Chester Canal History
The Chester Canal was originally planned as a rival to the Trent & Mersey Canal which was then still under construction. It was proposed because the traders of Chester feared that the Trent & Mersey Canal would steal trade away from the River Dee. It was planned that the Chester Canal would run from the River Dee in Chester to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich, thus providing a short cut route between the Potteries and Liverpool. Unlike the Trent & Mersey Canal, which was a narrow waterway, the Chester Canal was to be a broad (barge) canal.
An act of Parliament was passed allowing a canal to be built from the River Dee in Chester to the new Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich, a branch line into Nantwich was also to be built.
Work continued over the next few years but engineering troubles and lack of finances caused many problems for the company. Work had to be stopped before the canal got anywhere near to Middlewich though the branch line to Nantwich was completed and connected to the finished portion of the main line. Arguments with the River Dee Company over delays in building a river lock in Chester cost the company dearly and any intended competition with the Trent & Mersey Canal was lost. (It should be noted that the Trent & Mersey Canal Company were never keen on the link themselves because they wanted to stay totally independent of any other canals or river navigations.
The Chester to Nantwich line officially opened and for 8 years the route saw a moderate amount of self contained freight traffic as well as a fairly successful fast passenger service. However, this wasn’t enough to keep the waterway in profit and eventually the company collapsed.
The Chester Canal was abandoned by the company and it soon started to become derelict.
Three years after its closure, the owners of the abandoned Chester Canal saw the plans for a new project which would bring another canal into Chester.
This was to be the Ellesmere Canal, running from the River Mersey to Chester and then on to Shrewsbury via Wrexham and Ruabon. The old Chester Canal company sprang into action in an effort to get their decaying canal back into shape. They thought the new traffic from the Mersey may well use their waterway as well, if enough money came in they could then complete their original line to Middlewich.
The new canal was completed from the Mersey to Chester, giving the Chester Canal a second outlet to add to the existing route via the River Dee. At this stage, the Ellesmere company were still hard at work on the rest of their route.
Just as the Chester Canal company had done 30 years earlier, the new Ellesmere Canal company also ran into money troubles leaving them unable to complete their line through Wrexham and Ruabon.They were left with a 17 mile gap from Chester to the mighty Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen. However, the Ellesmere company’s shortcoming gave the Chester company a chance to cash in… The Ellesmere company had already built a branch from its main line, near Ellesmere, to Whitchurch. The suggestion was put forward that a link should be made from Whitchurch to Nantwich and, when completed, this would turn the Chester Canal into an important part of a main line from the River Mersey to Shrewsbury. The Ellesmere company were very pleased to have found a way to complete their line but they were not so keen about being dependent upon the Chester company. Thus, they attempted to buy the whole of the Chester Canal but the Chester company held on tight and kept control of their waterway.
The Ellesmere link was completed, joining the Chester Canal to the Ellesmere Canal at Hurleston just north of Nantwich. The new canal was a roaring success though the southern link to Shrewsbury was never completed. Instead, the Ellesmere Canal ran into numerous towns via short arms and branches. These included Whitchurch and Ellesmere in Shropshire, and Llangollen and Llanymynech in Wales.
After working well together for a couple of years, the Chester and Ellesmere companies merged. The whole line from the River Mersey at Ellesmere Port through Chester to Hurleston and then on into Wales was now controlled by the Ellesmere & Chester Canal Company. Despite all this, the Chester Canal company’s much dreamed of line to Middlewich was still not constructed.
For History information after 1808, see the Ellesmere Canal History page.
See the Chester Canal Route page