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History of the Leeds Liverpool Canal

Our 30’ narrowboat is a familiar sight as she cruises the West Lancashire stretch of the canal but
how much do we really know about the Leeds Liverpool canal ?

The canal was originally proposed in the 1760’s with Yorkshire stone and coal barons keen to find
a way of getting their products to the thriving port of Liverpool. An Act was passed in 1770 to
raise funds and work started at Halsall. The original budget was £260,000 which would now be
£35m ! The canals saw the birth of the civil engineer and their engineering skills and
entrepreneurial talents played a major role in overcoming the huge challenges. Thomas Telford is
probably the best known of the engineers with his bridge over the River Menai another of his
landmark achievements.

The canal was dug entirely by manual labour and was back breaking work. The standard
dimensions were 40’ width at the surface and 26’ at the bottom of the 5’ depth. There are 91
locks which were build with the intention of allowing wide beam boats to transport heavier loads.
These were known as ‘broad boats’ and could carry 45 tons of coal or limestone. The craft were
towed by canal horses, led by one of the barge’s crew. The district of Lathom became famous for
supplying most of the horses used by the British Army in WW 1. Due to budgetary constraints the
canal was only completed in 1816 when it became possible to make the full 127 mile journey
through the Yorkshire Dales, Pennines and arrive in Liverpool. A ten day journey including 91

The canal was a huge success commercially, competing with railways even as they grew in
prominence. Barges would queue to pass through locks and would pay a toll to land owners who
had lost land to the canal. Water supply was an issue, especially in summer. The bargees lived on
their boats, often several generations sleeping in a single cabin. The horses were usually better
fed than the crew ! The decline of commercial traffic started in the 1960s with the closure of canal
side collieries particularly devastating. Most of the UK canals fell into disrepair with stretches
becoming unnavigable due to collapses and debris.

In the 1980s a major funding drive by British Waterways (now Canal and River Trust) restored
many of the canals and saw a huge increase in the popularity of leisure boating, now the main
activity on the UK canals. A journey to London is possible via canals or you access The Lancaster
Canal via The Ribble Link. If you wish you can travel coast to coast. Liverpool to Goole via Leeds.
The waterways are home to a wide variety of wildlife. Graceful swans, flitting kingfishers,
cantankerous coots and mad moorhens all brighten up the canals.

So, the next time you walk, cycle, bird watch or boat along the Leeds Liverpool canal, take a look around and
appreciate the incredible task of building them and how they helped fuel and build the Industrial
Revolution. The barge families took great pride in their onerous trade and you will occasionally
see a modern narrowboat decorated in the traditional scrollwork. Water buckets painted with
flowers and bird designs in the original style.

At Lancashire Canal Cruises, our skippers are also your guides and will point out unique features
along the journey. Locally quarried sandstone bridges, ‘stop plank’ emergency dams and hidden
pill boxes from WW 2 are just a sample of a heritage treasure trove including the little known
secret about the distance markings on the milestones.

Holly, on the admin side was brilliant and was so accommodating. She helped me so much and understood that I needed to change my date. The overall experience was beyond brilliant. Thank you all so much!

Leah Johnson

A really nice assortment of cakes, chocolate, battenburg, fruit tart, scones cream and jam. plenty of fresh fruit, strawberries, raspberries, tangerine. Unlimited tea, with juice and a wine for the non driver. A very nice journey circa 2 hours, very informative about the area and it's history, learned so much.

John Lyne

Fabulous day out had by all..we will be returning very soon..x

Anne Murdoch

Had a wonderful afternoon, the last trip before lock down 2. Greeted really well by our captain and host. Everything explained by really well. Plenty of food and really fresh. Beef chicken and cheese sandwiches, gerkins and tomatoes.

John Lyne

Fantastic experience plus I loved the hotpot loaded with mince and topped of with crisp baked crusty potato it's a slow look at what's on show that we miss in our cars it's a must do trip

Howard Moss

Lovely afternoon tea cruise along the canal. Mark was very knowledgeable and friendly. Would definitely recommend this.

Carol Eastwood

It helped that it was a beautiful sunny day. The skipper, Mark was very insightful giving us a talk on the local history of the canal as we made our way to Burscough Wharf and back again.

Tony Houston

Nice way too spend a few hours took my mother for a mothers day treat great food fantastic host wish it hadn't been raining thanks very much

Gary Chadbond

Just got back from an amazing cruise with afternoon tea with this company. The food was lovely and fresh!
The skipper, Mark was lovely and professional! He was so naturally friendly and explained everything about the history of barges and the area. He was so knowledgeable. The cruise itself was beautiful and relaxing.

Leah Johnson

What a wonderful experience! Mark was such a great host, very kind and helpful. We miss our trip because of car crash on the road, he not only accommodate us on the next trip but he make us fresh afternoon tea and he place us in the best part of the boat! I can’t explain what a wonderful people and what a experience we had ! Truly amazing! Definitely try for yourself !!! Thank you Mark! See you soon!

Plamena Dimitrova