Heritage on the North West Waterway: an archaeologist's perspective

Having only joined the trust in February this year as Heritage Advisor for the North West waterway, I couldn’t have imagined the task at hand in trying to cover a 127 mile long area of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal plus the Lancaster Canal and various branches to boot!

As an archaeologist I’ve been used to covering a big patch but the variety of canal features and landscapes in the North West is remarkable. The canal network is an amazing feat of engineering in itself, all built with hand picks and shovels nearly 200 years ago, the scale and impact of which in landscape terms can only be compared to the proposed HS2 project in modern times.

Much of the work of Canal & River Trust is involved in maintaining and keeping in operation this historic infrastructure project. As custodians of the third largest estate of listed structures in the country, with a concentration of designated heritage assets in the North West, the Trust is committed to preserving and enhancing their heritage value whilst making our heritage safe and accessible to millions of people.

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal (constructed between 1770 and 1816), and Lancaster Canal (built 1792-1819), including their branches contain their fair share of heritage assets including: 3 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 2 Grade I Listed Structures, 4 Grade II*, 410 Grade II and 2 World Heritage Sites

But as Heritage Advisors we don’t just focus on buildings and structures. It’s the combined effects of items, ‘things’, places and stories related to the canal’s operational history that all have heritage interest and is one of the main aspects that attracts people to the waterways.

Canal-focused conservation areas such as Micklethwaite near Bingley illustrate the connection and enterprise the canals brought to the network of communities across the Pennines, with textile and trade providing the driving force for canal technology and engineering innovation on a monumental scale. That said, much of the network now appears in harmony with the natural landscape, sitting comfortably in both urban townscapes and rolling countryside.

Over time the canal has undergone restoration, conservation and preservation, but it is the change over time and the various alterations it underwent which add to its story. And, in our work, we have regard for these different contributions over time.

Some gems I’ve ‘discovered’ whilst working for the Trust include:

Burnley Weaver’s Triangle where the stone warehouses at Burnley Wharf have been restored for use as an inn and offices.

Saltaire an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage (ERIH). The link between canal and industry here is very strong, and the Trust Heritage Advisors sit on the Saltaire WHS steering group.

Bingley Five-Rise Locks, an engineering marvel forming part of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal’s journey into the Yorkshire Pennines. 

East Marton, Double Arched Bridge No 161, nestled in a sheltered fold, the navigation around East Marton enters a cutting and passes under a double-arched road bridge and also forms a conservation area.

Glasson Dock is one of the most scenic yet remote and windswept features of the canal found off the Glasson Branch.

There are many more sites of special interest on the waterways of the north-west, and finding the time to go out explore them is a real privilege. As part of my role of monitoring and assessing them and providing advice to colleagues on how best to manage and maintain them, it’s been a steep learning curve, working with the historic fabric of the canal system and finding conservation solutions to preserving it for future generations.

Ruth Garratt, Heritage Adviser

Last date edited: 17 July 2014

About this blog

Heritage team

The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.

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