Sat 01 Jun 2013
Lancaster canal (now Leeds and Liverpool canal) 210years old today
will be familiar with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which passes
to the east of Chorley. There is no doubt that it was one of the
major contributors to the rapid rise of Chorley’s industrial
past. Along with neighbouring towns in Lancashire and the
north-west of England they contributed almost half of this
country's wealth in the 1850s. At the time there were no motor
vehicles and even the railways were in their infancy, making the
canal network the only practical method of bulk distribution.
The tunnel portal in Whittle-le-Woods
where the first barge emerged on 1st June 1803
The 1st June
2013 marks the 210th anniversary of the first barge making the
through journey from Chorley to Walton Summit where its load was
transferred to horse drawn wagons running on rails and then on
The canal took many decades to complete and even though they
started in Leeds in the 1770s other sections were being
excavated between Preston and Kendal and also from Liverpool.
The link to Leeds would not be completed until 1816 and the
canal at Chorley was still known as the Lancaster canal as it
was being constructed by the Lancaster Canal Company.
Whittle basin on the Lancaster canal outside
the Duke of York.
Whittle Springs at the canal junction. The left footbridge is
over the original
line of the Lancaster Canal (1803). To the right is the bottom
lock on the Leeds and Liverpool canal (1816)
In 1797 it
reached the area originally knows as Knowley. Subsequently it
was called Botany Bay. The men doing the work were called
navvies and had a fearsome reputation for being hard-working and
hard-living. Riotous behaviour was not uncommon. By 1799 they
had reached Whittle Springs but at that time the locks towards
Blackburn had not yet been built. To connect with Preston a
major tunnel was needed under Whittle Hills. This was eventually
completed and the first barge passed through on 1st June 1803.
There was no formal opening but the Blackburn Mail newspaper
reported the following:
On the first instant, a boat laden with coal was navigated on
the Lancaster Canal thro’ the tunnel at Whittle Hills, and her
cargo was discharged into waggons at the termination of the
canal at Walton. Twenty seven waggons were laden, each
containing about one ton, and were drawn by one horse, a mile
and a half, along the rail road, to the works of Messrs Claytons
at Bamber Bridge. The waggons extended one hundred yards in
length along the rail road, Geo. Clayton of Lostock Hall Esq.,
rode upon the first waggon and the tops of the others were fully
occupied. The intention of navigating a boat through the Tunnel,
upon this day, was not generally known; it was quickly
circulated; old and young left their habitations and emoluments
to witness a sight so novel, and before the boat reached her
discharging place, she was completely crowded with passengers,
who anxiously rushed into her at every bridge. The workmen were
regaled with ail, at Bamber Bridge.
When the barges reached the Walton
Summit terminus they must have been an incredible sight, loaded
with goods and overloaded with people.
People enjoy a Church outing on the canal.
The original plan was to build 32
locks to descend to the River Ribble but the money ran out and a
rail tramway was constructed instead. The tramway bridge still
exists over the River Ribble and in 1803 a steam winch hauled
the trams up through Avenham Park and on to the canal connecting
Preston with Lancaster.
Walton Summit at the termination of the Lancaster Canal (1965)
Back at Whittle Springs the final link to Leeds would have to
wait until 1816. The length of canal between Blackburn and
Whittle-le-Woods was completed and connected via a system of 7
locks at Johnson’s Hillock. The canal then became the longest in
the UK at 127.25 miles long.
The Lancaster canal length from Whittle Springs to Walton Summit
was finally filled in when the M61 motorway was constructed in
the late 1960s and opened in 1969.