Undertakers of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal
Records of the Undertakers of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal
These records are available immediately for research
In 1845, an Act was passed enabling the Ellesmere and Chester Canal to absorb the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. The following year Parliament authorised the takeover of the Shrewsbury Canal, the purchase of the Montgomeryshire and Shropshire canals, and the change in the name of the company to the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company (SURCC). By 1849 the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company had over 200 miles of canal. The London & North Western Railway (LNWR) leased the company in 1846 but found that it had no powers to build railways on the canals, however, as the canals went into Great Western Railway areas, the London & North Western Railway was happy to allow the canals to continue working. In 1849 the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company opened the Stafford to Shrewsbury Railway, which was run by the London & North Western Railway who refused to allow the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company to build any more railways. The Shropshire Union canals suffered from railway competition in the same way as many others and combated it by encouraging carrying. Although the canals were being run by the London & North Western Railway whilst the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company concentrated on carrying, good relations with the London & North Western Railway meant they were able expand while other carriers failed. While the Shropshire Canal, which had been bought by the London & North Western Railway in 1857, was gradually closing down, the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company leased Lubstree Wharf on the Humber Arm of the Newport Branch. This served the Lilleshall Steel Works via a railway until 1922 when its owner, the Duke of Sutherland, closed the wharf. The Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company's carrying business' success was due to it being more or less self-contained with most of its revenue coming from freight rates rather than tolls. From the 1870s, its service was extended to provide railway interchange basins and depots, fleets of barges, flats and steam tugs and by 1902 over 450 narrowboats. In 1894 the Manchester Ship Canal opened and at Ellesmere Port it crossed the Shropshire Union. The London & North Western Railway saw the importance of this and built new quays and warehouses to accommodate the extra trade that came from the new ship canal. Although the Shropshire Union took advantage of the extra trade and had an extensive carrying business, it struggled to make much profit. All routes suffered from lack of maintenance during World War I and in 1917 the Weston Branch of the Ellesmere Canal suffered a breach ¾ of a mile from its junction. It was never repaired and the line fell into disrepair. The loss of Government subsidies after World War I and the introduction of the eight hour working day hit the company hard, it gave up carrying in 1921 and sold its massive fleet to private operators. In 1922 the Shropshire Union Canal was bought outright by the London & North Western Railway which itself was merged with the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMSR) at the end of the year. With no fleet, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway could do very little and allowed all but the main line to fall into disrepair. In 1936 a breach on the Montgomeryshire line close to Frankton Junction effectively closed that line, and in 1939 traffic also stopped on the Newport Branch, which by the end of World War II was disused and access between the East Shropshire tub boat network and the main line was lost. During World War II the London, Midland & Scottish Railway sought to close 175 miles of the waterways in its control. Only the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, the old Chester main line and the Wirral line from Chester to the Mersey stayed open, along with the link to Middlewich. Part of the Ellesmere Canal from Hurleston to Llantisilio, including Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, was an important water feeder from Horseshoe Falls and was not abandoned. The canal was nationalised to become part of the British Transport Commission in 1948. For further information on the Shropshire Union Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.