Canals & Inland Waterways around Greater Manchester and North-West England
The Trent & Mersey Canal
The Trent & Mersey Canal was completed in 1777, one of the earliest inland waterways to be navigable in Great Britain. Its prime motivators were the pottery industries of the northern midlands, centred on Stoke-on-Trent. Then, most of their clay from Cornwall and flint from Sussex had to be shipped to Liverpool by boat, and then transported by horse-drawn wagons to the Potteries, making it expensive and time-consuming.
The decision was made to link the navigable River Trent to the River Mersey to overcome this difficulty, and the great engineer, James Brindley was commissioned to oversee the survey, the design and the construction. It was to run from Preston Brook in the north, to Shardlow in the south, some 92 miles, intersecting at Fazeley (Birmingham) with the so-called “Grand Cross” of waterways linking the north-south and east-west estuaries of the Humber, the Mersey, the Thames and the Severn. Seven miles from Preston Brook, at the village of Anderton, stands the Anderton Lift, an ingenious device by Thomas Telford, to lower boats from the Trent & Mersey Canal above down into the River Weaver below. It stood derelict for nearly 2 decades. However, recent restoration work has restored it as a working lift – after many years of campaigning by waterways pressure groups it is now once again fully operational. The canal also passes through Middlewich, one of the three “wiches” of Cheshire (Northwich and Nantwich being the other two) – ( “wich” is old English for “salt”), and was to be instrumental in improving the business fortunes of the county’s salt mine owners. Cheshire salt was still transported by canal until the early 1960s. Locks are abundant on the canal, particularly the long haul up from Middlewich to Hardings Wood Junction, some 30-odd locks raising the canal nearly 300 feet, known by the 19th century navigators as “Heartbreak Hill”. In the 1830s, duplicate locks were installed over much of this flight, to speed up traffic – many survive today. Fortunately, there is ample respite half way up the hill at Hassal Green where there is a lockside restaurant, good overnight moorings and the newly refurbished “Romping Donkey” pub. At Hardings Wood Junction the water turns a dramatic deep orange-red colour due to the iron oxide leeching into the water inside Harecastle Tunnel. Also, at this junction a branch off to the right marks the beginning of the Macclesfield Canal.
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