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The charity making life better by water

The waterways archive

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.


The archive operates a reduced service. Our current response time to enquiries is 4-6 weeks. We are open to visitors, and researchers by booked appointment only.

Please search our catalogue to find the material you wish to consult and note down the reference numbers. Email [email protected] to make an appointment, providing details of your research area and the reference numbers of the items you wish to see.

If you have any further questions, when emailing please include as much information as possible about names, dates and locations to help our researchers narrow down the records which may be relevant to your enquiry.

Copying and reproduction for commercial use

If you are using the images and documents for commercial use, contact the archivist at [email protected] for permissions, prices, and information.

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:

Email: [email protected]

Last Edited: 13 March 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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