Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway project will provide a new road link to relive pressure on the existing road bridge at Runcorn. It’s being constructed to the east of the existing bridge, and scheduled for completion in late 2017.

Can you identify the four navigable waterways the route will cross – there’s a clue for one of them in the title of this post.

Runcorn Road Bridge
Runcorn Road Bridge

This is the iconic road bridge that carries all the road traffic across the River Mersey at Runcorn today but it’s very congested, especially around the rush hours. You can just see the parallel rail bridge behind.  These bridges also cross the Manchester Ship Canal.

It’s the approach roads to this road bridge that block the line of the Bridgewater Canal at Runcorn Locks.  It’s hoped that, when the Mersey Gateway Bridge is opened, that realignment or modification of the existing approach roads will permit re-opening of those locks.

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

Taken from the existing (old) road bridge this shows how wide the River Mersey (Waterway 1) is, and how little water it carries at low tide, with the many sandbanks that make navigation difficult.  Across the centre of the photo is a temporary causeway linking the piers with tower cranes on them which are building the new Mersey Gateway Bridge.  Running along the right hand edge of the river is the Manchester Ship Canal (Waterway 2).

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

A closer view shows the northern pier and the tower crane starting it’s construction.  The temporary causeway linking this to the north bank of the Mersey is visible too.  In the background are the cooling towers of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station.

Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route
Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route

To the south of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal the Mersey Gateway route will cross the Bridgewater Canal (Waterway 3) and construction of this bridge is well in hand.  It’s already shown on my maps and I wonder how long before others show this new bridge.

Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal
Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal

The towpath and navigation of the Bridgewater Canal remain open most of the time, with short temporary closures for critical phases of work on the bridge.

That’s three waterways named. Have you identified the fourth?

That’s to the north of the River Mersey

Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed
Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed

There’s no pictures of the bridge work over the fourth waterway yet – this is the nearest I can get to take a photo.  The Mersey Gateway will continue north (to the right in this photo) and cross the St Helens Canal (Waterway 4).

Well done if you identified the four waterways before reading this far down the post.  You will have realised these are (from North to South):

Mersey Gateway Map
Extract from England & Wales map showing the Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway is shown on my England & Wales waterway maps, and the individual maps for the Bridgewater Canal and the St Helens Canal.

How Big Is Your Bridge?

On the way back from seeing progress with repainting our boat in the autumn I took up an invitation to visit Willow Wren Training. They are excavating the arm at their training centre which had been filled in many years ago.  The short arm they had previously excavated had been stopped off, the fish removed, and the water pumped out.

> Stopped off arm at Willow Wren Training
Stopped off arm at Willow Wren Training

Looking the other way, the excavation is progressing.  The original walls have been found and it’s not known exactly how far the arm used to go, although old plans suggest there’s a little further to go. Careful digging will eventually reveal the end.

> Further excavations along the arm at Willow Wren Training.
Further excavations along the arm at Willow Wren Training.

A public footpath crossed the arm on the level before the excavation started and the right of way has been maintained by providing a new footbridge.

151030-1154Here’s Steve & Izzie Vaughan wondering how long the arm will  be when the excavation reaches the end.

Willow Wren Training's Bridge
Willow Wren Training’s Bridge

The style of the bridge looked familiar and Steve reminded me where I had seen it before.

Chesterfield Canal - Constitution Hill Bridge 11
Chesterfield Canal – Constitution Hill Bridge 11

It was on the Chesterfield Canal, near Staveley Basin, as Constitution Hill Bridge 11 on the open section from Chesterfield.

With Willow Wren’s bridge having six pairs of panels and Constitution Hill Bridge having four pairs of panels it looked like Willow Wren had the larger bridge, until I remembered another bridge.

Chesterfield Canal - Renishaw Foundry Footbridge 18B
Chesterfield Canal – Renishaw Foundry Footbridge 18B

On the section of the Chesterfield Canal which is still to be restored, where some work has already been undertaken, stands Renishaw Foundry Footbridge 18B.  This also has six pairs of panels, the same as Willow Wren Training’s bridge, so it looks like a draw.

You can see more about the excavation and progress to see how long the arm is on Willow Wren Training’s website.

Runcorn Locks

Runcorn Locks once linked the Bridgewater Canal to the Runcorn & Weston Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal and, previously, the River Mersey.

Bottom of Runcorn Old Locks
Bottom of Runcorn Old Locks leading onto the Manchester Ship Canal and, formerly, the River Mersey

History

Opened in 1776, the Bridgewater Canal was linked to the River Mersey at Runcorn by a flight of ten locks, arranged as five pairs of staircase locks. These became so busy another flight of ten individual locks was constructed to provide a parallel route, becoming known as Runcorn New Locks, while the original flight became know as Runcorn Old Locks. In 1859 the Runcorn & Weston Canal opened, completing a link between the River Weaver Navigation and the two lines of locks at Runcorn, forming junctions with them two locks from the bottom.

Runcorn New Locks
Runcorn New Locks are mostly built over with modern housing

When the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 the canal was shortened and opened into the ship canal, with a further lock, now derelict, allowing access from the ship canal to the River Mersey. The canal gradually fell into disuse and both old and new flights of locks were filled in around 1965 when the line was blocked by construction of the approach roads for the Runcorn Road Bridge.  The new locks line has been built over with modern houses but the line of Runcorn Old Locks has been preserved and the only obstacle to restoration seems to be the bridge approach roads.

Future

A new road crossing for the River Mersey, the Mersey Gateway, is under construction with opening planned for late 2017.  This will take much of the traffic from the old road bridge and may permit reconstruction or realignment of its approach roads to permit re-opening of the canal. The Runcorn Locks Restoration Society, formed in 2004, developed the Unlock Runcorn Campaign to support the restoration of Runcorn Old Locks. If this is accompanied by restoration of the Runcorn & Weston Canal to restore the route through to the River Weaver Navigation it will create a new cruising ring, including the Anderton Boat Lift.

Free Maps

You can download a map for the Runcorn & Weston Canal, including Runcorn Locks, in a choice of Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all my maps for restoration projects these are free to download.

Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map
Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map (which includes Runcorn Locks)

Virtual Cruise

You can take a virtual cruise through Runcorn Locks, showing the route as it appears today.  Just select your starting point and keep clicking the next links.

Runcorn & Weston Canal

The Runcorn & Weston Canal ran parallel to the River Mersey, through the outskirts of Runcorn, for 2.4km (1.5 miles).  At the southern end it joined the Weston Canal of the River Weaver Navigation through one lock.  At the northern end it joined the Runcorn New Locks and Old Locks lines of the Bridgewater Canal.

Runcorn & Weston Canal
Runcorn & Weston Canal

You can see more detail of the route by downloading the Runcorn & Weston Canal Maps in Acrobat (pdf) or Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all the maps for restoration projects these are free to download.

Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map
Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map

You can also see a little of those parts of the canal that are still accessible with a virtual cruise.  Just choose your starting point and keep clicking the Next links.

Start of the Runcorn & Weston Canal
Start of the Runcorn & Weston Canal

Ravenhead Canal

I hadn’t heard of the Ravenhead Canal until recently.  I discovered it while researching the St Helens Canal. The St Helens Canal has a Ravenhead Branch and Googling for that threw up references to the Ravenhead Canal.  Initially I thought they were just different names for the same waterway but I soon realised they were different waterways.

Route of the St Helens Canal
Route of the St Helens Canal

The Ravenhead Canal ran about 1.6km (1 mile) to the South West of St Helens, near Thatto Heath. The Ravenhead Canal and the Ravenhead Branch of the St Helens Canal served opposite ends of the Ravenhead Plate Glass Works and the Ravenhead Glass Bottle Works, taking their names from those.  Those industries evolved into the famous Pilkington Glass and the World of Glass straddles the canal in St Helens.

Ravenhead Canal Map
Ravenhead Canal Map

The Ravenhead Canal was about 550m (600 yards) long.  There is little information about the canal and it seems to have closed so long ago that there is hardly any trace of it on the 1906 Ordnance Survey Maps.  The former Alexandra Colliery, positioned roughly where the “R” of Ravenhead is on the map, the coming of the railway in a cutting, and levelling of land for modern housing have all changed the land levels since the canal was closed.

Two photographs, taken to show where the canal crossed the white coloured road in the centre of the map give no clue about the canal’s route.

The Ravenhead Canal once crossed here
The Ravenhead Canal once crossed here

Looking west along Elm Road.  The Ravenhead Canal would probably have crossed the line of the road between the 20 mph signs.

Route of the Ravenhead Canal
Route of the Ravenhead Canal

Looking East along Elm Road.  The Ravenhead Canal would probably have crossed below road level near the crest of the hill, where the 20 mph signs shown in the previous photo can just be seen.  Today the road crosses the railway line at the top of the hill, with the railway running behind the dark fence at the far end of the park on the right.

It’s not clear if Elm Road was there at the same time as the canal, but if it was it would have crossed over (rather than under) the canal which would have been around the level of the grass at the right of the photo. That would mean the houses on the left of the road are on land built up to road level with any trace of the canal well below their foundations.

St Helens Canal

History

The St Helens Canal ran from the River Mersey near Warrington to reach the outskirts of St Helens.  It’s sometimes known as the Sankey Canal as it used the line of the Sankey Brook in places. The broad locks enabled the barges already in use on the River Mersey to reach the Lancashire Coalfields.

The main line of the St Helens Canal was open by 1757, pre-dating the Bridgewater Canal by at least six years despite many claims that the Bridgewater Canal was the first.  Over the next twenty years four branches extended the St Helens Canal to reach the centre of St Helens and an extension of the main line reached Widnes.

Route of the St Helens Canal
Route of the St Helens Canal

The far end of the Ravenhead Branch was filled in over 100 years ago and gradual decline led to official abandonment of the canal in 1963.

Proposals for restoration face many obstacles but progress is already being made with the Linking the Locks project, restoring the line between the locks to the River Mersey at Widnes and Fiddler’s Ferry, with more information on the website of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society.

Maps of the St Helens Canal

Extract from St Helens Canal Map
Extract from St Helens Canal Map

There are detailed maps of the St Helens Canal on my website, available for download in Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all maps for restoration projects they are free to download.

Virtual Cruise of the St Helens Canal

You can also take a virtual cruise along the St Helens Canal and its branches.

Newton Common Lock
Newton Common Lock

Select your starting point and click on the Next links to see the canals as they are today.

Map Updates – January 2016 – Issue 46

The January 2016 monthly updates for my maps are now available on my website.

Extract from Bridgewater Canal Map
Extract from Bridgewater Canal Map

You can see a full list of the issued maps and those with significant changes are:

Remember, you can update your map to the latest version – free during the first year and a small charge after that.  You can also upgrade to a larger map.  Just email paul@waterwayroutes.co.uk with details of your existing maps for a no obligation quote.

Lapal Canal

The Lapal Canal is the name now associated with the restoration of the Dudley No 2 Canal using an alternative route in places.

History

The Dudley No 2 Canal once ran from Parkhead Junction , where it meets the Dudley No 1 Canal, to Selly Oak Junction where it met the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.  It opened in 1798 and carried significant traffic once the Worcester & Birmingham Canal was completed in 1802.

The route included Lapal Tunnel, some 3461 metres (3785 yards) long, the second longest canal tunnel at the time, just 20m (22 yards) shorter than Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames & Severn Canal.  The tunnel suffered many collapses, mostly caused by mining subsidence, and was abandoned after a major collapse in 1917.

Lapal Canal alignment
Lapal Canal alignment

The section of the Dudley No 2 Canal to the east of the abandoned tunnel remained navigable to a brick works at California until 1953 when it was drained and filled in.  To the the west of tunnel the navigation was effectively terminated at Hawne Basin, with a short length beyond being used for moorings.

In 1990 the Lapal Canal Trust was formed to support the restoration of the Dudley No 2 Canal, or Lapal Canal as the restoration section was becoming know.

Restoration

Restored Lapal Canal
Restored Lapal Canal at Leasowes

In 1997, Dudley Council restored a section of the canal at Leasowes (not far from Hawne Basin).

A study, commissioned from Atkins in 2007, confirmed that re-opening Lapal Tunnel was not practicable and recommended an alternative route using locks to take the canal over the top of the hill instead of through it.

In 2013, planning permission was granted  for development of a site alongside the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak which would block the line of the Lapal Canal and prevent restoration.  Fortunately, after considerable pressure from the public, the plans included provision for reinstatement of the canal, on a new alignment a little further south.  The developers will make provision for the canal but it’s not clear if they will finish construction and and open the route without additional external funding.  The development is expected to finish in 2017.

In late 2015 the next 100 metres of canal after the Selly Oak development was dug out and will become connected to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal by the new channel through the development, probably during 2017.

There are no more active plans for completing the Lapal Canal, although there is much local enthusiasm.

Further Information

Selly Oak Junction
Selly Oak Junction

You can view a virtual cruise along the canal, just choose your starting point and click the “Next” links:-

Extract from Lapal Canal Map
Extract from Lapal Canal Map

You can download free Lapal Canal maps in a choice of Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  These show both the original route of the Dudley No 2 Canal and the proposed route of the Lapal Canal.

Wednesbury Oak Loop

The Wednesbury Oak Loop is the name given to what was once a long meandering loop of the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) Main Line leaving the current Main Line at Deepfields Junction and re-joining at Bloomfield Junction, near Factory Junction.  This is sometimes known as the Bradley Arm.

The loop was severed many years ago with only the section between Deepfields Junction and Bradley Workshops remaining.  It was kept open to allow access to Bradley Workshops, where lock gates are manufactured, and to maintain the water supply from the pumps at Bradley to supply the rest of the BCN.

Route of the Bradley Canal
The Wednesbury Oak Loop links Deepfields Junction to Bradley Workshops

My previous blog post explained the proposals to turn this into a through navigation by reopening abandoned waterways under the name of Bradley Canal.

The Wednesbury Oak Loop can be cruised, and the towpath is in good condition and can be walked throughout, making a through walk including the route of the proposed Bradley Canal possible.  The whole route is shown in my Bradley Canal map and can be downloaded in both Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats and, like all the maps for restoration projects, the Bradley Canal maps are free to download.

Deepfields Junction Signpost
Deepfields Junction Signpost

I’ve made the photos from my recent walk into a virtual cruise, including the through route so you can click through the next buttons to complete your virtual cruise from the comfort of your chair.  Just choose your starting point

Bradley Canal

The Bradley Canal is the name being given to the waterway created by the proposed restoration of closed canals within the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN).  The Bradley Canal will provide a new route between the BCN Walsall Canal and the BCN Main Line.

Route of the Bradley Canal
Route of the Bradley Canal

This will include three distinct former waterways:

  • Bradley Branch, with nine locks between the Walsall Canal at Moorcroft Junction and Bradley Locks Junction
  • Rotton Brunt Line, a straight cut off section which once avoided a winding section of the Old Main LIne, from Bradley Locks JUnction to Batmans Hill Junction
  • Old Main LIne, from Batmans Hill Junction to Bradley Workshops

From  Bradley Workshops the canal is still open and forms:

  • The Old Main Line section usually known as the Wednesbury Oak Loop, and sometimes as the Bradley Arm, from Bradley Workshops to Deepfields Junction with the Main Line.
Extract from free Bradley Canal Map
Extract from free Bradley Canal Map

Detailed maps of the restoration route can be downloaded in both Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats and, like all the maps for restoration projects, the Bradley Canal maps are free to download.

Start of the Bradley Canal where it meets the Walsall Canal at Moorcroft Junction
Moorcroft Junction where the Bradley Canal meets the Walsall Canal

I walked the route recently and the paths are in good condition throughout.  I was surprised by the long range views available from the top of Bradley Locks.  Please take a look at the photos which form a virtual cruise along the Bradley Canal, starting at Moorcroft Junction where it meets the Walsall Canal, or at Bradley Workshops.