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Committee of the Carlisle Canal Company


Records of the Committee of the Carlisle Canal Company: an agreement for the construction of the canal 1820, notice of canal closure 1853.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

Originally an Act was granted to improve the River Eden in 1721. No work ever began and in 1807 William Chapman was asked to report on a canal or ship canal. He preferred a line to Maryport, where there was an existing harbour, but acknowledged this would be more expensive. Thomas Telford favoured the ship canal to Bowness-on-Solway, indicating that the scheme could potentially be expanded as part of the coast-to-coast water link many had dreamed of. Once more the plans seem to have been put to one side. Chapman again surveyed the area in 1817, keeping in mind the promoter's ultimate goal of linking the coasts. He rejected his initial idea to terminate at Maryport for one near where Thomas Telford had suggested. Finally in 1819 the Carlisle Canal Act was passed and work began. The committee was led by Dr John Heysham. William Chapman was appointed consulting engineer with Richard and Henry Buck assisting as resident engineers. Richard Buck had worked with William Chapman on some of the earlier surveys. Quarrels with the overseer of works, Thomas Ferrier, led to Henry Buck's resignation in July 1820. Thomas Ferrier's promotion to engineer did not go down well with William Chapman. He complained about Thomas Ferrier's work in 1822 and recommended Richard Buck be solely in charge of the last remaining construction. The committee disagreed, told William Chapman to leave and 3 months later asked Richard Buck to do the same. Thomas Ferrier stayed until 1826. Completed in 1823, the canal was 11 1/4 miles long. It ran from Port Carlisle (as Fisher's Cross, the entrance on the Solway near Bowness was named) to the basin at Carlisle. There were 8 locks for vessels 74 feet by 17 feet 6 inches. Lifting bridges were built to allow sailing vessels. Despite the water supplies being more than adequate, once trade had begun to pick up, the company cut a feeder from the river. In 1838 a timber pond was built not far from the entrance to the basin, the company already having built a timber yard at Carlisle. Commercial traffic was less than anticipated, and that which did come had to be coaxed in by the company. They started a brick trade the year after the canal opened, their attempts at creating a coal trade on the Carlisle having been unsuccessful. Revenue was boosted when the Carlisle company introduced a steam packet service from Liverpool to Carlisle in 1825. It was run by the Carlisle & Liverpool Steam Navigation Company, with the canal company providing an exclusive berth for their boat. A year later a second steamer service ran. This steamer was owned by the Carlisle Canal but was leased out. Within a few years a third steamer service would be available, the Carlisle, Annan & Liverpool. Most of the steamer services, however, were only available in the summer. After 1839 when the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway was completed, tonnage on the Carlisle Canal rose. The canal company had long recognised the benefits such a scheme would have, and some of the members of the committee would become directors of the railway company. Most of the traffic was European goods heading for the northwest or European emigrants en route to America. The railway also brought the possibility of more passengers for the packet services. The Carlisle company investigated building a new, faster boat, with financial contributions from the other steamer companies. The new boat was operational in summer 1834. In 1836 the decision was made to run the passenger service all year round, helped by the new icebreaker the company had bought. So impressed was the company that it bought a second swift boat in 1838. That same year saw the authorisation of improvements to Port Carlisle. Work not requiring Parliamentary approval, such as dredging, had already been carried out in anticipation of the completion of the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway. The plans in the Bill were for interconnected inner and outer docks. More buoys were installed in 1828 on the advice of the Admiralty; in 1840 a lightship was built and a manned lighthouse constructed at Lees Scar. Tolls were cut in 1841 in an agreement with the railway after the Carlisle committee was informed it could be facing closure. Fortunes dipped once the railways opened. It was not the case that one railway single-handedly brought down the canal; it was the cumulative effect of several railways which between them offered better facilities and cheaper, faster transport of goods. The Maryport & Carlisle Railway, linked with the Newcastle & Carlisle, opened in February 1845. In December 1847 the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway was completed, followed three years later by the completion of the railway linking Glasgow and Carlisle. By 1850 the passenger service had been reduced. During the late 1840s the canal committee had given serious thought to conversion to a railway, even commissioning a survey. The one offer they received for leasing the canal was not enough. The committee entered into one last round of toll reductions and negotiations with merchants, but it was apparent to most that in the long term the canal would not be sustainable. In 1852 they instructed their engineer to plan for the conversion to railway and set about raising the necessary funds from the shareholders. Work began in June 1853 even though the committee did not yet have an Act. The canal closed on 1 August and two days later the Act was passed. The canal company was dissolved and became the Port Carlisle Dock & Railway Company. For further information on Carlisle Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of North West England Volume 2'.

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 been arranged in chronological order.