In November 2019 we held an exhibition at Garstang Library to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Lancaster Canal.  We were really pleased to work with the Canal and River Trust who supplied us with lots of information, including documents and photos.

The history of the canal

Promoted by wealthy merchants in the late 18th century, the Lancaster Canal was originally envisaged as a line from the Bridgewater Canal at Worsley through to Kendal.  The plans were torn up and redrawn several times, and the final incarnation as seen today bears little resemblance to the original proposals.

Cargo

The canal’s principal purpose was to transport coal north from the Lancashire coalfields, and limestone south from Cumbria.  The nature of these cargoes gave the waterway its local nickname – the Black and White Canal.  The Glasson branch (1820) allowed cargo transfer from seagoing vessels that could not navigate the increasingly shallow Lune estuary into Lancaster port.

The canal was built in two sections, north and south of the River Ribble.  John Rennie designed two major aqueducts, one over the Lune at Lancaster and one over the Ribble at Preston.  Due to problems with the foundations of the Lune aqueduct, the company ran out of sufficient money to build the Ribble aqueduct to connect the two sections.  Instead a tramway was built from Walton Summit to Preston.  This worked adequately, and the two sections were never connected.

Subsequently in 1816 a branch was opened from the southern section to the Leeds Liverpool canal at Johnson’s Hillock.  The section south of Preston became part of the much delayed Leeds Liverpool, who leased it in 1863 – and the tramway from Walton Summit to Preston was eventually closed in the 1880s.

North of Preston the waterway was fairly successful.  Because of the lack of locks the daily Packet Boat passenger service really was ‘express’ – Kendal could be reached from Preston in an unheard of 10 hours!  In fact the service was so comfortable that passengers on the daily runs between Preston and Kendal remained loyal to the waterway after the arrival of the railway.

Roads posed a more serious threat and after a general decline (the last cargo sailed in 1947) the construction of the M6 motorway through the line of the canal finally saw the 14 miles of the Northern Reaches isolated at Tewitfield Locks.  The isolated, largely unnavigeable section to the north is home to the only tunnel on the Lancaster canal, at Hincaster.

Information courtesy of the Canal and River Trust