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Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey: legal, financial and administrative records 1762-1846, traffic records 1799-1846, plans and surveys of the canal and lands belonging to the company 1795-1836, records of Hugh Henshall & Company 1817-1845.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

Plans had been made for a canal to join the rivers Trent and Mersey as early as 1755, and rough surveys had been undertaken. In 1758 James Brindley made a survey for a canal from Stoke-on-Trent to Wilden Ferry. In 1776, an Act gave Royal Assent for the Grand Trunk Canal (Trent and Mersey Canal) to be built. Work on the Trent and Mersey Canal started on 26 July 1766 at Brownhills near Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Josiah Wedgwood inaugurated the construction and was treasurer of the project, as well as a proprietor of the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey. Other proprietors included the Duke of Bridgewater, Earl Gower, Thomas Anson and Matthew Boulton. Josiah Wedgwood saw the canal as the ideal mode of transport for his wares. He built his new factory at Etruria and it was his involvement that led to the route of the canal passing through the potteries. James Brindley died in 1772 and Hugh Henshall completed the canal in 1777. As built, the canal ran from Derwent Mouth to Runcorn, 93 miles in length with over 150 aqueducts (major ones crossing the rivers Dove, Dane and Trent), 75 locks and 5 tunnels. The main tunnel was Harecastle at Kidsgrove, which was 2880 yards long and took 11 years to build. By 1825, with increased traffic on the canal, the tunnel was causing delays and Thomas Telford was instructed to build another. The second tunnel at 2926 yards long took only 2 years to build and was opened in March 1827 alongside the older Brindley tunnel. For many years, the two tunnels operated in tandem on a one-way system but by 1914 the Brindley tunnel was disused and an electric tug was in use in the remaining tunnel. Other early improvements to the canal include the replacing of a staircase of 3 locks at Lawton with 4 single locks and the doubling of some of the Cheshire locks in the 1830s. Water supply to the canal was from reservoirs at Stanley and Knypersley via the Caldon Canal and a reservoir at Rudyard feeding the Caldon Canal and thus the Trent and Mersey via the Leek branch. The canal makes many connections with other canals including the Derby Canal at Swarkestone, the Bond End Canal at Burton-on-Trent, the Coventry Canal at Fradley, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Great Haywood, the Caldon Canal at Stoke-on-Trent, the Macclesfield Canal at Harding's Wood and the River Weaver at Anderton. At Anderton the canal is 50 feet above the River Weaver and was originally connected to it via chutes that were used to pass salt from the narrowboats on the canal to larger vessels on the Weaver. In 1875 the Anderton Lift opened, allowing narrowboats to drop down to the Weaver. As well as clay, flint and pottery, the canal was used to carry many different cargoes such as coal from the mines in Staffordshire, salt from Cheshire and beer from the breweries at Burton-on-Trent. As a route between Manchester and the Midlands, the canal was of great interest to carriers who soon took advantage of it and evolved the type of boat for long distance work that we know today. The main carriers on the canal were the Anderton Company, Mersey & Weaver Ship Canal Carrying Company, Potter & Son of Runcorn and the Salt Union, as well as many smaller independent carrying companies and owner boatmen. The last commercial load was felspar carried to a potteries company in 1969. In 1838 the building of the Grand Junction Railway, and later the North Staffordshire Railway, led to a steady decline in the use of the canal to transport cargo. The canal could not compete with the cheaper and quicker railways and in 1847 was taken over by the North Staffordshire Railway, which set up the North Staffordshire Railway & Canal Carrying Company. In response to the possibility of a Birmingham & Liverpool Ship Canal, some work to straighten and widen the canal was done between Anderton and Middlewich, though the rebuilding of Croxton Aqueduct to a narrow gauge in the 1930s reversed this. In 1895 the North Staffordshire Railway & Canal Carrying Company was taken over by the Anderton Company and by 1923 the canal was controlled by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway which was nationalized in 1948 to become a part of the British Transport Commission. For further information on the Trent and Mersey Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain the complete original structure of record-keeping from the records held for this fonds. It has therefore been arranged into series by subject, which is how some of the records may have originally been kept. The company's legal, financial and administrative records have been placed first, followed by traffic records. These are followed by plans and surveys of the canal and lands belonging to the company. At the end of the collection are the records of Hugh Henshall & Company. The records within each series have generally been arranged chronologically while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence.

Associated material

[See also BW109 for records of the Trent and Mersey Canal during other periods of ownership]