Thursday 30 June 2011

The Sankey Navigation

The Sankey Navigation
by T C Baker

I'm not sure if you could really call this a book - its more a pamphlet with a mere 44 pages describing the life and times of the Sankey Navigation.

Its a republication of Baker's 1948 essay, featuring a Foreward by Richard Chester Brown who I last encountered as the author of The Other Sixty Miles - a survey of the lost BCN also written as an undergraduate.

The Sankey Navigation holds the honour of being the very first Canal in England,  built in 1759 and predating the nearby Bridgewater Canal by two years, a waterway more commonly awarded the "first canal" tag.

As approved by parliament, the Sankey Navigation was a river enhancement with some scope or artificial cuts. But in the end its engineer Henry Berry, decided to build what he referred to as a "dead water cut" for the entire length from Widnes to the coalfields of Parr. It appears that it wasn't only Parliament that were unaware of his plans - most of the investors were kept in the dark as well!

The account is meticulously researched, as would befit the Author who later became a professor, jam packed with references. Fortunately the references are consigned to the copious footnotes and don't get in the way of the historical account.

Th Sankey Canal has more to do with the the prosperity of Liverpool and the development of St Helens as an industrial centre than the evolution of the Canal concept. Sure it has  some locks including a staircase pair, but it has no spectacular aqueducts or tunnels like it's Brindley built neighbour. 

It initially it has a prosperous 15 years as it delivered coal to Liverpool and beyond, but then the Leeds Liverpool Canal opened, tapping the coalfields of Wigan and delivering the coal more conveniently to the north west of Liverpool. The Sankey may have been bloodied, but it wasn't out. It changed its focus and started to supply the growing glass industry of St Helens and the salt industry of Northwich on the Weaver, finally closing in stages from 1931.

Today the canal stands deserted, with just the entry locks from the Mersey providing access to a marina for coastal vessels. For the rest, long stretches remain in water and more are being restored as a local amenity. SCARS, the local Canal Society continues to work towards towards the restoration of full navigation, but its a slow job. And being a disconnected canal at the top of the mercurial Mersey its hard to see many narrowboats making the perilous trip to its tidal lock.

This pamphlet may be old but I would suggest that it is unlikely to be eclipsed in terms of historical integrity. A grand old canal, the father of the English network and therefore worthy of full restoration no matter how long it takes.

1 comment:

Paul (from Waterway Routes) said...

You get a mention at