Leeds and Liverpool Canal

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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), it crosses the Pennines, and includes 91 locks on the main line. It 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 and the Bradford merchants wanted to increase the supply of limestone to their coal mines and to export their textiles to the port of Liverpool. 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 1759-1760. 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.[1] 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.

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.

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. 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 and on the western side it reached Wigan by 1781,[2] 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.

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