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Company of Proprietors of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Navigation: clerk's records 1831-1844 , letters 1833-1840, maps and plans of the canal early-mid 19th century.


Early-mid 19th century

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These records are available immediately for research

Administrative /​ Biographical history

So successful was the Birmingham Canal Navigations that in the 1820s Thomas Telford was commissioned to examine possible improvements and expansions. In September 1824 he recommended a canal between Autherley on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and the Nantwich terminus of the Ellesmere and Chester canals. The latter was fully supportive but the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal was not and began negotiating about compensation tolls and protecting water supplies. This was the beginning of the railway age, and canals were beginning to fall out of favour. A railway line similar to the route taken by the canal was planned but Thomas Telford's support ensured that the canal plans received Parliamentary approval in 1826. He was appointed engineer with Alexander Easton as resident engineer. Later William Cubitt was called in too. Thomas Eyre Lee was the clerk and Samuel Skey the superintendent. Thomas Telford was conscious of the advantages offered by railways even though he firmly supported canals, so the canal was as straight as possible and took the most direct route. There were cuttings, earthworks and embankments. Problems with finance arose during the construction and in 1831 the company applied to the Exchequer Bill Loan Commission, with money granted in 1831 and 1832. With the loan and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal agreeing to lower compensation tolls the situation began to look promising, but it was only a temporary reprieve. Problems with the Shelmore embankment required more money to be sought from Commissioners and shareholders. The completed canal was 39 ½ miles long. It had 26 narrow locks and a stop lock at Autherley and a tunnel at Cowley measuring just over 80 yards. The canal opened in March 1835, two months after its branch from Norbury to Newport was completed. It had 23 locks in its 10 ¼ miles. The branch was the link between the Midlands network and the East Shropshire waterway systems. Almost immediately after opening, tolls had to be reduced due to railway competition. Birmingham was connected to London and Liverpool by rail within a few years of the canal opening. Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal obligingly agreed to reduce compensation tolls further but the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction company was struggling to pay off their enormous debts. In 1835 water had to be bought from the Wyrley and Essington Canal because of water shortages that disrupted traffic. William Cubitt was ordered to enlarge Belvide Reservoir, one of two supplying water to the canal. Without Belvide, the canal simply did not have enough water to be navigable all the time. Work on the reservoir was not finished until 1842 because of the company's financial problems. That year, 1842, also saw the company become carriers and provide haulage for other carriers. Alexander Easton and Samuel Skey had urged for these schemes to be adopted. Steam tugs were laid on between Autherley and Ellesmere Port, but were abandoned after a few years in favour of the less expensive horse-towing. Tonnage rates were kept lower than had been originally anticipated because of the railways, and therefore the revenue was extremely low. In 1844 attempts were made to amalgamate with the Ellesmere and Chester canals. The Act was passed in May 1845 but it had already been superseded by ideas of conversion to a railway. A committee was set up that summer and was assured by engineers that converting the canal would cost half that of building a new railway. Several railway and canal companies expressed interest, and combined to form the Undertakers of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal. Eventually it was decided that part of the waterways would remain as canal whilst the majority would indeed be converted. The Shropshire Union took over the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, among others, once the Act was passed in 1846. For further information on the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Navigation see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of The West Midlands'.

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 been arranged into three series: clerk's records, letters and maps and plans. Within each series the records have been listed chronologically.

Associated material

[See also: BW152 for records of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Navigation during other periods of ownership]