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Leeds and Liverpool Canal
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in the north of England running from Liverpool, Merseyside to Leeds, West Yorkshire. The waterway is 127¼ miles ((205km) long, with a maximum elevation of 487½ feet (149m). Much of canal was built with locks 62-feet long and 14-feet wide (18.9m by 4.3m) to accommodate the barges already in use on the Rivers Aire and Humber, but the line from Wigan to Liverpool, and the Leigh Branch, were built with locks 72 feet long (22m) to accommodate the longer boats trading on the River Douglas. The most famous part of the canal may be the part at Aintree race course's Canal Turn.
The orginal Liverpool terminus was at Clarke's Basin near present day Old Hall street. The Leeds end of the canal runs into the Aire and Calder Navigation. At Liverpool a direct connection to the docks via Stanley Dock replaced Clarke's Basin. The canal's Rufford Branch links into the River Douglas and is part of the route linking the Lancaster Canal to the rest of the English canal system via the Ribble Link and the River Ribble. The Leigh Branch from Wigan leads to the Bridgewater Canal and thus to Manchester and the Midlands.
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 the links to the east for Leeds, links to the west were limited to primitive and unreliable road transport. On the west coast, traders in the busy port of Liverpool were restricted in their ability to sell their goods from around the world to the rich towns of Yorkshire. Inspired by the effectiveness of the wholly artifical navigation, the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1759-1760, a canal across the Pennines linking Liverpool and Hull (by means of the Aire and Calder) had 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. 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, considering that it ran too far to the north, missing key towns and the coalfields of south Lancashire. A counter-proposal was produced by John Eyes and Richard Melling, which was rejected by the Bradford committee was too expensive. James Brindley was called in to arbitrate, and ruled in favour of Longbotham's more northerly route, a decision which caused some of the Lancashire backers to withdraw their support, and which was subsequently amended over the course of development.
An Act was passed in May 1770 authorising construction, and James Brindley was appointed chief engineer and John Longbotham as clerk of works; following Brindley's death in 1772, Longbotham carried out both roles.
By 1774 the canal had been completed from Skipton to Shipley, including significant engineering features such as the Bingley Five Rise Lock and the seven-arch aqueduct over the River Aire. 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 in Leeds. 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 Wigan to the River Douglas.
In 1789 Robert Whitworth developed fresh proposals to vary the line of the remaining part of the canal, including a tunnel at Foulridge and a more southerly route in Lancashire. These proposals were authorised by a fresh Act in 1790, together with further fund-raising. In 1794 a further Act was granted authorising yet another change of route, and yet more fund-raising, as Foulridge Tunnel was proving difficult and expensive to dig. It opened in 1796, some 1640 yards (1500m) long. The new route took the canal south via Burnley and Blackburn, but the latter was not reached until 1810. The latest plan for the route had it paralleling the isolated southern end of the Lancaster Canal, but commonsense prevailed and the Leeds and Liverpool connected with the Lancaster Canal between Wigan and Johnson's Hillock. The main line of the canal was thus completed in 1816.
Having taken almost forty years to complete, the Leeds and Liverpool had been beaten to it by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Rochdale Canal to cross the Pennines, but the heavy industry along its route, together with the wise decision to build the canal with broad locks ensured that, unlike the other two transpennine canals, the Leeds and Liverpool maintained commercial traffic well into the leisure era, and there was never any suggestion of closure.
Places on the route
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