HISTORY OF THE SANKEY CANAL
Our September Talk - Reviewed by Mary Champion
On Tuesday 18th September, Peter Keen gave us a talk and slide show which he entitled 'The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Sankey Canal'. It was a tale of triumph. We heard about the building of the canal, its heyday, its decline, and its miraculous rebirth.
In the 1700s Liverpool was growing fast and needed cheap coal. So did the Cheshire salt industry. The turnpike roads were in very poor repair, and it was felt that improvement of the waterways might be the answer to the transport problem. The Sankey Brook was proposed as being a suitable waterway, and Parliamentary powers were obtained to make it navigable. But, instead of this, a separate canal - the first in England - was built alongside it by the engineer Henry Berry from Parr. This canal carried coal downstream from the St Helens area, and later carried other raw materials upstream for the industries in the growing town. Ten locks had to be built, because the ground was not level.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in 1830. This - the first railway in England - crossed over the Sankey Canal which was 70 feet below. A railway link from St Helens opened in 1832, and in 1845 the St Helens Canal and Railway Company was formed to operate both the canal and the railway. Many industries were established alongside the canal, but its heyday was quite short-lived. Competition from the railways meant that it was gradually used less and less. In 1958 the Sankey Sugar Works, situated directly alongside the canal, ceased to use it. This factory was its last regular customer, and the canal was officially closed in 1963. The locks soon became derelict. In 1984 a lock-keeper's cottage was demolished, and the rubble dumped in the canal.
Peter Keen, our speaker, and other energetic people decided to restore the canal to navigable standards, and in 1985 the Sankey Canal Restoration Society was formed. By 1992, half the canal was clear. The local authorities were very co-operative; they wanted to clean up the area and had made a good job of restoring two sets of lock gates. The ultimate aim is to link the canal to the national network. There is a canal archive, guided walks, way-marked paths, all supported by dedicated fund-raisers.
Peter gave us a good evening, with lots of slides, and showed us what can be done with a lot of hard work and enthusiasm.