About UsAbout Us

Our Waterways Heritage

Formed in 1997, the Trust’s aim is to promote the heritage of the Chester Canal, which runs from Chester to Nantwich and is now part of the Shropshire Union Canal system. The Trust offers a number of services including:

  • talks and walks for schools and groups
  • range of teaching and learning resources
  • access to heritage and archive material
  • a series of winter talks

Current projects include the development of a Waterways Strategy for Chester and work to restore historic structures along the Chester Canal and adjoining waterways. We also hold a series of winter talks, details of the talks arranged for 2016-17 can be found here. The other main project that the Trust has played a major role in is the proposal to create a Conservation Area for the whole of the Chester Canal and the Wirral Line to Ellesmere Port.

Educational materials & activitiesEducational materials & activities

Education packs

Education packs have been developed for primary and some secondary schools at key stage 1, 2 and 3 levels. Teachers have worked on the packs for schools which includes ideas for activities and lessons. The education packs have been distributed to schools in Cheshire and the Wirral area. Three work placement students from University College Chester also helped to compile resource boxes to complement the teachers pack. These include sources such as the Acts of Parliament to create the Chester Canal, maps, photographs/copies of paintings, model narrow boats, windlasses, also traditional reproductions of Canal Art and other artifacts as available. These resources are available on loan from Cheshire County Council Education Library Service participating schools.


A DVD has been produced by ‘Gingerbean Video Production Company’ it is loosely based on a family that spent their early lives living on board a canal boat. Children from Jigsaw Theatre Company and St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School acted out scenes and performed interviews with the family. The DVD will be used with the education pack for schools as well as being an item on its own.

Historical Books

Some of the funding was allocated for the production of an historical book about the Chester Canal, the book will include a walking guide and lots of interesting information about the Chester Canal. The book was published in 2005 and is available in shops for £13.95 or from the Chester Canal Heritage Trust for £12.95.

If you would find out more about the educational aspects of the Trust, like to become involved in these activities, obtain a copy of the DVD, purchase a copy of the book, or you would like access to the educational packs please contact the Trust.

Researching HistoryResearching History

Historical book

A book about the Chester Canal has been published and includes a walking guide to the canal. Some of the funding from the Local Heritage Initiative (LHI) and Nationwide Building Society was allocated for the production of this historic book.

Gordon Emery has overseen the production and editing, and it includes contributions from Gordon, as Writer in Residence, Terry Kavanagh, Geoff Taylor and Stewart Shuttleworth. Some of the illustrations have been produced by Tony Lewery, and Ray Buss has written and researched the walking guide.

It is available from shops for £13.95 or directly from the Trust at £12.95.

Historic Canal walks & talks

The Trust organises a series of talks each year, held over the winter months. Details of the current year’s programme can be found by clicking on the ‘Events’ tab above.

Talks on aspects of the Chester Canal’s history are also provided for other organisations and there is usually no charge for this service. Guided walks in and around the Chester area can also be provided.

History of Chester Canal

In the 18th Century, Chester was a large and important industrial and trading centre and transport links were critical. One of the most important was the Port of Chester, which stretched along the River Dee for 12 miles. With increased competition from Liverpool and the advent of canals elsewhere in England, demand rose for a canal link from the Dee at Chester to other English towns. Despite stiff opposition from rival canals, such as the Trent & Mersey, the Chester Canal Act was passed in 1772 and construction work started in May of that year. The first traffic was carried in 1775, but business was poor, since the canal went only as far as Nantwich and there were major engineering problems.

By the end of the 18th century, the Chester Canal was facing ruin but was saved by a link with the Ellesmere Canal Company. It was set up in the 1790s to link Ellesmere, in Shropshire, and the quarries of North Wales to the Mersey at Netherpool/Whitby, now known as Ellesmere Port. In Chester, they completed the Wirral Line of their canal, which runs up to Ellesmere Port, in 1795. This was of great significance, representing a major upturn in the fortunes of the Chester Canal Company which would probably not otherwise have survived.

A further link between the Chester and Ellesmere Canals at Hurleston also meant that any problems over water supply were solved by the flow of water brought down from the Welsh Hills. By 1813, the partnership had been so successful that the two companies merged to create the Ellesmere and Chester Canal Company. In 1835 the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal linked with the Chester Canal, at Nantwich, and all the canals were amalgamated in 1846 to form the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company.

The Shropshire Union Canal originally applied to an extensive network of over 200 miles of waterways once owned by the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company, it is now known as the Llangollen Canal, the Montgomery Canal, the Shropshire Union Main Line, the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch plus various other arms and branches, many of these are now long lost.

The Shropshire Union Main Line from Autherley to Ellesmere Port is based on Telford’s Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal between Autherley and Nantwich, opened in 1835, and incorporates the wider Chester Canal that had opened from Nantwich to Chester in 1774. The Wirral Line of the Ellesmere Canal continued the route to Netherpool, later to become Ellesmere Port, and the short Dee Branch afforded access to the River Dee at Chester. The Middlewich Branch at Barbridge connected this network with the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Within a few years of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal, opening the threat from railways was already looming large and individual companies began working together. In the 1840’s The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company was formed. Their intention was to move into rail freight by building tracks along the canal beds. with the intention of moving into rail freight by building tracks along the canal beds. Luckily this never took place and the waterway remained generally profitable until the company abandoned canal carrying after World War I. By the time of a catastrophic breach in the Shropshire Union’s Montgomery line in 1936, traffic had already begun to dwindle: but trade including metal, coal, chocolate and oil derivatives remained substantial on the main line, and continued beyond the 1960s.

What is now the Shropshire Union Canal survived the transition from commerce to leisure and is a popular holiday route. It remains largely rural and the towpath forms part of several long distance walks. The Llangollen Canal is now considered a canal in its own right and has become one of the busiest pleasure waterways on the network, especially in the high season. The Montgomery Canal, once hopelessly lost, is being restored and several miles of navigation have already been reinstated.

Training & skillsTraining & skills

The objects of the Trust are to advance the public education by engendering and fostering an awareness of the Chester Canal, its activities, heritage and environs, in local people and visitors by enabling people to crew heritage narrowboats: through the provision of training and education in the skills of the waterway environment

We have recognised that without care the history surrounding the movement of goods along the canals in wooden boats will disappear. The Trust is therefore keen to see the development of facilities for training and education in the skills of the waterway environment, including work on restoring historic narrowboats. (see ‘Preservation of narrowboats’).

The Trust has been active in work to restore the historic Taylor’s Boat Yard in Chester, which dates back to the 1850s and is probably the only Victorian working boatyard on the whole of canal system. It is hoped that this site, once restored, will become a centre for training in boat-building skills.

Preservation of NarrowboatsPreservation of Narrowboats

The objects of the Trust are to advance the public education by engendering and fostering an awareness of the Chester Canal, its activities, heritage and environs, in local people and visitors by enabling people to crew heritage narrowboats: through the support of the use and preservation of heritage narrowboats.

For a number of years, the Trust endeavoured to develop this aspect of their work, with proposals for the purchase of a wooden hull narrowboat, the reconstruction of the living accommodation and the completion of the restoration of the wooden hull followed by the conversion of the cargo hold into a classroom complete with display materials, toilets and a galley. However, the Trust was unable to identify a suitable source of funding for this work and this project is therefore currently in abeyance.


Nevertheless, the Trust has been working with other groups, such as the Shropshire Union Flyboat Restoration Trust and the Historic Narrowboat Owners Association , who have historic boats that can be used for educational and other purposes. The Trust has also been active in work to restore the historic Taylor’s Boat Yard in Chester, which dates back to the 1850s and is probably the only Victorian working boatyard on the whole of canal system.

Community InvolvementCommunity Involvement

The Trust has worked with a lot of people, from many different backgrounds, since it was formed. The intention has always been to take the work of the Trust out to people; as well as getting people involved in the working of the Trust. During the past few years, we have been to :

  • Cheshire Local History Event, September 2002 at the Racecourse in Chester, sponsored by Radio Merseyside. There we talked to people who were interested in canals and our work, and made contacts with other local history societies.
  • The Cheshire Show, June 2003, with a grant from Awards for All, we took children from Overleigh St Mary’s School Chester. Visitors to our stall had at go a painting castles, roses and rope knotting, taught by the children as well as our volunteers.
  • Vale Royal Environmental Network, May 2004 saw an annual conference at Hartford High school Northwich.
  • The Cheshire Young Peoples Learning Journey, October 2004, we mounted an exhibition and painting plates activity for children at Tatton Park.

Members and trustees have been invited to WIs, local historical societies and other Waterways Societies to give talks about the Trust and the history of the Chester Canal. We have been to schools to run work shops, teaching children how to do canal art and about how people used to live on canals. We helped teachers and their pupils who were involved in the Cheshire Young Peoples Learning Journey to find out about the history and heritage of the canals in Cheshire.

There are always opportunities for people to volunteer with the Trust, become a member or just help out from time to time with our projects:

  • We’ve had volunteers from companies taking part in ‘Business in the Community’ workplace volunteering projects- they helped work on the Towy in the dry dock (much to their surprise and enjoyment)We have also had volunteers through Chester CVS who have helped advise us about funding, create a database and also design our previous newsletter.
  • Four children from St Thomas of Canterbury School, Chester, have recently starred in the production of our story about life on the canals , due for release during the summer of 2005. Coming to a school near you!
  • Over the past 3 years, groups of Students from University College Chester have done work experience with the Trust ranging from writing Business Plans, to creating a website, producing newsletters and designing our new logo