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Anderton Boat Lift: Engineering the Future project

We're delivering a vital project to refurbish Anderton Boat Lift and visitor centre to ensure it remains operational for future generations.

  • Read the video transcript

    The Anderton Boat Lift is an amazing, unique structure. Nearly 150 years old, it has been re-engineered multiple times. A cathedral of the canals, revered by everyone who loves the canals of this country and such a special, unique structure. It is so important that the boat lift remains operational. So much work has been done to bring it back to life, to restore and repair it, and to make it available for the 3,000 boats every year that use it. It is so vital that its place in history is retained in order to both provide the service and the function it does today, but also a reminder of our incredible industrial heritage that we must cherish as such an important part of our national story.

    Anderton was a hive of activity in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. It was an area where goods were transported along the canals. We have the Trent & Mersey at the top of the hill here, and the River Weaver at the bottom of the hill. Getting a link between these two navigation was really important.

    The drop is about 50 foot and that would require about 10 locks, which, there’s the cost of the construction. It’s not an easy place to put them. And then, you’ve got the water transfer. There wouldn’t be enough water in the canal at the top. You’d just lose all that water into the Weaver Navigation.

    Anderton Boat Lift opened in 1875. It’s not all been plain sailing and it’s had an interesting life. Edward Leader Williams, he’s credited with this ingenious creation. He’s brought on Edwin Clark to work on the project because of his expertise in hydraulics. When it first opened, it was good for the first 10 to 15 years, but because they were transporting salt, corrosion started and corrosion started from the inside in the hydraulics. Major changes were required at the beginning of the 20th century. The new chief engineer, Colonel Saner, he came up with a new idea for converting the lift to electrically operated, but also keeping the idea of weights to make it balanced to use less energy for operation. Unfortunately, with the downturn of traffic on the navigation and canals and the onset of war in the 20th century, the lift declined in use, and by the 1980s it became derelict and unused. After an enormous campaign by British Waterways and many fantastic volunteers, the Anderton Boat Lift was finally restored back to life in 2002, and the Lift was restored to original hydraulic principles, but this time using oil. At the same time, an operation centre was built, which doubled up as a visitor centre to help manage the site.

    It’s over 20 years since Anderton was restored and it’s time for a refresh. The paint is coming to the end of its life, and the control system is past its sell-by date. It’s time to renew the paint, install and update the control system, and look at safety improvements that we can make to keep Anderton Boat Lift a safe, reliable, working boat lift for the next generation.

    The Lift is amazing, but it’s not all about the boat lift. It’s about the experience that people have when they come here to learn, to relax, to play, to engage with our living heritage. One of the really important parts of this project is to replace the marquee, which, as you can see behind me, is looking a bit tired. It’s been here for 20 years and we desperately need a proper structure where we can have education and events. We want to be able to welcome more school groups for education, more visitors, do more for our boating community, and make a better use of the space that we have, showcasing this fantastic monument. There’s so much potential at the site. Some of the things that we’re thinking about are introducing paddle sports, having more play, more steam activities, and really showcasing the fantastic ecology alongside our engineering.

    We need to take action now. It’s so important to keep Anderton Boat Lift alive for the next generation.

About Anderton Boat Lift

Anderton Boat Lift, Cheshire’s historic ‘Cathedral of the Canals’, needs urgent work to prevent it from falling into disrepair and facing possible closure.

The unique 150-year-old structure was the world’s first major commercial boat lift and now requires an upgrade to enable the ageing machinery to continue transporting around 3,000 boats a year between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver Navigation some 50 feet below. Without the lift, boaters would be forced to make long detours.

The lift is designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is a priceless piece of our living heritage. It was brought back to life through a complete restoration over 20 years ago and we constantly invest in the upkeep and maintenance of the structure, but now major refurbishment work is now required.

In addition to the work required to preserve and protect the iconic structure, there is a plan to invest in the site to enhance the visitor experience and create an even better day out. We will celebrate Anderton through installing new indoor and outdoor event areas, adding more play areas and providing more space for education programmes and opportunities.

Richard Parry and Fran Littlewood at the Anderton appeal launch

Project timetable

The first milestone was achieved in December 2022, when the Trust was awarded a £574,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to support the development phase.

We will soon be appointing the main contractor who will design and plan the works programme. Also, we are seeking further grant funding and support from local businesses and philanthropists, which will be vital in enabling us to deliver the project.

We are planning to close the lift in early summer 2025 and reopen it 12-18 months later. This means that boaters and visitors can expect to enjoy a full season of boating in 2024 and potentially a short window around the following Easter, before it is wrapped in a protective encapsulation skin to give it a special 150th anniversary upgrade.

Last Edited: 20 June 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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