of his late Majesty King George the Second, for making navigable Sankey Brook, in the county of Lancaster, and for the extending and improving the said Navigation. This authorised the extension of the navigation to Fiddler's Ferry on the River Mersey, and to take an additional toll of two-pence per ton, making the rate one shilling (£0.05) per ton. The line of this extension was surveyed by John Eyes.

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An early trial of steam power took place on 16 June 1797, when, according to the Billing's Liverpool Advertiser, dated the 26th, John Smith's "vessel heavily laden with copper slag, passed along the Sankey Canal ... by the application of steam only ... it appears, that the vessel after a course of ten miles, returned the same evening to St Helen's whence it had set out". This boat was powered by a Newcomen engine working a paddle crankshaft through a beam and connecting rod.

To counter competition from the new railways, a further extension of the canal was dug from Fiddler's Ferry across Cuerdley and Widnes Salt Marshes to Widnes Wharf, West Bank, near Runcorn Gap, making an alternative connection with the Mersey with another basin. This was authorised by a third Act of Parliament, granted on 29 May 1830, entitled An Act to consolidate and amend the Acts relating to the Sankey Brook Navigation, in the county of Lancaster; and to make a New Canal from the said Navigation at Fiddler's Ferry, to communicate with the River Mersey at Widness Wharf, near West Bank, in the township of Widness, in the said county,' repeals the former acts of the 28th George II. and 2nd George III. and incorporates the proprietors under the title of "The Company of Proprietors of the Sankey Brook Navigation."  

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The remains of the
dry dock at Winwick

The Lockkeeper's cottage
at Hulme Lock, next to
the maintenance yard. 

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The cottage was demolished in the 1970s and the foundations were recently excavated and restored by the Sankey Canal Restoration Society.
It was built out of brick, slate, timber and ceramic tiles and originally had two rooms and a cellar (three by the end). I used to walk past as a child fearing the lockkeeper would come out and chase us away, which of course he wouldn't do because there was a public right of way passing the cottage leading to the footbridge over the West Coast Mainline at Winwick. Nestle chocolate depot was just over the bridge on Mill Lane. That building is now the Royal Mail North West Regional Distribution Centre.

Francis Giles was appointed Engineer for this extension, which opened in 1833. In 1825 Giles had proposed a linking of the Sankey, via an aqueduct across the Mersey, with the Bridgewater Canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation. He was a pupil of John Rennie and involved in many canal projects of the period.

Dallam Sluices                                       

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From St Helens, the Sankey Brook always flowed at a lower level than the Canal, which enabled it to overflow in heavy rain. Just past Hulme Lock the Brook flowed into the Canal and excess water drained through the sluices and into the Brook's original course.

The images here show what remains of the sluices today (photos 17 Feb 2007).

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Mersey Flats

The Sankey was built for Mersey Flats, the common sailing craft of the local rivers - the River Mersey, River Irwell and River Weaver - and the Lancashire and North Wales coasts. A Mersey Flat is a two masted, doubled-ended barge with rounded bilges (the section where water is collected for pumping out later), carvel build and fully decked. Carvel is a method of constructing wooden boats by fixing planks to a frame so that the planks butt up against each other, edge to edge, gaining support from the frame and forming a smooth hull.

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Wrecks of Mersey Flats at Spike Island, Widnes. The flat was the
workhorse of the Mersey until the powered boats took over. They
share a long line of local craft along with the Thames sailing
barge, Norfolk wherry and the Severn Trow among others.

Photos and captions Copyright © P Spilsbury, 6 December 1974.

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They were common from the 1730s to 1890s, and as the name suggests, these Flats originated on the River Mersey but were also used on the rivers Irwell and Weaver.

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The length of a flat was from 62 to 70 feet long, with a 6-foot draught and a beam of 14 feet 9 inches to 17 feet. They could carry up to 80 tons of cargo. 

To allow for the masts of the flats, all the roads in the Canal’s path had to cross it on swing bridges. When the railways were built, they too had to cross in similar fashion.

The exception was at Earlestown, where Stephenson erected his massive viaduct for the country’s first passenger railway from Liverpool to Manchester, leaving 70 foot headroom for the flats’ sails.

It is unclear exactly how the flats' masts were accommodated at Great Sankey, where the Liverpool - Warrington - Manchester line built by the Cheshire Lines Committee in 1873 crosses the Sankey on a 12-arch viaduct less than twenty foot above the water level of the canal.

A wooden
rudder from
a Mersey Flat
at Spike Island, Widnes
(18 Feb 2007)

This poem is from a grave at the entrance to Warrington Parish Church

The Old Quay Flats was my delight
I sailed in them both day and night
GOD bless masters and the Clerks
The Packet people and the Flat Men too
Horse drivers and all their crew
Our sails are set to Liverpool
We must get under way
Discharge our cargo safe and 
Sound in Manchester Bay
Now all hands when you go home
Neither fret Cry nor Morn
Serve the Lord where ever you go
Let the winds Blow high and low

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Photo © P Spilsbury

To our GOD let us pray keep us from
Drunkenness and wickedness both night and day
This stone and grave a free gift to John
Yates Mariner Captain of the Old Quay Packet.
GOD bless all British sailors, Admiral Nelson
And all the English fleet
When we must go we do not know
Sweet Jesus Christ to meet.

This grave is to John Legh
Mary his sister (Oct 6 1801 age 39yrs)
Betty his mother (6 May 1824 age 88y)


England's first staircase (double) lock was built on the Sankey Canal and a second set was built later when the Ravenhead Branch was built in 1775. They are known respectively as the Old Double Lock and the New Double Lock. The latter was restored by St. Helens Borough Council in 1992, although it has no navigable waterway either above or below it.


Built primarily to take coal from Haydock and Parr down to the Mersey and so on to the saltfields of Cheshire and Liverpool, the final traffic on the Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction - raw sugar for the Sankey Sugar Works at Earlestown, from Liverpool.

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The Canal passes through Newton. The images above are on the Newton/Warrington border. Newton Brook used to flow alongside the Sankey Canal, before flowing underneath it by means of a culvert (ditch). It now passes across it by means of the wide concrete channel (centre image). The Warrington (Winwick) section of the canal was filled in during the 1970s and part of it now forms a cycle route. Below are views of the water section at Newton near Hey Lock, which is still a popular spot for fishermen. The first image shows an overflow section, which used to carry excess water away into Newton Brook. Hey Lock itself has been filled in (fourth image) but the water continues on the other side of it. It is a popular spot for picnics. Close by is Vulcan Village, containing all the houses built for the railway workers at nearby Vulcan Works, where many of the old steam trains were built. Some are still in use in India and China. The site is now an industrial unit. All photos 17 Feb 2007.

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Looking towards Warrington
with the overflow on the right.

A stone bench for the weary.

Catch of the Day. It took two of us to land it - one to catch it and the other to photograph it (I was the photographer!).

The Canal at Hey Lock, Newton. Beyond it is the Sankey Viaduct carrying the Liverpool
& Manchester Railway.

The Sankey’s immediate commercial success, followed soon after by that of the Bridgewater Canal, led to a mania of canal building, and for further extension schemes for the Sankey. Francis Giles' proposals are mentioned above, and another would have linked it to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near Leigh, to the northeast. Apart from the early extensions to Fiddlers Ferry from Sankey Bridges, for better locking into the river, and in 1775 to St Helens, the only major change came with the extension to Widnes.

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Two views of the Sankey Brook as it flows alongside Sankey Valley Park between Whitecross and Old Hall. The image, left, shows the Cheshire Lines (now Trans-Pennine) railway line crossing the Brook on 10 September 2006. The image, right, looks in the opposite direction the following day (11 Sep 2006).

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Sankey Bridges is an industrial area of Warrington. Private wharves, a coal yard and a pub called the Resolution Sloop existed here in 1756. A boat yard and dry dock followed, where Mersey Flats were constructed from 1807. The yard had varying degrees of success and operated with full books until 1881. The Canal originally ended at Sankey Bridges, with the boats continuing on through the Sankey Brook and into the Mersey. This was not successful, and an extension of the canal to Fiddler's Ferry was authorised in 1762. In 1845 the St Helens Canal and Railway Company was formed and the area flourished with houses, factories, yards, storage areas, etc. The railway line ran over the canal via a swing bridge and the custom was to leave the bridge open for boats to pass. Unfortunately, on a foggy night in 1858 a locomotive, Actaeon, passed over and nobody told the bridge operator it was coming back again so he left the bridge open for the boats and the train crashed into the canal.

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The Sankey Brook at Sankey Bridges
(18 Feb 2007).

The Sankey Canal at Sankey Bridges (18 Feb 2007).

Wildlife is in abundance at
Sankey Bridges (18 Feb 2007).

The railway crosses the disused
section of the Sankey Canal.
Photo © P Spilsbury 6 Apr 1984.

In 1845 the St Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway Company, and the then more prosperous Canal Company, merged to form the St Helens Canal and Railway Company. Its 'official' name changed to the St Helens Canal sometime later. The Sankey Canal Restoration Society has been attempting to rehabilitate its earlier title. The St Helens Canal and Railway Company were eventually taken over by the London and North Western Railway in 1864, who in turn were absorbed into the Big Four grouping of 1923 when the company became part of the LMS (London Midland and Scottish). See Making Tracks for more.


The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to the closure of the Canal in 1963. North of the Sugar Works, closure had taken place between St Helens and Earlestown in 1931, and fixed bridges quickly replaced the old wooden swing bridges. The Canal, however, remains largely in water right up into the centre of St Helens, although its terminus had been truncated in 1898, when Canal Street was built over it.

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The images above were taken at Fiddler's Ferry Yacht Haven on 18 February 2007. The haven was developed by Warrington Borough Council and sponsored by the Department for the Environment and the Sports Council. The contractors for the haven were A. Monk & Co plc of Warrington and FW Sherratt Ltd of Manchester. It was opened by the Mayor, Councillor P. Mounfield on the 3 August 1985 and is 3½ miles from Spike Island. The lock in the centre image links the Sankey Canal to the River Mersey.


Most of the Canal is still in water and much has been restored to navigable standard, with short sections at Fiddlers Ferry, Warrington, and Spike Island, Widnes having locks into the Mersey, which allow craft access to the canal for mooring. However, fixed bridges which replaced the original wooden swing bridges and other obstructions mean they are isolated from one another. 

Widnes industrial area and Spike Island (Photos taken 18 Feb 2007).

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Fiddler's Ferry Power
Station in the distance.

Near Bowers Business Park.

Swan song.

Charter House signal box
by Tanhouse Lane.

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Spike Island at Widnes is named after the small dwellings and lodging houses, known as 'spikes' to the inhabitants, and were built to house the workers from the nearby chemical industries. The land itself is a reclaimed toxic waste site. It is now a beautifully landscaped area and welcomes visitors from near and far. A tablet in the floor commemorates the visit by Queen Elizabeth II on 2 November 1979. Check out the Halton Council website for further details and history of the area, which includes the railways.

The route of the canal passes through the Sankey Valley Park. There are plans to restore the canal, and to extend it to join the main canal system via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The total cost of this would be in excess of £100m and it is therefore a long-term project. There are, however, plans to dig out an infilled section in the centre of St. Helens as part of the town's Eastside Development, whilst the Widnes Waterfront development and the proposed new Mersey crossing between Widnes and Runcorn are expected to lead to further restoration at Widnes.   (Some information from Wikipedia)

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Follow my leader. Swans on Sankey Valley bring us closer to nature. Later on this particular day in summer 2004, one of the seven babies (right) got tangled up in a fishing line. Thankfully it was a happy ending as two concerned citizens rescued it and set it free.

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Visit the Sankey Canal Restoration Society's official website.


Bridgewater Canal (1761) 

The Bridgewater Canal is entirely on one level and has no locks. Cranes are located at intervals along the canal's length to allow boards to be dropped into slots in the canal banks. This allows sections of the canal to be isolated in the event of a leak.

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A view of Moore Bridge on the Bridgewater Canal at Moore. A metal ring for tying up boats is shown right. (Photos
taken 27 January 2007).

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A view from the bridge towards Warrington, right. Moore is located in the district of Halton, whilst Moore Nature Reserve is within the Warrington boundary and well worth a visit. Catch the No 62 Bus from Runcorn or Warrington and ask for Moore Lane.

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The Route

The original section of the canal runs from Castlefield Basin in Manchester city centre. This is where the canal terminates, and joins to the Rochdale Canal, and where boats used to unload their cargoes. The canal runs west from Manchester for about four miles (7 km) to a point where it splits into two parts at "Waters Meeting" junction; en route it passes Hulme Lock, now disused, which provided a connection to the River Irwell and the Manchester Ship Canal, and a new lock at Pomona giving access to the Manchester Ship Canal.

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From Waters Meeting, the original part of the canal travels north west for about 10 miles (16 km) until it reaches the village of Worsley and the entrance to the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater's coal mines via the Worsley Navigable Levels. These are an extensive series of coal mines worked largely by the use of underground canals (the navigable levels) and boats. The iron ore deposits in the rock faces the tunnels pass through are responsible for the deep orange colour of the canal at Worsley.

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In this view, left, of the Bridgewater Canal at Worsley, a starvation boat can be seen on the left. They got their name because the ribs were exposed. James Brindley was the engineer and he also planned a canal system from the Mersey to the Trent. The Packet House at Worsley, right, must be one of the most photographed buildings in the North west. To the right is the branch to the mine entrance and the Leigh Branch is to the left. It is an odd fact that wherever you stand on the tow-path of this canal from Worsley to Runcorn you are at the same height above sea level because there are no locks on the system. Photos and captions Copyright © P Spilsbury.

On the way to Worsley it passes over the River Irwell/Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Aqueduct at Salford, the world's first commercially driven aqueduct, which was completed in 1893 with the novel idea of "opening" by rotating 90 degrees to allow ships to pass. This overcame the problem of crossing the Irwell Valley. The original bridge was built in 1767 by James Brindley and consisted of three arches, and measured 12 metres high, 200 metres long and 11 metres wide. Upon its opening in 1761 it earned the nickname of "the Castle in the Air" and proved hugely successful in the industry of the area. The stone bridge was replaced by the swing bridge of today, which carries 800 tonnes of water and has a total weight of 1,200 tonnes. This section of the canal was later extended a further 5 miles (8 km) to Leigh where it makes an end-on connection with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

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Barton Swing Bridge, built to replace the stone
aqueduct over the River Irwell during the
construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.
Photos and caption Copyright © P Spilsbury.

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The other part of the canal travels about 20 miles south-west to Runcorn, passing through the town of Sale and village of Lymm, and to the south of Warrington. At Preston Brook the canal connects with the Trent and Mersey Canal and at Runcorn, beyond the present terminus, a set of locks used to lower the canal to the River Mersey and later to the Manchester Ship Canal. These locks are now disused; if a new road crossing of the Mersey is built, changes to the road system in Runcorn could allow restoration of these locks.


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The Bridgewater Canal is often considered to be the first true canal in Britain, in that it relied on existing watercourses purely as sources of water rather than as navigable routes. However, the Sankey Brook Navigation also has a good claim to that title: though it was promoted as a scheme to make the Sankey Brook navigable, it did this by constructing an entirely new channel, and thus was effectively an artificial canal along the Sankey Brook valley. The Bridgewater Canal came about because the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, Sir Francis Egerton, wanted an efficient way to transport coal from his coal mines at Worsley, into Manchester, where the Industrial Revolution was underway.

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Acton Grange Bridge
(27 Jan 2007).

Acton Grange Bridge steps
(27 Jan 2007).

Furthermore it solved the ongoing problem of flooding in these mines. In addition to easing the overland transport difficulties, the underground section of the canal at Worsley also removed the need for expensive and difficult vertical winding of the coal to the surface, whilst providing drainage for the mines and a source of water for the surface canal.

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The Act of Parliament allowing the building of the Bridgewater Canal was passed in 1759. The Duke commissioned James Brindley as canal engineer and it opened in 1761. 

The construction of the canal had already started when James Brindley became involved. Brindley took charge of the canal's construction. Several changes were made to the canal's course under Brindley's control and the canal was completed in 1764. 

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Acton Grange, Warrington
(27 Jan 2007).

Thomason's Bridge
at Higher Walton
(27 Jan 2007).

Before and during the construction of the Bridgewater Canal the navigable level was begun and tunnelling progressed. A tunnel 8 feet high was cut northwards into the rock from the canal level at Worsley providing 4 feet of headroom and four feet of water. The first workable seam (the Four Feet seam) was reached in 1761, 770 yards from the tunnel's portal. The tunnel was not straight, it changed course in order to avoid trespassing under the land of neighbouring landlords. As new coal seams were intercepted branch levels into the seams were dug and extended as the coals were mined. The branch level along the Four Feet seam itself reached a length of 1.75 miles.
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The A56 Chester Road crosses
the canal at Walton on a
concrete bridge.
Chester Road Underbridge
at Walton.
Walton Bridge. Fishing at Walton along
Walton Lea Road.
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Markers (pegs) are positioned
all the way along the canal for
fishing matches.
How about that between two
slices of bread? Unfortunately
for him it has to go back in
the canal at the end of the day.
The Walton Arms pub along
Walton Lea Road. One of
many stopping places along
the canal route.
Walton Lea Bridge, leading
into Walton Gardens, which
contains the former home
of the Greenall's brewing
family, the Cycle Museum
and an exhibition about
Lewis Carroll, born just
down the road at Daresbury.
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Hough's Bridge at Walton. London Bridge at Stockton Heath. Visit My Warrington page to learn more
about Thorn Marine, currently under threat of closure by its owners, Peel
Holdings, who own the canal. London Bridge pub is on the main road.
All images taken 27 January 2007.
Mine shafts were sunk and coal mined ahead of the intended line of the main navigable level, which was continually extended for many years to reach a length of 4 miles. In order to ease the congestion resulting from the large number of boats using the level, a second entrance tunnel was dug, 500 yards long, and a one way system introduced.

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At the time it was considered a major engineering achievement, as the canal contained a large aqueduct over the River Irwell, and it greatly enhanced Brindley's career. The Worsley part of the canal was later extended to Leigh, in 1799. The Duke had invested a huge sum of his own money into constructing the canal, and it was a great financial success.

Due to the greatly increased supply of coal which the canal had enabled, the price of coal in Manchester fell by nearly three quarters within a year of the canal opening. A few years later construction began of the route to Runcorn, which opened in 1772.

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Red Lane Bridge at
Hillcliffe near Appleton

(27 Jan 2007).

View from Red Lane Bridge
showing allotments at
(27 Jan 2007).

Inside the mines 46 miles of underground canal on four levels linked by inclined planes were constructed. They were served by specially-built M-boats (also known as starvationers), the largest of which could carry 12 tons of coal. Mining ceased in 1887.

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A starvationer boat at Ellesmere Port Canal Museum with a demonstration of the process of legging to push the boat through the tunnels.

(Author: Martin Cordon 21 March 2007. This file is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.)

The canal carried commercial freight traffic until 1975; the last regular traffic being grain from Liverpool to Manchester for BOCM, and is now mainly used by pleasure craft. The canal also hosts two rowing clubs - Trafford Rowing Club and Manchester University Boat Club.

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Cranes are strategically positioned all along
the canal. In 1987 Chester Road Underbridge
sprung a leak and the crane was used to move
the  stop-planks into position on the canal
to isolate the water so maintenance could take
place. The one on the left is at Stockton Heath
and has a lifting capacity of 1 ton. The second
is by Ditchfield Bridge at Lymm (27 Jan 2007).

Lumb Brook Bridge carries
the Bridgewater Canal
over Lumb Brook Road
near Stockton Heath
(27 Jan 2007).

The view from the top of
Lumb Brook Bridge showing
Lumb Brook on the right
and the view over Stockton
Heath to Warrington town
centre (27 Jan 2007).

The canal has suffered four breaches: one soon after opening, one in 1971 near the River Bollin aqueduct, the one on Chester Road mentioned above and another in the summer of 2005 after a sluice gate failed in Manchester.

The Bridgewater Canal is unusual because it is one of the few canals in Britain which is still privately owned and was never nationalised. This is because it was bought by the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the 1890s, which itself was never nationalised. It is still owned and operated by the Manchester Ship Canal Company in conjunction with the Bridgewater Canal Trust. The Manchester Ship Canal Company is part of the Peel Ports group owned by Manchester based Peel Holdings Ltd, one of the UK's largest property and transport companies. (Some information from Wikipedia)

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This was the only time I saw a coal barge. It was taken near Grappenhall when some friends and I hired a motorboat from Marine Engineering at Stockton Heath in the early 1960s. Photo and caption Copyright © P Spilsbury.

Stockton Lane. This was the scene of a horrific accident in 2004 when two teenagers died as a car plunged into the canal. Inspections were carried out and the road has since been closed to all traffic. (28 Apr 2007).

Grappenhall Village Sports Club is set in beautiful surroundings on the bank of the Bridgewater in Stockton Lane. They have tennis courts and a football team.
(27 Jan 2007).

A scene from Stanney Lunt Bridge at Church Road, Grappenhall
(28 Apr 2007).

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Stanney Lunt Bridge
at Grappenhall
(27 Jan 2007).

Grappenhall Bridge
(30 Jan 2007).

Farming implements abandoned in a field alongside the canal at Grappenhall. Manufactured by Lister - Blackstone and described as No 1 Digger. The company was formed by the joining of two other companies: Blackstone, established 1837 and Lister, established 1867. They manufacture oil engines and agricultural machinery and started out in Stamford, Lincolnshire
(photo taken 27 Jan 2007).

The Bridgewater passes through Thelwall on its route from Manchester to Runcorn

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A tranquil cruise along
a canal with no locks.

Pickerings Bridge
near Thelwall.


James Brindley (Canal Engineer)   

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James Brindley (1716 - 30 September 1772) was born into a farming family in Tunstead, Derbyshire, which in those days was extremely isolated. He received little formal education.

At age 17, encouraged by his mother, he was apprenticed to a millwright in Sutton, Macclesfield. Having completed his apprenticeship he set up business for himself as a wheelwright in Leek.

He soon established a reputation for ingenuity and skill at repairing many different kinds of machinery. In 1752 he designed and built an engine for draining a coal mine. Three years later he built a machine for a silk-mill at Congleton.

Public license Image is in the public domain

His reputation brought him to the attention of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who was looking for a way to improve the transport of coal from his coal mines at Worsley in Manchester. In 1761 the Bridgewater canal was the result.

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 The Trans Pennine Trail
passes through Thelwall
alongside the canal.

The canal at
Thelwall Underbridge.

Thelwall Viaduct was built in
1963 to carry the M6
motorway over the River
Mersey, Manchester Ship Canal
and the Bridgewater Canal.
A new viaduct was
added in the 21st century to
cope with traffic flows.

A crane at Lymm.

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Ditchfield's Bridge at Lymm.

 The approach to Lymm
village from the west.

Lymm village.

 The cobble stones of
historic Lymm village 
lead up to the canal bank.

Brindley's reputation soon spread and he was soon commissioned to construct more canals. He extended the Bridgewater to Runcorn, connecting it to his next major work, the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Brindley believed it would be possible to use canals to link the four great rivers of England: the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. In 1762 he 'set out for Chester and Shropshire survey or a raconitering' according to his diary. He had with him a sketch map of the continuation of the Dee southwards past Whitchurch.

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The Ironing bored! Great name
for this shop in Lymm village.
Sadly, the former charity shop
building was demolished in 2011. 

Ducks are always on the canal.

Lymm Bridge at the centre
of the village on the B5158.

View from Lymm
Bridge looking west.

See Warrington Green for information on nearby Lymm Slitting Mill and Lymm Dam.
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St Peter's Church,
Reflection on the beauty of
the canal and countryside.
Lloyd Bridge at Oughtrington.
It was renamed as Lloyd
Bridge in 1982 for a family
who served the Bridgewater
Canal for over 200 years.
It used to be called
Oughtrington Bridge.
Grantham's Bridge
at Oughtrington.

Photos taken 30 January 2007.

Other canal schemes in his repertoire included the Chester Canal, started in 1772, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Coventry Canal and the Oxford Canal, among others. In total he built 365 miles (587 km) of canals, plus many water mills, including the one at Leek, which is now the Brindley Water Museum. It was while he was surveying a new branch of the Trent and Mersey Canal  that he caught a chill after a heavy rainstorm and return home. He was later diagnosed with diabetes.

He died at Turnhurst within sight of the unfinished Harecastle Tunnel on 30 September 1772.

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Mill Lane Bridge
at Oughtrington.
A Wintertime selection at Lymm. On the opposite bank there is Canal Horse Hospital,
Northern Marine Services, the Barn Owl pub and restaurant, Hesford Marine and Lymm Marina.
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Barn Owl Inn. If you ring the bell they
will send a boat to ferry you across.
Agden Bridge near Lymm. Agden Bridge. Even boats
have to observe speed limits.
Photos taken 9 February 2007.
He is remembered in Birmingham by Brindley Drive (on the site of former canal yards), the Brindleyplace mixed-use development and a pub, The James Brindley (both being canal-side features), and the James Brindley School for children in Birmingham's hospitals. He is also remembered in Leek with the James Brindley Mill, and by numerous other streets in the areas in which he worked. Within Worsley is the James Brindley Primary school at Parr Fold Avenue. In the grounds is a wooden barge once used for the transportation of coal from mines at Worsley. There is also a superb statue of him (leaning over his desk) located in the canal terminus in Coventry. He is also remembered in Runcorn by "The Brindley" Arts Centre which opened in the autumn of 2004. (information from Wikipedia)

This final set of images from the Bridgewater take us to the border of Warrington and Greater Manchester at the River Bollin (9 Feb 2007).

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Bollington Underbridge,
leading to the village of
Little Bollington.

The Swan With Two Nicks pub. The name is derived from a system of marking swans. Though regarded as royal birds owned by the Sovereign, the Worshipful Company of the Vintners and of the Dyers were allowed to own swans and their birds were marked with two nicks on the beak.

The Bridgewater meets the River Bollin, the border between Warrington (Cheshire) and
Greater Manchester.

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The Bridgewater Canal near Stockton Heath 11 Jan 2008

Click here for Part 2

Warrington - A Town of Many Industries

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