Chester Canal Heritage Trust

Excerpted from Chester Canal, the Old: A History and Guide by Gordon Emery, Stewart Shuttlenorth, Terry Kavanach, Geoff Taylor, Ray Buss. Copyright © 2005. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

RUIN (Excerpt from chapter by Gordon Emery)

Cost Cutting While the city end of the canal appeared to be open for business, it was very different beyond Beeston. On 6th December 1776 it was ordered "that Mr Moon discharge all the Workmen upon the Canal beyond Beeston Brook." A week later "that Mr Moon & Mr Morris fix whatever Workmen are absolutely necessary to be employed on the Canal in order only to preserve the Canal from Misfortune + Waste". Morris had taken over as Engineer from Sam Weston. By January ‘77 the Committee was "finding it impossible to carry on the Works much longer without the further Aid of Parliament". A few weeks later, Mr Clowes was asked to survey to Nantwich. He refused - perhaps he thought he would never be paid - so Moon and Morris got the job. By July "all workmen on the Canal" were to be discharged "except William Antrobus [the lock-keeper], the Ship Carpenter and one Carter". In August, Mr Morris too was discharged with "Seventy Five pounds as full Compensation for his salary on his delivering up all the Books, Levell &c belonging to the Company". "An inventory of the company’s Barrows, Planks, Tools, Engines, Boats & other Materials" was to be taken by Chas Hill and Sam Weston. In December 1777 a few employees still remained: "William Antrobus attending the locks; Richard Johnson to attend the Banks and fences of the Canal + destroy the Moles; Three men at the Brockholes + about that Number cleans Horsley Moss Drain, both of which will be very soon discharged; Men occasionally employed about the Barges and Canals as they are wanted". Edward Stone was employed as the wharfinger at Beestonin August 1779 and when he complained about his low wage it was recorded that "if Edward Stone be dissatisfied with the £26 a year + house directed to be allowed to him that he give the Company a Month’s notice + resign".

In August 1777, Mr Moon had been sent to survey from Wardle Green to Middlewich, and Bunbury Lock to Nantwich. It had been decided that the broad canal should be completed to Nantwich and the arm to Middlewich should now be a narrow canal, only seven feet wide, however all the share capital had been spent. A New Act of Parliament authorised a further call on shareholders of 60% as well as £30,000 by mortgage. An additional £6,000 was raised on calls and a Richard Reynolds lent £4,000. So, in May 1778, William Jessopand James Pinkerton were authorised to cut the canal from Beeston Brook to Nantwich for £3,764-13-0. By October 1778 it was ordered that the boats "Egerton, Bootle & Flatts bee put into Proper Repair fit to be stationed on the Nantwich Line as soon as finished". Jessop and Pinkerton were paid a further £180 to build the Nantwich Basin.

In May 1779 money had run out so the Committee ordered "that the Canal shall rest at Nantwich for One Year. This meant that no more work was done on the Middlewich line. However, the rest of one year turned out to be nearly fifty years. The Chester Canal ran from the River Dee to Nantwich, a distance of 19.4 miles, with 18 locks (including three sets of staircase locks: five at Chester, two at Bunburyand another ‘double lock’ at Beeston).There was also the lock to the River Dee.

Negligence & wilful damage

Early on, in 1772, the Company had had to put up notices in Waverton, Hargrave and Christleton churches "offering a reward of Five Guineas to any Person or Persons, who will give information of anyone or more stealing Coal, Slack, Timber or other Materials, or damaging any of the Works belonging to the Proprietors of the Chester canal Navigation".

However, greater damages were inflicted by boatmen who were probably not used to using locks:

"WHEREAS I RICHARD JONES, of the city of Chester, did (in October last) by inattention in shutting the lower gates of the five-fold lock, on the Chester canal, did leave them in such a situation, that on the Lock filling, the pressure of water burst from its Proper situation one of the Gates, by which it was broke down and considerable expense and inconvenience brought on the Company of the said Chester Canal Navigation, and which expenses I am subject to and ought to pay, but the Committee of the said Chester Canal Navigation in compassion to me and my family, have forgave the said expenses on my begging pardon for this offence, and faithfully promising to be more careful for the future.

And as I RICHARD CROFTS, of Boughton, in the liberties of the said City, did by neglect leave open (on Saturday 3rd instant) one of the Cloughs of the Lock, at the West end of the Long Leave of the Chester Canal, whereby considerable damage was done to the works of the said Canal, for utter inability to pay the money, and asking pardon for the offence, promising to conduct myself with greater care in future, has induced the Committee to stop any proceeding against me.

For the great lenity shewn us as above, we sincerely return our thanks. The mark of X RICHARD JONES, RICHARD CROFTS. Signed by the said Richard Jones, and Richard Crofts in the presence of me, Charles Hill, Clerk of the said Company."

'Chester Chronicle' 14th March 1783