The National Waterways Museum
The National Waterways Museum has one of the world's largest floating collections of traditional canal craft. They include narrowboats, canal barges, river barges, canal and river tugs, icebreakers and a coaster.
The National Waterways Museum (NWM) provides an experience for visitors to learn about the important history and significance of Britain’s canals and waterways. It houses a large collection of artefacts, archives, and historic boats that comprehensively overview how these waterways impacted the country’s development.
The NWM is run by the Canals & Rivers Trust (CRT), which aims to preserve and promote the heritage of the inland waterways in the UK.
The NWM is located in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, England, at the junction of the Shropshire Union Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal. During the Industrial era, this location was an important transhipment dock. Today, the site is peaceful and allows visitors to explore the history of the waterways and enjoy the serene surroundings.
Ellesmere Port and The Industrial Age
Ellesmere Port’s history can be traced back to the Netherpool Port, which Thomas Telford and William Jessop designed for the Ellesmere Canal project. The project aimed to connect the Mersey and Severn Rivers to allow commercial transportation between the two. Unfortunately, the project was never fully realised due to financial constraints and low expected revenue from boat traffic.
Despite this setback, the port continued to operate until the 1950s, serving boats that used the Chester Canal. In 1845, the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company took over the port and amalgamated several canals, including the Ellesmere Canal, into the Shropshire Union Canal.
The National Waterways Museum Information
S Pier Rd, Ellesmere Port CH65 4FW, UK
Wednesday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Thursday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Friday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Sunday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
NOTE: Canalside venues often have seasonal opening hours. They can be subject to change. So, it's always advisable to check with the venue before visiting.
The Birth of the Waterways Museum
During the 1970s, a museum was established at the unused port, originally named the North West Museum of Inland Navigation. It underwent various name changes before becoming the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.
The museum received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop new exhibitions and visitor amenities, improving its overall experience. In 2012, the Waterways Trust, which had managed the museum since the 1990s, was merged into the Canal & River Trust, securing the museum’s preservation and expansion.
The NWM is one of several Canal & River Trust museums. Other museums in the network include the Gloucester Waterways Museum, which is housed in the historic Llanthony Warehouse, and The Canal Museum in Stoke Bruerne, Northamptonshire. Together, these museums offer visitors a thorough understanding of the fascinating history of the United Kingdom’s waterways.
The Museum’s Collections and Archives
The NWM has an impressive collection of more than 12,000 items, which includes 68 historical boats and a vast archive of records and images. The Arts Council England has recognized the collection as nationally significant, and many of the boats are part of the National Historic Fleet.
When visiting the museum, guests can explore its historic buildings like locks, docks, and warehouses, which provide a glimpse into the site’s industrial past. The museum also has exhibitions about boat-building, the workings of the canal, and social history. Interactive displays, such as a working blacksmith’s forge, provide a hands-on experience for visitors.
The Waterways Archive, hosted within the museum, holds a wealth of material about Britain’s waterways and their international counterparts. This exceptional resource is renowned for its global significance and serves as a valuable research tool for historians and enthusiasts.
Annual Passes and Special Events
Visitors to the NWM can purchase an annual pass, which allows unlimited access to the museum for an entire year. The museum also hosts a variety of seasonal events, such as Easter, Halloween, and Christmas celebrations, as well as themed Sundays throughout the summer months. These events often include special exhibitions, presentations, and activities for visitors of all ages.
Exploring Beyond the Museum
If you want to explore the canals and waterways, you can take short boat trips along the Shropshire Union Canal through NWM. It’s a great way to see the region’s history and natural beauty from a unique perspective. You can also go on a Manchester Ship Canal cruise, which starts or ends at the museum on selected dates in June and September.
The National Waterways Museum Directions
By road – from junction 9 on the M53 follow brown signs for ‘The Boat Museum’.
By rail – 10 minutes walk from Ellesmere Port station. Merseyrail half-hourly service from central Liverpool and stations on the Wirral.
By bike – the towpath alongside the Shropshire Union Canal runs right up to the museum.
By bus – 20 minutes walk from Ellesmere Port bus station. Wide range of services including from Caernarfon, Chester, Liverpool, Neston, Runcorn and Wirral.