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The charity making life better by water

Restoring Cheshire’s Cathedral of the Canals

The country’s first commercial boat lift at Anderton, near Northwich, is due to reopen soon following £450,000 of emergency repair work during the winter. One of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Waterways’, the imposing three-storey-high structure carries around 3,000 boats a year between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver.

The lift has been out of operation since last August following a review of all the gate safety mechanisms. Our engineers have been working hard ever since to ensure this historic lift is ready for the 2023 summer boating season.

Aerial view of Anderton Boat Lift

Designed by Edwin Clark and opened in 1875, Anderton Boat Lift was the first of its kind in the world. Standing more than 80 feet above the Cheshire countryside to allow for the 50-foot differential between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal, it's easy to see how this impressive iron structure earned the nickname of Cathedral of the Canals.

In 1983, after over a hundred years in service, Anderton Boat Lift finally closed and fell into disrepair. It would be nearly two decades before the lift was operational again; reopening to boats in 2002.

Since our charity was formed in 2012, Anderton Boat Lift has been under our guardianship. It attracts thousands of visitors every year and after winning ‘Experience of the Year' in 2019, it has become a firm favourite on the tourist trail – a place where people can enjoy a relaxing day out, connect with history and spot local wildlife in the surrounding Anderton Nature Park.

Band members dressed in red play music in front of Anderton Boat Lift

As project manager for the recent work, Fran Littlewood explains how keeping this amazing structure maintained is a labour of love for our engineers: “The Anderton Boat Lift is unique, every operating element is a one-off and needs to be designed specifically to work within a structure that is nearly 150 years old. This is its charm, but it also brings huge challenges when parts need replacing.”

The emergency winter works covered two key projects. First, we gave the two giant hydraulic ram cylinders, which each propel a caisson to transport boats up and down, a much-needed overhaul. To do this we had to remove the caission, and change seals, bearings and around 15,000 litres of hydraulic oil.

Second, we reviewed every part and connection in our gate safety systems to ensure they continue to meet legal standards and protect boats passing underneath. Some parts were replaced like-for-like. But we installed two new ‘fall arrestors' on the caisson gates, which act like giant seat belts in the event of an emergency.

A maintenance engineer lowers down the Anderton structure on a rope

Soon, the Anderton Boat Lift will once again carry boats between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver. And to celebrate, we held a special free open day on 18 February.

Our video, with Attractions operations manager Jason Watts and Engineering project manager Fran Littlewood, shows the site is full of fascinating stories, with a rich history and vital to the area's wildlife.

While these latest works will have the Anderton Boat Lift in full operation for this year's boating season, more needs to be done to preserve Cheshire's Cathedral of the Canals. As a charity, we need to work harder than ever to continue protecting one of the world's finest examples of working industrial heritage. If you'd like to learn more about Anderton Boat Lift's amazing history and how you can help us care for it, please watch our video below.

Last Edited: 01 March 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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