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United Company of Proprietors of the Ellesmere and Chester Canals


Records of the United Company of Proprietors of the Ellesmere and Chester Canals: records relating to the Ellesmere and Chester canals 1829-1843, records relating to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal 1846.



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Access Status

These records are immediately available for research

Administrative /​ Biographical history

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 River Mersey. Fortunes were mixed at first. Chirk Colliery was flooded in 1816 after an embankment collapsed, but luckily nobody was harmed. The company aggressively promoted long-distance trade by offering extremely low long-distance rates, or by allowing free passage after a certain distance. Traffic was mostly connected to the iron trade. A steam ferry running between Ellesmere Port and Liverpool was introduced in 1816, but she did not tempt enough trade onto the canals to make her economical and the service was withdrawn after three years. The service between Chester and Ellesmere was far more successful and ran until railway competition forced its closure in 1840. Beeston Lock had caused the original Chester proprietors much trouble due to its unstable foundations, but they had never had the funds to replace or repair it. A new section of canal was constructed there rather than risk future problems with leakage. An improvement scheme to replace lock-gates with ones of iron was begun in 1819. The Chairman, the Earl of Bridgewater, died in May 1824 and was replaced by the chairman of the Montgomeryshire Canal, Lord Clive. In 1826 the Ellesmere and Chester canals promoted their Bill for a canal from Barbridge to Wardle, near Middlewich, which would be joined to their canal via a short branch. A year later the Act passed. It also repealed all previous Ellesmere and Chester legislation. The line and the wharves and warehouses at Barbridge were opened in 1833, forming a link to the wider network of inland waterways. It was 9 ¾ miles long with four locks. Two years after the Middlewich branch opened, the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was finished, resulting in so much traffic on the Chester and Ellesmere canals that Ellesmere Port had to be extended in order to cope. Thomas Telford made recommendations although William Cubitt oversaw the works. They included a sea-lock leading to a new dock of 435 feet by 139 feet and another flight of narrow locks from the canal to the dock. Works were finished in September 1843. At the same time as these improvements were being planned, the company was purchasing a carrying business. They had originally made an agreement with the carrier in 1832 for all goods transported between Ellesmere Port and Liverpool. The carrier had been the subject of repeated complaints about delays and unfair dealings. It was these allegations that prompted the Ellesmere and Chester canals to buy the carriers in November 1836, before the initial agreement had expired. It was clear by the 1840s that the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was integral to the success of the Ellesmere and Chester canals. It was also apparent that the railways were going to present a considerable problem for the canals. Negotiations began in 1844 for an amalgamation of the two companies. An Act was passed in May 1845, the Ellesmere and Chester retaining its name, but it had already been superseded by ideas of conversion to a railway. Consequently this new arrangement did not last long as a year later the Shropshire Union took over the new company. For further information on the Ellesmere and Chester canals 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 two series, one for records relating to the Ellesmere and Chester Canals and one for records relating to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. Within each series the records have been arranged chronologically.

Associated material

[See also: BW84 for records of Chester Canal, BW87 for records of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, BW152 for records of the Shropshire Union all during other periods of ownership]