The Runcorn Locks Restoration Society (RLRS) believes that valuable benefits will be derived from restoring the first of the two lines of locks which were constructed in Runcorn to connect the Bridgewater Canal, originally to the River Mersey and later to the Manchester Ship Canal.
Restoration of the locks will return to use a historically important part of our industrial heritage. It will also create two new canal cruising rings, one small, taking in the River Weaver plus the historic Anderton Boat Lift and a larger one involving the Shropshire Union Canal. Evidence from other parts of the country indicates that the creation of these rings and the regeneration of the canal corridors through which they run will result in enhanced economic, social and recreational benefits for a wide range of people.
The first aim of the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society is therefore to work with others to ensure that the locks are restored to full working order. Later the Society will work to preserve, protect and improve the locks for the benefit of future generations.
A considerable part of the flight of 5 two-rise staircase lock chambers are still intact. They are clearly visible from a footpath leading from Percival Lane Runcorn to the Historic Bridgewater House on the banks of the Ship Canal. The area is being developed for new housing etc. but the line has been protected by the Halton Borough Council who are very supportive of the plan to reopen the locks.
The Inland Waterways Association’s 2005 National Festival & Inland Boat Show was held at Preston Brook. In 2004 IWA’s National Campaign Rally was held in Runcorn. This national organisation believes that Runcorn Locks are important enough to make it worthwhile to have brought the country’s biggest inland waterways event there, attracting hundreds of boaters from all over the country to give their support.
The main obstacle to restoration lies at the top of the flight just beyond the elegant Waterloo Bridge where in the 1960’s the feeder roads leading to the famous Runcorn Suspension Bridge were constructed over the site of the top lock of the flight. The good news here is that second crossing of the River Mersey has been started and is due to open autumn 2017. When complete, around 80% of the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge traffic will be redirected to the new crossing and there will then be the opportunity to remove the obstruction.
What the Society needs is to be able to show potential funds holders that there is a widespread desire to see the locks restored and to achieve this we need your help by becoming a member of the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society. To find out how click here
A brief history of Runcorn Locks
Opened 17th July 1761 the Bridgewater is often considered to be the first true canal in Britain, as it relied upon existing watercourses as sources of water rather than as navigable routes. The then greatest canal undertaking in the world. Its success inspired a period of intense canal building in Britain, known as "canal mania".
Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater obtained Parliamentary permission to extend the canal westwards to Runcorn where it would join the tidal Mersey and give Manchester direct access to the seaport of Liverpool. The original route was to make the terminus at Hempstones, now part of Wigg Island.
Linking Hull and Liverpool, the great seaports of the time, is the Trent and Mersey canal. The last 7 miles connecting with the Bridgewater at Preston Brook was paid for by the Duke of Bridgewater in order to prevent the Trent and Mersey terminating at the River Weaver. It was brought about by the Gower-Egerton-Wedgwood lobby or “great schemers of Staffordshire” as they became known to those opposing the route. Their plan for joining the ports was a national one designed to benefit England, challenging the economic establishment of the time and beginning a new era.
The Duke having first spent his personal fortune and borrowing from whoever he could found it difficult to borrow city money for what many considered a hare-brained scheme. Gilbert, his land agent and engineer often had to go around with what amounted to a begging bowl to find the cash to pay the labourers. Eventually the workmen refused to work unless their wages were paid on a regular weekly basis.
Runcorn basin the current terminus of the canal is 82 feet above the Mersey. On the last day of 1772, Runcorn locks, a flight of ten double staircase locks were opened. The Heart of Oak a vessel of 50 tons was first to pass through the locks. Josiah Wedgwood, there with his children described them as "a work of Titans". Nine locks had a fall of 7 feet and the river lock had a fall of 20 feet at low tide, enabling vessels to enter and leave the Mersey on any tide.
Such was the great expansion of waterborne merchandise passing up and down them that it was necessary to build a second new line completed in 1828. For over 160 years flats and narrow boats locked up and down them in great numbers. The new line of locks was used for traffic heading to Manchester, while the old line was used for traffic passing down to the Mersey. The Runcorn and Weston Canal was built in 1858–59, providing a connection between Runcorn Docks and the Weaver Navigation.
The old line of locks in Runcorn fell into disuse in the late 1930s, and they were closed under the Ship Canal Act of 1949 and filled in. The Ship Canal Act of 1966 allowed the closure and filling in of the newer line of locks. The gates from this flight of locks were removed and installed at Devizes on the Kennet & Avon Canal.