Leeds and Liverpool Canal

Coordinates: 53°47′34″N 01°32′53″W / 53.79278°N 1.54806°W / 53.79278; -1.54806
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Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Ainscoughs mill in Burscough
Maximum boat length62 ft 0 in (18.90 m)
(A 62' boat can traverse the whole canal; craft up to 72' formerly worked between Liverpool and Leigh.)
Maximum boat beam14 ft 4 in (4.37 m)
(Boats with a beam of 14' 4" can traverse the whole canal; craft with a beam up to 14' 6" formerly worked between Liverpool and Leigh.)
Maximum height above sea level487 ft (148 m)
Navigation authorityCanal & River Trust
Principal engineerJohn Longbotham
Other engineer(s)James Brindley
Robert Whitworth
Date of act1770
Construction began1770
Date of first use1774
Date completed1816
Date extended1822
Start point53°47′34″N 1°32′53″W / 53.7928°N 1.5480°W / 53.7928; -1.5480
End point53°24′11″N 2°59′34″W / 53.4030°N 2.9929°W / 53.4030; -2.9929
Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Neville Street, Leeds city centre
Leeds railway station, Leeds city centre
Holl Beck Enters the River Aire
River Aire, Aire and Calder Navigation
Lock 1, River Lock, start of the Leeds and Liverpool (1)
River Aire / Railway / Leeds and Liverpool Canal
Bondman or Monkpit Dam
Formerly the Canal Warehouse
Canal Basin, Granary Wharf, Leeds city centre
Monkpit Branch – Monkpit Lock was beneath the railway
Formerly the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Office
Access to Granary Wharf, beneath the railway station
Lock 2, Office Lock, Leeds city centre (1)
Tower Works – three listed towers
Railway Bridge 225H
Leeds to Shipley
Leeds to Shipley
Footbridge over the River Aire from the canal towpath
Monk Bridge 225G, Whitehall Road
Viaduct approach to Leeds Central Railway Station
Lock 3, St Ann's Ing Lock (1)
Bridge 225D  A58  Wellington Road
Formerly the Lock Keepers Cottage, Oddy Locks, Wortley
Locks 4–5, Oddy Two Rise Staircase Locks (2)
Lock 6, Spring Garden Lock (1)
Danish Camp (Site of), Giant's Hill, Armley
Leeds–Harrogate Railway aka Kirkstall Viaduct, Harrogate line
Footbridge to Milford Place / Botany Bay Wharf
Viaduct Road / Canal Road, Bridge 225A
Entrance to Armley Mills Industrial Museum, from Canal Road
Armley Mills Industrial Museum
Airedale line (Leeds–Bradford/Skipton) and the Settle & Carlisle
Aire Valley Marina
Redcote Lane / Redcote Lane footbridge
Wyther Lane aka Amen Corner
Broad Lane, leading to Bramley
Kirkstall Brewery
Bridge 221A,  B6157  Bridge Road
Lock 7, Kirkstall Lock (1)
Kirkstall Abbey
Locks 8–10, Forge Three Rise Staircase Locks (3)
Kirkstall Forge / Bramley Fall Woods
Locks 11–13, Newlay Three Rise Staircase Locks (3)
Footbridge / Pollard Lane, Newlay
Ross Mills Weir / Ross Mill Swing Bridge 219
Rodley Nature Reserve
Moss Bridge Road / Moss Swing Bridge 218
Bridge Road Swing Bridge 217
Bridge 216A
 A6120  Leeds Ring Road, Rodley
Packhorse bridge / Owl Swing Bridge 216
Calverley Bridge
Lodge Swing Bridge 215, Calverley
Thornhill Bridge 214B, Parkin Lane leading to Calverley Cutting
Bridge 214A,  A658  Harrogate Road
Apperley Bridge Marina
Apperley Road / Millman Swing Bridge 214
Locks 14–15, Dobson Two Rise Staircase Locks (2)
Canal and River Trust Office, Dobson Locks, Apperley Bridge
Airedale line (Leeds-Bradford/Skipton) and the Settle & Carlisle
Idle Swing Bridge 212
Esholt Footbridge
Locks 16–18, Field Three Rise Staircase Locks (3)
Footbridge, Baildon / Buck Hill Swing Bridge 211, Thackley
Oddies Swing Bridge 210
Wharfedale line
Dock Swing Bridge 209, Dock Lane, Shipley
Bradford Wharfs
Locks (10)
Lock 19, Hirst Lock (1)
Dowley Gap, seven-arch aqueduct over the River Aire
Locks 20–21, Dowley Gap Two Rise Staircase Locks (2)
Locks 22–24, Bingley Three Rise Locks (3)
Locks 25–29, Bingley Five Rise Locks (5)
Thanet Canal
(or Springs Branch)
Lock 30, Holme Bridge Lock (1)
Eshton Beck
Locks 31–35, Gargrave locks (5)
Priest Holme Rly bridge
Priest Holme aqueduct over the River Aire
Winterburn reservoir
Locks 36–41, Bank Newton locks (6)
LancashireYorkshire border (Bedlam Dike)
Locks 42–44, Greenberfield locks (3)
Summit pound
Lower Park Marina, Barnoldswick
Pre 1974 Lancashire–Yorkshire border (County Brook)
Foulridge Tunnel
(1640 yd)
Slipper Hill & Whitemoor reservoirs
Foulridge reservoirs (2)
Barrowford reservoir
Summit pound
Locks 45–51, Barrowford locks (7)
Colne Water
 M65  bridge
Reedley Marina
Burnley to Bootle
Burnley to Bootle
Burnley Embankment
Burnley Wharf / Weavers' Triangle visitor centre
Burnley Barracks & Burnley Manchester Road
 M65  aqueduct
Gannow Tunnel
(559 yd)
 M65  bridges (4)
 M65  aqueduct
Rishton Reservoir
Locks 52–57, Blackburn locks (6)
River Darwen
Locks 58–64 Johnson's Hill locks (7)
Formerly the Lancaster Canal
Manchester–Preston line
 A6  Bolton Road
White Bear Marina, Adlington
Formerly the Lancaster Canal
Locks 65–85, Wigan locks (East of Leigh branch) (21)
Wigan Junction
Poolstock locks (2)
Leigh Branch
West Coast Main Line
River Douglas
Locks 86–87, Wigan locks (West of Leigh branch) (2)
Wigan Pier
Locks 88–89, Pagefield and Ell Meadow Locks (2)
Crooke Village Marina
Locks 90–94, Dean Locks and Appley Locks (4)
Tarleton Lock connects to River Douglas
8 locks on branch
Rufford Branch
Scarisbrick Marina
Liverpool Canal Link
Stanley Dock locks (4)
Eldonian Basin, Liverpool
Philips Street coal yards basin (closed 1960s)
Clarkes Basin (closed 1886)
Stanley Dock
Tunnels (3) Pier Head
Mann Island Lock
Tidal gate
Canning Dock

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in Northern England, linking the cities of Leeds and Liverpool.

Over a distance of 127 miles (204 km), crossing the Pennines, and including 91 locks on the main line. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal has several small branches, and in the early 21st century a new link was constructed into the Liverpool docks system.



In the mid-18th century the growing towns of Yorkshire, including Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, were trading increasingly. While the Aire and Calder Navigation improved links to the east for Leeds, links to the west were limited. Bradford merchants wanted to increase the supply of limestone to make lime for mortar and agriculture using coal from Bradford's collieries and to transport textiles to the Port of Liverpool.[1] On the west coast, traders in the busy port of Liverpool wanted a cheap supply of coal for their shipping and manufacturing businesses and to tap the output from the industrial regions of Lancashire. Inspired by the effectiveness of the wholly artificial navigation, the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1759–60. A canal across the Pennines linking Liverpool and Hull (by means of the Aire and Calder Navigation) would have obvious trade benefits.

A public meeting took place at the Sun Inn in Bradford on 2 July 1766 to promote the building of such a canal.[2] John Longbotham was engaged to survey a route. Two groups were set up to promote the scheme, one in Liverpool and one in Bradford. The Liverpool committee was unhappy with the route originally proposed, following the Ribble valley through Preston, considering that it ran too far to the north, missing key towns and the Wigan coalfield. A counter-proposal was produced by John Eyes and Richard Melling, improved by P.P. Burdett, which was rejected by the Bradford committee as too expensive, mainly because of the valley crossing at Burnley. James Brindley was called in to arbitrate, and ruled in favour of Longbotham's more northerly route, though with a branch towards Wigan, a decision which caused some of the Lancashire backers to withdraw their support, and which was subsequently amended over the course of development. In 1768 Brindley gave a detailed estimate of a distance just less than 109 miles (175 km) built at a cost of £259,777 (equivalent to about £32.67 million as of 2014).[3]

An Act was passed in May 1770 authorising construction, and Brindley was appointed chief engineer and John Longbotham clerk of works; following Brindley's death in 1772, Longbotham carried out both roles.


First phase[edit]

Bingley Five Rise Locks

A commencement ceremony was held at Halsall, north of Liverpool on 5 November 1770, with the first sod being dug by the Hon. Charles Mordaunt of Halsall Hall. The first section of the canal opened from Bingley to Skipton in 1773.[4] By 1774 the canal had been completed from Skipton to Shipley, including significant engineering features such as the Bingley Five Rise Locks, Bingley Three Rise Locks and the seven-arch aqueduct over the River Aire, at Dowley Gap. Also completed was the branch to Bradford. On the western side, the section from Liverpool to Newburgh was dug. By the following year the Yorkshire end had been extended to Gargrave, and by 1777 the canal had joined the Aire and Calder Navigation in Leeds.[4] From Liverpool it had reached Wigan by 1781, replacing the earlier and unsatisfactory Douglas Navigation. By now, the subscribed funds and further borrowing had all been spent, and work stopped in 1781 with the completion of the Rufford Branch from Burscough to the River Douglas at Tarleton. The war in the American colonies and its aftermath made it impossible to continue for more than a decade.[5]

Second phase[edit]

In 1789 Robert Whitworth developed fresh proposals to vary the line of the remaining part of the canal, including a tunnel at Foulridge, lowering the proposed summit level by 40 feet (12 m), using a more southerly route in Lancashire. These proposals were authorised by a fresh Act in 1790, together with further fund-raising, and in 1791, construction of the canal finally recommenced south-westward from Gargrave,[4] heading toward Barrowford in Lancashire. By this time planning for the competing Rochdale Canal was under way and it was likely to offer a more direct journey to Liverpool via Manchester and the Bridgewater Canal. The same year John Rennie surveyed a branch of the Rochdale between Todmorden and Burnley.[6]

In 1794 an agreement was reached with the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal company to create a link near Red Moss near Horwich.[7] The company's experiences running the two sections of the canal had shown that coal not limestone would be its main cargo,[1] and that there was plenty of income available from local trade between the settlements along the route. With this in mind in the same year, the route was changed again with a further Act,[4] moving closer to that proposed by Burdett.

The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal company proposed another link from Bury to Accrington. This new link would have been known as the Haslingden Canal. The Peel family asked the canal company not to construct the crossing over the River Hyndburn above their textile printworks; such a crossing would have required the construction of embankments, and reduced the water supply to their factories.[5] Consequently, Accrington was bypassed and the Haslingden Canal was never built.

Yet more fund-raising took place, as the Foulridge Tunnel was proving difficult and expensive to dig. The new route took the canal south via the expanding coal mines at Burnley,[8] Accrington and Blackburn, but would require some sizable earthworks to pass the former. The completion in 1796 of the 1,640 yards (1,500 m) long Foulridge Tunnel and the flight of seven locks at Barrowford enabled the canal to open to eastern Burnley.[4] At a cost of £40,000 (about £3.65 million in 2014). The tunnel became the most expensive single item in the whole project.[9][10]

At Burnley, rather than using two sets of locks to cross the shallow Calder valley, Whitworth designed the Burnley Embankment, a 1,350 yards (1,234 m) long and up to 60 feet (18 m) high earthwork. It would also require another 559 yards (511 m) tunnel nearby at Gannow and a sizeable cutting to allow the canal to traverse the hillside between the two. It took 5 years to complete this work, with the embankment alone costing £22,000 (about £1.55 million in 2014{{efn|Comparing the historic opportunity cost of £22,000 in 1801 with 2014.).[11] Whitworth died aged 64, on 30 March 1799 and Samuel Fletcher, previously the inspector of works took over as engineer.[12] Once the Burnley work was completed, the canal opened to Enfield near Accrington in 1801.[4] It would be another 9 years until it reached Blackburn only 4 miles away. Following the French Revolution, Britain had been at war with France from 1793 to 1802. The peace proved temporary, with the Napoleonic Wars beginning the following year. High taxes and interest rates during this period made it difficult for the company to borrow money, and the pace of construction inevitably slowed.

Third phase[edit]

In 1804 Samuel Fletcher also died and his brother Joseph and son James were jointly appointed to replace him and they were provided with Gannow House in Burnley.[13] In 1805 they estimated the cost of linking Enfield to Red Moss would be £245,275 and £101,725 for the shorter continuation to Wigan (totalling about £27.36 million in 2014).[14] The planned link with the Manchester, Bolton and Bury did not materialize.

The latest plan for the route had it running parallel to, and then crossing the southern section of the Lancaster Canal, but common sense prevailed and the Leeds and Liverpool connected with the Lancaster Canal between Aspull and Johnson's Hillock. The main line of the canal was thus completed in 1816.

There had been various unsuccessful negotiations to connect the canal to the Bridgewater Canal at Leigh but agreement was finally reached in 1818 and the connection was opened in 1820, thus giving access to Manchester and the rest of the canal network. The Bridgewater Canal, like most of Brindley's designs was for narrow boats of 72 feet (22 m) length, whereas the Leeds and Liverpool had been designed for broad boats of 62 feet (19 m) length. There was naturally a desire by the narrow boats to reach Liverpool and the locks of the westerly end of the canal were extended to 72 feet (22 m) in 1822.

James Fletcher continued as engineer until his death in 1844.[14]


The canal took almost 50 years to complete; in crossing the Pennines the Leeds and Liverpool had been beaten by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Rochdale Canal. The most important cargo was always coal, with over a million tons per year being delivered to Liverpool in the 1860s. Even in Yorkshire, more coal was carried than limestone. Once the canal was fully open, receipts for carrying merchandise matched those of coal. The heavy industry along its route, together with the decision to build the canal with broad locks, ensured that (unlike the other two trans-Pennine canals) the Leeds and Liverpool competed successfully with the railways throughout the 19th century and remained open through the 20th century.

20th century[edit]

A concrete pillbox by the canal
1890s warehouse - Weavers' Triangle - Leeds and Liverpool Canal

The canal suffered some damage during the Second World War. It was breached when a German bomb fell on it in Bootle.[15] The canal in West Lancashire was part of Britain's defensive plans against invasion. Along the canal there were tank traps, bunkers and blockhouses. Some buildings such as barns and pubs along the canal were fortified. There are still some remaining concrete pillboxes and brick built blockhouses.[16]

21st century[edit]

In August 2010, a 60-mile stretch of the canal was closed due to the low reservoirs, following the driest start to the year since records began. It was reopened the following month, although some restrictions remained.[17]

Liverpool Canal Link, Pier Head

The £22 million Liverpool Canal Link was completed in 2009, joining the Leeds and Liverpool Canal with the City Centre.[18]

On 11 October 2021 the stretch between Barrowford and Blackburn was closed following a breach in the canal appearing between bridges 109 and 110.[19][20]

Later that month, lock numbers 73 and 80 were among 142 sites across England to receive part of a £35-million grant from the government's Culture Recovery Fund.[21]


Tarleton Lock, where the Rufford Branch links into the River Douglas.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is 127 miles (204 km) long and crosses the country from Liverpool to Leeds, via East Lancashire and the Pennines. It was generally built with locks 60 ft (18 m) long and 14 ft 3 in (4.34 m) wide.[22]

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Wigan Pier
Leeds and Liverpool Canal near Granary Wharf in Leeds
Leeds to Liverpool Canal, Saltaire. Mill buildings built by Sir Titus Salt.
Bingley Five Rise Locks
The Double Arched bridge (number 161) at East Marton
Canal boats at Appley Bridge
Bell's Swing Bridge#16 in Lydiate

From Liverpool to Appley Locks, the canal runs for 27 miles (43 km) without locks, across the West Lancashire Coastal Plain.

The two main side-branches both connect to other waterways. The Rufford Branch links into the River Douglas and, via the Ribble Link and the River Ribble to the previously isolated Lancaster Canal. The Leigh Branch from Wigan leads to the Bridgewater Canal and thus to Manchester and the Midlands.[23]

The canal at Aintree passes close to the racecourse and gives the name to the course's Canal Turn.[24]

Places en route[edit]

Direction: East (top) to west (bottom)

Wigan flight
Leigh branch
Rufford branch:
Stanley Dock Branch:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Origin & Historic Development" (PDF). Bradford Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  2. ^ Clarke, Mike (1994). The Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Carnegie Publishing. ISBN 1-85936-013-0.
  3. ^ Priestley 1831, p. 386
  4. ^ a b c d e f "The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society Chronology". Northern Heritage. 2006. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  5. ^ a b Clarke, Mike. "The Leeds-Liverpool Canal". cottontown.org. Retrieved 18 August 2008.
  6. ^ Boucher, Cyril (1963). John Rennie The life and Work of A Great Engineer 1761–1821. Manchester University Press. p. 124.
  7. ^ Priestley 1831, p. 435
  8. ^ "Lancashire Historic Town Survey Programme Burnley" (PDF). Lancashire County Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2011.
  9. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  10. ^ Johnson, Gill (2014). "Canals came at high cost to human life". Lancashire Telegraph (published 12 February 2014). Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  11. ^ Hall, Brian (1977). Burnley: A Short History. Burnley: Burnley Historical Society. p. 40. ISBN 0-9500695-3-1.
  12. ^ Skempton 2002, pp. 230, 781
  13. ^ Historic England. "Gannow House, Burnley (1244807)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
  14. ^ a b Skempton 2002, p. 230
  15. ^ "Bridging the Pennines". www.bbc.co.uk. BBC. Retrieved 22 June 2019.
  16. ^ Fisher 2017, p. 274.
  17. ^ "British Waterways announces phased reopening of Leeds & Liverpool Canal". British Waterways. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010.
  18. ^ "New canal link to boost tourism". BBC News. 25 March 2009. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  19. ^ Mackinlay, Catherine (12 October 2021). "Leeds and Liverpool canal collapses in Lancs emptying waters overnight". Lancs Live. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  20. ^ "Dams installed after Leeds and Liverpool canal breach". BBC News. 13 October 2021. Retrieved 13 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Heritage and Craft Workers Across England Given a Helping Hand". Historic England. 22 October 2021. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  22. ^ "Leeds & Liverpool Canal". Canal & River Trust. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  23. ^ "Bridgewater Canal Leigh Branch – More Troubled Waters". Inland Waterways Association. 11 January 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  24. ^ "Grand National Fences & Course". Grand National. Retrieved 30 December 2018.


External links[edit]

53°47′34″N 01°32′53″W / 53.79278°N 1.54806°W / 53.79278; -1.54806