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Company of Proprietors of the Ellesmere Canal


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Ellesmere Canal: legal records 1809, plans of the canal late 18th-early 19th century, locks 1794, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 1791-1805.



Reference code


Access Status

These records are immediately available for research

Administrative /​ Biographical history

As early as 1789, proposals for what became the Ellesmere Canal were discussed. In 1791 the proposals from ironworks and colliery owners near Ruabon were launched: to build a canal from Netherpool (after 1796 called Ellesmere Port) on the River Mersey to the River Dee (giving access to the Chester Canal), and via Overton to the River Severn at Shrewsbury, with a branch from Overton to Ruabon, Llangollen and Bersham and a branch to Llanymynech. A rival group wanted a route from the Chester Canal near Tattenhall via Whitchurch to Ruabon. After surveys by local engineers, in 1792 William Jessop advised undertaking the Overton-Ruabon line with a tunnel at Ruabon, an aqueduct over the River Dee at Pontcysyllte, another tunnel at Chirk, then via Frankton, with a tunnel at Weston to Shrewsbury. Branches were planned to Holt on the River Dee and Llanymynech. Money was raised but the ideas of the rival losing group, backed by the Chester Canal, were also gaining subscriptions. The Ellesmere company counterbalanced this by surveying a branch to join the Chester Canal near Nantwich and thus the Ellesmere Canal's Act was passed in 1793, with both groups being satisfied. William Jessop was hired as engineer with John Duncombe, Thomas Denson and William Turner assisting, and Thomas Telford as general agent. The Wirral line was begun in November 1793 and packet-boats began using it in July 1795. The three locks to the River Mersey were finished in 1796 and the junction with the Chester Canal in 1797, with access to the River Dee being through the Chester Canal's basin with consent of the River Dee company. Passenger boats and commercial traffic successfully plied the Wirral line. In 1801 new basins at Chester were finished and in 1802 a tide lock to the River Dee gave access to the previously tidal basin at all times. In 1796 the Llanymynech branch was opened from Frankton to Carreghofa, serving the area's limestone quarries. The section from Pontcysyllte to Chirk and Hordley was started in 1793-1794 and in 1795 William Jessop's iron aqueducts at Pontcysyllte and Chirk were recommended. Chirk was opened in 1801 and the canal from Chirk basin to the southern end of Pontcysyllte in 1802. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was completed in 1805. In 1797 the Shrewsbury line from Hordley to Weston was opened. The line from the River Dee to Trevor was abandoned by 1800 due to tramway competition, although part of it (the Ffrwd branch) was cut and filled with water in 1796 but probably never saw use and was dismantled after 1809. Water supply to the canal was from a navigable feeder from Trevor to the River Dee at Llantisilio, completed in 1808, with Bala Lake being raised. A branch from Frankton via Ellesmere to Tilstock Park near Whitchurch and the Chester Canal was started in 1787, reaching Whitchurch in 1804 and Hurleston in 1805 with a 3 ¾ mile Prees branch from Whixall Moss to Quina Brook being completed in 1806. A ¼ mile branch to Ellesmere was completed in 1804 and a 1 mile branch to Whitchurch was finished in 1811. Despite being connected with the rivers Mersey and Dee via the Chester Canal, the Ellesmere Canal only carried local coal, lime and limestone traffic. First proposed in 1804, the amalgamation of the Chester Canal and the Ellesmere Canal finally took place in July 1813. The Chester Canal provided the Ellesmere Canal access to the Mersey under the United Company of Proprietors of the Ellesmere and Chester Canals. For further information on the Ellesmere Canal, 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 the complete original structure of record-keeping from the records held for this company. An original series of plans of locks has been recreated from the original document reference numbers marked on each plan.The remainder of the fonds has been arranged into series by subject. The company's legal records have been placed first, followed by plans of the canal. These are followed by the original series of lock plans. At the end of the collection are records relating to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Associated material

[See also: BW97 and BW152 for records of the Ellesmere Canal during other periods of ownership]