Carlisle Canal History

The Carlisle Canal had a rather short life but was very successful for a while. Although the canal’s course can easily be followed today, there is nothing of the actual waterway left though a few buildings and bridges have survived.

1800
Local people in the Carlisle area wanted improvements made to the navigable state of the River Eden which connected Carlisle to the sea but was often very shallow and was always only navigable subject to the tides. Around the same time there were also grand ideas of creating a ship canal which would connect the east coast to the west coast via the Tyne at Newcastle and the Eden at Carlisle. From Carlisle the coast to coast route was proposed (at different times) to take one of three routes. It could either continue along a canalised River Eden to the Solway Firth, it could continue west on a new canal to a point on the Solway Firth or it could head south west across country to Maryport. Although proposals were often made, nothing was done at this stage.

1807
A committee was set up to look into the possibilities of a coast to coast route. Unlike most other canals, it was the local council rather than local businessmen who promoted the route. I guess that if local businessmen had been interested in a waterway, it would have already been built. William Chapman was employed to produce a report, he soon presented his report to the council but once again nothing more was done at this time.

1819
It was decided that a canal from Carlisle to the Solway Firth should be built. If this was a success, an extension across to the River Tyne could be built at a later date.

The Act of Parliament was gained and work began with William Chapman as consultant engineer.

Before construction began the proprietors of the Carlisle Canal went to look at the Lancaster Canal and the Forth & Clyde Canal to learn from their experiences.

1823
The 11¼ mile route was fully opened from a basin in Carlisle to the Solway Firth at Fisher’s Cross which was renamed Port Carlisle.

However, there had been disagreements during construction which had resulted in the sacking of William Chapman.

The finished canal had 8 locks which were all built 18 feet wide to take sea-going vessels. Drawbridges similar to those on the Forth & Clyde were installed along the route. The canal was a fair success at first with timber, coal and bricks providing most of the trade.

1825
A railway – one of the world’s first – was proposed which would link Newcastle and Carlisle. This ended any hope of a coast to coast canal but the Carlisle Canal Company supported the railway as it would help increase their own trade.

1826
A packet boat service began. This became so popular that the company built the Solway Hotel and a special passenger jetty at Port Carlisle.

1835
As the railway to Newcastle was being built, the canal increased its tolls, trade grew and both profits and dividends went up. An improved passenger service was created and a water wheel and pump system was installed to accommodate the increase in traffic.

1839
The Newcastle to Carlisle railway was fully opened and the Carlisle Canal entered its most prosperous era.

1845
The canal’s heyday was soon over. Other railways arrived in the north west and they soon began to take business away from the canal. The biggest injury to the canal’s trade came with the opening of the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway which stole both the freight and passenger trade away from the waterway. Tolls were now reduced and profits fell. Things declined so rapidly that the company themselves looked at the possibility of turning the canal into a railway. At first, nothing was done.

1852
With freight and passenger trade at an all time low the canal company decided enough was enough and made plans to convert the route into a railway.

1853
The Carlisle Canal was closed after exactly 30 years in which it had seen a very fast rise to success and an even faster decline.

1854
A railway opened using the canal bed for its route from Carlisle to Port Carlisle.

1932
The railway branch line to Port Carlisle was closed.

1997
Some 200 years after the first plan was produced, the idea of creating a coast to coast waterway was put forward once again. Feasibility surveys were made and it was suggested that a barge canal from Tynemouth to the Solway Firth could be viable. It would be built in the style of current European canals such as those in Germany, it would allow European cargoes to reach the Atlantic and the west coast of Britain without having to use the busy route around the south coast or the often dangerous route around the north of Scotland. The route would use the River Tyne as far as possible and then cut across the country to the south of Hadrian’s Wall. Although this sounds like a good idea it would certainly not be the first “ship canal” to do this job. In fact, Britain already has a quite adequate canal, the Caledonian, which was built for the exact same purpose

Carlisle Canal Route

The canal left town heading north west following a similar line to the Roman wall. Its course is easily spotted as it used the same bed as the later railway – the railway’s course can be walked along. On the way to Port Carlisle there are still a number of original canal bridges but they all had their height altered to accommodate steam trains. Also on the route is a warehouse and a lock cottage.

At Port Carlisle, the railway left the canal as the waterway entered its final two locks. The second of these was the sea lock which has long since been filled in though its coping could still be seen in 1971.

Also in 1971 the timber jetty built for the packet boat service could still be seen on the Solway Firth to the left of the sea lock. Nearby is/was an isolated wharf which was built around 1839.

A wooden railway viaduct used to reach out to the wharf. Solway House used to be the Solway Hotel and the Steam Packet Inn used to be a little further along the sea-front in what is now the last building in a row of houses.