Researching 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.