Please Note: This page was written before the full restoration of the Anderton Boat Lift. The lift is now fully open to boats.
The first known plan to build an artificial waterway from the Mersey southwards into Cheshire came in 1755. It was promoted by two south Merseyside businessmen though nothing is known of their planned route or why they gave up on the idea. Had they seen their plan through it would have resulted in being the first “canal” ever to be built in Britain. They were probably inspired by the men on the north banks of the Mersey who had, in that same year, obtained authorisation to make Sankey Brook navigable.
1759 The next man behind a plan to build a canal into Cheshire and Staffordshire was Lord Gower. He was the brother-in-law of the Duke of Bridgewater who owned mines near Manchester. In March the Duke had obtained an Act of Parliament giving him authority to create an artificial waterway from his works to the River Irwell. This would become Britain’s first canal. The first survey of the route which eventually became the Trent & Mersey Canal was sponsored by Lord Gower, Lord Anson and Thomas Broade and was carried out by James Brindley, a local millwright. However, this particular route was not the line eventually built. This was the first canal work that Brindley had been involved with though in this same year he was introduced to the Duke of Bridgewater via Gower’s agent and he began work as engineer on the Bridgewater Canal.
1760 Following Brindleys’ survey a map was drawn up by Hugh Henshall. Approved by the most well known engineer of the day, John Smeaton, the map defined a route from Longbridge in the Potteries to the Mersey. Later Smeaton drew up a map of his own, this showed a shorter route which would link into the River Weaver. It also showed the first plan in England for a canal tunnel, this would be at Kidsgrove beneath Harecastle Hill. It is not known who’s idea the tunnel was though Brindley had experience of creating underground channels within mine workings.
While all this was going on Brindley was working hard on the Bridgewater Canal but he began to think much further afield. He dreamed up the idea of a great waterway network connecting England’s four main navigable rivers, the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. He named his plan “The Grand Cross” including a route from the Mersey to the Trent which he called “The Grand Trunk”. However, at this stage Gower did nothing to start the route which Brindley had surveyed.
1761 A 29 year old potter named Josiah Wedgwood began to look into the possibility of creating a canal to link his works to the coast. His business depended on smooth, safe, deliveries. The roads of the 1760’s were hardly recognisable as roads and horse drawn carts were not the smoothest of vehicles. In the Potteries the roads were much worse than in most other places because many a potter, when clay supplies ran low, would simply dig clay up from the road outside of his works! One traveller fell into a rut which was four feet deep! Wedgwoods’ plan was not to connect the River Trent to the Mersey but to connect his works in Staffordshire to the Mersey.
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1762 Two of Wedgwoods’ friends, Thomas Bentley of Liverpool and Dr. Erasmus Darwin (a famous naturalist and poet) joined him in promoting his canal scheme. Although both were good friends of Wedgwood, neither got on very well with each other though between the three of them they created enough support to take their proposals to Parliament.
Problems arose in getting support at the Mersey end of the route as coal merchants felt threatened by the likelihood of coal coming down the new canal from Cheshire. The River Weaver Navigation Company were not happy either because Wedgwoods’ canal would run virtually parallel to their waterway but would be much straighter and shorter. They proposed a canal of their own which was to cut off Wedgwoods’ route to the Mersey.
Meanwhile another proposal was made, this was the first plan for a route from the Mersey to the Trent. However, to Wedgwoods’ dismay, this plan missed out the Potteries all together. The scheme was put forward by Thomas Gilbert MP, Agent to Lord Gower and brother of John Gilbert, Agent to the Duke of Bridgewater. It would seem James Brindley had said his piece here too as the route coincided with his ideas of a “Grand Trunk”. When Gilberts’ route became known he too was faced with objections. Opposition came from the southern end of his proposed route. In Burton-on-Trent the river had been made navigable some 70 years before Gilbert came along and the people who ran the river navigation certainly didn’t want to see their livelihood washed away by a canal which would pass right through their territory. The businessmen of Burton insisted that the canal should end in their town and make a junction with the Upper Trent navigation rather than carrying on for another 14 miles to Wilden Ferry (now Shardlow). However, the promoters of the Grand Trunk were adamant that the canal should not be linked to any of the (so called) Old Navigations. They wanted to avoid the likelihood of boats being charged extortionist tolls which the rivers were certain to force upon them. The men of Burton didn’t give up their objections easily and still strongly opposed the canal even 20 years after it opened!
On a brighter side – Wedgwood managed to convince Gilbert to change his route and it was agreed that the “Grand Trunk Canal” would run through the Potteries. Other agreements were struck elsewhere. The Grand Trunk was to share its final few miles into Runcorn with the Bridgewater Canal. This was a big bonus for both waterways because the link meant the Bridgewater Canal would gain an outlet to the south and the Grand Trunk Canal would be able to access Manchester.
1766 The Grand Trunk Canal received its Act of Parliament on May 14th. It is not clear when the canal became known as the Trent & Mersey Canal. Books refer to the route as the Grand Trunk in these early days but always name the owners as the Trent & Mersey Canal Company. From here on I shall refer to it as the Trent & Mersey. On July 26th a massive celebration was held in the Potteries where Josiah Wedgwood cut the first sod of soil. James Brindley was employed as engineer and work got under way.
A second canal, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire, also obtained an Act of Parliament on the same day as the Trent & Mersey. It was to make a junction with the Trent & Mersey at Great Haywood and would run south west to the River Severn. James Brindley was also appointed engineer on the Staffs & Worcester project – there wasn’t anybody else! The route to the River Severn was exactly what he had hoped for in his over all plan for a “Grand Cross”.
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1768 The final part of Brindleys’ Grand Cross was a link to the Thames and this was also on the cards when the Coventry Canal and Oxford Canal were proposed. Brindley was appointed engineer on all these projects (and more besides) but it was noted that he was not a well man. Wedgwood was known to say that he thought Brindley was over doing things but James confidently predicted the Trent & Mersey would be open by the end of 1772.
1769 Wedgwood went into partnership with his old friend John Bentley and a new Wedgwood factory was opened on the banks of the new canal in the heart of the Potteries (now better known as Stoke-On-Trent). Close to the factory he created a village in which his workers were to live, he called the area Etruria. He also built a house (mansion) which he named Etruria Hall. This stood opposite the factory, looking down on the canal and his factory.
In later life Wedgwood became famous for many things other than his world renowned pottery. His other achievements included experiments in chemistry, he also took a big interest in politics and strongly supported the abolition of the slave trade.He died in 1795, leaving half a million pounds. His daughter married the son of his great friend Erasmus Darwin.The couple had a son in 1809 who they named Charles, he “evolved” into a very famous scientist!
1770 The canal construction was going very well, in the summer it opened from the Trent at Derwent Mouth to Great Haywood where the Staffs & Worcester canal connected with it. In September the first boats used the route, travelling from Great Haywood to Weston-on-Trent, east of Burton.
1771 The route was opened to Stone. This called for a big celebration in the town but it is reported that things went off with a bang – a big bang. Cannons were fired in celebration, one of these caused the collapse of a newly built canal bridge and a lock!
1772 In September Brindley carried out a survey on behalf of the Trent & Mersey company with a view to creating a branch line to Leek and Froghall. It is said that Brindley was caught up in a heavy rain storm, later in the day he slept in his still wet clothing and is said to have woken with a chill. Just a few days later, on September 27th, James Brindley died.At the time he was involved with dozens of projected or partly built canals.
The job of engineering the Trent & Mersey was given to Brindleys’ assistant (and brother-in-law) Hugh Henshall. Nothing more was done on the Leek and Froghall branch at this time but the main line had now reached the Potteries from the Trent, a distance of 48 miles. To the north however, there were great problems in constructing Harecastle Tunnel. Brindley had bet it would take just 5 years to complete the 2 mile long bore but he was proved to be far off the mark. Furthermore, north of the great tunnel was a long lock flight down into Cheshire and Cheshire itself was proving very difficult land to cut through. In the end two extra tunnels had to be built.
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1775 An isolated stretch of the route was completed north of Harecastle, down through 27 locks to Sandbach. Also during this year Wedgwood began to push the idea of a canal branch to Leek where there were un-tapped limestone quarries. The route would also be used as an essential water supply for the thirsty Trent & Mersey summit level.Work began on the branch the following year.
1777 In May the whole line of the Trent & Mersey Canal opened at a final cost of £296,600. The final route included over 70 locks and 5 tunnels, the longest being Harecastle at about 2 miles in length. When Brindley first began building the tunnel he had been ridiculed but people now came from miles around to see it, proclaiming it one of the wonders of the world.
In the years that followed the Trent & Mersey was a massive success.Its effect on the Potteries was also huge. Goods were brought from all round the country to the Mersey and then south along the Trent & Mersey.Finished pottery could now enjoy a safe and smooth journey out to places all over the world. The canal was also of great benefit locally, especially for farms which had previously been remote.
1778 The Leek & Froghall (or Caldon) branch opened, leaving the main line in Wedgwoods’ Etruria, travelling through the centre of Hanley and out into the Staffordshire countryside. (see separate file on the Caldon Canal for more details).
1779 A further extension to the Caldon Canal was started when the
Trent & Mersey obtained an Act to build a line from Froghall to Uttoxeter. However, the route took many years to complete.
1796 A new canal was completed at the Trent end of the route. This was the Derby Canal, owned by a separate company. This crossed straight over the Trent & Mersey at Swarkestone on a rare canal “cross-roads”.The Derby canal came up from the River Trent, crossed the Trent & Mersey and headed north to Derby. Needless to say, this arrangement was not easily come by and a lot of negotiating was needed before the cross-roads was built. Just a few years after the creation of the cross-roads the Derby company closed the short line up from the Trent due to lack of use. This meant the Derby Canal now began its route on the Trent & Mersey at Swarkestone.
1800 A new branch line was opened from the main line of the Trent & Mersey in Stoke to the north west at Newcastle Under Lyme. Because Sir Nigel Gresley already had a canal in Newcastle on which he carried coal from his mines to the town, the new branch was not allowed to do the same. Its Act allowed only commercially used coal for the Potteries to be carried. The route also carried a lot of lime stone.
1811 The 13 mile Uttoxeter Canal was opened connecting to the Caldon Canal at Froghall.
1825 A survey was carried out by a separate company which would link the Trent & Mersey to Macclesfield. The Trent & Mersey weren’t too keen on this idea for a number of reasons, the main one being fear of water losses as the projected route of the Macclesfield Canal would join the Trent & Mersey directly above the top lock of the long flight down into Cheshire. Consequently they built a short branch from their main line just north of Kidsgrove to meet the incoming Macclesfield route at a stop lock in Hall Green. In fact, both companies built a stop lock each!
1820’s The Trent & Mersey was a roaring success, not only serving the Potteries and other towns on its main line and branches, but also as a through route in all directions. Brindley would have been proud of his “Grand Trunk”. However, the company were being criticised for failing to keep up with the times. Their route was still much as it had been when it was built half a century earlier. There were major hold ups at the narrow lock flights and Harecastle Tunnel was in desperate need of modernisation. Competition was about to arrive in the form of the new Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. In comparison to the Trent & Mersey this new route was to be much more direct, it would be straight, broad and fast.
The company began a major upgrade. Locks on the notorious “heartbreak hill” from Kidsgrove to Sandbach were duplicated (two narrow locks side by side) and Thomas Telford was called in to improve Harecastle Tunnel. After surveying Brindleys’ narrow bore he was not very complimentary of the original engineers work. But things had moved on in a big way in half a century so it is hardly surprising that the work was not up to Telford’s standard. It was decided that a brand new tunnel should be built. Emphasising how much techniques and equipment had improved, the new tunnel took just 3 years to build – 8 years less than the original. Despite the new tunnel being better built, it was still only narrow and, on its own, could do nothing to help traffic congestion. For many years both tunnels were kept open with one way traffic in each (Brindleys’ taking southbound traffic, Telford’s taking northbound).
1835 A new link opened at Middlewich connecting the Trent & Mersey Canal to the Chester Canal as part of an over all through route from Birmingham to Liverpool. Although the new route was in direct competition to the Trent & Mersey it did bring extra traffic to the northern most sections.
1838 Railway competition came to the Trent & Mersey when the Grand Junction Railway was built from Birmingham to the Manchester & Liverpool line. In keeping with most canals the only tactic the Trent & Mersey company had was to lower their tolls. This was rarely a success, usually leaving the canal with less traffic and even less income.
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1845 After moderate success in fighting the railways over a period of about 7 years, the Trent & Mersey suddenly found themselves under a direct and purposely aimed attack. The North Staffordshire Railway Company were to build lines alongside all of the canal’s main line and branches.
1846 It was instantly apparent to the canal company that they could not survive the railway onslaught. They agreed terms with NSR and an act was passed allowing the canal to sell out to the railway.
1847 The new owners immediately closed down the Uttoxeter Branch of the Trent & Mersey Canal but apart from this they kept the rest of the waterway in business. Despite this, trade gradually reduced over the next few decades.
1872 Apart from railway competition, losses were also being made due to the high cost of maintenance. This was worst in Cheshire where years of salt mining was causing major subsidence. However, it was salt extraction which provided most of the canal traffic in this area. Salt works lined the banks of the canal all the way through Middlewich and this resulted in something that the canal company had resisted since the waterway had first been surveyed – a connection to the River Weaver. Carriers and salt companies needed a quicker and easier way to the Mersey. The River Weaver’s engineer Edward Leader Williams was instructed to build a connection but this was no simple junction. At Anderton, near Northwich, the Weaver came within 100 feet of the Trent & Mersey. The problem was that the river was 50 feet below the canal!Anderton Barge Lift was created consisting of two huge water-filled caissons which counter balanced each other, taking boats up and down between river and canal. It was a masterpiece of engineering, one of the wonders of the canal age, but it caused the northern end of the Trent & Mersey to become virtually unused. The lift took 3 years to build and opened in 1875.
1895 With trade steadily (though slowly) declining, the Trent & Mersey company (owned by NSR) finished its own carrying business.
1921 NSR were taken over by London Midland and Scottish Railway.This was a company who whole heartedly enjoyed closing down canals and over the next couple of decades they did all they could to remove all traffic from the waterway.
1948 Although still open, the Trent & Mersey had continued to see loss of trade right through the war years. When the government nationalised the whole inland waterways system there was, at first, a glimmer of hope. It was thought that improvements would be made and trade would be rebuilt. However, this was not the case and the decline continued.
1955 The “Board of Survey on Canals” reported that the Trent & Mersey desperately needed improving if it were to compete with road and rail. Over the next few years nothing was done as the need for the canal to exist at all was questioned when gravel trade ended in 1958 and all salt trade ended in 1960.
1968 Virtually all commercial trade had come to an end during the 60’s but a different kind of boat was beginning to be seen on the canal. Pleasure cruising was growing and this was reflected in the Government’s decision to class the Trent & Mersey as a “Cruiseway” in the 1968 Transport Act. Commercial trade may have been over but the canal was safe.
1998 The Trent & Mersey Canal is now one of the country’s most popular routes. As well as a through route and a trunk route it is also part of two popular cruising circuits – the Four Counties Ring and the Cheshire Ring. British Waterways have done much to combat subsidence in Cheshire and Telford’s Harecastle Tunnel is a popular boating experience but there is one sad factor. Anderton Boat Lift has been closed since the early 80’s when it was discovered to be in a dangerous state. In recent years a major effort has been made to gain funds to repair and reopen the lift though this is unlikely to happen in the very near future. A new visitor centre has opened at Anderton to help gain awareness, support, and money in the long battle to reopen what is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most amazing engineering features
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The Trent & Mersey Canal starts at Preston Brook 5 miles south east of Runcorn. It runs for 93 miles to Shardlow in south Derbyshire. The route is well documented in all good canal guides so I will only list some of my personal favourite locations here.
The canal officially starts just inside the south portal of Preston Brook Tunnel in Cheshire. The tunnel can be reached by car by taking the A533 south east from Preston Brook roundabout. Look out for the railway and turn right (south) onto a long straight lane which has a new housing estate on its left hand side. After about 800 yards this lane comes to a small cluster of houses which stand on top of the tunnel entrance. Just south of the tunnel is Dutton Stop Lock with a dry dock alongside.
Back on the A533, about 5 miles south east of Preston Brook Tunnel is Barnton Tunnel. On the road look out for the canal crossing which is immediately followed by a 90 degree left turn. There is parking space on the left hand side right alongside the canal. From here walk back under the road bridge to find the canal also turns 90 degrees into a large basin area. Across the basin the canal exits north, just out of sight is the entrance to Barnton Tunnel. You can walk right around the basin and over the top of the portal.
Get back on the A533 and head north east. Within a few hundred yards is a traffic light junction. The main road turns right towards Northwich but you must carry straight on into Anderton. The road rises to cross the canal, very soon after this you must turn right into a crescent shaped lane, this runs alongside the canal. However, this is not the official parking place. Signs on the main road will lead you to the newly created parking area about 800 yards away if you prefer to do it the official way! If you’ve parked alongside me you should be adjacent to a footbridge over the canal. On the far side of this bridge you will see a basin with huge black gates at its far end. For those who don’t know better this must look very strange as there is no road beyond these gates, no factory, in fact – no land at all. There is a shear drop of 50 feet on either side. The gates are the entrance onto the upper level of Anderton Boat Lift. Up until a few years ago you could walk around the edge of the basin right up to the gates. I did this in 1994 and was able to look down on to the River Weaver and the busy works on the far bank. I was also able to stretch round and look into the gates. I could see the now dry “aqueduct” which took boats from the basin onto the lift. Sadly all this is not now possible because somebody has fenced off the path around the basin. By far the best way to see the lift is from down below. This is possible by locating a cobbled path just to the right of the basin. This was obviously the horse path, it climbs steeply down to river level where the monster lift can be seen and photographed.
(Please Note: As of 2002 the Anderton Boat Lift is fully restored and open to boats).
Middlewich is an excellent spot for “gongoozling”, especially on a Saturday when all the local hire bases are sending new holiday makers on their way. The best way to start is to park in the car park in the centre of town where the A54 crosses the canal. From the towpath you can walk north past the area which was once lined with salt works – now green rugged fields. After about 800 yards you will come to Big Lock which has a pub of the same name alongside. The lock is actually a big lock compared to all others in the area. It was made broad to allow the boats from the River Weaver to reach the salt works. The lock is said to be distorted due to subsidence. About ¾ of a mile further north is Croxton Aqueduct which was also once broad but has been replaced by a narrow structure. The piers of the old aqueduct can still be seen.
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Back in town, head south past the hire base (which moors its boats in a line on both banks of the canal). You will quickly pass 3 locks, one of which opens out into a 90 degree bend. Another hire base is past and then, after going beneath a white-washed bridge you will come alongside the busy A533. To the right is a junction and you can walk right onto what is reputedly Britain’s shortest canal – the Wardle Canal. It consists of a few yards of waterway and Wardle Lock with its well known lock cottage alongside. This is a very busy lock as boats come this way when doing the Four Counties Ring and when bound for Llangollen or Chester. Beyond the lock is the Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union Canal.
Back on the Trent & Mersey, just beyond the junction is King’s Lock with a pub of the same name alongside. The busy A533 is also incredibly close and it runs parallel, south easterly, for the next few miles.
Weelock village and Malkins Bank locks are of interest but my next favourite place is Hassall Green. Here there are two locks (or three really as one is duplicated). Beside the top of these locks is a small restaurant, grocery shop, post office and book shop all in one building. In front of the building is a nice little grassy area which I had a picnic on though this was once the position of a duplicate lock. Some people would say that there is just one thing spoiling this nice setting – however, I think it adds to the interest – its the M6 motorway! The noisy road crosses the canal just past the lower lock.Hassall Green can be found to the south of Sandbach off the A533. Look on a map for the point where the M6 crosses the canal.
Further south on the A533 is Thurlwood. To find the canal here you need to turn right into a side street. This (if you get the right one) takes you to Thurlwood Lock. Here too there was once a duplicate lock but it suffered badly from subsidence. In its place the company installed a steel lock something akin to entering a huge steel cage.It was very unpopular with boat crews and was only in use for a few years. It then stood derelict for decades but has now been removed, the lock has since been filled in and grassed over.
There are nice stretches and an interesting lock flight at Lawton Gate and Church Lawton but the next easily accessible place is “Red Bull” to the north of Kidsgrove. To get here from Thurlwood, continue south on the A533, turn south onto the A50 and stay on this road till you reach the A34 crossroads. Turn right here, up the bank for about 100 yards till you see the Red Bull pub. Park nearby.
Red Bull lock is alongside the pub, to the north are more locks and a wharf with an old canal building on the towpath side. South are linear moorings and what appears to be bridge. Climb the steps onto this bridge and you don’t find a road, you find another canal! Its the route to Macclesfield though this section was built by the Trent & Mersey company. The aqueduct is usually called Red Bull Aqueduct but if you look carefully at it from below you can see “Pool Aqueduct” engraved in the stonework. Over the top of the aqueduct is a towpath bridge, from there you get a unique chance to look down on one canal as it crosses over another. A few hundred yards along the Macclesfield Canal is a second aqueduct, this one crosses the A50.
You have a choice of routes from Red Bull Aqueduct if you want to walk further south as the Macclesfield turns 90 degrees to run parallel with the Trent and Mersey. The latter is probably the most interesting as it has a couple of locks (and a couple pubs) before the two waterways meet at Hardings Wood Junction. For some time now you will have noticed the canal water changing colour. From a normal light brown it has now become Tomato Soup coloured! This is because Harecastle Tunnel is just another 800 yards south. The canal curves through the centre of Kidsgrove though from the waterway you see nothing of the town. As you walk the surrounding walls get higher and higher because you are now in the cutting with the tunnel in front of you. I should, of course, say “tunnels” because Brindleys’ original narrow bore can still be seen just beyond Telford’s newer one. There was once a towpath in Telford’s tunnel but parts of this have sunk and are no longer usable.But who would fancy a walk through there anyway?!
If you are in a boat or want to watch boats going in then, at the northern end, you need to arrive on every “odd” hour (9am, 11am etc). If you want to catch boats coming out of this end you should arrive about 25 minutes past an “even” hour (8.25am, 10.25am etc). Boats are strictly controlled by the tunnel keeper, he usually asks to see the boat’s license and asks how many people are on board. He allows 8 boats to pass through at once, about 200 yards apart. The 9th boat will have to wait another 2 hours even if it is the only boat left waiting. Once all the boats are in the tunnel the keeper telephones his colleague at the far end, telling him which boats and how many people are on the way.
If, like me, you have left your car at Red Bull then you have a long walk back. If you want to reach the tunnel by car then its a fairly simple matter – when you know how (it took me half an hour of to-ing and fro-ing the first time). From Red Bull continue south on the A34 for less than half a mile. You will see shops on both sides of the road and you need to turn left at a T-junction onto a b-road which has no number on my map (sorry). This heads directly east for about 800 yards and then comes to a sweeping left bend. You are now on top of Brindleys’ Tunnel. You can park on the right hand side of this bend in a little “lay-by” in front of some houses – I guess this was once the original main road before the sweeping bend was created. Continue on foot down the road from the bend. You should immediately see a footpath sign on the left hand side. This leads down a steep path to the tunnels. When on the road, if you pass the cemetery you know you’ve gone past the path.
To reach the southern portal is a little complicated and depends a lot on which way you approach it. Again it took me a long time to find it – and this a NAVIGABLE canal! The easiest way is to go back to the A34 and continue south till you reach the huge A500 roundabout. You need a lane heading off to the east. This goes down a steep bank and crosses the railway after 1200 yards. It then bends and climbs up to a small roundabout. Continue straight on at the roundabout and park in the lay-by which is immediately after the roundabout on the right hand side of the road. The canal is behind the hedge by the side of the road though its quite a way down in a cutting. A gap in the hedge takes you down a flight of steep steps to Telford’s Tunnel or you can take a more gentle walk down the drive which is just before the lay-by. This drive goes to the back of the tunnel keepers cottage and curves around to emerge alongside Brindleys’ Tunnel. Telford’s Tunnel has the strangest portal of any on the waterways system. It looks more like the entrance to a boat “garage”. It has a square building at its opening with a gate across its front. This building houses the ventilation fans which are needed because the tunnel has no air vents.If you want to be sure of catching boats going into this end of the tunnel your best bet is probably to be here at 7.55am. Boats go into the tunnel, 8 at a time, every 2 hours.
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To reach my next favourite spot you could walk one mile south along the towpath or locate the canal on the A527 in Longport. Its easily spotted, as well as a bridge over the canal there are pubs on either side of the bridge and a huge bottle shaped chimney opposite the towpath. Park in the side street beside the canal. These bottle shaped chimneys used to number into hundreds, any old photo of Stoke will show them filling the landscape with smoke belching from every one of them.Today there are just 3 beside the canal, one here at Longport and two together on the Stoke Flight. The area we are at is called Longport, near by is Middleport, taking their names from the busy working days of the canal. Walk north, curving round by the warehouse with millions of tea pots stacked in the windows. Eventually the canal side opens out with a large lake to the left in a vale. There was once a football ground on the site of the lake – now you know where Port Vale got their name from! I was here on a beautiful summers evening in 1997. The lake is very pretty, full of ducks, swans, moorhens and coots. The canal looks down on it from a short grassy embankment.
The next location is THE location in terms of the history of the Trent & Mersey – Etruria. To reach it from Longport you should head south west on the A527 then south on the A500 dual carriageway to the Etruria roundabout, A53. This is also the main road into Stoke (or Hanley) town centre. Its a busy dual carriage so stay in the left hand lane. You will cross the canal and then come to a roundabout. Turn left and make your way down to the car park of the new China Garden pub which is alongside the canal and a marina.
If you parked alongside the pub and you are facing the canal then you are also facing the site of Wedgwoods’ pottery factory. It was a huge building stretching right along to the main road bridge. Alongside the bridge is the only remaining part of the factory, a small roundhouse with circular windows. Nobody knows what it was used for or why it survived. Walk north along the towpath for about 50 yards and you will see the Shelton Steel Works. Part of the building straddles the canal and you can look inside the now deserted factory. It still smells strongly of metal, like millions of iron filings. In its working days it would light up the canal at night and passing boat crews could see the men at work. On the towpath is a humped bridge with a former arm beneath it. When I was here I was able to climb through a hole in a fence to stand on the arm. I believe at one time there was more than just a short “stub” here. It looks like the dry land I was able to stand on could once have been a basin. From the arm it is possible to walk up away from the canal to Wedgwoods’ Etruria Hall (now a hotel).Its a little hard to picture the scene in his day. He was supposed to be able to see the canal and his works from the house but he’d have needed good eyes – its quite a distance. I once saw a TV program featuring the hall in which they showed a tunnel in the cellar which supposedly went under the canal, allowing Wedgwood to get to work without going outside. If true, it must have been a bit steep in there because even the cellar is well above canal level. Another story tells of how Wedgwood liked to cross the canal to get to work when it was iced up. Apparently the ice broke one day and down he went. One of his staff dragged him out. All this – and he had a wooden leg!
Back at the canal, head south. Take a look at the roundhouse as you go past. The local newspaper own the new buildings on the former Etruria pottery site, they have provided a notice board beside the roundhouse.This contains a drawing of how the site used to look. About 400 yards further south is the junction with the Caldon Canal. On the junction is a new statue of James Brindley – pigeons love it! Just around the corner on the Caldon Canal is a two rise lock staircase.
On the main line there are 5 locks well spaced out over the next mile.
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The most interesting area is that beside the top two locks.Beside the top (Summit) lock is an old “graving lock” where the hulls of boats were scraped or burnt clean before being re-painted. Until very recentlySummit Lock was covered, entering it was said to be like driving a boat into a garden hut! The cover was removed because of subsidence – it was getting so low that boats were struggling to get under it! Effects of subsidence canbe detected in a side wall near the lock where, in some brickwork, there is evidence of door tops now at waist height. Between the top two locks is a working blacksmith who puts on demonstrations. Next to the 2nd lock (Johnsons) is Shirleys’ Bone Mill. This is an old flint works which is now the Etruria Industrial Museum. There is a sharp turn on exiting Johnsons lock with a branch heading off around the mill.
The 3rd lock (Twyfords) is beside the former Stoke Gas Works which once had the biggest gasometer in Europe. The area used to stink like sour eggs! The lock is named after Twyfords factory which is now on the south of Stoke. It makes toilets – well this the Potteries!!! Between the 3rd and 4th locks there is a large cemetery on the far side and dozens of railway sidings on the towpath side, there used to be a canal/railway transhipment wharf near here. On this stretch the canal passes a pair of bottle shaped chimneys. Beside the 4th lock (Cockshute) a very low railway bridge crosses the canal. The bridge is so close to the lock that the lock beams are crooked to allow them to be pushed right up against the bridge. The bottom lock (New Bottom Lock) was built to replace an older one when the new A500 road was built. The new lock is made of concrete. About 600 yards south of the bottom lock, opposite the railway station is a winding hole. This is all that is left of the junction onto the former Newcastle Under Lyme Canal.
Back on the road, take the A34 out of Stoke and head south. After about 3 miles you will come to the junction with the A51. Shortly after this bear left onto what was the old main road. Turning left at the end of this road brings you round to the Meaford flight of locks.Beside the top two locks the road runs right alongside. In fact, its so close that there is no towpath. There are 4 locks now though it is obvious that the very straight section beside the road is not original. Three locks used to take the route around the hill which it now strides straight across. Apparently the remains of these locks can be found but I didn’t manage it.
Continue on the same road into Stone, the place which proclaims itself “Canal Town”. The best place to park is behind the Star pub – either in the pub car park or on the road that runs around the back, alongside the canal. The pub can be found on the A520 just south of the main high street. Star Lock is beside the pub and there are 3 more to the north.There is also a boatyard containing the oldest canal dry docks in the country. A massive old brewery and a marina areclose by and Newcastle Road Lock has a tunnel under the road for walkers.
Leave Stone on the A51 southbound. Any road heading west will lead to the canal. About 9 miles south of Stone is the road into Great Haywood. In the village turn right on the minor road towards Ingestre.You will come to the canal bridge after ¼ of a mile. Just south of the bridge is the junction onto the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.At the junction there is an excellent sweeping towpath bridge. A boat yard/marina is on the Staffs & Worcester side of the junction and a small gift shop opposite the marina used to be a toll office. There is lots more to see near the junction (see Staffordshire & Worcestershire file for more info).
A few hundred yards south on the Trent & Mersey is Great Haywood Lock.Opposite is a restaurant in an old canal building. From the bridge below the lock you can gain access to the village and to Shugborough Hall. In fact, the walk to the hall is very impressive even if you don’t actually go all the way to the hall. Running parallel to the canal is the River Trent. Its been close by since Stoke but its now beginning to widen. The path to Shugborough Hall crosses the river on the ancient Essex Bridge. It crosses the river on a dozen or more low arches. From the bridge you can see the River Sow entering the Trent.(For more details on the this area see the file on the River Trent).
Four miles south of Great Haywood is Rugeley – not everybody’s first choice for a canal walk but it is interesting in its own way! Park near the bridge which carries the B5013 across the canal. As you go down the steps onto the canal you’ll feel you have entered a pretty cutting as there are tall trees and flowers all around. If you also feel a cold shiver then don’t be surprised. It was here, on the Bloody Steps, that a woman was murdered while waiting for a narrow boat to come along. Walking south under the bridge you’ll see a church over to the right. Another of the towns famous residents lived near here – the Rugeley Poisoner! As you walk south you’ll notice the canal is now smart and tidy though it hasn’t been this way for long. It was cleaned up by youth volunteers a few years ago. On the towpath side, but not on the canal, are some factories while a little further south are some renovated canal side buildings now used as houses. Just past the next road bridge is a tall canal warehouse now looking in need of some attention. Ahead, the huge chimneys of Rugeley power station dominate the sky line.
The canal is close to our road (the A513) for most of the way to the next location. At Armitage there used to be a tunnel but its been opened out. Two pubs stand close to the canal hereand there is another pub where the road crosses the canal in Handsacre. Two miles after Kings Bromley you should turn right onto the minor road sign posted Fradley. After one mile you will come to a canal bridge but just before crossing it you should turn right to drive up the side of the canal. This road is, in effect, the towpath – beware of the speed humps. After a few hundred yards you will pass the Swan Inn. Park in the car park alongside. (Pop in and buy a coke to keep the landlord happy!). The buildings alongside the canal here are all from the early days of the canal. There are locks in both directions on the Trent & Mersey and a BW boat yard is on the far side just down from the pub.Directly opposite the pub is the junction onto the Coventry Canal. It is possible to cross the bridge at the lock beside the junction and walk round on to the Coventry Canal. There was once a stop lock here, its site is now crossed by a foot swing bridge. (The first one I ever “operated”).
Go back to the A513 and continue east to Alrewas. You will turn left off the main road and then you need to turn right along a narrow lane to the canal. There is a small humped bridge here with a lock above it.Below it the canal is lined on both sides with attractive white houses and pretty gardens. Walking north east along the canal will bring you under two more road bridges to another lock. Directly after the lock the River Trent runs into the canal, the towpath crossing the river on a wooden bridge. The river does not stay in the canal for long however as it runs back out via a weir a few yards further on. Returning back to your car can be done via the village. It was once very busy before the A38 (Britain’s longest road) was moved onto a bypass, now the village is quiet and very pretty. A number of the houses have thatched roofs.
It is about 20 miles from Alrewas to the end of the Trent & Mersey at Shardlow. There are numerous locks and the town of Burton on route though while these are all worth a quick look, none are particularly special. Shardlow is a different story though. It can be found on the A6, 2½ miles north west of junction 24 of the M1. Shardlow is a real “canal village”, it grew up around (and because of) the canal and even before the canal was open new hotels were built here to house the navvies. Around the basin a number of original canal warehouses still stand including one which is now a small museum. The famous Clock Warehouse, which straddles a short arm of the canal, changes hands and functions with great regularity. I believe its current use is a pub. It is not alone however, Shardlow has six pubs, two of which are beside the wharf. The oldest of these is the New Inn, built around the same time as the canal.
A little way beyond the wharf the Trent & Mersey Canal comes to a four way junction. To the left is the River Derwent, formerly navigable to Derby. To the right is the River Trent, formerly navigable to Burton but now only to Shardlow marina. Straight ahead is the navigable River Trent.
Visit the Shardlow Heritage Centre website http://homepages.which.net/~shardlow.heritage/index.htm