2019 marks two hundred years since the completion of the main line of the Lancaster Canal.
The initial impetus for the Lancaster Canal came in around 1770 from merchants of Lancaster wanting a link to the coal deposits around West Houghton and to the markets of Manchester to the south and to Kendal in the north.
A route for the canal was surveyed in 1772 by engineer Robert Whitworth but it was another 20 years before a route, surveyed by engineer John Rennie, was agreed on. The Act of Parliament "for making and maintaining a navigable canal from Kirkby Kendal in the county of Westmorland to West Houghton" was granted in 1792.
Not all the proposed canal was constructed. In 1819, when the main line of the canal was completed, the canal stretched from Kendal to Preston (the northern section) and from Walton Summit to Aspull (the southern section). The two sections were linked by a ‘temporary’ tramway. The route to Manchester was facilitated by the opening of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal’s Leigh Branch in 1820.
Construction started immediately the Act was granted under chief engineer, John Rennie, with the first contract let for 18 miles between Borwick and Ellel Grange, followed by the length between Galgate and Garstang and for the southern section between Bark Hill (Wigan) and Nightingales (Chorley).
The canal between Preston and Tewitfield was opened in November 1797 and the southern section in 1803. The southern section was linked ‘temporarily’ to the northern section by a tramline in 1804 until such time that an aqueduct across the River Ribble could be built. In the event, the cost of building the aqueduct and the approximately 27 locks needed to raise the canal up to Walton Summit proved prohibitive and so the two sections were never linked by canal. The temporary solution lasted until 1864 when the southern section was leased to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
From 1805 the route north from Tewitfield to Kendal was reviewed but construction didn’t begin until 1813 under company engineer Thomas Fletcher and later William Crosley Junior. It was completed in 1819 with the date for opening set for 18 June, the fourth anniversary of the victory at Waterloo. The Westmorland Gazette wrote “The 18th June was a glorious day for Old England. – The 18th of June will be a proud day for Kendal.”
The celebrations began at seven o’clock in the morning when a procession of boats containing the Mayor of Lancaster and the Lancaster and Kendal Canal Committees left Lancaster. A similar procession left Kendal just before ten, the two meeting at Crooklands at lunchtime. The two processions joined forces and returned to Kendal, arriving at about five o’clock. Throughout the day there were canons firing, flags and bands of music and the canal was lined with ‘numberless’ spectators. The Westmorland Gazette and Kendal Advertiser wrote:
“To a spectator who commanded a comprehensive view of the whole, the scene was one not only of perfect novelty, but real grandeur: the landscape which passed before them, presented a most beautiful and rich variety of rural objects, - every bridge and elevated spot was crowded with spectators, who occasionally evinced their feelings by loud huzzas. On the arrival of the procession at the Basin, the number of spectators was beyond all calculation. If we may be allowed to hazard a conjecture, we will say there were probably ten thousand persons who witnessed the entry of the procession into the basin – a number equal to the whole population of Kendal!”
A dinner was then held at Kendal Town Hall at which more than 40 toasts were drunk, ranging from “The King” and the “Lancaster and Kendal Canal and success to it” to “Honest men and bonny lasses” and “May the hinges of hospitality never grow rusty”.
The festivities concluded with a ball held at the Kings Arms to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo and to honour the opening of the canal. Dancing continued until three o’clock in the morning.
As part of the bicentenary celebrations, we've joined forces with the Lancaster Canal Trust and Lancaster sculptor Alan Ward to restore the missing canal milestones between Preston and Kendal.
Milestones on a canal differ from those on the road in that they are intended to tell you have far you have travelled rather than the distance to your destination. Thus, as you leave Lancaster and head north to Kendal, the milestone will show the distance from Lancaster rather than the distance to Kendal. The purpose was to ensure that the Canal Proprietors received from canal carriers the full toll they were owed.
Roughly 24 milestones are missing, mostly between Lancaster and Garstang but also in Preston and on the northern reaches between Crooklands and Kendal. It is thought many of the milestones were removed during the Second World War when part of the canal formed part of an official stop-line to contain an invasion of the Lancashire coast.
The new milestones will be made of a local sandstone and will closely replicate the original design. They will be carved by Alan Ward and his students.
As part of the project we will visit local schools to introduce pupils to the traditional skills of stone carving and masons’ marks, and to engage pupils with the canal and promote canal safety.
Last date edited: 31 January 2019