A great success story, bringing back to life over 500 miles of long closed waterways through the work of thousand of volunteers, opening up more leisure space for communities and encouraging visitors, investment and regeneration. But there’s plenty more to do, probably about another 500 miles!
The end of most commercial carrying on UK canals in the second half of the 20th century led to many canals becoming derelict. However the increasing use of canals for leisure purposes has since led to the restoration and reopening of many canals.
Since 1960 hundreds miles of closed or derelict canals have been brought back into use, many relying on volunteer labour and fund raising. More canals have been reopened in the period than during the ‘canal mania’ in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Not just canals have been restored, also engineering like the Anderton Lift, traditional carrying craft and canalside buildings.
Although the millions of pounds of funding vital for restoration must be justified by the benefits to leisure & local regeneration, most schemes and funding bodies do fully recognise the importance of also ensuring the enhancement of the natural environment and preservation of canal heritage.
Some information here is used with permission from the Inland Waterways Association.
Anderton Lift Restoration
Anderton Boat Lift has been restored to its original 1875 hydraulic status with both caissons operational. This nearly 130-year old structure is a magnificent feat of engineering. However, in full operating mode, with regular boat movements through the Lift, British Waterways did initially discover some difficulties with elements of the historic workings.
Status: Restored and brought back into service in 2002.
More Information: Trent and Mersey Canal Guide page
Ashton Canal Restoration
Stockport Branch Declining trade led to the 5 mile Branch being disused by 1933, with the canal being progressively abandoned between 1955 and 1962. The Manchester & Stockport Canal Society was formed to promote the regeneration of the Stockport Arm of the Ashton Canal. It’s aims are to rebuild the line of the canal and restore it to full navigational use for the benefit of local people and visitors.
Status: Stockport Branch – Planning and early clearance
More Information: Stockport Branch – The Manchester & Stockport Canal Society
Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Restoration
There are plans to restore the two canals which form the missing link between the Aire & Calder Navigation and the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, creating a Yorkshire Canal Ring. Some of the sections are still in water, some have been infilled, some have been built over.
Status: In 2006 the consultants Atkins carried out a feasibility study which concluded that restoration was feasible and desirable. However mining subsidence is a problem on parts of the route.
More Information: Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Trust website
Bedford & Milton Keynes Link Project
The Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway Consortium was established in 2010 to promote the development of a broad waterway which will link the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes to the river Great Ouse in Bedford through a series of Waterway Parks. It includes local authorities, the Environmant agency, the Canal and River Trust and the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust.
Status: ‘The Project Partners plan to make a reality of the Waterway through a large number of small projects phased over an extended timescale of 10 to 20 years, within the framework of an overall Waterway vision and design.’
More Information: Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterways Trust website
Bradford Canal Restoration
A major redevelopment of the centre of Bradford includes plans to restore the terminus of the Bradford Canal, and which could lead to the restoration of the full canal to connect with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. British Waterways carried out work for the studies to check the feasibility of the plan and help design the new canal terminus in the centre of Bradford. The restored canal would have 11 locks, cost £35 million and terminate as the centrepiece to a planned £350 million redevelopment in the centre of Bradford.
More Information: Bradford Development Report 2006 (pdf)
Burslem Branch Restoration
The Burslem branch of the Trent and Mersey Canal was opened in 1805, three eighths of a mile long with no locks. It was closed by an embankment breach in 1961. The Burslem Port Trust’s vision is “to make a major difference to the quality of life in Burslem and Middleport through a major regeneration project. The completed project will deliver the re-opened Canal Branch, a mini Marina in a newly constructed pool at Furlong Mills, recreational facilities in the “Heritage” buildings on the present Waste Transfer Site, and outdoor/sporting activities along the canal side. The project will provide Canal side living for the Slater Street and Co-op Bakery residential redevelopment sites.”
Status: project stage
More Information: Burslem Port Trust website
Chesterfield Canal Restoration
There are ambitious plans for full restoration of the Chesterfield Canal, and for joining the Chesterfield Canal to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation.
“The Chesterfield Canal Partnership was formalised in 1995 to co-ordinate restoration efforts and pool expertise. The ambition is simple; to restore the whole of the waterway to full public use. Much has been achieved: By 2008 37 miles and 51 locks were in navigation and plans are in place for the remaining nine miles.”
Status: Between 1996 and 2003 a new marina was built at Shireoaks and the restoration of seven miles and thirty one locks extended the head of navigation from Worksop to the Norwood Tunnel. At the isolated western end five miles and five locks from Chesterfield to Staveley were made navigable by 2002.
Cotswold Canals Restoration
The Cotswold Canals comprise the 29-mile (46km) Thames & Severn Canal and the 7-mile (13km) Stroudwater Navigation. When restored, the canals will form a continuous waterway from Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal to the Thames at Lechlade, including the 2¼-mile (4km) Sapperton Tunnel and 56 locks. A spirited campaign by Cotswold Canals Trust, supported by IWA and WRG, over thirty year led to the formation of the Cotswold Canals Partnership. The Trust now enjoys the support of over 5,000 members.
The Stroudwater Navigation now starts at Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, but originally came directly off the River Severn, 1 mile away. It was planned in the 1720s, opened in 1779 and was highly profitable in its heyday. However, competition from the railways started in the 1840s and the waterway finally closed in 1954, the last boat having delivered coal to Stroud gas works in 1941.
The Thames & Severn Canal was built to connect the Stroudwater Navigation to the Thames opened in 1789, but constant leakage problems and the advent of railway competition damaged its profitability. Around 1900, the canal was bought and improved by Gloucestershire County Council in an effort to stimulate business. Declining trade led to complete abandonment of the canal in 1933. Since then its line has been broken up and is now owned by over 70 different landowners.
Status: a £25 million project at the western end led by Stroud District Council covers 6 miles of the most difficult section to restore, centred on Stroud and funded with £12million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £7.5 million from the South West Regional Development Agency and contributions from other sources, including £800,000 from the Trust and over £1m of volunteer effort, will see the restoration of Phase 1a. Phase 1b, the critical length needed to link Phase 1a to the rest of the inland waterway network at Saul is the next big challenge. Meanwhile in the east, the Trust now owns the first section of the Thames & Severn Canal where it meets the Thames at Inglesham and is working at numerous locations within the Phase 2 Cotswold Water Park section.
More Information: Cotswold Canals trust website.
Cromford Canal Restoration
The Friends of Cromford Canal was formed in March 2002 to campaign to reopen the 15 mile length of the Cromford Canal to the junction with the Erewash canal. They state their aims as ‘restoration, reconstruction, preservation & maintenance of the Cromford Canal, its associated buildings, towing path, structures & craft & the conservation of its natural character as a navigable inland waterway system for the benefit of the public’.
Status: Active working parties. It is hoped to bring a vintage trip boat back to Cromford Wharf to carry tourists along the historic mile of canal to High Peak Junction.
More Information: Friends of the Cromford Canal website
Driffield Navigation Restoration
The 11 mile Navigation linked Driffield with Hull and the River Humber. The short upper section is a canal built in 1770, the rest is the River Hull. The last commercial traffic was in 1948 and locks fell into disrepair and fixed bridges were built closing the waterway. Restoration began in the 1970’s and bridges and locks have been reopened
Status: A report has identified the work remaining to complete the restoration, funding is being sought.
More Information: Driffield Navigation website
Fens Waterway Link Project
The Fens Waterways Link is a partnership project to develop a new navigation link in the Fens for broad beam craft, connecting Boston, Lincolnshire with the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire. It will enable most inland waterway boats to travel between the northern waterways, via the Trent, Fossdyke and Witham navigations, and the Nene, which in turn connects with the Great Ouse and the Middle Level. This new circuit would encompass the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely. It will create 87km of extra navigable waterways in the low-lying Fens and make a further 160km more accessible to increased numbers of people.
Status: The Environment Agency – supported by local councils, development agencies, East Anglian Waterways Association, and IWA – collectively Fens Waterways Regeneration Strategy Group – has previously commissioned two pre-feasibility studies, which identified the preferred ring to link the cities.
More Information: IWA website
Grantham Canal Restoration
The Grantham Canal runs from Nottingham to Grantham. It transported coal, agricultural products, lime, building materials and other bulk goods. The canal company produced a small but steady return to investors. From 1850 onwards revenues declined and little trade was carried out along the canal after 1929, finally being closed by Act of Parliament in 1936. In 1970 a BWB attempt to obtain an act allowing them to cease maintaining the canal water levels was successfully opposed by the IWA. The Grantham Canal Society was formed soon afterwards, to promote restoration of the waterway.
With the exception of the two extreme ends, the canal today is a delightful rural idyll. Visitors can access the whole of the towpath, 20 miles of which are surfaced with crushed stone. The remainder being grass, these are generally through the Sites of Special Scientific Interest. A rich diversity of wildlife is on offer, reed beds provide a habitat for bird species including Sedge and Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting. The canal is noted for its rich abundance of dragonflies and damselflies. Narrowboat trips and cruises exclusive to your party, can be enjoyed on the restored section of the summit pound between Woolsthorpe by Belvoir and the A1 near Grantham. These provide an important income stream to the society – enabling it to continue driving the restoration forward. The Grantham Canal Society, working in partnership with the Canal and River Trust has secured funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, enabling Locks 14 and 15 to be restored in the Woolsthorpe Flight. The grant also allows for the engineering assessment of Locks 12 & 13 – the remaining two in the flight. With Lock 15 complete all but the gates, currently being built (Feb 2018), volunteers are about to move on to Lock 14, where another major rebuild is required.
More Information: http://www.granthamcanal.org/
Huddersfield Narrow Canal Restoration
The short and steep Huddersfield Narrow Canal was built to give the Ashton Canal its own route into Yorkshire. The route was a difficult one, with the highest UK canal summit and the ‘longest, highest and deepest’ canal tunnel at Standedge. It never carried much through traffic and was abandoned in 1944. But the canal and tunnel remained in water for water supply, and soon there were plans for restoration. The task was a huge one, many locks had been infilled with feet of reinforced concrete, and it became known as ‘the impossible restoration’. The impossible was made possible by the persistence and hard labour of volunteers, and many million pounds of Lottery money during the Millenium ‘Restoration Mania’. The canal and tunnel were completely reopened for navigation in 2002.
Status: Fully reopened
Lancaster Canal Northern Reaches Restoration
The 14½ mile (25km) Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal were effectively blocked in the 1960s by the construction of the M6 which severed the waterway in three places. The Lancaster Canal Regeneration Partnership aims to restore the Lancaster Canal to Canal Head, Kendal, it includes South Lakeland District Council, Cumbria County Council, Kendal Town Council, Canal & River Trust, Lancaster Canal Trust, The Inland Waterways Association, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council and other interested groups. A feasibility study on the restoration of the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal has been produced. The proposed scheme tackles three motorway and four trunk road crossings and includes the enhancement and conservation of 52 historically important and listed structures.
Status: Working parties and Fundraising
Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration
The Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust was formed in 1988 and campaigns for the restoration of the Lichfield Canal and also the Hatherton Canal through Cannock. Reopening the canals would give valuable access to the underused northern BCN. Both canals now have professionally produced Feasibility Studies to guide the restorations, and several sections of land have been acquired with others under negotiation, to add to the available BW and council owned land. Both the Lichfield Canal and the Hatherton Canal restorations are long-term projects but the Trust has proved able to rise to major funding challenges and is gaining increasing support from the local authorities to protect the routes.
Status: Ongoing. Over £2 million has had to be invested in major road crossings including the M6 Toll and the Lichfield bypass to preserve continuity of the routes, which has inhibited the pace of actual restoration work. Nevertheless, the Trust has held regular work parties over many years on both canals, with assistance from the Waterway Recovery Group.
More Information: Lichfield & Hatherton Canals Restoration Trust website
Liverpool Links Development
The Liverpool Canal Link involved the extension of the canal through to the South Docks passing the famous Pier Head and Liver Building. The original canal terminus in Liverpool was filled in in the 1960’s. The Stanley Dock branch gave access to the northern dock system but plans were put forward in the early 2000’s for the extension past the landmark Liverpool waterfront into the South Docks. This involved a mile and a half of new canal with two new locks and tunnels. The flagship project was opened in 2008 at a cost of £22m.
More Information: Leeds & Liverpool Canal Guide Page
Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Restoration
The 15¼-mile long Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal is one of the last major waterways in Greater Manchester to require restoration. The early canal had played an important part in the industrial development of the area, carrying coal, raw materials and people between the centres. Traffic declined with the coming of the railways, but 2 major breaches in the 1930’s sealed its fate. Work started on the first phase of restoration in October 2005 with the Middlewood lock development site and the first restored 500m length was navigable by the end of 2008. Work includes the construction of a new canal channel, two locks, two basins and a footbridge. A tunnel was incorporated into the design of the Manchester and Salford inner ring road to accommodate the future restoration. Campaigners see this as the first crucial step in the full restoration of the Canal.
More Information: Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal Society
Montgomery Canal Restoration
The Montgomery canal as it is known today runs for 38 miles from a junction with the Llangollen Canal near Ellesmere in Shropshire to Newtown in Montgomeryshire, now part of Powys. Much of it is still closed to navigation after its official abandonment back in 1944, but it was one of the first canals to be considered for reopening by the emerging canal enthusiast movement in the 1960s and a long and dogged restoration campaign is slowly but steadily achieving results. Seven miles through six locks are now navigable from the junction with the Llangollen Canal (three of them added in 2003) and a further isolated 17 mile section is usable through Welshpool.
In October 2021 Powys County Council made a successful bid to the Government ‘Levelling Up Fund’ to help progress the restoration of the Montgomery Canal in eastern Powys and north-west Shropshire. £13.9m of the grant has been allocated to help remove some of the obstructions between Llanymynech and Arddleen. It is hoped this Government funding can accelerate the rate of progress towards reopening the canal from the border near Llanymynech towards the isolated 12 mile Welshpool section, but the 2 bridges on the main A483 road near Arddleen dropped to canal level soon after the canal’s closure still form a major barrier to reaching Newtown.
Rochdale Canal Restoration Restoration
The Rochdale canal was the first of three Pennine crossings to be completed in 1804. Despite railway competition it was busy until the First World War but eventually the roads took its business away, the last through cargo was in 1937 and trading ceased finally in 1958. Sections to the west of the Pennines were partially filled in and locks converted to weirs. The canal was never nationalised but the private company was more inclined to develop the canal’s land assets than waterways traffic. Control was transferred to British Waterways/The Waterways Trust in 2000 and full restoration has taken place at a cost of £23.8 million, funded by grants of £11.9 from the Millennium Commission, £10.8 million from English Partnerships and substantial contributions from Rochdale and Oldham Councils. Reopening happened in July 2002.
More Information: Rochdale Canal Guide Page
The Uttoxeter Canal was a 13 mile extension of the Caldon branch of the Trent and Mersey Canal. It was closed in 1847 and some of its route was used by the North Staffordshire Railway. The railway itself was subsequently closed. The Caldon Canal Society had fought a successful battle in the 1970’s to reopen that canal, and became the Caldon and Uttoxeter Canals Trust to include promotion of the restoration of the Uttoxeter Canal.
Status: In 2005 the restored first lock and basin of the Uttoxeter Canal at Froghall were re-opened to provide moorings for visiting boats, footpaths giving inclusive access around the site, seating areas and sympathetic landscaping including tree planting, wildlife habitat, a pond and a stumpery.
More Information: Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust website
Wendover Arm Trust
The Wendover Arm Trust was established as a registered charity in 1989 by canal enthusiasts who wanted to investigate the possible restoration of the Wendover Arm. The canal was closed in 1904 due to persistent leakage of water from the Arm, which was built to supply water to the Tring summit of the Grand Union main line. A stop lock was installed at Little Tring and the worst section for leakage from Little Tring to Drayton Beauchamp was drained and the water diverted into a pipeline beneath the abandoned canal bed.
Status: In 2005, the first section of canal was reopened to navigation following complete restoration and the reconstruction of Little Tring Bridge. Volunteers are currently working on re-profiling and lining the dry section from Little Tring to Drayton Beauchamp. Isolated sections of canal have already been completed and re-watered and it is hoped that this new stretch will join up with the navigable section of the Arm in around 5 years time.
More Information: Wendover Arm Trust website
Wilts and Berks Canal Restoration
The Canal was cut from the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington, near Melksham, to the river Thames at Abingdon during the years 1796 to 1810. A link from Swindon to the Thames & Severn Canal at Latton (near Cricklade) was completed in 1819 which allowed traffic to bypass the difficult river Thames navigation between Lechlade and Abingdon. The main line of the canal was 52 miles long. The canal was abandoned in 1914. The Wilts and Berks Canal Trust is committed to returning this historic waterway to a navigable state.
Status: Because the canal has been closed for almost 100 years much work will be needed in urban areas like Swindon to find alternative routes. However progress is being made by working parties along the canal and in 2006 a new junction with the River Thames was cut at Abingdon. More junctions with the national network are planned at Melksham (Kennet & Avon) and Cricklade (River Thames).
More Information: Wilts & Berks Canal Trust website