Sometimes considered to be the first 'true' canal, the Bridgewater Canal connects the North West of England through Runcorn, Manchester and Leigh. It was originally used to transport coal from mines in Worsley to Manchester owned by Francis Egerton. Egerton was the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, hence where the canal acquired its name.
With connections all over the North West of England the coal trade benefitted massively from the Bridgewater Canal. It allowed for a huge increase in access and exchange between the main sites of the North West. In 1791 the mines at Worsley produced 101,891 tons of coal, 61,431 tons of which were 'sold down the navigation'. A further 12,000 tons of rocksalt was transported from Cheshire. The sales of coal increased to £19,455 which further encouraged other goods to join the transportation system as the revolution of inland waterways continued.
With particular reference to Lymm, the goods transported from our village included crops and fustian (a type of cloth). An old canal warehouse which was home to harvesting these products still remains in Agden Wharf today. Another produce of Lymm, however slightly less pleasant, was 'nightsoil' - a polite phrase for human excrement. Back in those days before the sewer systems were developed this was how nightsoil was transported before being deposited on farmer's fields as fertiliser. Nearly £30,000 was earned through the transportation of these and similar cargoes.
The canal was also used to carry passengers which created a massive amount of traffic in 1791. A particular route down the Bridgewater Canal which took approximately 9 hours was favored over a similar route with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company as the Bridgewater route was said to be 'more picturesque'. The passenger traffic in 1791 brought in receipts of £3,781.
Eventually however, the prosperity of canals was threatened by the advent of the railways. This brought about a reversal of roles for those with an interest in canals, as they became the ones to lobby Parliament with their opposition to a new transport network.
However, the infrastructure which had grown up with the canal meant that it was able to exist alongside the railways for many years. Industrial and commercial traffic continued to use the canal for transportation up until the 1960s. It was around this time that travelling down the canal routes flourished as a leisure activity, as interest in pleasure cruising began to grow. Again the Bridgewater routes were favoured over those of the Mersey and Irwell Navigations' with boating men lifting their small lightweight boats out of the Mersey and Irwell at Runcorn, and carrying them up the steep steps to transfer them onto the Bridgewater Canal. Somewhat over a thousand barge boats used for pleasurable cruising are now registered on the Bridgewater Canal.
View more details on the Railway in Lymm.