The Dukes Cut...

The Bridgewater Canal

A unique portrait of the Bridgewater Canal, both past and present, in words and photographs

 complete with an accurate, up to date set of linear maps plus navigational information.

An expanded version of the History Press (formally Tempus) book by Cyril J Wood published here in eBook format





The History of the Canal


Maps and Description of the Route

Navigational Information


About the Author




I have been interested in canals and inland waterways since a child when my parents hired canal cruisers on the Shropshire Union and Llangollen Canals before having a boat of their own built. I followed their example, bought my first boat in 1983 and moored it on the Shropshire Union Canal at Beeston Iron Lock before moving to the Bridgewater Canal in 1985. I was already aware of the historical impact that this canal had made on inland navigation in this country having attended a meeting of the Manchester Branch of the I.W.A. in 1967 which featured a talk given by the late Frank Mullineux... the well known Bridgewater Canal Historian, on the Worsley Mines. The information that I gained at this lecture was to sow the seed for my appreciation and love of the Bridgewater Canal. The more I cruised the Bridgewater Canal the more I appreciated its history and diversity. I started to photograph the canal and give audio/visual presentations about it to various interested societies. In 1987 I decided to write a commentary for the A/V presentation. This graduated into relating the canal's history as well as describing the route and its features. I then mapped the whole canal and combined them with the photographs and text with a view to having the finished work published as "The Bridgewater Book" the front cover of which is illustrated below. For various reasons this project was shelved and resurrected in 2000 as "The Duke's Cut - The Bridgewater Canal". It was subsequently published by Tempus Publishing the following year. It would be very pretentious of me to say that this is the definitive publication on the canal as each book has its own individuality and focuses on different aspects of the canal. I have tried to produce a book that concentrates of the “mechanics” of the canal’s history and geography concisely and without the encumbrance of facts that the reader usually skips. I hope that you, the reader, gain as much enjoyment out of reading this book as I have had producing it and that you find it a readable, informative and entertaining piece of work that relates the canal’s history, describes it’s route, gives invaluable information to those wishing to use it and documents the canal with photographs of features are familiar, that have disappeared and places that have changed beyond recognition. I have tried to keep abreast of changes to the canal but I apologize for any mistakes or inaccuracies that (inevitably) may have crept into the text, maps or photographs in this book. 

The front cover of "The Bridgewater Book"... precursor to "The Duke's Cut - The Bridgewater Canal"


Preface to the eBook Version


Producing an eBook (and web) version of "The Duke's Cut - The Bridgewater Canal" provides me with the luxury of laying out the manuscript in the way that I first envisaged it. That is to say having the text, photographs and maps  in the places that I would like rather than the publisher's preferences (who I have to say have done a good job of it anyway). I have not had to make many up-dates or changes to this book since the Second Edition was released in June 2009. The only significant differences between this and the preceding editions are the layout, some additional photographs of the canal, up-dating the original maps plus the inclusion of maps and photographs of the Runcorn Locks Restoration Project, the River Irwell and Upper Reaches of the Manchester Ship Canal. I have included them due to the on-going restoration of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal which is accessed via the River Irwell. Accordingly, the Bridgewater Canal Company Limited have relaxed regulations relating to the passage of Pomona Lock, navigation of the River Irwell and the Upper Reaches of the Manchester Ship Canal (Salford Quays from Lowry Footbridge going upstream). With having the book in an electronic format (plus not working to a publishing dead-line) also gives me the opportunity to make the smaller corrections and modifications to the manuscript; keeping it up-to-date, that would previously require completely re-typesetting the book. With not being limited to the number of photographs also allows me to reinstate some of the previously deleted images.


Cyril J Wood

April 2020

Return to Contents

The History of the Bridgewater Canal



The first inland navigations in England can be attributed to the Romans. They constructed navigable cuts known as “Fosses” or “Dykes” in some of our rivers to bypass navigational hazards. Three of the better known of these cuts are the Caer Dyke, the Fosse Dyke and the Itchen Dyke. The Carr (or Caer) Dyke ran from the River Witham at Lincoln to Peterborough and the Fosse Dyke also ran from the Witham at Lincoln but connected the town with the River Trent. The Itchen Dyke ran from Winchester to the sea. No doubt, these artificial waterways were monumental in the development of the Lincoln area. Another fosse that is often overlooked in the history of our Inland Waterways was built in the Castlefield area of Manchester to connect the Rivers Irwell and Irk. This particular fosse was built around A.D. 84 and in building this waterway, the Romans laid the foundation stone for a series of waterways, the development of which, was to have a profound effect on transport in this country at the start of the Industrial Revolution and beyond. Unfortunately, no remains of the Castlefield Fosse can be found.



Remains of the Roman Fort at Castlefield in Manchester


Over the successive centuries there have been a few other attempts to produce workable navigations. The erroneously named Exeter Ship Canal (which could only accommodate barges) was constructed in 1566 by John Trew ran alongside the River Exe in Devon. It was originally constructed to by-pass a section of the River Exe notorious for shoals and scours, connecting Exeter to the sea. This navigation featured the first pound locks (as against flash locks) in England. Pound locks are often attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci but there have been locks of this type in Holland since the Fourteenth Century, well before Da Vinci’s birth. One of the busiest natural waterways in the country was the River Severn. It is only natural that it should figure somewhere in the development of the Inland Waterways system. Two notable navigations connected to the Severn are the Dick Brook and the River Stour Navigation, both built by Andrew Yarrington.



The Exeter Ship Canal in Devon


Scroop Egerton, the first Duke of Bridgewater, owned mine workings at Worsley near Manchester, and required a reliable means of transporting his coal not dependent on pack horses and carts via the notoriously unreliable roads. In 1737, the Duke commissioned Thomas Steers to investigate the practicality of making the mine’s drainage soughs and the Worsley Brook navigable as far as the River Irwell. Steers had considerable experience in civil engineering. He was responsible for Liverpool’s first dock and a survey to make the River Irwell navigable to Manchester. The Duke’s plan was dropped when improvements were made to the nearby River Douglas and he died in 1745.

The Worsley Brook

The history of inland waterways navigation in this area is complex and many schemes overlapped each other both in the historical and geographical context. For instance, the plans to make the River Douglas navigable caused the plans for the Bridgewater Canal to be postponed but figured in the development of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal many years later. The River Irwell and subsequently the Mersey and Irwell Navigation were, one hundred and fifty years later, to be absorbed into one of the most ambitious canal projects in England… the Manchester Ship Canal.


Mode Wheel Lock on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation

1754 saw a survey to make another brook, the Sankey Brook, navigable from Saint Helens to the River Mersey. A local engineer, Henry Berry, carried out the survey. Work soon started and by 1757, the Saint Helens (or Sankey) canal was partly open. Whilst being called canals, all of these early works utilised an existing watercourse, whether it be a brook, stream or river and, as such, are not canals in the truest sense of the word but “navigations” or to use the French description… “collaterals”. The general consensus of opinion in inland waterway circles is that the first canal built was the Saint Helens Canal. This is not strictly true and open to conjecture. The definition of a canal is of a waterway constructed independent to any existing watercourses except for the water supply. As the St Helens Canal is mostly the canalised Sankey Brook, it is classed as a navigation and cannot be called a canal in the truest sense of the word. The first true canal in Britain built independent of a watercourse was the Bridgewater Canal or, as it is more affectionately known… “The Duke’s Cut”.



The St Helens Canal - the Sankey Viaduct


Francis Egerton was the sixth son of Scroop and became the Third Duke of Bridgewater at the age of eight when his father died. He was sickly child and suffered an unhappy childhood, being brought up by his mother and stepfather who showed little interest in the young Francis, and punctuated by episodes of tuberculosis. He was educated at Eaton until the age of sixteen when Robert Wood was appointed the young Duke’s tutor. Wood agreed to take the young Duke on a “Grand Tour” of Europe where he would be exposed to the sights and different cultures of a world outside that of England. Francis showed an interest in the transportation system of France and visited the Canal du Languedoc (later known as the Canal du Midi) which, with the Canal du Lateral connects the Atlantic Ocean at Bordeaux with Sète on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Francis Egerton... the Third Duke of Bridgewater, in later years


The Canal du Midi at Homps as Francis Egerton may have seen it

Once the Grand Tour was over, the young Duke returned to England and was absorbed into London’s social life. It was here that he met the widowed Lady Elizabeth Hamilton (one of the Gunning sisters, well known in London’s social circles) with whom he had a love affair and was to become engaged to. The Duke dissolved the engagement due to a scandal in the Gunning family concerning Elizabeth’s sister, a decision that caused him much heartache. Dismayed with London life he decided to dedicate his life to commerce. In 1757 he left London and headed for his mines at Worsley near Manchester where he took up residence in the family estate at Worsley Hall. The relationship with his mother plus his affair with Lady Hamilton had scarred him emotionally and he became a misogynist; hating women to such an extent that he would not even allow female servants at the Hall.

Lady Elizabeth Hamilton (nee Gunning)

After settling in to his new life, he consulted with John Gilbert, the mine’s agent and engineer to discuss problems associated with the mines. It transpired that the two main problems were that of transportation of the coal and mine drainage. At that time, the coal was carried by cart or packhorse to the River Irwell where exorbitant charges were made to transport the coal to Manchester, its main market.


Pack horses and carts transporting coal

Egerton had seen the success of the Grand Languedoc Canal (Canal du Midi) and other Continental waterways on his Grand Tour of Europe and was, no doubt, aware of the fledgling Saint Helens Canal nearby. Together, he and Gilbert resurrected Scroop Egerton’s idea for a canal, expanded upon it to incorporate an elaborate drainage system for the mines and started to survey the route. The proposed canal would not only solve the transportation problem and alleviate that of the mine’s drainage, it would bring down the price of Worsley coal in Manchester, thus, making it more competitive and an affordable commodity for the less affluent members of society. The following year, Egerton was introduced to a millwright called James Brindley by John Gilbert. Brindley travelled to Worsley and stayed as the Duke’s guest for six days discussing mine drainage and the proposed canal. Five years earlier, Brindley had been involved in extensive mine drainage works at the not too distant Wet Earth Colliery near Clifton (adjacent to where the disused Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal is today). No doubt, the success of this scheme helped to make up the Duke’s mind when he decided to engage Brindley to make complete the survey for the canal already started by John Gilbert.

An engraving of James Brindley

Brindley soon completed the survey and in 1759, an Act of Parliament was passed enabling the canal to be built. The proposed route was to run from the mines at Worsley to the River Irwell at Salford Quay with a branch to Hollins Ferry also on the Irwell, 9.6 km (6 miles) below Barton Bridge. On 1st July 1759, work on the canal commenced, but in November of that year the Salford Quay terminus was dropped in favour of Dolefield and an additional Act of Parliament obtained. There is an interesting offshoot to the early history of the Bridgewater Canal. Francis Egerton’s brother-in-law was Lord Gower, who owned coalmines and limestone quarries in the rapidly expanding industrial area of Shropshire. His land agent was John Gilbert’s brother… Thomas Gilbert. It is obvious that communication had taken place between the two families that lead to the foundation of the canal system in Shropshire which lead to the area being christened “The Cradle of the Industrial Revolution”. Around this time, another canal was being proposed. This was the Grand Trunk or, as it was later to be known, the Trent and Mersey Canal. This canal was the brainchild of Josiah Wedgwood the potter and would bring clay to his potteries, transport the finished pottery in addition to serving the Cheshire salt industry. It is interesting to note that two of the main promoters of the canal were none other than Lord Gower and Thomas Gilbert. Wedgwood had also secured the services of James Brindley to survey and build the canal. Brindley saw the Grand Trunk as the foundation stone for a system of canals connecting the Rivers Trent, Mersey, Severn and Thames, with other canals branching off to serve various towns and cities. Hence the name… “Grand Trunk”, like a tree with branches spreading out to various parts of the country.

Wedgewood's Etruria Works at Stoke on Trent

The mines at Worsley were constantly being expanded downwards and outwards in order to reach the seams of coal that ran throughout the area. Trips were even arranged for the adventurous to view the workings first hand for a nominal fee. Meanwhile, construction on the Bridgewater Canal had been progressing from both ends. Several engineering hurdles had been crossed and the canal had reached a major obstacle, the River Irwell. Initially, a flight of locks were planned to lower the canal to the Irwell with another flight to raise it up on the other side. This would have used too much of the canal’s water resources so Brindley planned to bridge the river using a masonry aqueduct (the stone being waste, obtained from the Worsley Mines) lined with puddled clay (wet clay kneaded like dough) to make it waterproof. When the Act for the aqueduct was proposed, MPs reading the proposal called Brindley into their Chambers at the House of Commons in order for him to demonstrate how he expected to make the bridge waterproof. Brindley was semi-literate and often resorted to drawing diagrams with whatever was at hand. In addition to drawing on the polished floor of the Parliamentary Chambers he demonstrated how the aqueduct would work with the aid of a large cheese, which he carved to represent the aqueduct, filling it with water when the model was completed.

Worsley Delph circa 1770

 Brindley also demonstrated the theory of clay puddling by bringing buckets of water and wet clay into the chambers. He then gave a practical demonstration of how clay could be made waterproof by puddling and then applied to the masonry to make it, in turn, waterproof. Needless to say, the Act was passed and on 17th July 1761, water was admitted to the completed Barton Aqueduct, which opened the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Stretford on the outskirts of Manchester. Barton Aqueduct was a three arched masonry structure, 183 mtrs (600 ft) long, 11 mtrs (36 ft) wide and 12 mtrs (39 ft) high. Scepticism was rife prior to it’s opening. It was given the nickname “Castle in the Air” and many people thought that it would surely collapse when water was admitted. Needless to say, Brindley proved the sceptics wrong although there was a problem when one of the arches started to bulge. This necessitated the drainage of the aqueduct after the opening ceremonies but was soon rectified and the canal was open to through traffic. When posed with a problem, Brindley would often retire to his bed and ponder the best course of action. On this particular occasion, when he rose from his deliberations, John Gilbert had already solved it for him, completed the remedial work, and refilled the aqueduct. Brindley’s comments on this action are not documented.

Brindley's original Barton Aqueduct over the River Irwell

The building of the remainder of the proposed route was progressing well and in 1763 the terminus was changed yet again making Castlefield, near Deansgate, the eventual terminus. Also in this year, a connection at Cornbrook was made with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation. This connection was known as “The Gut”, but could only be used when there was sufficient water in the river to overcome the silting and low river water levels. Castlefield was reached in August 1765 and, in doing so, marked the completion of the first canal in England to be constructed independent of a watercourse. During the period of construction (and afterwards) the Duke had amassed a considerable debt. He borrowed money from many people to finance the building of the canal. When not in residence at Worsley, he was constantly visiting possible contributors in an effort to raise extra funding. It was to be many years before his financial labours bore fruit, the debts were satisfied and the canal returned a profit.


Meanwhile, Brindley had not been idle. In addition to his work on the Trent and Mersey section of his Grand Trunk scheme, he had started work on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, which would connect the Trent and Mersey Canal at Great Heywood Junction near Cannock Chase to the River Severn at Stourport. In September 1761, he started the survey on another venture for the Duke of Bridgewater. This was a canal running from a junction with his existing canal at Stretford to join the River Mersey at Runcorn. This line of the canal would prevent the Mersey and Irwell Navigation’s monopoly in this area. The locks at Runcorn would also provide a connection to the proposed Duke’s Dock at Liverpool, which was not to be completed until 1774. At this time it was decided to abandon the branch at Hollins Ferry even though two miles of it had already been cut from Worsley. March 1762 saw the Act of Parliament for the Runcorn Line passed on which work started immediately. Another Act of Parliament, which concerned the Bridgewater Canal directly, was the Trent and Mersey Canal Act of 1766. In addition to allowing construction of the canal, it also contained a change to the Bridgewater’s original line, allowing the two canals to link up at Preston Brook near Runcorn.



Waters Meeting at Preston Brook looking towards Runcorn


In the following year, 1767, passenger traffic commenced on the Bridgewater Canal in specially constructed “Packet” boats. The boats were of lighter construction than conventional craft to facilitate greater speed and even possessed a sharp knife on the bows to cut the towropes of any other craft that dared to get in their way. This service proved to be very popular and, as the canal was extended in length, so was the service. 


After various challenges such as the aqueduct over the Infant River Mersey and the crossing of the marshy Sale Moor, Lymm was reached in 1768. However, in the following year, construction at the Runcorn end came to an abrupt standstill when Sir Richard Brook, a local landowner, objected to the canal’s presence on his estate at Norton Priory. This held up construction for a few years. Meanwhile, at the other end of the canal, Stockton Heath had been reached. When overseeing construction of the Runcorn end of the canal, the Duke and Brindley both stayed at the imposing “Bridgewater House”. This was a residence that the Duke had built at Runcorn, situated adjacent to the flight of locks connecting the canal to the River Mersey.

Bridgewater House in Runcorn adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal

Brindley was a diabetic and his health was suffering. He was continually commuting between his other canal projects; the Staffordshire and Worcestershire, Oxford, Coventry, Chester, Calder and Hebble, and many more. His mode of transport was by horseback, spending nights at inns and travelling in all weathers. He caught a chill, which added to his diabetes and died on 27th September 1772 at the age of 56.

James Brindley's Statue at Etruria Junction, Stoke on Trent

1772 also saw the completion of the flight of ten locks leading down to the River Mersey at Runcorn. They could not be used though, until the disagreement with Sir Richard Brook had been resolved. This disagreement lasted until 1775 when Parliament intervened and a settlement was reached. The impact on the canal of this settlement still remains with us to this day. This is the deviation of the canal’s route in the shape of an “s” bend around Sir Richard Brook’s land and the changing sides of the towpath between Old Astmoor Bridge and Norton Bridge. The only other place on the Bridgewater Canal where the towpath changes sides is in Manchester between Old Trafford and Castlefield.

 Runcorn New Line of Locks prior to infilling

Another memorable happening in 1772 was the linking of the Bridgewater with the Trent and Mersey Canal. The actual place where the two canals meet is 10 mtrs (11 yds) inside Preston Brook Tunnel. The spot is marked by a Trent and Mersey Canal milepost on the horse path (as the tunnel does not possess a towpath, boats were originally “legged” through until a steam tug service was introduced) that goes over the top of the tunnel.

The first Trent and Mersey Canal milepost on top of Preston Brook Tunnel

Today, the entire length of the tunnel comes under the jurisdiction of British Waterways, the Bridgewater Canal commencing at the stop boards at the northern portal.

The northern portal of Preston Brook Tunnel in the 1930s

The northern portal of Preston Brook Tunnel as it is today

In January 1776, the final mile through Norton Priory was cut and the canal opened for through traffic on the 21st March of that year. It was a pity that James Brindley was not alive to see his canal completed. The latter part of the Eighteenth Century saw Acts of Parliament for two canals that would eventually link with the northern end of the Bridgewater Canal. They were the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in 1791 and the Rochdale Canal in 1794. It seems coincidental that two of the three cross-Pennine waterways should be directly connected to the Bridgewater Canal, and the third, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, connected via the Rochdale and Ashton Canals. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal was started in 1791 but it wasn’t until 1799 that part of the Bridgewater’s abandoned 1759 Hollins Ferry extension was extended to make an end-on junction with the Leeds and Liverpool at Leigh. The part of the Hollins Ferry extension not used in the Leigh Branch was to be used as a dump for dredgings, the remains of which, can still be seen to this day just outside Worsley.


1795 must be mentioned for a much sadder reason, the death of John Gilbert, agent and engineer for the Bridgewater Mines and Canal since 1757 and who, we must give some credit to, as one of the major inspirations behind the Bridgewater Canal along with Francis Egerton and James Brindley.


Right from the beginning of the canal’s history, horses had been the prime motive force, but in 1796, an experimental steamboat was commissioned by the Duke in an attempt to speed-up transport along the canal. By 1799 the craft was completed and sailed along the canal for the first time. The boatmen along the canal looked upon the experimental tug with scorn, fearing that this technological wonder would make their jobs redundant. They had little to worry about as the stern-mounted paddle-wheel of the craft produced a large wash that would have eroded the canal banks over a period of time. The craft was withdrawn and broken up although it’s engine was used to power a water pump. Even though not a success, it was to herald the change to steam propulsion that took place over the next forty years.



Illustration of the 1799 experimental steam boat used on the Bridgewater Canal


By 1799, the Leigh Branch had reached Pennington and in 1800, the Rochdale and Ashton Canals were opened to Castlefield. The Rochdale, however, was not completed and did not cross the Pennines until 1804, the year after the Duke’s death.


The Third Duke was well liked and treated his workers with kindness and (on the whole) respect. Even so, he was prone to eccentric behaviour. He swore profusely, seldom washed and wore the same clothes day in and day out. Concerned about his employees’ timekeeping, he arranged for the clock in a turret of the works (later moved to Worsley Church) to strike thirteen at one o’ clock signalling the end of lunch hour. On one occasion he met a miner that was late for work and questioned him. The worker informed him that his wife had given birth to twins during the night to which the Duke said… “Ah well, we must accept what the Lord sends us”, to which the miner replied… “Aye, but I notice he sends all the babies to our house and all the brass to yours”! This reply may have pricked the Duke’s conscience as well as making him laugh. He consequently gave the miner a guinea. As wages were paid monthly, he arranged for employees wives to buy their groceries etc. on account at a local shop, the bill being deducted from the workers’ salaries and the balance given in cash, thus preventing the wages from being squandered in local hostelries. The duke also formed a “sick club” for his workers to contribute to. The Duke saw a demonstration of the “Charlotte Dundas” experimental tug in 1801 and was so impressed that he ordered eight similar craft to be built. Unfortunately the order was cancelled after the Duke’s death in 1803 before any of the craft had been delivered.

The experimental steam tug "Charlotte Dundas"

The Duke died on the eighth of March 1803. His will of the laid down that the main beneficiary of the canal would be his nephew… Earl George Gower, later to become the Duke of Sutherland. It also stated that a Board of Trustees was to be formed to look after the interests of the Duke’s estate. The Trustees were prominent national figures, many of which had a vested financial interest in the well being of the Bridgewater Canal overseen by George Gower. Later on, the Trustees of the Canal were to be Local Councils, whose provinces the Canal passed through, and remained in place until 1903. On the death of George Gower in 1833, the profits from the Bridgewater Estate went to his second son, Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, on the understanding that he changed his name to Lord Francis Egerton.


In 1819, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Act to build a branch that joined the Bridgewater Canal was passed. The two canals were to meet at a “head-on” junction at Leigh, which was completed two years later. The following year, 1822 saw a proposal for a railway from Manchester to Liverpool. Right from the outset, the Bridgewater Canal opposed it’s development, seeing the far-reaching repercussions it would have on canals.

In an effort to make it’s route more comprehensive, two extension plans were drawn up. The first in 1823 proposed an extension from Sale to Stockport but was thwarted due to oppositions from the Ashton and Peak Forest Canals. The second plan, two years later, was far more ambitious. It was to be a canal, possibly of ship canal dimensions, to link Runcorn on the Mersey with West Kirby on the River Dee coast of the Wirral Peninsula. This plan was thrown out for many reasons, the major one being cost. It is possible that the latter plan was to have been carried out by Thomas Telford who, coincidentally, later carried out a survey to construct a ship canal from Wallasey Pool to West Kirby and so by-pass the River Mersey Estuary, which contained navigational hazards. Telford is reported to have said about Liverpool… “Look, they’ve built the docks on the wrong side of the river”, due to Wallasey Pool, the location of Wallasey and Birkenhead Docks, being a natural harbour. Had his plan been successful, Liverpool would undoubtedly, not have had the successes that it ultimately enjoyed.


Wallasey Pool


The Liverpool to Manchester Railway Company went to Parliament with their Act in 1825, only to have it opposed by a joint objection from the Bridgewater Canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation. However, the respite was only a temporary one and the Act was successfully passed the following year. Sensing that a battle was at hand, the Bridgewater Canal started a regime of expansion. A new line of locks at Runcorn was built next to the existing ones in 1827. Along with this, new warehousing facilities at Runcorn, Preston Brook and at many other locations including Castlefield were built. The idea behind this regime was to speed up cargo handling and hopefully, be more competitive when the Liverpool to Manchester Railway was completed in 1830.

A more recent photograph of the MSC barge "Coronation" at the Black Shed, Preston Brook

In 1833, amidst of the railway threat and expansion of the canal’s cargo facilities, George Gower died. His son then (as previously mentioned) changed his name to Lord Francis Egerton, First Earl of Ellesmere, and took up residence at Worsley with his wife Harriet in 1837. Lord Egerton was as concerned about the welfare of the workers as his namesake. His wife was also concerned and encouraged her husband to abolish the use of children in the mines.


Waterloo Bridge at Runcorn - the centre arch gave access to a dry dock


Over the years, Castlefield had been modified considerably. The main water supply to this end of the canal was the River Medlock. At the end of the basins near Deansgate, the Medlock plunged into a “siphon”. This is a tunnel that takes the river beneath the basins to emerge beyond Potato Wharf. For unloading, the boats were steered into a tunnel hewn into the rock face. The river drove a water wheel that powered a winch used to raise goods from the boats below up to street level. When the Rochdale Canal was built, it’s bed cut across the path of the tunnel, which eventually fell into disuse. The entrance to the tunnel has been rebuilt, as has the water wheel, whose operation can be demonstrated by guides showing visitors around the area. Part of the other end of the tunnel can be seen at Pioneer Wharf, adjacent to Deansgate, as an arch two or three feet above the water level of the Rochdale Canal where it cut across the original line of the tunnel.



The entrance to the River Medlock Siphon Tunnel



The truncated section of tunnel can be seen to the left of Pioneer Wharf on the Rochdale Canal





These two maps illustrate how Castlefield Terminus was modified when the Rochdale Canal was built



The River Medlock emerging from its subterranean journey beneath the Castlefield Basin Complex


When the Manchester Ship Canal was being constructed in the 1890’s, the siphon method was again utilised to convey rivers such as the River Gowy at Stanlow and the River Dibbins adjacent to Mount Manisty beneath the canal. But they were on a much bigger scale than the one at Castlefield. The Castlefield area is described in greater detail in the Castlefield Canal Heritage Walk section of the Canalscape website.



The River Gowy Siphon on the Manchester Ship Canal under construction


Another structure that has shrunk in size as the wharves expanded was Brindley’s original “cloverleaf” weir (so called because of it’s shape). This weir is located between Potato and Giant's Wharves at Castlefield and returned excess water from the canal to the River Medlock as it emerged from the siphon. In 1838, most of the weir was removed for two reasons, one - it frequently blocked, and two - the space was needed for additional wharves.

A contemporary photograph of Brindley's Cloverleaf Weir at Potato Wharf, Castlefield

Also in 1838, the Hulme Lock Branch was built. This branch connected the Bridgewater Canal to the River Irwell adjacent to where the Medlock runs into the Irwell. The Hulme Lock Branch superseded the previous connection with the Mersey and Irwell at Cornbrook known as “The Gut”. The same year also saw the introduction of experimental steam tugs onto the canal and a proposal for a branch to run from Altrincham, sixteen miles to Middlewich. It would cross the Trent and Mersey Canal to join the Middlewich branch of the Chester and Ellesmere Canal (later to be known as the Shropshire Union Canal). The board of the Chester and Ellesmere Canal encouraged the Bridgewater Trustees in this proposal but it came to nothing (as could be expected) due to opposition from the Trent and Mersey, Macclesfield, Peak Forest and Ashton Canals.

A 1930's photograph of the Hulme Lock Branch

Despite the modernisation of cargo handling facilities and a toll war with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, the railways were having a noticeable effect on the tonnages carried along the Bridgewater Canal. One logical solution to the problem would be to control trade on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation. They were having the same difficulties as the Bridgewater, as the drop in dividends paid to their shareholders could testify. Consequently, Parliament was applied to for an Act enabling the Bridgewater to purchase the shares of the Mersey and Irwell. This Act was passed and the transfer of shares took place on 17th January 1846. The sum paid for the navigation was £550,000.

The "V.I.P. Barge" carrying Queen Victoria in 1851

The Bridgewater Canal, being a commercial waterway was navigated twenty four hours a day, and did not generally allow pleasure craft on it’s waters. However, there are always exceptions to the rule, the first taking place in 1851 when Queen Victoria took a trip along the canal from Patricroft to Worsley were she was to be entertained at Worsley Old Hall. The queen refused to cross Barton Aqueduct saying that it would be more like flying than sailing. The canal’s normal colour at Worsley is ochre, caused by iron deposits from the water draining out of the mines. The canal was dyed royal blue in honour of the queen’s visit. The second exception was in 1869 when the Prince of Wales took a trip from Worsley to Trafford for the opening of the Royal Agricultural Show. On both these occasions the craft used was the “V.I.P.” Barge, later to be used as an inspection launch. The boat was permanently kept at Worsley in the boathouse adjacent to the dry-docks. The "V.I.P. Barge" is sometimes referred to as the "Duke's Barge" and the "Royal Barge". It was later converted to diesel power and was in use up to 1948, when it was broken up. In later years, the Duke encouraged his rich landowner friends to have “gondolas” as he called them, built to use on the canal for leisure purposes.

 The "V.I.P. Barge" emerging from the Duke's Boathouse in Worsley circa 1906

Whilst the acquisition of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, no doubt, helped to boost the canal’s financial position in the face of the railways, it still needed to be competitive. By 1860, the Mersey and Irwell was so silted-up that it was impossible for all but the shallowest drafted craft to reach Manchester. Consequently, in 1872, a new company was formed to inject capital necessary for the dredging of the Mersey and Irwell and increased warehousing, as well as new cargo handling equipment on the Bridgewater Canal. This also included the purchase of the steam tugs after their successful trials had been completed. The new company was called the “Bridgewater Navigation Company Limited”. It is ironical that the many of the shareholders also held shares in railway companies and that the body collecting shares for the trustees of the company was a collection of railway companies.

 The MSC "Walton"... one of the fames "Little Packets" seen here on the Manchester Ship Canal

The tugs that were purchased were the famous “Little Packets”. These were steam-powered vessels, 18.3 mtrs (60 ft) in length, powered by a single cylinder horizontal engine driving a 1 mtr (3ft) propeller. Initially, five tugs were ordered and, so successful were they that by 1881 their numbers had risen to twenty six. These vessels were in regular use on the Bridgewater and adjacent waterways (hence the 18.3 mtrs/60 ft length) until the 1920’s, when some were converted to diesel power and the remainder either sold or scrapped. Those converted to diesel power soldiered on until the 1950’s when more modern replacements were purchased. For many years, the hull of one of these tugs could be seen out of the water at one of the “wides” (lakes connected to the canal caused by salt mining subsidence) on the Trent and Mersey Canal near Middlewich before being bought for restoration. The man behind the introduction of the tugs was the new General Manager and Engineer of the Bridgewater Navigation Company Limited, and someone that you will be hearing more of later… Edward Leader Williams.

A Bridgewater Tug pulling a train of barges through Walton Cutting

Prior to 1865, craft were “legged” through Preston Brook Tunnel. This involved a plank laid across the bows of a narrow boat on which two men would lay on their backs and propel the boat through the tunnel by “walking” along the tunnel roof. Gangs of men were employed solely for this task. In the early part of 1865, steam tugs similar to the type used for towing on the canal were introduced for tunnel passage duties. Not long after their introduction, a tug driver and his stoker were overcome by smoke caused by the lack of ventilation inside the tunnel. Consequently, Mister Forbes, the Trent and Mersey Canal’s Resident Engineer, ordered four ventilation shafts to be sunk to ease the situation. Whilst the shafts were being sunk, traffic (including the steam tugs) continued to pass through the tunnel. In May of 1865, two maintenance workmen constructing the vents, hitched a work boat onto the end of a train of boats being towed through the tunnel by a steam tug. They too were overcome by the smoke, one of which fell into the tunnel and subsequently drowned. At an inquest into the workman’s death, the Coroner ordered that the tugs must not be used until the ventilation shafts were completed.


The Preston Brook Tunnel Tug... note the wheels to ensure the tug stays in the centre of the tunnel

Another type of familiar craft on the Bridgewater was the passenger or “Fly” boats that plied the length of the canal daily. One such craft was the “Duchess Countess” built in 1871. These specially built light weight narrowboats were pulled by teams of horses that were regularly changed at the way stations that also possessed stables. The boats were given priority over other canal traffic and featured a knife on the bow to sever the tow lines of any boats getting in the way. As well as conveying passengers they also carried perishable goods and even cattle. There was a ring attached to the boat's hold specifically for securing cattle to.

The "Duchess Countess" on the Bridgewater Canal

The "Duchess Countess" at Lymm in 1927

The "Duchess Countess" was the last remaining example of these boats and after retiring from service the home to Mr Mackey who was a recluse a recluse before ending her days on the banks of the Llangollen Canal at Welsh Frankton as a hen house where she was broken up in 1960. There is a restoration society dedicated to constructing a replica of this historic boat.

The Fly Boat "Duchess Countess" on the canal bank at Welsh Frankton prior to being broken-up in 1958

The Bridgewater Navigation Company Limited was a fairly short-lived company. In 1885, the Bridgewater and Mersey and Irwell navigations were bought by the newly formed Manchester Ship Canal Company. The Manchester Ship Canal was proposed by Daniel Adamson, a Manchester businessman, in 1882 and was to be a waterway capable of conveying ocean-going ships from Eastham on the River Mersey to a proposed dock complex close to the centre of Manchester. It would be following the same route as the Mersey and Irwell Navigation from Runcorn to Manchester with several new cuts and extensions, plus a completely new section from Eastham on the Wirral to Runcorn, effectively hugging the banks of the River Mersey Estuary. The plans were very similar to an earlier scheme proposed by Hamilton Fulton in 1877 and the plan was vigorously opposed by many groups including the City of Liverpool who were afraid that the competition from the Ship Canal would adversely effect the city’s livelihood. After a long, protracted battle, the Act of Parliament was passed on the third reading and Lord Egerton cut the first sod of earth on 11th November 1887. The construction of the Ship canal only directly affected the Bridgewater Canal in two ways. The first was that at Runcorn, access to the River Mersey could only be gained by crossing the ship canal to Bridgewater Lock or by sailing down it’s length to Eastham. The second change was at the famous Barton Aqueduct. This would have to be demolished due to the limited headroom of Brindley’s original structure.

The original Barton Aqueduct during demolition with the completed Swing Aqueduct in the background

Projected schemes for the aqueduct’s replacement included locks to lower craft to the level of the Ship Canal and up the opposite side (as in the Bridgewater Canal’s original proposal) and a vertical lift similar to that at Anderton connecting the Trent and Mersey Canal with the River Weaver. The lift at Anderton was the brainchild of the engineer for the River Weaver who was, none other than… Edward Leader Williams (although designed and built by Edwin Clark), the engineer for the Ship Canal. The design that was eventually settled on was for a “swing aqueduct”. The Swing Aqueduct and the proposed swing bridges on the Ship Canal were to be of similar design to the road bridges that spanned the River Weaver (also designed by Edward Leader Williams). The aqueduct would pivot on an island built in the centre of the Ship Canal and would swing, full of water, to allow ships to pass either side. The navigation trough would be sealed at either end prior to swinging by lock gates to conserve water.

 Two different views of Barton Swing Aqueduct

A rare collectors' card of Barton Swing Aqueduct

Its dimensions are...

Length - 71·6 mtrs (235 feet)

Width - 5·5 mtrs (18 feet)

Depth of water - 1·8 mtrs (6 feet)

Total weight - 1400 tons (800 tons of which is water

Height above Manchester Ship Canal - 11·5 mtrs (38 feet)

A staged photograph showing the aqueduct swung with a boat (complete with horse and crew) on it

The weight of the aqueduct is supported by 64 steel rollers, but when swung, a greased hydraulic ram takes some of the weight off the rollers. The swinging action is achieved hydraulically, being controlled from a tower on the island that overlooks both the aqueduct and the adjacent Barton Road Bridge. The aqueduct was completed in July 1893 and only then was Brindley’s original structure demolished in order to maintain through traffic on the Bridgewater Canal. On the northern bank of the Ship Canal remains part of one of the buttresses and approach embankments of the original aqueduct in addition to the site of the Barton Road Aqueduct where the road was spanned by another smaller aqueduct. Even though Brindley’s original aqueduct was demolished, there remain two similar structures. The first is adjacent to the Old Watch House at Stretford. This is the Hawthorn Lane Aqueduct and even though built on a smaller scale, is reminiscent of it’s larger brother. With Brindley’s Barton Aqueduct out of the way, the finishing touches could be made to the Ship Canal in preparation for it’s opening on 1st January 1894, having cost £14,347,891 to construct. 


Hawthorn Lane Aqueduct... a scaled down version of the original Barton Aqueduct

The second is at Prestolee near Bolton on the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal. Whilst not built by James Brindley it was built in 1796 and is similar in construction except for having four arches plus an "accommodation Arch" allowing access between fields. The similarities don't end there... it even carries the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal across the same river... the River Irwell.

The Prestolee Aqueduct carries the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal across the River Irwell

Overshadowed by the excitement of the Ship Canal’s opening was the closure of the Worsley Mines, the original reason behind the canal’s construction. The two entrance portals gave access to no less than 74 km (46 miles) of subterranean canals serving coalfaces on several different levels. The miners travelled to the coalfaces by boat  and down access shafts. The mined coal was loaded into wooden or iron boxes or containers. The containers were then loaded into special boats called “Starvationers”, so called because of their exposed ribs. They qualify as being the first container boats in existence. The “starvationers” made their way out of the mines loaded with containers, negotiating the different levels within the mines by means of subterranean locks or revolutionary inclined planes, also situated underground.

Subterranean canals inside the mines at Worsley

1890 saw the founding of Sprinch’s Boat Yard at Runcorn along with the straightening of the canal’s route adjacent to the yard. Originally, the canal swung around a sharp bend going towards Runcorn and passed next to the “Big Pool”, a natural lake that Brindley took advantage of when constructing the canal. After passing by the pool, the canal took another sharp bend before proceeding towards Waterloo Bridge (the present terminus of the canal at Runcorn). When the boat yard was built, one of the entrance arms to the pool was filled-in and utilised for the location of a dry-dock and slipway. Access to the pool was retained by the arm north of the yard. The straightening out of the bends took the canal to the front of the yard, as it is today. The dry dock and slipway are still in use today, being controlled by the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club.


In this 1930's aerial view of the Sprinch Boatyard the original line of the canal can be seen

This contemporary aerial photograph shows the line of the Sprinch Arm and the location of the Big Pool

(Photograph - Google Earth)

A Sunday School Outing loading at what is now Thorn Marine - Stockton Heath in the early 1900's

The canal entered the Twentieth Century uneventfully. Trade was gradually falling and carried on falling to such a low level that, in 1939, Brindley’s original line of locks at Runcorn were closed through lack of use, being in-filled in 1948. Throughout the early part of the twentieth century, the canal between Worsley and Leigh has been continually affected by mining subsidence. This lead to need for the canal banks to be reinforced on a grand scale, the work being funded by the organization responsible for mines at that time - the National Coal Board.

The embanked Bridgewater Canal towering over the subsided landscape near Leigh 

In 1952, new life was injected into the canal by allowing pleasure craft to use the canal for leisure purposes. Boating clubs started to spring up along the canal, the first of which was the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club at Runcorn. Today, their clubhouse stands on the site of Sprinch’s Boatyard, which burnt down and closed in 1935. Other cruising clubs are situated at Lymm, Sale, Stretford (The Watch House), Worsley and Preston Brook. Today, most of the clubs have moorings at more than one location usually of the “linear” variety (along the side of the canal).

An early boat rally on the Bridgewater Canal in the 1950s

Commercial traffic continued to diminish and in 1966, the New Line of locks at Runcorn was in-filled, leaving this end of the canal a cul-de-sac, terminating at Waterloo Bridge. The canal was severed here in preparation for the building of the new Runcorn Expressway, part of a road network essential to the development of Runcorn New Town. A little thought from the developers would have enabled the line of the canal to be retained for possible future restoration.

Basin close to the bottom of the Old Line of Locks probably in the 1930s

A little further up the locks looking downhill

The same location after abandonment in 1966 with Bridgewater House just visible on the left

The New Line of Locks at Runcorn prior to in-filling

Mersey flat being poled through the flight

Looking down the Old Line of Locks

The railway viaduct and lock looking up-hill

The next lock up towards Waterloo Bridge

Waterloo Bridge pre-1966 prior to the infilling of the Runcorn Locks

The site of the old line of locks is still traceable today. The area had been landscaped and a footpath passes through the centre of what were the once busy lock chambers. However, when the Mersey Second Crossing (the new Runcorn-Widnes Bridge) is completed, the approach roads to the original bridge will be realigned, allowing the canal to be reopened beneath Waterloo Bridge and connect with the Manchester Ship Canal adjacent to Bridgewater House (now a College).

A view of how the proposed new Runcorn/Widnes Bridge aka the Mersey Gateway should have looked.

Note the double-deck design with a light railway or tram lines beneath the road deck

A photograph of the completed Mersey Gateway Bridge showing the two older bridges

A photograph of the completed Mersey Gateway Bridge from the Fiddler's Ferry side

Bridgewater House once stared over a forlorn and overgrown wasteland. Today it is a college and is surrounded by a development area. The original lock gates that were removed from the canal when it was in-filled had a new lease of life when they were utilised on the restoration of the Upper Avon. Maybe it will not be too long before the canal at the side of it is in use once more.

Bridgewater House in 1986 prior to regeneration or the surrounding area

There is a growing amount of interest and support for the restoration of the canal leading down to the Manchester Ship Canal (see the route description of the Runcorn Arm), allowing access at the Runcorn end of the canal to the Manchester Ship Canal which also connects with the Runcorn and Weston Canal leading to the River Weaver Navigation. Although this restoration would be a formidable task, bearing in mind the new canal connecting Liverpool’s Albert Dock to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the construction of the Ribble Link on the Lancaster Canal, the restoration of the Anderton Lift, Standedge Tunnel, the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale Canals, it would not be an impossible or impractical project.


Where the preserved route of Runcorn Locks meets the Manchester Ship Canal

With the depletion of commercial traffic on the upper reaches of the Ship Canal, the reinstatement of Runcorn Locks could create three new cruising routes for pleasure craft. One, up the Ship Canal to Manchester and onto the Bridgewater Canal at Pomona Lock. the second, downstream to the Runcorn and Weston Canal leading to the River Weaver Navigation and onto the Trent and Mersey Canal via the Anderton Boat Lift which was re-opened to boats at Easter of 2002.

Anderton Boat Lift after restoration

Apart from creating new bridges and closure of the previously mentioned locks, the Runcorn Expressway also necessitated the filling-in of the Big Pool. Although part of it still remains, it is not connected to the canal except by a small drainage culvert. With a little foresight, it could have been converted into a marina for pleasure craft, but sadly, this was not to be. One of the arms of the canal that gave access to the Big Pool is used by BMBC for off-line moorings.

The 1971 breach at Bollington

In 1971, a breach occurred on the embankment over the valley approaching the River Bollin Aqueduct. As a result, part of the embankment and aqueduct were swept away. A new channel was constructed using concrete and steel. The remaining part of the aqueduct was also reinforced and remedial work closed the canal to through traffic for two years. This was not the only breach in this area. Earlier in the century there was a breach at Lymm and the photograph below shows the canal drained where Lymm Cruising Club is today. Note the entrance to "Lymm Tunnel"... which gave access to the coal wharf beyond.

Breach at showing where Lymm Cruising Club is today in the early 1900's

Two photographs of coal being unloaded at Barton Power Station in the 1950's

Commercial traffic ceased on the canal in 1974. This coincided with the opening of a new marina at Preston Brook, opposite the old Norton Warehouses. Preston Brook Marina offers secure moorings off the main line for over 300 craft. There is an exclusive housing development on the canal opposite the marina known as “Marina Village”, which successfully integrates the canal into an urban development scheme and was the first of many such projects to line the canal.

 An aerial photograph of Preston Brook Marina

The occasional commercial narrowboat can still be seen on the canal today, delivering coal, not to a factory or power station, but for domestic consumption. These floating coalmen are greatly appreciated by boat owners whose craft are fitted with solid fuel stoves and enjoy boating out of season.

Derek Brent with "Ambush" delivering gas, fuel and coal

Although not strictly part of the Bridgewater Canal, part of Preston Brook Tunnel collapsed in November 1981. A large crater appeared adjacent to the Post Office above the tunnel. The formation of the crater sent many tons of debris falling into the tunnel below and damaged a 37 mtrs (121 ft) long section of the tunnel bore. The Post Office was damaged beyond repair and demolished, the crater filled-in and the damage to the tunnel was repaired using concrete sections. The site of the crater is marked on the surface by a round inspection shaft, the size of which can only be appreciated by looking upwards whilst passing through the tunnel. The tunnel was re-opened in April 1984, thus ending two and a half years of isolation for the southern end of the Bridgewater Canal and the northern end of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The rebuilt section inside Preston Brook Tunnel nicknamed "The Cathedral"

Also in 1984, Bridgewater Estates were purchased by Peel Holdings plc, the property development company. They also purchased the Manchester Ship Canal Company shortly afterwards. The traffic on the Upper Reaches of the Ship Canal had already diminished, leaving acres of quayside and warehouse land ripe for development. One of their first projects was the construction of an office development at what is now Salford Quays, followed by the Trafford Centre. The latter is a prestige shopping centre built adjacent to Trafford Park. It features 1.4 million square feet of shopping area, 280 shops, 35 restaurants, a 20 screen cinema and car parking space for 10,000 cars. and also a dedicated mooring place for boats that is monitored by CCTV. Peel Holdings plc also own Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport and Doncaster’s Finningly Airport.



Inside the Trafford Centre

Boats descending Pomona Lock

Today, the Bridgewater Canal is much the same as it was over two hundred years ago. There have been obvious changes throughout that period, most of which have been previously documented. The connection with Manchester Docks via Hulme Lock was replaced in 1995 with the new Pomona Lock. The new lock gives access to the Pomona Number Three Dock and is the only lock on the Bridgewater Canal (unless the Runcorn Locks are restored). Castlefield has undergone a radical change since Peel Holdings took over responsibility for the canal. Some of the old warehouses have been demolished to make way for modern amenity buildings such as the Y.M.C.A. and new theme pubs. In a more dramatic vein, the Middle Warehouse has been completely refurbished and is now used for up-market apartments, flats and offices. The building also houses Manchester’s “Key 103” and “1152” radio stations on the ground floor. The wharf area has been landscaped and new bridges built to continue the towpath around to areas hitherto inaccessible. Grocer’s Warehouse has been partially rebuilt and houses a replica of the water wheel and winch driven by the River Medlock.

 Modern developments lining Castlefield

Developments have taken place at Salford Quays and along the whole of the Manchester Docks complex the warehouses and factories have been replaced by buildings such as the Lowry Centre and the new Imperial War Museum – North. Looking towards the future, there are plans to build on the area adjacent to Pomona Dock and to convert Pomona Dock itself into a marina. These developments could not be further away from the previous occupants of the area as the theme of the docks has shifted from industry to business, leisure, tourism and housing. There may also be a development of the canal adjacent to the Trafford Centre when the extension to the Metrolink line has been completed.


Pomona Dock and the River Irwell (Upper Reaches)

On 3rd July 2005, a sluice gate adjacent to Potato Wharf at Castlefield sprang a leak and emptied millions of gallons of water into the River Medlock. As it was a Sunday evening and there were no engineers available to stem the flow of water immediately, millions of fish were put at risk not to mention narrowboats being stranded in the basins. By the time the leak was stopped on Monday morning, stop boards had been put in place at Sale, Oldfield Brow (situated close to Seaman’s Moss Bridge at Altrincham and Barton Aqueduct but even so, water levels had dropped by over a metre on the main line and Castlefield Basins were completely emptied. Water levels gradually started to rise by the middle of the week but it was nearly two weeks before the levels were deemed “normal”.

The location of the breach between Giant's and Potato Wharves

A drained Castlefield in July 2005

The ochre or orange colour of the water at Worsley has been one of the canal's features since its opening. This was due to a concentration of iron oxide in the water draining from the mines. In 2004 work commenced on a water treatment plant to help clean up the water. Water was extracted from the Delph and pumped to the treatment plant located next to the M62 Motorway Viaduct, treated in a series of filter beds before returning it to the canal. This plant became operational in 2005 and since then the colour of the water has diminished in intensity.



Outfall from the water treatment plant at Worsley - note the filter beds in the background


The Bridgewater Canal was host to the 2005 National Waterways Festival... the second time in twenty years the canal has been the location of this prestigious boat  rally. The Festival was held at Castlefield in 1988 but, for the 2005 rally, Preston Brook was the location.

Boats attending the 2005 IWA Rally at Preston Brook

In April of 2009, a new company was formed within Peel Holdings to look after the administration of the Bridgewater Canal. This company is known as the Bridgewater Canal Company Limited and operates independently of the Manchester Ship Canal Company. The Bridgewater is a deep, broad and (virtually) lockless waterway that offers a breathing space for the boater before ascending the Rochdale Nine, Wigan Twenty-One or Heartbreak Hill (the name given to the climb from Cheshire into Staffordshire) on the Trent and Mersey Canal. The canal is full of contrasts, from Manchester to Dunham Massey, or from Runcorn to Walton. These contrasts are enjoyed by many thousands of people each year and add to the unique character of Britain’s first waterway to be built independent of a watercourse, Britain’s first true canal… the Bridgewater Canal.

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Fosse constructed at Castlefield by Romans


Scroop Egerton commissioned Thomas Steers to investigate making Worsley Brook and mine soughs navigable


Improvements made to River Douglas


Survey to make Sankey Brook navigable by Henry Berry


Saint Helens Canal partially open


John Gilbert appointed mine manager at Worsley


Francis Egerton takes up residence at Worsley


James Brindley introduced to Francis Egerton by John Gilbert and visited Worsley


James Brindley completes survey for Bridgewater Canal


First Bridgewater Canal Act of Parliament


Construction commenced on Bridgewater Canal


Terminus changed from Salford Quay to Dolefield and the necessary Act of Parliament passed


Act of Parliament for Barton Aqueduct passed


Terminus changed yet again from Dolefield to Castlefield


Connection made to Mersey and Irwell Navigation at Cornbrook (the Gut)


James Brindley surveyed the line from Stretford to Runcorn


Act of Parliament passed allowing construction of line from Stretford to Runcorn


Canal constructed to Castlefield


Act of Parliament passed allowing construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal including deviation of the Bridgewater Canal allowing a junction at Preston Brook


Passenger carrying commenced on the Bridgewater Canal


Construction of the new line reached Lymm


Construction at Norton Priory near Runcorn held up by Sir Richard Brook


James Brindley died at the age of 56 caused by a chill aggravating his diabetes


Construction of the locks to the River Mersey at Runcorn completed


Bridgewater Canal and Trent and Mersey Canals connected at Preston Brook


The disagreement with Sir Richard Brook resolved by intervention by Parliament, allowing completion of the canal to Runcorn


Canal completed at Runcorn


Canal opened to through traffic


Act of Parliament passed and construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal commenced


Act of Parliament allowing construction of the Rochdale Canal


Old Hollins Ferry branch of the Bridgewater Canal at Worsley extended to Pennington


Rochdale Canal reaches Castlefield


Ashton Canal opened


Duke observes experimental tug “Charlotte Dundas”


Francis Egerton dies, George Gower inherits the Bridgewater Estate and a trust set up to look after the Bridgewater Canal


Rochdale Canal completed


Act of Parliament allowing extension of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to be extended to join the Bridgewater Canal at Leigh


Leeds and Liverpool and Bridgewater canals joined at Leigh


Proposal for the Liverpool to Manchester Railway


Extension of the Bridgewater Canal from Sale to Stockport proposed and objected to by Ashton and Peak Forest Canals


Proposal for ship canal from Runcorn to West Kirby promoted and subsequently dropped mainly due to cost


Act of Parliament for Liverpool to Manchester Railway submitted and subsequently thrown out


Liverpool to Manchester Railway Act of Parliament passed


New line of locks constructed at Runcorn


New warehousing and facilities built at Castlefield and Preston Brook


Liverpool to Manchester Railway completed


George Gower dies and Bridgewater Estates inherited by Lord Francis Leveson-Gower, on the understanding that he changed his name to Lord Francis Egerton.


Lord Francis Egerton and his wife Harriet take up residence at Worsley


Hulme Lock branch built superseding the previous connection to the River Irwell… The Gut


Experimental steam tugs introduced into the Bridgewater Canal


Proposal for extension from Altrincham to Middlewich


Act of Parliament allowing the Bridgewater Canal to purchase the shares of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation


Queen Victoria travels along the Bridgewater Canal from Patricroft Station to Worsley


Steam tugs introduced for towing through Preston Brook Tunnel


Prince of Wales travels on the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Royal Agricultural Show at Trafford


Bridgewater Navigation Co Ltd formed to raise capital for investment into Mersey and Irwell Navigation and Bridgewater Canal


Hamilton Fulton proposes a ship canal to Manchester


Manchester Ship Canal proposed by Daniel Adamson


Bridgewater Navigation Co Ltd purchased by newly formed Manchester Ship Canal Co


Construction commenced on Manchester Ship Canal


Sprinch’s Boatyard opens at Runcorn


Manchester Ship Canal opens


Worsley mines close


Sprinch’s Boat Yard burnt down


Old Line of Locks at Runcorn closed


Old Line of Locks in-filled


Pleasure craft allowed on the Bridgewater Canal


Bridgewater Motor Boat Club formed at former Sprinch’s Boat Yard site at Runcorn


New Line of Locks in-filled at Runcorn


Bollin Aqueduct breach


Commercial traffic ceases on Bridgewater Canal


Preston Brook Marina opens


Preston Brook Tunnel collapses


Preston Brook Tunnel re-opens


Bridgewater Estates purchased by Peel Holdings


Development at Castlefield commences


IWA National Rally held at Castlefield


New Pomona Lock replaces Hulme Lock as connection with the River Irwell and Manchester Docks


Breach at Castlefield on 3rd July. In August the National Waterways Festival took place at Preston Brook and the new Water Treatment Plant was completed at Worsley

04/2009 The Bridgewater Canal Company Limited formed within Peel Holdings to administer the canal independently from the Manchester Ship Canal Company Limited
14/10/2019 Mersey Gateway Bridge opened for traffic by HM Queen Elizabeth 2nd


Jubilee Bridge access road bridge at Waterloo Bridge removed allowing reinstatement of the canal down to the Manchester Ship Canal

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Description of the Bridgewater Canal’s Route



The first Trent and Mersey Canal milepost above Preston Brook Tunnel


The northern portal of Preston Brook Tunnel marks the beginning of the Bridgewater Canal. The tunnel is 1133 metres (1239 yards) in length and navigation at all times (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) is controlled by a timetable due to not being able to see one end from the other. Northbound entry is from twenty past the hour until half past the hour whilst southbound entry is from ten to the hour until the hour.



The northern portal of Preston Brook Tunnel


The cutting leading from Preston Brook Tunnel


A little way along the horse path across the top of the tunnel is a public house appropriately named the Tunnel Top (formally the Stanley Arms) which cooks excellent meals in addition to selling alcohol. Across the road from the pub can be seen the new ventilation and access shaft built when the tunnel collapsed in 1981. Soon after emerging from the tunnel, adjacent to the site of the demolished Cotton’s Bridge was Preston Brook Station although, today, there are no remains of it left. The Old Number One was one of the few remaining warehouses at Preston Brook. In it’s post-warehouse roll it has been a nightclub and a restaurant but is now rebuilt as a prestige housing project. It lapsed into it’s previous condition after being gutted by fire. It has also featured prominently in an episode of Granada Television’s series “Travelling Man” which was almost exclusively shot on the Bridgewater Canal.

The "Old Number One" is now converted into luxury apartments

Claymoore Navigation, adjacent to the A56 road bridge, offers boat hire and the usual boatyard facilities. Between the A56 road bridge and the M56 viaduct are more reminders of Preston Brook’s importance as a canal port in years gone by. The most prominent reminder is the row of canal cottages used by the people who worked in the numerous warehouses that lined the canal. Overnight mooring is not recommended here due to the close proximity to the railway hidden in a cutting to the left and the M56 motorway above. Nestling in the shadow of the M56 viaduct is situated Midland Chandlers whose showroom is a veritable “Canal Supermarket” for those interested in apparel for canal boats.



Looking towards Preston Brook A56 Road Bridge from The Old Number One...



... and from a similar viewpoint around the 1920s



Waters Meeting at Preston Brook on a misty Autumn morning in 1986



Immediately after the motorway viaduct is a junction… left for Runcorn and straight on for Manchester. Preston Brook’s 300 berth marina can be seen on the opposite side of the valley. Also on the opposite side of the valley where the Runcorn Arm runs parallel to the main line of the canal for a mile or so before turning towards Runcorn where it is lined with new housing developments. Looking straight ahead, the white concrete tower of C.C.L.R.C.’s (Council for Central Laboratories Research Councils) Daresbury Laboratories can be seen poking up through the trees. The tower is a well known landmark in this area and, no matter how inviting the canal banks adjacent to the laboratories look, there is no mooring allowed.

Looking towards Preston Brook from Daresbury

Past the laboratories, under Moorefield Bridge, are moorings convenient for visiting the nearby village of Daresbury. The walk up the hill to the village allows a closer look at the tower mentioned earlier. It was originally part of a “Van der Graph Machine” or, to be more exact, a Vertical Particle Accelerator. This particular project has come to a close and other departments within the laboratories now use the tower. Beneath the ground, in front of the tower is buried a “Synchrotron”. This is a large unit used for the research of particle physics and is one of the largest of it’s type in the country.

The tower at Daresbury Laboratories looks out over the Bridgewater Canal and the rolling Cheshire countryside

The name “Daresbury” is derived from an ancient word meaning “oak” and there is certainly an abundance of oak trees in the area. Within the village is a beautiful stone church... All Saints Church, one of the vicars of which was the Reverend Charles W. Dodgson. The Reverend Dodgson took a particular interest in the well being of the bargemen who crewed the boats that operated on the canal. He was also a friend of Lord Francis Egerton. One day, when they were both out walking, the Reverend Dodgson expressed a wish to provide the bargemen with some sort of religious privileges. “If only I had £100”, he said… “I would turn one of those barges into a floating chapel”. He went on to describe to Lord Egerton how he would have the boat fitted out and how he would cruise along the canal giving religious instruction and holding services. A few weeks later, he received a letter from Lord Egerton, informing him that his floating chapel was ready and waiting for the Reverend to collect it from Worsley. This floating chapel is believed to be the first of it’s kind and was used regularly by people who worked along the canal.

A floating chapel similar to that of the Reverend Charles W. Dodgson's

The floating chapel wasn’t the Reverend Dodgson’s only claim to fame. He was father to the renowned Victorian author and photographer Charles Ludwidge Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, famous for writing the Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass books. If the church in Daresbury is visited, the stained glass windows are of interest as they depict characters from the “Alice” books. There is also an appreciation centre in the village, conveniently placed next to the Ring-o-Bells public house where thirsts can be quenched and stomachs filled before the return walk back to the canal.

The Lewis Carroll commemorative window in All Saints Church, Daresbury

After the two Daresbury bridges, just before the next bridge... Moore Field Bridge, hidden in the trees lining the towpath is the remains of an Anderson Air Raid Shelter. During the Second World War there was a lengthsman that kept an eye on the canal and in the event of an air raid he would seek safety in the Anderson Shelter. If the canal was hit by a German bomb he would emerge from the shelter and lower the stop planks into the grooves adjacent to the bridge so preventing the canal from being drained and protecting the village of Moore from flooding. The shelter is also featured in a website dedicated to Anderson Shelters which can be found at

Remains of the Anderson Air Raid Shelter between Daresbury and Moore...

...and the nearby stop planks and crane


The Bridgewater Canal at Moore

Just after Moore Bridge, is a track that leads to the village of Moore. There is a general store and The Red Lion at Moore public house, the illuminated sign from which can be seen from the canal, beckoning the thirsty. They also serve meals of a high standard. to On the wall of the pub as well as some rather good, old monochrome photographs of the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals was a commemoration to Ken Thomas the Tramp aka The Old Man of Moore. Ken was a friendly, intelligent man who dropped out of society of his own will. He sometimes slept in the Anderson air raid shelter mentioned previously, but could usually be seen huddled beneath his umbrella, and was always willing to catch the ropes when we were mooring close by. We always offered him a cup of tea in return and have a chat until he died of pneumonia in March 1984. . He is remembered and missed by the more experienced, older boaters on the Bridgewater Canal . I was given permission to reproduce the painting of Ken below and also the poem entitled "The Old Man of Moore" that was written about him by Mrs Marjory Pike; also of Moore. Around the corner, just before Moore Bridge, was a memorial erected by the locals to the memory of “Ken the Tramp”. More details of Ken's life can be found at...


A painting depicting Ken the Tramp at Moore



A sketch entitled "The Old Man of Moore"


The Old Man of Moore

Some things leave impressions in our minds for all of time,

On recalling they're so vivid like the pungency of wine,

Through the years I will remember the first time I ever saw,

The canal and boatman and the Old Man of Moore.


There he'd laze away the hours man and nature so at one,

Not for him the homely comforts, spurned they were, that life was done.

Large umbrella now his shelter, crooked arm his head to rest!

But to him he's found his haven like the bird high in its nest.


Children came each day to see him and the boatmen knew him well

As he fished beside the water, oh what stories he could tell!

Starry nights and frosty mornings, wind and rain and summer gone!

He would while away the hours lost in thought till day is done,

But I'm sure in times afar off telling tales of days of yore

I'll remember my encounter with that nice old man of Moore.

Marjory Pike (Mrs)

(Reproduced by kind permission of P Burdell - The Red Lion at Moore)




The location of Ken's Memorial and a close-up of the memorial itself

The “Red Lion” can also be reached from Moore Bridge. There are craft moored just after Moore Bridge on private moorings. This stretch is also a handy mooring for the convenience store and Post Office, one hundred and fifty metres along the road.

Between Moore and Walton, after Acton Grange Bridge, the canal winds through delightful countryside punctuated by a wooded cutting. Here there is a good sheltered mooring, perfect for barbeques. The location is usually known as "Spike Bridge" due to the pipes and protective spikes that span the canal at this point.

Spike Bridge between Moore and Walton

Before long, Walton’s A56 Chester Road Bridge can be seen. This bridge is the last surviving concrete “Toast Rack” bridge on the Bridgewater Canal. Just before and after the bridge are moorings of the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club, based at Runcorn, opposite which, are excellent overnight moorings. At the next bridge, the Walton Arms can be reached by going down the road on the towpath side. The Walton Arms serves high quality meals as well as alcohol. From the A56, near the Crematorium entrance, can be seen one of the two remaining transporter bridges in the country. This example is scheduled as a Listed Structure and spans the old Mersey and Irwell Navigation, adjacent to the Crossfields Chemical Complex (the original Lever Brothers factory) in Warrington. Today, it is owned by Warrington Town Council.

Crossfields Transporter Bridge across the River Mersey

At the next bridge, Walton Lea Bridge, care must be exercised when passing other craft due to the jagged rocks jutting out from the canal banks. Once at the bridge, steps give access to Walton Park. The park is well worth a visit and possesses children’s swings, a children's’ zoo, beautiful gardens and crazy golf. The house itself is a function and conference centre in addition to an appreciation centre, café and sweet shop.

Heading towards Stockton Heath from Walton

After the cool darkness of the cutting, the canal winds it’s way to Stockton Heath, with the trim back gardens and tidy houses on one side of the canal overlooking the rolling Cheshire countryside on the other. Stockton Heath was once the site of Stockton Quay, a busy trans-shipment point in the canal’s heyday. The old quay contained many warehouses in addition to Cash’s Boatyard, the basin for which can still be seen in the shape of a square winding hole. The yard and warehouses were demolished in the mid 1980’s to make way for the “Old Quay” housing development.

Cash's Boatyard in the early 1980's before demolition

Two photographs taken in 1986 of Stockton Heath after Cash's Boatyard was demolished

The London Bridge public house was also one of the points along the canal where the passenger “Fly Boats” such as the previously mentioned “Duchess Countess” would stop for a change of horses and also to allow passengers to embark and disembark. The actual point where the boats stopped was at the steps next to the bridge, adjacent to the public house. The London Bridge is a favourite with canal boaters offering meals as well as drinks. Boats can moor next to the old fly-boat steps whilst visiting the pub.

A blockade of boats protesting at the proposed development of the Bank Rider's Cottage now Thorn Marine

Opposite the Old Quay development is Thorn Marine. They offer all the usual boat shop facilities such as water and sanitary disposal and is a veritable “Aladdin’s Cave” for chandlery, boat parts and canalalia. The left hand side of Thorn Marine’s shop used to be the Lancashire Constabulary (and the canal’s before it) mortuary, in use up to 1951, the tiles of which can still be seen to this day. Rubbish disposal is at a recycling centre, access to which can be gained via a gate one hundred metres along the towpath from Thorn Marine (opposite the small marina moorings). As well as a garage and shopping centre there is an off license, which is reached down the road at the side of Thorn Marine. A little further on down the side road, on the main A56 road, there is a convenience store that is open “eight till late” and an excellent Chinese take-away. Across the Manchester Ship Canal swing bridge is a large “Morrison’s” supermarket.

Stockton Heath with the London Bridge public house on the right

Most of the original canal buildings have disappeared although some still remain like the Bank Rider’s House (Thorn Marine), the Smithy and Stables (behind the London Bridge public house) and a couple of warehouses (behind the new housing development). Another reminder of the canal’s past is remembered on a plaque at the top of the Fly Boat steps adjacent to the pub. Around the back of Thorn Marine, a mural has been painted on a galvanised steel fence, which adds a bit of colour to the area. Next to the pub is a small marina that only offers moorings to residents of the adjacent buildings. After passing the backs of more houses, the canal strides across a small valley on an embankment adjacent to another new housing development. A side road passes beneath the canal on a small aqueduct or “Underbridge” as they are called on the Bridgewater.

Grappenhall Turn

The next port of call is Grappenhall where the A56 runs alongside the canal for quite some distance. There are private moorings at Stanney Lunt Bridge and, through gaps in the towpath hedge are bus stops on the A56 that offer a regular bus service to Warrington. Nearby are shops and a Post Office that can be reached from Cliff Lane Bridge. Care must be exercised at the bend just after Grappenhall Bridge. It is an acute, blind bend and Sod’s Law dictates that another craft will be met on this bend.

Thelwall Cutting

The canal leaves civilisation behind for a while until Thelwall is reached. There are many boats moored on two private linear moorings just past Knutsford Road Bridge (A50) and also past Pickering’s Bridge. Just before Thelwall Underbridge is reached, logs for the solid fuel stove can sometimes be purchased from the shed on the off-side of the canal. A short way along the canal, there are good moorings in the shelter of trees, ideal for a barbeque or children to explore. After the canal emerges from the wooded cutting, Thelwall Viaduct lifts the M6 Motorway high above the Bridgewater Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal, the old Mersey and Irwell Navigation, a railway and a road on lofty concrete pillars. It would be interesting to know what James Brindley’s thoughts on this particular piece of civil engineering would be had he been able to see it. There is a garage that sells milk, bread, etc. at Ditchfield Bridge before which are more moored craft on private linear moorings.

The approach to Thelwall Viaduct carries the M6 over the canal

The old Ice Breaker Dock at Lymm

Busy moorings in Lymm Village

A new, tastefully designed housing development heralds the approach to Lymm. The town of Lymm itself is soon reached after negotiating a small rock cutting. This is a beautiful town, full of character. As well as many public houses and shops, there are medieval stocks and a cross from the same era worthy of inspection plus an unusual linear park. The park is set in a gorge that runs right through the town centre. The stream that runs through the gorge emanates from a large lake known as Lymm Dam that is popular with anglers, walkers and picnickers. The stream and the adjacent road pass beneath the canal adjacent to Lymm Green Bridge. There are temporary moorings on both sides of the canal and on the off-side of the canal is a car park that accommodates a market every Thursday. There is an excellent fish and chip shop and a good Chinese take-away opposite the Post Office in the side road on the off-side of the canal as well as many pubs that offer food in addition to the more usual beverages.


The old canal cottages adjacent to Lymm Bridge

Just before the car park is the entrance to a small, disused tunnel that once housed the icebreakers used to keep the canal open for traffic during the winter. These craft had a rounded bilge and were specially sheathed in iron to prevent the ice cutting into the timber of the hulls over a prolonged period of time. They were pulled by a team of horses whilst the crew members hung onto a central bar and rocked the boat from side to side. As the boat progressed along the canal, it opened up a channel, allowing other craft to travel along a previously ice-bound waterway. One humorous tale is of an ice breaker that rose onto the ice. It was pulled at a great speed, skidding along the ice, by the horses for quite a distance before they could be brought under control and the business of icebreaking resumed.







Immediately after Lymm Green Bridge there used to be a fine example of a typical Bridgewater Canal warehouse that featured the original lifting equipment used for hoisting goods in and out of the boats. Unfortunately, the warehouse has now been demolished and a new housing development now occupies the site. Just around the corner is the headquarters of Lymm Cruising Club and the first of their extensive moorings. Adjacent to their slipway, there is a small arm that used to lead to the coal yard's unloading tunnel now euphemistically called “Lymm Tunnel”. Where Lymm Cruising Club has its jetty moorings there was once another arm off the canal that lead to Lymm Gasworks.



An aerial photograph of Lymm Cruising Club's  Clubhouse, Arm and Slipway



Lymm Tunnel which lead to the coal yard



Location of the Gas Works Arm in Lymm



Approaching Lloyd Bridge  formally Oughtrington Bridge


As the canal leaves Lymm behind can be seen excellent views of the rolling Cheshire countryside. More boat moorings from Lymm Cruising Club are seen around the bend from the Lymm straight at Oughtrington. The bridge used to be known as Oughtrington Bridge but has been renamed Lloyd Bridge after a family that served the Bridgewater Canal for many generations. Immediately after the bridge, at Oughtrington Wharf, Calor Gas can be obtained. There is also a sanitary station here as well but no water tank fill-up tap.

Oughtrington Wharf and Lloyd Bridge from the other direction

The canal now winds into the Agden area. Here, there is another excellent example of an underbridge. Immediately after Agden Underbridge is a warehouse that was once used as a hospital for canal horses part of which has been tastefully converted into a private house. The original winch and entrance for the horses can be seen on the canal side of the building. This building is at the beginning of a long straight stretch of canal on which is situated three boatyards next to each other. Northern Marine Services is first, next to which is the Barn Owl pub and restaurant. This is followed by Hesford Marine and Lymm Marina (formally Ladyline). The two latter boatyards have excellent chandleries and every service that may be required ranging from Calor Gas, pump-outs, diesel fuel, moorings, boat sales and repairs whereas Northern Marine Services are boat builders only.


The old Canal Horse Hospital near Agden

More linear moorings for Lymm Cruising Club are passed and soon the Old Number Three public house is reached. There is a water tap and temporary moorings adjacent to the footpath that leads to the pub. This is a good point to link-up with visitors coming by car as the A56 runs at the front of the pub where there is a convenient lay-by as well as the temporary moorings there are also permanent moorings.

Lymm Cruising Club's Agden Moorings

Around the bend from the Old Number Three, the canal is built on an embankment before it crosses the River Bollin on an aqueduct. This was the site of a major breach in 1971 that closed the canal to through traffic for two years whilst the aqueduct and adjacent embankment was rebuilt. On the offside of the canal can be seen a mill that harnessed the River Bollin to drive a large water wheel which, in turn, drove the mill machinery. The water wheel has gone but the head and tailraces are still in existence and are well worth a visit. Just after the embankment are more temporary moorings.

A panoramic photograph showing the banks of a disused meander in the River Mersey

The aqueduct and narrows at the site of the 1971 Bollington Breach

Dunham Massey is soon reached with it’s old school, Deer Park, Stately Home and Gardens. It is well worth mooring to spend an afternoon at the grand house and deer park. The Axe and Cleaver public house is a favourite with boaters. Close to the Axe and Cleaver is a Post Office and general store.

A horse drawn narrowboat at Dunham Massey in the 1930's...

... and the same location today

The rural setting of Dunham Village

The canal now starts to change it’s character. It leaves behind the rural atmosphere and becomes increasingly industrial as factories line the canal. A new marina development and the old “Linotype” works heralds the approach to Altrincham. The old “Linotype” works was a user of Bridgewater Canal for both receiving raw materials and distributing finished products. This is confirmed by the extensive wharfing facilities that were once situated here. As well as “Linotype”, there was a major coal yard belonging to Bridgewater Estates where the new office block now stands. Altrincham is a busy town centre and offers all the amenities and shops that one would expect.

The Linotype Works at Altrincham around the early 1900's

Before long, the railway joins the canal and is to be it’s constant companion until Stretford. Even though originally a railway line, Manchester’s Metrolink trams run along the line and offers a regular service straight to the heart of Manchester and the surrounding area from the stations situated at regular intervals along the canal. A seemingly unending straight stretch with similarly unending linear boat moorings belonging to members of Sale Cruising Club on the offside of the canal signals the approach of Sale. Sale town centre is reached through a hole in the wall just after Sale Bridge. The town centre offers a large precinct with every conceivable shop plus a couple of garages for petrol, oil, etc.

Right at the end of the straight stretch is a pub that caters for boaters called, ironically, the Railway and is adjacent to Dane Road Bridge. The canal leaves Sale behind and winds around for a bit before passing the boathouse of Manchester University Rowing Club. Soon after this, the infant River Mersey is crossed on the Barfoot Aqueduct. The M60 motorway also crosses the canal here and marks the beginning of another straight stretch lined with craft, this time belonging to members of the Watch House Cruising Club. The headquarters for this society is a very distinctive piece of canal architecture. As the name of the club implies, it was a watch or look-out post. In the days of passenger transport on the canal, when a fly-boat was spotted in the distance, a fresh set of horses was made ready so as to delay the boat as little as possible when it stopped to change horse teams. Cutting through the side road from the Watch House gives access to the Stretford Arndale Centre. Here there are many shops that will meet the needs of even the most dedicated shopper.

Barfoot Aqueduct carries the Bridgewater Canal across the infant River Mersey

The headquarters of Watch House Cruising Club in Stretford

The Watch House signals the end of Sale Moor and the start of Urmston on the outskirts of Manchester. Urmston has a shopping centre reached from Edge Hill Bridge. The canal is now very industrial and care must be taken to avoid tyres, plastic sheeting, mattresses and other waterborne debris.

Waters Meeting at Stretford

After winding through Urmston, the canal reaches a “T” junction called “Waters Meeting”. To the left is the Leigh Branch, which was the original part of the Bridgewater Canal leading to Barton Aqueduct, Worsley and the end-on junction with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh. This branch is described later on but for now we will turn right and head into Manchester and the junction with the Rochdale Canal at Castlefield, the canal’s terminus. This stretch is also part of Brindley’s original canal and, originally, passed through a canyon lined with factories and warehouses.

The canal at Throstle Nest

Originally one of the busiest ports in the country, the docks are now mainly used for leisure although the occasional Mersey Ferry and coastal traffic can be seen in the complex. Manchester United’s Football Ground has dominated the skyline for the last mile or so and the canal runs next to the rear of the ground. Soon after this, the canal’s towpath changes sides at Throstle Nest Bridge immediately before a re-profiled stretch of canal is reached. Pomona Station is right on the canal banks and would be a suitable place to moor the boat and catch the Metrolink into Manchester if the remainder of the canal is not to be navigated.

The River Irwell can be glimpsed through the Metrolink viaduct supports. Access to the River Irwell and Manchester Docks is achieved by the new Pomona Lock constructed to replace to original Hulme Locks, the site of which can be seen a little further on past Woden Street Footbridge where the River Medlock joins the River Irwell. If access to the docks, River Irwell and Manchester Ship Canal is required, please refer to the section dealing with navigational information. Close to the Pomona Lock, the canal is criss-crossed by railway and the Metrolink. A little further on from Pomona Lock, on the towpath side of the canal, can be seen an early example of a circular Brindley overflow weir. This example may have been a prototype for the type seen on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.

Waiting for Pomona Lock

Pomona Lock as seen from the Metrolink

The River Irwell is fairly wide at this point and, originally, boats could only navigate downstream as far as Woden Street Footbridge, where the Irwell flowed into Manchester Docks. Boats can now navigate through the docks to the start of the Manchester Ship Canal, which is marked by Lowry Footbridge, but stringent preparations must be made prior to navigation. Passage along the Ship Canal is controlled due to commercial sea-going vessels using the lower reaches of the canal. Upstream, the river passes through the centre of Manchester to the head of navigation at Hunt’s Bank.

Besides the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals, there were two other canals that joined the River Irwell. They were the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal, the lower parts of which are filled-in but traceable (just), and the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal. The latter was basically a tunnel connecting the Rochdale Canal to the River Irwell in an attempt to prevent the Bridgewater Canal’s monopoly on passage to the River Irwell via Hulme Lock. Only isolated glimpses of this canal can now be seen although the remains of a lock chamber are still present beneath the Granada Television Studios, as are some of the lengths of tunnel, which were once used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. For further information about this canal go to the section of this website that deals with the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal.

Remains of the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal beneath the old Granada TV Studios

Returning to the Bridgewater Canal, soon after passing beneath Egerton Street Bridge, the cast iron railway viaducts that surround Castlefield Junction can be seen. To the left is Potato Wharf where the remains of Brindley’s original cloverleaf overflow weir can still be seen. Straight on is the junction with the Rochdale Canal, which can be reached via Duke’s Lock. To the right are the extensive wharves and the branch that leads up to the River Medlock and the canal’s terminus.

Approaching Castlefield Junction

The Castlefield area was tidied up and dredged prior to the 1988 Inland Waterways National Rally of Boats. Since then, the new Merchant’s footbridge from the beginning of the Rochdale Canal, which spans the entrance to the Castlefield Basin, has been constructed. There was also considerable development of the site in recognition of it’s industrial heritage. This development included the construction of additional bridges, converting warehouses into residential apartment buildings, theme pubs, and even a radio station. The buildings not renovated have been demolished to make way for developments more in keeping with the canal’s new image.


The futuristic Merchant's Footbridge spans the entrance to Castlefield Basin


The Rochdale Canal was previously owned by the Rochdale Canal Company but now comes under the jurisdiction of the Canal and River Trust (C & R T). A special licence was required to cruise the Rochdale Canal, but since coming under the umbrella of C & R T, their licence is required.


Looking down the Rochdale Canal towards Castlefield Junction at dusk


Manchester City Centre is reached by going across the new footbridge and around the wharf to Deansgate where the shops and major attractions are a fifteen-minute walk to the left. A little way along the road is the entrance to The Manchester Museum of Science and Technology. For a small entrance fee can be seen displays ranging from steam engines, aircraft and road transport in addition to modern technology exhibits. Also worth a visit are the remains of the Roman Fort that gave Castlefield it’s name. There was also a Roman “Fosse” which was an early form of navigable cut that connected the rivers Irk and Irwell. Unfortunately, nothing remains of this early navigation. Over the River Irwell from the Granada TV Studios is the Mark Addy public house. The pub is named after a man who, as a seven year old boy, was instrumental in the rescuing of an oarsman on the river close to Albert Bridge. In later life, Mark Addy saved more than fifty people from drowning.


Castlefield as seen from Beetham Tower


In addition to the obvious attractions mentioned earlier, there are many interesting canal features in the area. At the end of the arm adjacent to Deansgate is the River Medlock. It plunges into a “syphon” or tunnel and runs beneath the length of the arm to emerge behind Potato Wharf and Brindley’s cloverleaf weir. At the other side of the bridge, at the end of the arm can be seen the rebuilt entrance to the unloading tunnel. A chamber beneath the canal contained a waterwheel turned by the Medlock, which was the motive power for the winch that raised the coal and other cargoes in containers from the canal boats up to street level. The remains of the other end of the tunnel can be seen at Pioneer Wharf, adjacent to Deansgate, on the Rochdale Canal. When this canal was built it cut across the line of the tunnel, which effectively shortened it. Further details go to the section of this website that describes a walk around the Canal Heritage Features of Castlefield. The latest attractions and a road map can be obtained from the Heritage centre adjacent to Deansgate.


Return to Contents


The River Irwell and Salford Quays

The River Irwell at Pomona Dock

After descending Pomona Lock Pomona Dock is entered. This dock gives access to the Upper Reaches of the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC) and the River Irwell. At Salford Quays the MSC reaches its ultimate destination of Manchester Docks. The once busy docks have now been redeveloped into business and housing complexes.  The first dock is now called the North Bay (previously Number Nine Dock) and its banks are dominated by the Lowry Art Gallery, Lowry Shopping Centre and Salford Quays.  Opposite is Trafford Wharf, the location of the Imperial War Museum – North.  The Millennium Lifting Footbridge spans the canal connecting Trafford Wharf to the Lowry Centre for pedestrians and marks the boundary separating the MSC from Manchester Docks. The bridge is a vertical lift bridge of similar design to the Centenary Bridge a little way downstream although, with commercial traffic no longer using this stretch of the canal it is rarely lifted.  Pleasure craft are not permitted to navigate below Lowry Footbridge without prior arrangements being made with the MSC Company and craft are allowed to moor at various locations above Lowry Footbridge.



Manchester Docks as Originally Constructed


Salford Quays - Present Day

(Manchester Docks After Regeneration)

The Lowry Footbridge - the lower limit of navigation Illuminated at Night

North Bay continues on to Huron and Erie Basins, the two basins being divided by the relocated Trafford Railway Swing Bridge relocated from further upstream and converted into a fixed footbridge.  A new canal, the Mariners’ Canal, connects to Ontario Basin, a continuation of Central Bay, the next bay along.  Central Bay is connected to Ontario Basin by the newly constructed Welland Canal and Lock.  Adjacent to the lock are moorings conveniently located for visiting the Lowry Centre and Imperial War Museum - North.  Welland Lock connects to St Louis and St Peter Basins, access to which is currently strictly controlled, although it is planned to allow pleasure craft access through Welland Lock on the first weekend of the month during the summer period.  Located in the base of Welland Lock’s control tower is a sanitary station, water point and rubbish disposal, access to which is by the conventional BW key.



Huron Basin



Detroit Footbridge... previously Trafford Railway Swing Bridge before relocation



Development in Erie Basin... once the location of Grain Elevator Number Two at the end of Number Nine Dock



Welland Lock gives access to Mariner's Canal


Mariner’s Canal connects Ontario Basin to Erie Basin


A nocturnal photograph of Mariner’s Canal



Narrowboats moored at Salford Quays



The Upper Reaches or River Irwell pre-1986



The Upper Reaches or River Irwell - Trafford Road Bridges to Woden Street Footbridge - Present Day



An artist's impression of the proposed Clipper Quay Footbridge near Trafford Wharf



Two pleasure craft passing Trafford Road Swing Bridge in 1988 prior to the construction of the fixed bridge alongside the swing bridge


The description of the route of this section commences from Lowry Footbridge. After Central Bay are the Eastern Wharf North and South and South Bay. Immediately after South Bay is the original location of the Trafford Railway Bridge that is now located in North Bay. The unusually shaped basin on the left is where the bridge swung away from the bank of the canal and some of the supports can still be seen as can the pivot island on the right which is now built upon and is part of the Wharfside Promenade. The two Trafford Bridges follow. The original swing bridge was once the largest swing bridge of this type in England but is is now a fixed Bridge. The next crossing... just around the bend carries Manchester's Metrolink tramway across the waterway into the heart of Salford Quays and Media City.


The author’s narrowboat “Total Eclipse” in Pomona Lock, May 2003

On the right is Pomona Dock originally Pomona Number Three Dock and is the proposed location of a marina complex offering residential and permanent moorings once the area is redeveloped. At the far end of the dock is Pomona Lock which connects with the Bridgewater Canal. This lock was built in 1995 to replace the old Hulme Lock about a mile upstream. The locations of Pomona Number Two and One Docks... now in-filled, can be seen on the left. A little further upstream is Woden Street Footbridge. This footbridge marks the boundary between Manchester Docks and the River Irwell. Before the docks were de-commercialised it was also the lower limit of navigation for pleasure craft. Today it is more generally referred to as the River Irwell or the "Upper Reaches". Beyond this point care must be exercised if there has been a prolonged period of rainfall as the water level can rise quite dramatically. As the Irwell is narrow further upstream the current of water can be hazardous to navigation. In this situation it is advisable to make for Pomona Lock and the safety of the Bridgewater Canal. Nestling beneath the railway viaduct arches is the disused Hulme Lock, once the connection between the Bridgewater Canal and the River Irwell.



Hulme Lock to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Junction


Hidden away to the left of the lock entrance the diminutive River Medlock flows into the River Irwell after its subterranean journey beneath Castlefield Basins and Potato Wharf. James Brindley constructed a syphon to convey the Medlock from Deansgate, beneath the basins and wharfs that he had built, to emerge a few hundred metres from the junction with the Irwell. Along the way, a subterranean chamber housed a water wheel which powered winches to lift cargo from the canal level up to Deansgate. An overflow weir was also constructed at Potato Wharf in the shape of a giant cloverleaf to help regulate the water level in the canal. Over the years, successive developments have eaten away at the weir and only a small portion of it remains today.


The entrance to the River Irwell from the disused Hulme Lock. The River Medlock also joins the river to the left of the lock



Housing development above Hulme Lock looking towards Regent Road Bridge


A twin arched road bridge... Regent Road Bridge carries Regent Road across the river. This is followed by the new Manchester Inner City Ring Road Bridge. Shortly after the next two bridges, which both carry railway lines (one of which is the original line of the Liverpool to Manchester Railway) and Prince's Bridge, on the left hand bank can be seen the entrance lock to the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal. When excavations for the new Inner City Ring Road were taking place work was held up whilst industrial archaeologists inspected the site. The Ring Road is carried across the canal on bridges allowing full navigational height and width due to the proposed restoration of the canal of which the first few hundred metres have already been completed in the shape of the Middlewood Locks and Basin development. The canal has many interesting features including the Prestolees Aqueduct across the River Irwell and the Wet Earth Colliery where James Brindley constructed drainage soughs for the mines and carried them beneath the Irwell in a siphon similar to the one used a Castlefield for the Medlock and later used extensively on the MSC.



The entrance to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal prior to restoration...



... and the same location after restoration leading to...



... Middlewood Locks and basin complex prior to redevelopment


Returning to the River Irwell, a short distance upstream and on the right hand bank is another canal junction. This is the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal that was constructed to break the Bridgewater Canal Company's monopoly on boat movements and exorbitant tolls for entering the Bridgewater Canal from the Rochdale Canal as well as for using Hulme Lock. Little of the canal can be seen as it ran mostly in tunnels beneath what was to become the Granada TV Studios and the original set for Coronation Street before it was moved to opposite Media City a couple of kilometres downstream. During the Second World War part of the canal was drained and used as air raid shelters. To learn more about this canal go to the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal section of this website.



Manchester and Salford Junction Canal to the Lowry Hotel



A short distance upstream is the entrance to the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal


After Irwell Street Bridge the left hand bank of the river makes a convenient place for moorings. There is access to the city centre via the new Irwell Footbridge adjacent to the Mark Addy pub. This pub is names after a man who, as a seven year old, saved an oarsman from drowning in the river close to Albert Bridge. In later life Mark Addy went on to save fifty people from the river. It is ironical that at this time the Irwell was renowned for being severely polluted with sewage and chemicals and Mark Addy died of poisoning after rescuing his fiftieth person. The pub that bears Mark Addy's name has convenient moorings next to it, serves excellent food and beers as well as making a convenient place from which to explore the city. A new footbridge connects the promenades on both sides of the river just below the Mark Addy. It also gives access to the Spinningfields development that combines business accommodation with apartments that overlook the river. Albert Bridge is followed by the Calatrava or Trinity Footbridge whose revolutionary design connects the Lowry Hotel with the opposite bank. The river now enters a brick and concrete canyon punctuated by the occasional bridge and disused landing stages... a throwback to when passenger boats left from the city centre. Large office blocks loom over the river as Blackfriars and Victoria Bridges are passed beneath. After Victoria Bridge the river is close to Manchester Cathedral and only a few hundred metres of navigable river are left before the limit of navigation is reached at Hunt's Bank.




Narrowboats moored on the River Irwell during the 1988 IWA National Rally


Narrowboats moored outside the Mark Addy public house

Irwell Footbridge adjacent to the Mark Addy Public House

Looking downstream towards Albert Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge with the Cathedral in the background

Lowry Hotel to Hunt’s Bank

(Limit of Navigation)

A narrowboat winding above Blackfriars Bridge

The disused landing stage adjacent to the Cathedral once gave access to the now sealed tunnels that run through the buried remains of “Old Manchester” and lead to the Cathedral’s vaults. Beneath Salford Bridge is Hunts Bank the head of navigation and the point at which it is time to turn around.  Shallow-drafted craft can, in theory, navigate further upstream as far as the weir at Shooter’s Bank but this is not recommended due to the unpredictable nature of the river and the presence of submerged obstacles.

Looking downstream at Hunt’s Bank… the limit of navigation, adjacent to the cathedral. Note the disused stairs to a long gone landing stage on the left.

The nearest bridge is Cathedral Approach Bridge after which is Victoria Bridge


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The Leigh Branch


From Stretford "Waters Meeting" the canal winds around factories that from Trafford Park Industrial Estate.  Soon, a long straight stretch is reached. The water along this stretch is unbelievably clear. The plastic bags and other submarine obstacles can be easily spotted and avoided. The fish dart about, some of them very big, lurking beneath the weeds.  No wonder this stretch is so popular with fishermen.



Waters Meeting at Stretford looking towards Trafford Park




The site of Barton Power Station in Trafford Park


At the end of the straight is Barton Swing aqueduct. Not very long ago, the ship canal, spanned by the aqueduct, was busier than the Bridgewater Canal.  Now, the tables are turned, and the Bridgewater is busier than the ship canal. To the left can be seen the original line of the canal before Brindley's Aqueduct was demolished. If the aqueduct is open to the Bridgewater canal, cruise straight over, but care must be exercised if it is windy. During the winter months, the aqueduct is periodically closed for maintenance. The Manchester Ship Canal Company should be consulted for confirmation of the closure dates.




An undated photograph of Barton Swing Aqueduct before the towpath was removed



One icon passes another... the Mersey Ferry "Royal Iris" passing Barton Swing Aqueduct



The Manchester Ship Canal viewed from Barton Swing Aqueduct


Once over the aqueduct, the canal passes through Patricroft where there are shops and a garage. The moored boats belong to members of Worsley Cruising Club whose clubhouse is adjacent to an old loading wharf. The canal soon swings beneath the Liverpool to Manchester Railway, which crosses the canal on a bridge reminiscent of the original Barton aqueduct in design. From Barton the canal can be shallow and quite weedy.  When cruising this stretch of the canal, it is advisable to have a towel ready to dry your hands just in case de-weeding is necessary.



Worsley Cruising Club's Patricroft Moorings

The Boatyard development at Worsley

The water now starts to have an orange tint to it, which grows stronger as Worsley is approached. Worsley has much to offer.  There are shops, a pub, sanitary station, water point, dry docks, hire boats and the mines.  Opposite the sanitary station is the Duke’s Boathouse that once sheltered his “V.I.P. Barge”. Adjacent to the moorings is a sanitary station and water point. A walk across the road will be rewarded by the opportunity to have a drink in the Bridgewater Hotel public house.

The much photographed Packet House at Worsley

Adjacent to the Old Boat House, the Old Oil Stores have been tastefully transformed into private apartments. There are other places of interest such as the Duke of Bridgewater’s original mine entrances. The short branch to the mines is no longer navigable and starts at the Alphabet Bridge adjacent to the Packet House steps. This bridge is so called due to the walkway having twenty six planks along it’s span. Children used to sing as they practiced their alphabet when crossing it. To reach the mine entrances, walk down a path at the side of the Casserole Restaurant, signposted the "Delph". The "Delph" is a large basin with two arms leading to the mine entrances. There is also a sunken "Starvationer”, the first known type of container boat, kept in the basin. Other examples of this type of boat and the associated containers can be seen at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum. For more information about the cradle of the canal revolution go to the section of the Canalscape website that describes a walk around the Canal Heritage Features of Worsley.



Worsley Delph with the sunken "Starvationer" on the left



The Bridgewater tug "Broadheath" rounding Worsley Turn with a train of barges in tow



Leaving Worsley


Leaving Worsley beneath Worsley Bridge, the canal is crossed by the M62 and the M60 Manchester Outer Ring Motorway, after which, Worsley Old Hall, the Duke of Bridgewater’s residence can be seen through the trees. The Hall is now used as a Conference Centre. The orange colour of the canal, caused by the drainage from the mines, soon starts to fade.  It is always possible to tell when a boat has visited Worsley by the orange stain left by the water, but it washes off easily. On the left, at the end of the straight stretch, can be seen the remains of the old Hollins Ferry Branch, now filled-in and last used as a dredgings dump.





The straight after Worsley with the location of the Hollins Ferry Branch at the bend


The next point of interest is the Boothstown Pen. Here, there were more underground canals, but only one and a half miles compared to Worsley's forty six. It was also the terminus of the Bridgewater Tramway, which transported coal from outlying mines to the canal. The basin was once surrounded by warehouses, now demolished, and was quite a busy area in it’s heyday. In later years, after the mines had been closed, the basin became a boats’ graveyard where fishermen tried to lure fish from their hiding places between the sunken narrowboats, Leeds and Liverpool short boats and Bridgewater barges. The entrance from the canal was filled in to prevent boats being damaged on the many sunken craft. In 1989, the basin was emptied, the old boats removed and the basin converted to off-line marina moorings complete with a small canal shop, an up-market housing development built, the surrounding area landscaped and a new pub… The Moorings, added. Quite a contrast from how it was in the not too distant past. Whilst looking at this area, it is surprising just how clear the water is in direct contrast to a short distance away at Worsley.



Boothstown Pen being drained prior to converting it into a marina



The Moorings at Boothstown are popular with boaters


The canal threads its way through the strange landscape filled with coal tips until Astley is reached. Here there is a Mining Museum and public house, access to which is gained via Astley Bridge. A little further on, the Boat House pub and restaurant is reached. There is  also another pub along the road, some shops and a Post Office. Due to the continuing threat from subsidence two new stop gates have been installed to minimize the risk of leakage from the canal.



Narrowboats moored at Astley



The chimneys and hills of Leigh slowly grow closer. After passing a large school the canal enters a factory-lined canyon. A little further on is located Butt's Basin where there are boats moored here from Worsley Cruising Club. A little further on at Butt's Bridge is a sanitary station. Shortly after Mather bridge is Bedford Basin basin is also home to “Water Womble”, an ex-Leeds and Liverpool short boat that travels along the canal acting as a waterborne road sweeper. Butts Bridge, Mather and Leigh bridges give access to Leigh town centre with all the usual amenities. The best moorings are through the stop boards that mark the end of the Bridgewater Canal and on the Wigan side of Leigh Bridge, in the basin opposite the old Leeds and Liverpool canal warehouses now tastefully renovated. If traveling on towards Wigan, at Plank Lane Lift Bridge, a British Waterways Board Officer records boat details and checks boat licenses.


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The Runcorn Arm


Immediately after turning onto the Runcorn Arm from the main line, the canal crosses a railway on a modern concrete aqueduct. Just past the aqueduct are the old trans-shipment wharves (which are now private moorings) and Pyranha Mouldings Ltd who occupy the "Black Shed" warehouse that has been tastefully extended. Pyranha produce fibreglass kayaks and canoes renowned the World over.


Opposite the Marine Village housing development is the entrance to Preston Brook Marina. The Marina offers secure moorings for over three hundred boats as well as brokerage, slipways, Calor gas, boat and engineer repairs in addition to winter storage. The Marina is owned by the Bridgewater Canal Canal Company. One hundred metres past the marina entrance is a water tap, toilet and sanitary station.


An aerial view of Preston Brook Marina - note the Main Line of the canal to Manchester on the top right



At Borrow’s Bridge, there is Runcorn East Station, shops, a pub and a fish and chip shop a short walk up the hill.  Along this stretch of canal, there are excellent views across the valley towards Daresbury. Norton Bridge is a rare commodity on the Bridgewater canal, for it’s a change-over bridge where the towpath changes sides.  The canal now enters a very pleasant wooded cutting as Norton Priory is reached. The Priory is well worth a visit and features beautiful gardens and restored buildings. Access is gained via Green’s Bridge and following the path over the bridge, also at Norton are swimming baths, squash and tennis courts in addition to running tracks. Immediately after Green’s Bridge, the canal negotiates an “S” bend as it skirts a large natural lake. Just before Astmoor Spine Road Bridge, The Barge public house and restaurant is situated. 


The towpath reverts to it’s usual side at Old Astmoor Bridge, which is followed by a wide stretch of canal that was once lined with warehouses. Today, the only give-away to their past existence is the odd stump from a loading crane and the mooring rings. The next stretch is very exposed giving a good view of Fiddler’s Ferry power station. This stretch is renowned for the winds coming in off the River Mersey.



Soon, boats moored at the “Boat and Butty Company” are passed. The Jubilee Runcorn-Widnes Suspension Bridge can be seen on the horizon before warehouses enclose the canal. The Grapes Hotel is adjacent to the footbridge with the Egerton Arms just around the corner. A little further on are the headquarters of the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club, the oldest boat club on the canal, founded in 1952. At one time, the area was Sprinch’s Boat Yard, but now B.M.B.C. members operate the slipway and dry dock built on one of the old arms that used to lead to the “Big Pool”. The clubhouse has a bar and the atmosphere is cordial. Boaters are invited to call for a chat and enjoy their hospitality. The Arm just past the Club House used for members’ moorings once lead to the “Big Pool” before building of the Runcorn Expressway necessitated it’s in-filling.



A surprisingly rural corner of Runcorn


The end of the canal is now in sight. At Waterloo Bridge there are more moorings belonging to B.M.B.C. members and easy access to the town centre, which is a short distance away. The three arches of Waterloo Bridge once spanned a canal dual carriageway with a dry-dock in the centre, but were removed to make way for the Jubilee Bridge link road bridge.  If time allows, a walk down the old line of the canal is a must. The two lines of locks are still traceable down to Bridgewater House, where the canal once connected to the Manchester Ship Canal as well as giving access to the Runcorn and Weston Canal, which connected with the River Weaver Navigation via Runcorn Docks.



BMBC moorings at Waterloo Bridge

A contemporary photograph of Bridgewater House in Runcorn... now a college campus

What a pity the canal had to be vandalised by town planners. When walking around here one thinks how easy it would have been to re-open. Access to the Runcorn and Weston Canal would give a second route into the Weaver and create a small circular cruising route in the shape of the “Runcorn Ring” consisting of the Runcorn and Weston Canal leading to the River Weaver, up the Anderton Boat Lift and onto the Trent and Mersey Canal before returning to the Bridgewater Canal.


With the current upsurge in recognising the potential of our canals in urban development schemes and the re-opening of many disused canals, there is the possibility that the mistakes of the past will be rectified in Runcorn. With the opening of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, the old Jubilee Bridge link road bridge behind Waterloo Bridge has now been demolished leaving the way forward for the reinstatement of the canal leading down to the Manchester Ship Canal. The Unlock Runcorn scheme has the backing of Halton Borough Council and plans have been made for the reinstatement of the canal using the Old Line of locks.



Waterloo Bridge with the concrete bridge behind it demolished




Two photographs of Waterloo Bridge from the opposite direction


After Waterloo Bridge it is proposed to build a vertical boat lift to lower the new canal to allow it to pass beneath the railway viaduct. After the boat lift the canal makes a right turn, beneath Percival Lane Bridge and enters a holding basin for the two-step staircase locks and the entrance to Runcorn Marina. After the staircase locks, there is another waiting basin. This one is for the inclined plane which lowers craft down to the level of the Manchester Ship Canal adjacent to Bridgewater House.




The proposed route from Waterloo Bridge to the Manchester Ship Canal Connection


The link is, at present, only a proposal and the end result may be quite different to the one planned. The development of the canal in this area would provide a renewed focus to Runcorn Old Town, provide new marina moorings, bring in canal tourists to view the boat lift and inclined plane in the same way that the Falkirk Wheel and Anderton Boat Lift do for their respective areas. It , jobs and prosperity would also open up the isolated northern end of the Runcorn Arm and create a new cruising ring via the Manchester Ship Canal, Runcorn and Weston Canal, Weaver Navigation, River Weaver, Anderton Boat Lift and the Trent and Mersey Canal. This tourism would also generate employment which would, in turn, bring added prosperity to the area.



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Preston Brook Tunnel

Preston Brook Tunnel is 1133 metres (1239 yards) in length and is not straight. It is just possible toe see from one end to the other. It is not possible to pass through the whole length of the tunnel. As a result of this, a timetable is in operation for craft movement at all times. In an emergency, craft may just pass in the wide part of the Cathedral.

Craft Entry Southbound - Entry is only between twenty and thirty minutes past the hour.

Craft Entry Northbound - Entry is only between ten minutes to the hour and on the hour.

About two thirds of the way through the tunnel can be seen the new sections (affectionately referred to as the "Cathedral") constructed when the tunnel collapsed in 1982. A quick look upwards when passing the ventilation duct (drips allowing) will give some idea of how far beneath the ground the tunnel is. Unpowered craft are not allowed passage through the tunnel.

Inside Preston Brook Tunnel


The "Cathedral" in Preston Brook Tunnel


Looking up the ventilation shaft in the "Cathedral"


Branch Distances


Preston Brook to Runcorn Waterloo Bridge - 8 km (5 miles)
Preston Brook to Preston Brook Tunnel - 1.2 km (0.75 miles)
Preston Brook to Stretford - 33 km (20.5 miles)
Stretford to Leigh - 17.3 km (10.75 miles)
Stretford to Castlefield - 4.4 km (2.75 miles)
Woden St. footbridge to Hunt’s Bank (River Irwell) - 3.6 km (2.25 miles)


Mileage Chart


Main Line -  
 Preston Brook Waters’ Meeting - 0 km (0 miles)
Red Brow Underbridge - 1.6 km (1 mile)
Keckwick Bridge - 3.2 km (2 miles)
Moore Bridge - 4.8 km (3 miles)
Walton Bridge - 6.4 km (4 miles)
London Bridge - 8 km (5 miles)
Lumbrook Underbridge - 9.6 km (6 miles)
Stanney Lunt Bridge - 11.2 km (7 miles)
Pickering’s Bridge - 12.9 km (8 miles)
Thelwall Viaduct - 14.5 km (9 miles)
Barsbank Bridge - 1.6 km (10 miles)
Oughtrington Bridge - 17.7 km (11 miles)
Agden Bridge - 19.3 km (12 miles)
Bollin Aqueduct - 20.9 km (13 miles)
Seamon’s Moss Bridge - 22.5 km (14 miles)
Broadheath Bridge - 24.1 km (15 miles)
Timperley Bridge - 25.7 km (16 miles)
Marsland Road Bridge - 27.3 km (17 miles)
Doctor White’s Bridge - 28.9 km (18 miles)
The Old Watch House - 30.5 km (19 miles)
Longford Road Bridge - 32.1 km (20 miles)
Stretford Waters’ Meeting - 33 km (20.5 miles)


Leigh Branch -
Stretford Waters’ Meeting - 0 km (0 miles)
Parkway Road Bridge 1.6 km (1 mile)
Barton Aqueduct - 3.2 km (2 miles)
Patricroft Railway Bridge - 4.8 km (3 miles)
Worsley - 6.4 km (4 miles)
Keeper’s Turn - 8 km (5 miles)
Boothstown Pen - 9.7 km (6 miles)
Vicar’s Hall Bridge - 11.2 km (7 miles)
Morley’s Bridge - 12.9 km (8 miles)
Marsland Green Bridge - 14.5 km (9 miles)
Butt’s Basin - 16 km (10 miles)
Leigh Stopboards - 17.2 km (10.75 miles)
Manchester Branch -
Stretford Waters’ Meeting - 0 km (0 miles)
Pomona Lock - 1.0 km (0.6 mile)
Hulme Lock - 3.2 km (2 miles)
Castlefield Junction - 4.4 km (2.75 miles)


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  Navigational Information

The Bridgewater Canal is owned, operated and administered by the Bridgewater Canal Company Limited, Peel Dome, The Trafford Centre, Manchester, M17 8PL, telephone number - 0161 629 8266, fax number - 0161 629 8334. There is also an emergency out of hours telephone number which is - 0151 327 2212. This number is Port Security at Eastham Locks.



Maximum Craft Dimensions

Beam 4,2 mtrs (14 ft)
Length 21.3 mtrs (70 ft)
Draught 0.6 mtrs (2 ft) (deeper craft by arrangement)
Air Draught (Headroom) 2.5 mtrs (8ft 6ins)





All craft, including dinghies, canoes and tenders must display a current Bridgewater Canal Licence or British Waterways Licence. If possible, the licence should be displayed at the front of the craft, facing forwards, on the port (left) side of the cabin or in the windscreen. Craft licensed by British Waterways may cruise on the Bridgewater Canal for a period not exceeding seven days. Any period longer than this will require a Bridgewater Canal licence which can be obtained on application for periods of time less than the standard twelve-month licence. Private license holders are not permitted to trade, hire or to carry fare-paying passengers.

Under a reciprocal arrangement with British Waterways, Bridgewater Canal licence holders may cruise on the following stretches of waterway for a period not exceeding fourteen days, free of charge -

Leeds and Liverpool Canal                         Leigh to Burscough and from Leigh to the bottom of Blackburn Locks although until 2013 the arrangement includes passage to Liverpool                                                              

Trent and Mersey Canal                           Preston Brook Tunnel to Harecastle Tunnel

 Shropshire Union Canal                                    Middlewich to Barbridge Junction

River Weaver                                            Between Hunts Lock and Saltersford Lock with the usual charges payable for use of the Anderton Lift

The Bridgewater Canal licence also covers the Upper Reaches of the Manchester Ship Canal from Lowry Footbridge to Hunt’s Bank on the River Irwell (the head of navigation) subject to additional conditions available on request from the Bridgewater Canal Company Limited. All craft must be insured for Third Party Risks and Salvage Costs and have a current Boat Safety Certificate covering current boat construction and use regulations. Craft can only be permanently moored on the canal at approved sites or marinas.


Speed Limit


·         The maximum speed limit on the canal is 6.5 kph (4 mph).

·         If excessive wash is produced, then craft must slow down until an acceptable wash is present.

·         Slow down when passing moored craft, when approaching a bridge, junction, fishermen, small un-powered craft or other navigational hazards.


Every vessel should, at all times, proceed at a safe speed so that the steerer can take proper and effective action to avoid collision and be stopped within a distance appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.


Do not moor…


When Mooring…




Every vessel shall…


·         At all times, maintain a proper look-out by sight and bearing.

·         Where possible, keep to the centre of the canal.

·         Overtake other boats on the port side (left) at normal speed. The boat being overtaken has right of way.

·         Make sure your way is clear before commencing your maneuver. An overtaking maneuver must not be made where your visibility is restricted i.e. on a bend or approaching a bridge or where your wash will disturb anglers or moored craft.

·         When being overtaken, slow down, travel at a speed sufficient to maintain steerage.

·         Where possible, move over to starboard (right).

·         Try to avoid turning or maneuvering in the vicinity of any anglers.

·         When approaching narrow bridges, give way to the nearer craft. It has right of way. If you are unsure, give way.

·         Give way to towing craft. A towing craft has right of way.

·         All craft shall keep well clear of any dredging or working craft and obey any hazard or speed notices. Working and other wide craft need more room to maneuver.

·         Give an audible notice of approach when necessary. A craft shall give adequate warning by sounding a horn or other suitable device.

·         Be aware of unpowered craft. Slow down when approaching as many un-powered craft are crewed by small children.

·         Give due consideration at all times to other users of the canal’s facilities and the canal’s neighbors.

·         Navigation at night is not recommended. Every vessel, when under way between Sunset and Sunrise or in conditions of restricted visibility shall, as a minimum carry a suitable white light visible fore and aft. A navigation light is not a tunnel light. Craft equipped with side navigation lights eg - red port (left), green starboard (right) and white masthead (centre), shall also exhibit them.

·         The total number of persons carried on board the pleasure craft must not exceed the craft's designed carrying capacity. To maintain stability and headroom under bridges whilst underway, crew and passengers must not occupy the roof area of the craft.


Health and Safety


In the event that a member of the crew falls overboard, put engine immediately into neutral. Throw out a line or lifebelt to the person in the water. When safe to do so, advance the boat slowly towards the bank to effect a rescue or move the craft near to the person in the water where he or she can be pulled back on board. Remember that the person in the water may be at greatest risk from the propeller. Never put the engine in gear to turn the propeller until it is safe to do so.


Water Borne Diseases


Certain water borne diseases associated with vermin may be present in canal water. Users of the canal and adjacent land should pay due respect to cleanliness, particularly where open wounds, e.g. cuts, abrasions, etc., are involved and should always wash their hands before eating. Anyone accidentally falling into the canal should seek medical attention as soon as possible as a precautionary measure.


Children and Pets


·         Children and pets should be under supervision at all times.

·         Arms and legs in particular should be kept clear of potential crush hazards, e.g. - canal banks, bridges and other craft.

·         Children and all non-swimmers should wear lifejackets at all times.

·         Obey any signs ordering dogs to be kept on a lead.

·         Abide by any emergency measures controlling animals that are in force.




To swim or wade in canals is dangerous and is not permitted. Swimming may result in death.


The Dangers Are -



Never walk on the canal (or any other deep water for that matter) when covered with ice. The thickness of the ice cannot be measured and is unpredictable. When cruising in icy conditions be aware that ice will damage craft with GRP  and wooden hulls. Steel hulled craft will have the paint removed at waterline level.


Pollution and Waste Disposal



Dog Fouling


The fouling of the towpath by dogs is not permitted. Dog owners are asked to show consideration for other users of the towpath by cleaning up after their pet.



General Information




·         A current Angling License for the stretch of canal being fished must be obtained.

·         Exercise due consideration at all times for other users of the canal, it’s facilities and the canal’s neighbours. The towpath, in many places is a public right of way.  Take care that your fishing equipment is not blocking the towpath.


·         Before setting up to fish always check for power lines and never fish within 30 metres (100 feet) of them.

·         Look out for pedestrians and others when casting or drawing back.

·         Do not leave your rod or pole across the towpath when not in use. In the interests of safety, anglers are advised not to raise the pole or rod over a passing boat. It is much better to either pull back or place it parallel to the canal wall.

·         Do not fish within 9 metres (30 feet) of a bridge.


·         Take your litter and unused bait home. Discarding bait or food will spoil other peoples fishing and may attract vermin.

·         To avoid disturbance by boats turning, do not fish in winding holes (wide areas of water used by boats to turn around).

·         Anglers should not shout instructions to passing craft. Craft will normally keep to the centre of the canal.

·         Do not fish within 5 metres (16 feet) of a moored boat. When fishing opposite a moored boat, take care not to allow ground bait etc. to come into contact with the boat.




The fishing rights on the Bridgewater Canal are leased to a number of different Fishing Clubs, information on which is available from the Manchester Ship Canal Company.


Use of Towpaths


The following points are to be observed at all times when using the towpaths -

Motorcycling on the towpaths is not permitted

Cycling on the towpaths is not permitted

Horse riding on the towpaths is not permitted

Due consideration is to be given at all times to other users of the facilities and the canal’s neighbours

Footwear should be worn to suit the towpath and weather conditions

In certain areas the towpath may not be suitable for prams or wheelchair use

The towing path is unlit and due to the close proximity of deep water care must be taken in poor light conditions

Bank erosion is caused by water action washing against the walls of the canal. Sometimes, holes can appear at the back of the coping stones and these holes may be hidden by grass

Care must be taken when alighting from boats and when using the towpath

Historic features such as mooring rings, posts, etc. may obstruct the towpath

Mooring ropes and fishing tackle may also present a hazard for pedestrians

Barriers have been erected across the towpath at various locations to prevent access by motorcycles

 Please take your uneaten food and litter home to dispose of it properly. Carelessly discarding food may attract vermin

  If an angler is baiting his line, the pole or rod may be across the towpath. Please wait a moment or two for the pole or rod to be removed



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I would like to thank my wife, Angie, for putting up with me whilst working on yet another project and for her painstaking help with the proof-reading, Mike Webb in the Bridgewater Department of Peel Holdings for his invaluable assistance and for allowing access to the Bridgewater Canal Photographic Archives, Graham Bridge - Runcorn Locks Preservation Society for providing old photographs, Margaret, Brian and Nigel Hamilton of Thorn Marine, Stockton Heath for lending photographs for scanning and the many friends and fellow canal cruisers too numerous to mention who have also loaned their valuable photographs for scanning, provided additional details and information. All contemporary photographs were taken by myself unless otherwise accredited.


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Don't Call it a Barge

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 Updated 08/07/2020