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Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Leeds to Liverpool


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Leeds to Liverpool: Acts 1720-1890, accounts 1771-1855, details of land purchased for the canal 1790s-1825, notices 1801-1803, memoranda of agreements 1819, distance table 1874, blacksmith's day book 1883-1884, maps and plans of the canal early 19th century-1890.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

In 1765, the year the Bridgewater Canal opened, a canal was proposed from Leeds to Preston. By 1767 the canal's route had extended to Liverpool and a route through Skipton, Gargrave, Whalley and Parbold was authorised by the first Leeds & Liverpool Act in 1770. The canal opened to Skipton by 1773 and from Liverpool to Wigan, Skipton to Gargrave and Bradford to Bingley in 1774. By 1777 the section from Shipley to Leeds was open but work stopped as all capital had been spent. Throughout the 1780s the sections built were profitable. The River Douglas Navigation was purchased in 1783 under the second Leeds & Liverpool Act and construction restarted in 1791 under a third Act. The canal was diverted along a longer route to serve Burnley, Accrington and Blackburn and the nearby coalfield. Engineering advances since 1777 made it affordable to build tunnels and embankments, so the canal followed less contours than it did in Yorkshire. The canal was opened to Foulridge in 1796, and in 1816 it opened throughout. The main line is just over 127 miles long; it is the longest in Britain with 92 broad locks that are shorter than standard at 60 feet, two tunnels at Foulridge and Gannow and many aqueducts. The canal has a number of important branches. The Rufford Branch (also called the Lower Douglas Navigation) opened in 1781 and runs from Burscough Bridge, where it joins the main line to the River Ribble Estuary. The Springs Branch in Skipton opened in 1797 and was built for Lord Thanet, who lived in Skipton Castle and owned the limestone quarries served by the branch. The Leigh Branch opened in 1820. In 1878 the Leeds & Liverpool and Aire & Calder canals bought the Bradford Canal following a period of closure. Due to problems with its own supply, water was pumped from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Shipley but this was very costly and the canal finally closed in 1922. Water supply to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was from the River Douglas and Eshton Beck in Yorkshire, as well as many other small streams. Reservoirs were built at Foulridge in 1796, 1840 and 1866; at Rishton in 1828; Barrowford in 1882; and finally Winterburn in 1893 that had a feeder to Greenberfield built in 1893. Both Rishton and Foulridge reservoirs were enlarged on a number of occasions. Limestone had been envisaged as the canal's major traffic, but it was soon realised that the demand for coal was far greater. During much of the nineteenth century, in excess of one million tons of coal were carried annually compared to about fifty thousand tons of limestone. The toll payable on these traffics was low, and the canal made just as much money from carrying merchandise. Many types of goods were carried: wool to Yorkshire; grain from Liverpool and Birkenhead docks to East Lancashire flour mills; machinery; groceries; beer and spirits; and cotton. The canal also ran a passenger service as early as 1774. Packet boats ran between Liverpool and Wigan and then to Manchester from 1821. Blackburn and Burnley were also served, but the packet boats could not compete with railways and they stopped during the 1840s. The canal was a very successful carrier; it was able to survive railway competition when between 1836 and 1846 railway lines linking Leeds, Bradford and Manchester were opened. The competition did lead the canal company to make improvements, making connections to the River Mersey at Stanley Dock and the River Aire at Leeds. Between 1855 and 1859 several miles of the canal were widened and in 1858 the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Steam Tug Company was formed. By 1872, steam tugs were in use, with tunnel tugs introduced at Foulridge in 1880 and at Gannow in 1887. In 1848 the canal company had set up its own carrying company, but by the end of 1850 had agreed to lease its merchandise traffic to the railways for 21 years. The lease was advantageous to the canal and the railways had many complaints. Despite extensions to the lease in 1873, the canal company terminated the lease and began carrying again in 1874. Steam powered carrying boats were introduced in 1880. The company changed its name in 1891 to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company. In 1893 the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Rates, Tolls and Charges Order was introduced by parliament. This raised cargo rates on the canal to the same level as those on the railways and detrimentally affected canal traffic and profits. From 1914 to 1920 the canal was run by the Board of Trade, which provided the wartime Government subsidy. The canal company continued carrying through this period until 1921, giving up because of the end of the subsidy, higher wages and the introduction of the eight hour day. Canal transport, however, returned in 1930 when the canal company invested in Canal Transport Limited, with the last regular traffic from Plank Lane Colliery on the Leigh Branch to Wigan power station ceasing in 1972. In 1948 following nationalisation, the canal passed to the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive and in 1953 British Transport Waterways was set up and took over responsibility for the canal. For further information on the Huddersfield Canal see Edward Paget Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore generally been arranged in chronological order, while keeping records relating to each other together. This means that some records may fall slightly out of the chronological sequence. Documents have been placed first, then plans.

Associated material

[See also: BW78 for records of the Bradford Canal and BW139 for records of the Huddersfield Canal during other periods of ownership]

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