The Waterways Archive

The Waterways Archive, the national archive for the canal network, is based at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.

Black and white photo of foreman D.W.Turner in bowler hat and his maintenance team pose for the camera at the top of Bingley Five Rise Locks in 1912 Maintenance team in lock in 1912

This important archive holds a wide range of photographs and documents about the history of Britain’s canals and inland waterways. Plus a selection of material from waterways around the world.

At the core of the collection are British Waterways' archives and those of the early canal companies, which trace the history of Britain’s inland waterways back to its very roots in the 17th century.

The document collection includes:

  • boat building plans
  • working records
  • accounts and letters

While our photographic collections include work by:

  • Michael Ware
  • Eric de Mare
  • Herbert Dunkley
  • Arthur Watts

We hold extensive collections about the:

  • Weaver Navigation Trust
  • Middlewich Wharf
  • Charles Hadfield World Canals Research
  • Rochdale Canal

As well as other interesting small private collections.

You can also use a wide range of books and periodicals about canals and waterways history for research.

Opening times

You are always welcome to come and look at the collection.

 The archive is open  
 Monday to Friday 10.00am to 4.00pm 

It's a good idea to check before visiting to see if the collection includes the material that you want. Because of the nature of archives, we can’t always be certain you'll find the information you need, but we may be able to suggest other options.

To make sure space is available and that the records you want to look at are accessible, please contact us to make a booking.

Entry price

You can visit the archive without going into the main museum, but we still do charge the standard museum entry price. We can carry out up to 30 minutes of research for you for free. If you have a more extensive enquiry, you can use our research service.

Research service

If you need more extensive research our team of volunteers can do research in our library and archives for you. We charge £20 a day of research - this goes towards improving the access to our archive collections.

Please fill in our Research Service order form and email it to Please allow up to four weeks for an initial response (we’ll aim to get back to you sooner.)

Copying and reproduction for commcial use

If you are using the images and documents for commercial use then please see our charges and complete our copying service order form.

Self-service copying

You can photocopy images and documents for your own private use for free. All copies must be for:

  • research or private study (neither of which may be for a commercial purpose)
  • criticism, review or news reporting
  • unless it is impractical, the source of all copies must be acknowledged
  • you should only make and hold a single copy at any one time. If you print or transfer the image then you must delete the original image
  • copies must be for your own use and should not be made for any other person

Publishing images

To publish any of our images you will need our permission. 

Publishing covers any kind of public use, from publication on another website or in a book to reproduction in an exhibition or use in a public lecture. We have recently reviewed our reproduction charges in line with other museums and archives.

Please note: we can only supply copies in line with British copyright law. If copyright (and/or publishing rights) still applies, we can only supply copies of items that we hold the copyright for or have a valid copyright licence.

Contact the archive

For more information about our service, please contact us:

Call: 0151 373 4378


Last date edited: 5 October 2017