Rochdale Canal

Rochdale Canal

The Rochdale Canal is a navigable "broad" canal in northern England, part of the connected system of the Canals of Great Britain. The "Rochdale" in its name refers to the town of Rochdale, Greater Manchester, through which the canal passes.

The Rochdale is a Broad canal because its bridges and locks are wide enough to allow vessels of 14ft width. The canal runs for 32 miles (51 kilometres) across the Pennines from the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield Basin in Manchester to join the Calder and Hebble Navigation at Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire.

As originally built, the canal had 92 locks. Whilst the traditional lock numbering has been retained on all restored locks, and on all the relocated locks, the canal now has only 91 locks. The former locks 3 & 4 have been replaced with a single deep lock (Tuel Lane Lock), which is numbered as 3/4


The Rochdale Canal was conceived in 1776, when a group of 48 eminent men from Rochdale raised £237 and commissioned James Brindley to conduct a survey of possible routes between Sowerby Bridge and Manchester. [ Rochdale Observer: A brief history of the Rochdale Canal] ] He proposed a route similar to that built, and another more expensive route via Bury. [ Jim Shead, "History of the Rochdale Canal"] ] Further progress was not made until 1791, when John Rennie was asked to make a new survey in June, and two months later to make surveys for branches to Rochdale, Oldham and to some limeworks near Todmorden. The first attempt to obtain an Act of Parliament was made in 1792, but was opposed by millers, concerned about water supply, and it was not until 4 April 1794 that an act was obtained which created the Rochdale Canal Company and authorised the construction of the canal. [ Joseph Priestley, (1831), "Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers, Canals, and Railways, of Great Britain"] ] Further acts of parliament were obtained in 1800, 1804 and 1806, the main purpose of which was to raise additional finance.

The canal was opened up in stages, as it was completed, with the Rochdale Branch being the first in 1798, further sections in 1799, and the bottom nine locks opening in 1800, so that boats from the Ashton Canal could reach Manchester. [ Rochdale Observer: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the Rochdale Canal] ] Officially, the canal opened in 1804, but construction work continued for another three years. A 1.5 mile (2.4km) branch from Heywood to Castleton was opened in 1834.

Because of its width, it was more successful than the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and became the main highway of commerce between Lancashire & Yorkshire. Cotton, wool, coal, limestone, timber, salt and general merchandise were transported. In 1890 the canal company had 2,000 barges and traffic reached 700,000 tons/year, the equivalent of 50 barges a dayNew Moston History Society cite web
title=Rochdale Canal|accessdate=2007-12-16
] . But this traffic soon faced competition from the Manchester and Leeds Railway (1841). By cutting tolls the canal managed to maintain business and for a time remained profitable but by the start of the 20th century it was in trouble. In 1923 the canal's reservoirs were sold to the Oldham and Rochdale Joint Water Board. Most of the canal (apart from a short profitable section in Manchester linking the Bridgewater and Ashton Canals) was closed in 1952 when an act of parliament was obtained to ban public navigation (the last complete journey having taken place in 1937) and by the mid 1960s the remainder was almost unusable. Construction of the M62 motorway in the late 1960s took no account of the canal, cutting it in two.


With the growth in leisure boating, a campaign was mounted for its re-opening. The first section to be restored was the nine locks between the junction with the Ashton Canal and the Bridgewater Canal, as a result of the Ashton Canal reopening in 1974. [ Pennine Waterways: Rochdale Canal History] ] The Rochdale Canal Society was formed, and worked hard both to protect the line of the canal and to begin the process of refurbishing it, concentrating on the section from Todmorden to Sowerby Bridge. Nearly 16 miles (25.7km) was opened in this way, with the section from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge opening in 1983, and the entire eastern section up to the summit opened by 1990. The reopened section was still isolated from the canal network. [ Inland Waterways Association: Historic Campaigns: Rochdale Canal] ] The next success was a re-fashioned link with the Calder and Hebble Canal (which had never closed) at Sowerby Bridge, which joined the restored section to the national network in 1996, and involves one of the candidates for the deepest lock on the British canal system (Tuel Lane Lock at nearly 20ft). In 2000, the canal, which had never been nationalised, passed from the control of the Rochdale Canal Company to the Waterways Trust, and an £23.8 million investment package was announced, with funding coming from the Millennium Commission, English Partnerships, and the councils of Oldham and Rochdale. [ [ Rochdale Observer: Thats the way the money went] ] As restoration proceeded, boats could travel further and further west, and the restoration of the sections through Failsworth and Ancoats were a significant part of the re-development of the north Manchester districts. On 1 July 2002, the restored sections joined up with the never-closed section in Manchester, thus re-opening the canal to navigation along its entire length.


The Rochdale is significant for leisure boating in that it is one of the three canals which cross the Pennines and thus join north-western canals with the waterways of the North East, as well as opening the possibilities of touring various Pennine Rings (the Huddersfield Narrow Canal had reopened the year before, and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal had never closed).

A great attraction of the Rochdale Canal for the leisure boater lies in the fact that (unlike the Leeds and Liverpool and the Huddersfield Narrow) it climbs high over the Pennine moors rather than tunnelling through them, and the boater is surrounded by scenery which is correspondingly more spectacular (with the "penalty" of having to work more locks). [ [ Waterscape: Rochdale Canal] ]

The Rochdale is at the heart of several important leisure boating routes
* In Manchester, the Rochdale Canal connects the Ashton Canal to the Bridgewater Canal, and is thus a short link in the Cheshire Ring, a one- (or better, two-) week canal ring which has been popular for 30 years.
* The Ashton Canal connects to the western end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, making the Rochdale Canal part of the South Pennine Ring.
* The Bridgewater Canal connects to the western end of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, making the Rochdale Canal part of the North Pennine Ring.
* The Ashton and the Bridgewater connect the Rochdale to all the canals on the west side of England, including the Lancaster Canal, Trent and Mersey Canal and Macclesfield Canal.

East from Manchester, it crosses the Pennines via the hill towns and villages of Littleborough, Summit, Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, and Luddendenfoot (where Bramwell Brontë was a railway booking clerk). Finally, at Sowerby Bridge, its connection with the Calder and Hebble gives boats access to all the north-eastern waterways including the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, and the rivers Ouse and Trent (and, for boaters who wish to do a "ring", the eastern ends of the Huddersfield Narrow and Leeds/Liverpool canals).

The Rochdale has had many problems since reopening (often related to a shortage of water, because the canal's reservoirs had been sold off when the canal closed). In April 2005 the canal bank was breached between lock 60 and lock 63 Irk Aqueduct Breach [ from Pennine Waterways] ] , near the River Irk. Thousands of gallons of water surged down the river towards the nearby town of Middleton, echoing the great Middleton canal tragedy of 1927 Great Flood of Middleton [ from the Rochdale Observer] ] . The canal re-opened in Summer 2006, but had problems throughout the season.

The high frequency of navigation restrictions (and the need to book passage through Tuel Lane lock, and across the summit pound) means that anyone planning to use the canal should consult the British Waterways website. [ [ Waterscape: Rochdale Canal: Boating] ]

External links

* [ Rochdale Canal]
* [ British Waterways Leisure Site]
* [ News item about Farmer responsible for vandalised sections]


*"Pearson's Canal Companion: Pennine waters" ISBN 0-9545383-4-X

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