In the mid-18th century Lancaster was a prosperous port but this was threatened as ships grew in size making navigating up the River Lune difficult. Whilst the port at Liverpool in the south was flourishing, the future of the ports of Lancaster and Milnthorpe was in doubt. In an effort to re-invigorate trade, the merchants proposed building a canal which would start at Kendal and run almost due south through Lancaster, to Preston. Initially the scheme did not attract support in the town but eventually in 1770, a group determined to put Lancaster on the canal map won out and John Rennie was asked to survey the canal.
An act of Parliament was required and construction began in 1792. However, it took until 1826, through turbulent financial difficulties, until the south section from Walton Summit, 5 miles south of Preston to Wigan and the north section from Preston to Kendal was opened. The northern and southern sections were never linked by water, but rather by a tramway. In its heyday the waterway carried up to 460,000 tons of freight a year and it was known as the ‘Black and White Canal’ reflecting cargos of Kendal limestone and coal from Wigan.
Eventually through changing transportation requirement and technology, some sections of the canal were abandoned. In the 1960s the plans for the M6 motorway effectively split the canal in three sections north of Carnforth, thus denying access to this stretch of canal. This left only forty two of the original fifty seven miles north of Preston open to traffic.
However, there are long held views that the canal, an important part of our local history, culture and environment, should be preserved. This restoration work, co-ordinated by the Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership, is one of a number of important projects across the UK to restore the UK’s canal network which is gaining momentum.
The restoration is an ambitious multi-million pound project to re-open the most northerly 14 miles from Tewitfield to Canal Head in Kendal. The proposed scheme tackles three motorway and four trunk road crossings and includes the enhancement and conservation of 52 historically important and listed structures. There is also a programme of works on the ground and The Lancaster Canal Trust, with assistance from the Waterway Recovery Group and other volunteers have contributed to many canal-side locations, enhancing the environment and opening up social and leisure pursuits.
Come and experience the delights of the canal for yourself – the Lancaster Canal Trust are conducting a series of free boat trips (on a first come first served basis) throughout August and September on the Canal, and they extend an invitation to join the Trust’s narrowboat, Waterwitch, at Crooklands . See Lancaster’s Canal Trust’ Calendar of Events.
Alternatively, why not work up an appetite for your meal at Lancaster House by taking a leisurely stroll, joining the canal at Galgate, just minutes from the hotel.
- Written by +Tina Taylor