The building of the Aire and Calder Navigation gave Leeds a direct route to the East Coast. A similar waterway linking Leeds to the West Coast would be a much more difficult undertaking, but in 1765 John Longbotham began to survey a route for a canal between Leeds and Liverpool. At a meeting in the Sun Inn in Bradford in 1768 a committee was appointed to organise the project, and the engineer James Brindley was engaged to check Longbotham's survey. Brindley confirmed the survey, and estimated that the canal would cost £259,777.
The promoters of the canal applied to Parliament for an Act to enable them to carry out the work, and in May 1770 an Act was passed which allowed the building of a canal between Leeds Bridge and North Lady’s Walk in Liverpool. Under the Act the Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Leeds to Liverpool was empowered to raise £260,000 in £100 shares, with the option to raise a further £60,000 if necessary.
Brindley was asked to be the engineer, but he declined, and John Longbotham was appointed instead. Work was started at both ends of the canal, and by 1775 the stretch from Liverpool to Newburgh was completed, followed in 1777 by the section between Leeds and Gargrave. By this time the company had run out of money and work stopped. Nevertheless, Leeds now had a link with the clothing district to the west of the town.
Three further Acts of Parliament were obtained in 1790, 1793, and 1794 to enable the proprietors to raise a further £200,000, and to alter the route of the canal to include the cotton and coal producing districts of Lancashire. The canal was not completed until October 1816 when the Blackburn to Wigan link was opened.
The canal had taken 46 years to complete, and cost over £1,200,000. It was 127 miles long, including branches, and climbed 411 feet over the Pennines. This required 844 feet of lockage, 8 aqueducts, an embankment stretching two-thirds of a mile, and over one and a quarter miles of tunnel.
Joseph Priestley, writing in 1831 said of the benefits of the canal: 'The public are greatly benefitted by the ease with which the interior trade is carried from Leeds and the West Riding into the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and to Liverpool and vice versa. Moreover, upon the banks of this canal are found immense quantities of stone for burning into lime for manure; inexhaustible beds of coal, which not only supply the neighbouring districts, but furnish an abundance for exportation at Liverpool; in short no part of the kingdom is more benefited by a public work of this kind than the country through which the Leeds and Liverpool canal passes.'
The canal boats carried not only heavy goods like coal and iron-ore, but many different kinds of smaller items, as the pages from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Rates, Tolls and Charges show. Coal was carried in boats called Tom Puddings which were lashed together in long trains and pulled along by a tug.
The canal was administered from the Canal Office and Lock-Keepers house on the south bank of the canal beside the Office Lock.
|Click images to enlarge|
Plan of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, 1770
Heavy goods carried on the canal, 1893
Goods carried on the canal, 1893
Canal Office, 1951
Canal Office 1999
Office Lock, 1999
Office Lock, looking west, 1999