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Ellesmere Canal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct opened to traffic on the Ellesmere Canal in 1805.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct opened to traffic on the Ellesmere Canal in 1805.

The Ellesmere Canal was a waterway in England and Wales that was planned to carry boat traffic between the rivers Mersey and Severn. The proposal would create a link between the Port of Liverpool and the mineral industries in north east Wales and the manufacturing centres in the West Midlands. However, the canal was never completed as intended because of its rising costs and failure to generate the expected commercial traffic.

The Ellesmere Canal, which was first proposed in 1791, would have created a waterway between Netherpool, Cheshire, and Shrewsbury. However, only certain sections were completed; these were eventually incorporated into the Chester Canal, Montgomery Canal and Shropshire Union Canal. Although several major civil engineering feats were accomplished, major building work ceased following the completion of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805. The northern end of the navigation's mainline ended 16 miles (25 km) from Chester at Trevor Basin near Ruabon and its southern end was at Weston Lullingfields about 9 miles (15 km) from Shrewsbury.

As part of the rebranding of Britain's industrial waterways as leisure destinations, the surviving central section is now called the Llangollen Canal; even though historically its builders had no intention of sending boat traffic to Llangollen. The branch, from which the waterway now takes its name, was primarily a water feeder from the River Dee above the village. Therefore it was not built as a broad-gauge canal, hence its inherently narrow design.


Route planning

Map of the original proposed route of the Ellesmere canal published in 1795
Map of the original proposed route of the Ellesmere canal published in 1795

The formal proposal for the canal was launched at a meeting in Ellesmere in 1791 for a canal from Netherpool (now Ellesmere Port) on the River Mersey to the River Dee at Chester. It would then go in a south easterly direction via Overton (south of Wrexham) to the River Severn at Shrewsbury. Branches would then be cut to the iron making and coal mining areas at Bersham between Wrexham and Ruabon and to the copper mines at Llanymynech. By 1793 an Act of Parliament had been passed allowing the Ellesmere Canal company to build the canal.

However this route of the canal beyond Chester was not to the liking of all backers. They wanted the canal's course to follow a more westerly route from the Dee to the Severn passing directly through the Welsh mining areas. Eventually this proposal was the one that canal engineer John Duncombe followed when he eventually surveyed the route. Notable civil engineer William Jessop was called into advise; he too recommended the route surveyed by Duncombe. Jessop was eventually appointed the project's engineer while Thomas Telford was appointed as General Agent. The northernmost section, a contour canal, from the Mersey to the Dee was completed in 1797. This allowed the company to generate revenue from tolls to help finance construction of the rest of the canal.

However the westerly route posed formidable engineering obstacles. Close to the Eglwyseg and Ruabon mountains, there were deep river valleys to be crossed and high ground to be tunnelled. Duncombe's survey involved a climb of 303 feet (92 m) from Chester to Wrexham, a 4,607-yard (4,213 m) tunnel at Ruabon, a high level crossing over the Dee at Pontcysyllte, a further tunnel and aqueduct near Chirk, and a tunnel in Shropshire near Weston Lullingfields.

A plan of the canal, published in 1795, showed the route between Netherpool in the north to Shrewsbury to the south:

River Mersey; Great Stanney; Stoak; Wervin; Caughall; Chester; Saltneyside; Lache Hall;[1] Rough Hill; Cuckoos Nest; Wrexham; Ruabon; Plas Madoc; Chirk; Hordley; Dandyford; Shade Oak; Weston Lullingfields; Eyton; Walford; Hancott; Shrewsbury; River Severn.

The canal plan would also have four branches:

Originally Jessop had suggested that the cheaper solution was to use locks on both sides of Vale of Llangollen to take the canal down to a more manageable height for the second, upstream crossing of the River Dee at Froncysyllte. Rather than crossing at full height, the locks would reuse water by backpumping. But by 1795 Jessop and Telford had changed their decision. Instead they developed a proposal for a cast-iron aqueduct to maintain the original level.


Chirk Tunnel on the Ellesmere Canal was completed in 1802.
Chirk Tunnel on the Ellesmere Canal was completed in 1802.

In 1796 the Llanymynech Branch was opened, linking the main line at Frankton Junction with Llanymynech. This joined the Montgomeryshire Canal at Carreghofa Locks when the Montgomeryshire opened in 1797.

In 1796, Thomas Telford constructed a feeder reservoir lake in Moss Valley, Wrexham to provide water to the length of canal between Trevor Basin and Chester. However, as the plan to build this section was cancelled in 1798, the isolated feeder and a stretch of navigation between Ffrwd and a basin in Summerhill was abandoned. Remnants of the feeder channel are visible in Gwersyllt. A street in the village is still named Heol Camlas (Canal Way).[2]

The contour section from the River Mersey to the River Dee at Chester was joined to the Chester Canal in 1797.

On the main line section, the Chirk Aqueduct was opened in 1801, and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805. However, by this time the proposed line from the Dee at Chester to Ruabon had been abandoned as uneconomic. The canal was therefore terminated at Trevor Basin, 2 miles (3 km) southwest of Ruabon.

Also abandoned was the plan to reach the Severn, as the Shrewsbury Canal was already serving the town, and the poor navigational state of the Severn meant that additional traffic would not justify the cost of the building works.

As the canal would now not reach its proposed main source of water northwest of Wrexham, a feeder was constructed along the side of the Dee valley to Horseshoe Falls at Llantysilio. This narrow feeder branch was made navigable, allowing boats to reach Llangollen.

In the end the only parts of the main line of the canal to be built was the extreme northern line from the Mersey to Chester and the 18-mile (29 km) central section from Trevor Basin to Weston Lullingfields. As this left the middle part isolated from the rest of the UK waterways network, the planned Whitchurch branch was re-routed. A 29-mile (47 km) link was built from Frankton via Ellesmere to the Chester Canal at Hurleston Junction in sections between 1797 and 1806. Despite the circuitous route, it was considered to be the main line. The extension also included an arm to Whitchurch because the town had been by-passed by the new route. A branch was also originally intended to reach Prees in Shropshire; however the line was only constructed as far as Quina Brook, 1-mile (1.5 km) from the village.

The section of waterway from Frankton Junction to Weston Lullingfields, which was originally intended to be the main line to Shrewsbury, became the Weston Branch. The uncompleted part between Weston Lullingfields and the River Severn would have been 9 12 miles (15 km) long, with 107 feet (33 m) of lockage and a 487-yard (445 m) tunnel at Weston Lullingfileds.[3]

Working canal

Due to the constraints placed on the canal by its incomplete design, the Ellesmere Canal struggled financially throughout its operating life as an industrial waterway. In 1813, the Ellesmere Canal company merged with the Chester Canal to form the Ellesmere and Chester Canal Company. This business was then merged with the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal in 1845. A year later the canal was taken over again by the formation of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company.

By 1917 the Weston Branch had closed following a breach near Hordley Wharf. In 1939 traffic on the line from Hurleston to Llangollen had all but ceased. All remaining parts of the Ellesmere Canal network, other than the northern line from Ellesmere Port to Chester, was closed to navigation by Act of Parliament in 1944. However, the canal from Hurleston to Llangollen was retained as a water feeder for the Shropshire Union Canal main line and for drinking water. In 1955 an agreement with the Mid & South East Cheshire Water Board secured the canal's future.

Present day

Despite the formal closure, increasing popularity of the canal with pleasure boats led to its acceptance as an important amenity, and the rebranding as the Llangollen Canal. As the canal was never intended to go to Llangollen, this renaming is an ironic twist symbolic of the canal's convoluted development.

The Ellesmere Canal south of Frankton Junction (the Llanymynech Branch) nowadays forms part of the Montgomery Canal, together with the Montgomeryshire Canal, and the isolated northern section from Chester to Ellesmere Port considered part of the main line of the Shropshire Union Canal.

The Weston Branch is now infilled, save for a very short section, which has a Canal & River Trust amenity block.


Ellesmere Port to Chester

Ellesmere to Chester
Manchester Ship Canal
Swing bridge
Ellesmere Port Basin
Whitby Locks (4)
Wirral Line
Wirral Line
 A5480  Deva aqueduct
Start of Chester Canal
18th-century dry dock}
Upper Dee Locks (2)
Tower Wharf
Northgate Locks (3)
Dee Locks (2)}
River Dee

The canal starts at Ellesmere Port Dock by the Mersey. Originally goods would be transferred directly from inland waterways craft into river-going boats at the dock, which would enter and exit through tidal lock gates. However, in the 1890s, with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, the basin became detached from the river. Traffic was controlled by a set of two-lock staircases.

A contour canal runs between Ellesmere Port and Chester following the course of a natural river valley that encompasses Backford Brook and the Bache valley. The canal enters Chester Basin (wharf) at the junction with the Chester Canal. At this point, there is also a 4-lock branch that once led down to the River Dee and Port of Chester.

When the Ellesmere Canal reached the Chester Canal, the configuration of the staircase locks at Chester was altered. The original 5-lock staircase was replaced by a deeper three-lock arrangement. At this point, the section is now part of the Shropshire Union Canal.

Hurleston to Frankton Junction

Ellesmere Canal Hurleston Branch
Hurleston Jn (SU main line )
Hurleston Lock 4
Hurleston Lock 3
Hurleston Lock 2
Hurleston Lock 1
Hurleston Reservoir
 A51  Road Bridge
Hurleston Bridge
Bache House Bridge
Martin's Bridge
Lees Bridge
Platts Bridge
Wrexham Road (Ravensmoor) Bridge
Swanley Bridge Marina
Swanley No 2 Lock
Swanley Bridge
Butcher's Bridge
Swanley No 1 Lock
Stonely Green Bridge
Bethills Bridge
Hall's Lane Bridge
Grange (Greenfield) Bridge
Baddiley No 3 Lock
Baddiley No 2 Lock
Baddiley Bridge
Baddiley No 1 Lock
Wrenbury Heath Bridge
Wrenbury Heath Footbridge
Wrenbury Hall Bridge
Starkeys Bridge
Wrenbury Church Bridge
Wrenbury Bridge
Wrenbury Frith Bridge
Thomason's Bridge
Church Bridge
Marbury Lock
Steer Bridge
Quoisley Bridge
Quoisley Lock
Willey Moor Lock
Povey's Lock
Jackson's Bridge
Railway Bridge
Grindley Brook No 1 Bridge
Grindley Brook Lock
Grindley Brook Lock
Grindley Brook Lock
Grindley Brook No 2 Bridge
Grindley Brook Staircase Lock (3 chamber)
Danson's (Dawson's) Farm Bridge
 A41  Road Bridge
New Mills Bridge
Whitchurch Arm
 A41  Road Bridge
Wrexham Road Bridge
Hassell's No 1 Bridge
Hassell's No 2 Bridge
Spark's Bridge
Dudlestone Bridge
Old Man's Bridge
Cambrian Railway Bridge
Blackoe (Hughes) Bridge
Springhill Bridge
Tilstock Park Bridge
Platt Lane Bridge
Roundhorn Bridge
Morris Bridge
Roving Bridge
Whixall Moss Junction (Prees Branch)
Cornhill Bridge
Bettisfield Bridge
Clapping Gate (Knowles) Bridge
Hampton Bank Bridge
Lyneal Lane Bridge
Greaves Bridge
Lyneal Bridge
Miss Each Bridge
Little Mill Bridge
Burns Wood Bridge
Ellesmere Tunnel (80m)
Red Bridge
White Bridge over Ellesmere Arm
Stank's Bridge
White Mill Bridge
Coachman's Bridge
Clay Pit Bridge
Val Hill No 1 Bridge
Val Hill No 2 Bridge
Val Hill No 3 Bridge
Broom Farm Bridge
Pryce's Bridge
Peter's Bridge
Frankton Junction (Llanymynech Branch)
Junction with Llangollen Branch

This section was added to link the canal to the national network. It became the Ellesmere Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and is now part of the Llangollen Canal.

The Llangollen Canal begins here with a flight of four locks raising the water level more than 34 feet (10 m) from the Shropshire Union.
The Llangollen Canal begins here with a flight of four locks raising the water level more than 34 feet (10 m) from the Shropshire Union.
Hurleston Locks are at the eastern end of the Llangollen Canal, at the junction with the Shropshire Union Canal.
Hurleston Locks are at the eastern end of the Llangollen Canal, at the junction with the Shropshire Union Canal.
Stoneley Green Bridge near to Ravensmoor, Cheshire.
Stoneley Green Bridge near to Ravensmoor, Cheshire.
Canalside buildings close to the canal junction at Ellesmere, Shropshire.
Canalside buildings close to the canal junction at Ellesmere, Shropshire.
South of Springhill Bridge.
South of Springhill Bridge.
A boat passing Bettisfield Bridge heading towards Ellesmere.
A boat passing Bettisfield Bridge heading towards Ellesmere.
Sailing east from Lyneal Lane Bridge.
Sailing east from Lyneal Lane Bridge.
SE between Coachman's and Clay Pit bridges.
SE between Coachman's and Clay Pit bridges.

Frankton Junction to Trevor Basin

Frankton Junction to Trevor Basin
Junction with Ellesmere Branch
Frankton Junction (Llanymynech Branch)
Rowson's Bridge
Nicholas Bridge
Rodenhurst Bridge
Maestermyn House Bridge
Maestermyn Bridge
Pollet's Bridge
Broom's Bridge
Paddock No 1 Bridge
Paddock No 2 Bridge
Hindford Bridge
New Marton Bottom Lock
New Marton Top Lock
New Marton Bridge
St. Martin's Bridge
Sarn Bridge
Preeshenlle Bridge
Belmont Bridge
Moreton Bridge
Rhoswiel Bridge
Gledrid (O'Leord) Bridge
Monk's (Chirk Bank) Bridge
Chirk Aqueduct
Chirk Tunnel (459 yards)
Chirk Marina
Whitehouse Tunnel (191 yards)
Whitehouse Bridge
Irish Bridge
Fron Bridge
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Llangollen navigable feeder
19th-century dry dock
Trevor Basin

This was the principal part of the original main line of the canal. It became the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal and is now part of the Llangollen Canal.

Refurbished banksman's cottage and outhouses at St Martin's Moor.
Refurbished banksman's cottage and outhouses at St Martin's Moor.
Looking towards Trevor Basin.
Looking towards Trevor Basin.

Trevor Basin to Horseshoe Falls

Trevor Basin to Horseshoe Falls
Ellesmere Main Line junction
Rhos-y-coed Bridge
Roving Bridge
White Bridge
Plas-yn-y-pentre Bridge
Millar's Bridge
Bryn-Ceirch Bridge
Plas-Isaf Bridge
Bryn Howel Bridge
Great Western Railway Bridge
Plas Ifan Bridge
Sun Trevor Bridge
Wenffrwd Bridge
Llanddyn No 1 Bridge
Llanddyn No 2 Bridge
Siambra-Wen Bridge
Llangollen Wharf
Llangollen Marina
Limit of navigation
Pen-y-ddol Bridge
Tower Bridge
Pentrefelin Bridge
Ty-Craig Bridge
Llantisilio Bridge
King's Bridge
Horseshoe Falls Gauging Station
Horseshoe Falls weir

This section of the canal was added as a navigable feeder. It is now part of the Llangollen Canal.

Canalside cottage near the Royal International Pavilion at Llangollen.
Canalside cottage near the Royal International Pavilion at Llangollen.
The Horseshoe Falls, which are about three miles west of Llangollen, provides the water feed for the canal.
The Horseshoe Falls, which are about three miles west of Llangollen, provides the water feed for the canal.

Frankton Junction to Llanymynech

Frankton Junction to Llanymynech
Frankton Junction (Llangollen Canal)
Frankton (Top) Staircase Lock
Frankton (Middle) Lock
Frankton (Bottom) Lock
Weston Arm
Branch now a nature reserve or in-filled
Lockgate Bridge
Graham Palmer Lock
Hawkswood Winding Hole
Perry Aqueduct (new)
Keeper's Bridge (dismantled)
Rednal Basin (now a nature reserve)
Railway Bridge
Heath House Bridge
Corbett's Bridge
Queen's Head Winding Hole
Queen's Head Bridge
A5 Bridge (new)
Aston Top Lock
Aston Middle Lock
Aston Bottom Lock
Red Bridge
Park Mill Bridge Winding Hole
(partially overgrown)
Park Mill Bridge
Maesbury Marsh Bridge
Spiggots (or Spiket's) Bridge
Crofts Mill Lift Bridge
Mill Arm (or Peate's Branch)
Gronwyn Wharf Winding Hole
southern limit of navigation
Gronwyn (or Gronwen) Bridge
Morton Farm Lift Bridge
Redwith Bridge (B4396)
Pryce's Bridge
Southern limit of restored canal
(northern section)
Crickheath Wharf Winding Hole
Crickheath Bridge
Crickheath Wharf
Schoolhouse Bridge (dropped bridge)
Waen Wen Bridge
Pant Bridge
Site of former railway bridge
Rhew Level Lane
Northern limit of restored canal
(middle section)
Winding Hole (new)
Llanymynech Wharf arm
Llanymynech Wharf arm
 A483  Llanymynech Bridge
Llanymynech Winding Hole
Southern limit of restored canal
(middle section)
Carreghofa Lane (dropped bridge)
Walls Bridge
Carreghofa (or Wern) Aqueduct
over former railway
Causeway Lane
Junction with the Montgomery Canal

This section (the Llanymynech Branch) is now designated as part of the Montgomery Canal (combining the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal with the Montgomeryshire Canal). The section from Frankton Junction to the Weston Branch was originally intended to be the main line of the canal. Bridge numbering (which starts at Hurleston Junction) continues down the Llanymynech Branch, and despite now being regarded as two separate canals (the Llangollen and the Montgomery) this numbering scheme remains.

The canal at Maesbury Marsh.
The canal at Maesbury Marsh.
This part of the towpath approaching Llanymynech has been adopted by the Offa's Dyke Path.
This part of the towpath approaching Llanymynech has been adopted by the Offa's Dyke Path.
The bridge carries the A483 in Llanymynech.
The bridge carries the A483 in Llanymynech.
Stretches of the canal west of Llanymynech are overgrown.
Stretches of the canal west of Llanymynech are overgrown.

Frankton Junction to Weston Lullingfields

The Weston Branch today, now a short arm of the Montgomery Canal.
The Weston Branch today, now a short arm of the Montgomery Canal.

This section was originally intended to be the main line of the canal, and is now infilled. The 5 12-mile-long (9 km) arm had wharves at Hordley, Dandyford, Pedlar's Bridge, Shade Oak and Weston Lullingfields. At Weston Lullingfields the canal company built a wharf, four lime kilns, a public house, stables, a clerk's house and weighing machine. These were opened in 1797 and closed in 1917 when the Weston branch was closed following a breach of the canal.[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Manors and estates in and near the City of Chester". British History Online. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  2. ^ "Local Timeline". Coedpoeth Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
  3. ^ Priestly, Joseph (1831). Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green. p. 244.
  4. ^ Raven, Michael (2005). A guide to Shropshire. Michael Raven. p. 264. ISBN 0-906114-34-9.
  • Todd, John (2003) "A canal of many parts", Waterways world, 32 (2: Feb.), p. 46–49 & (3: Mar.), p. 48–51.
  • Wilson, Edward A. (1975) The Ellesmere and Llangollen Canal : an historical background, London : Phillimore, ISBN 0-85033-109-9
  • Denton, John Horsley (1984). Montgomershire Canal and the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal. Lapal Publications. ISBN 0-9509238-1-8.
  • Waterways World (2005). Canal Guide 2 – Llangollen and Montgomery Canals. Waterways World Ltd. ISBN 1-870002-89-X.

This page was last edited on 29 January 2021, at 02:43
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