Sankey Canal

From Academic Kids

The Sankey Canal, also known as the St Helens Canal was the first canal built in England during the Industrial Revolution.

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Sankey Canal

The act authorizing the construction of the canal was passed in 1755, and the canal was open and carrying coal by 1757. The engineer for the Sankey was Henry Berry, who was Liverpool’s Second Dock Engineer. With Thomas Steers, Liverpool’s First Dock Engineer, he had a part in building the Newry Canal in Northern Ireland, the first Canal in the British Isles.

The canal was built to bring coal to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool. They rapidly expanded, and spread back along the line of the Canal to St Helens, Earlestown, and Widnes, which were small villages until this period. The Sankey can thus be credited with the industrial growth of the region.

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Stephenson's Viaduct crossing the Sankey Brook

The Sankey was built for Mersey Flats, the common sailing craft of the local rivers - the River Mersey, River Irwell, and River Weaver - and the Lancashire and North Wales coasts. To allow for the masts of the flats, all the roads in the Canal’s path had to cross it on swing bridges. When the railways were built, they too had to cross in similar fashion. The exception was at Earlestown, where Stephenson erected his massive Viaduct for the country’s first passenger railway from Liverpool to Manchester, leaving 70 foot headroom for the flats’ sails.

England’s first double locks were built on the Sankey at Broad Oak, St Helens. A second set were built later at Parr.

Built primarily to take coal down to the Mersey and Liverpool, the final traffic on The Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction - raw sugar for the Sankey Sugar Works at Earlestown, from Liverpool. The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to the closure of the Canal in 1963. North of the Sugar Works, closure had taken place in 1931, and fixed bridges quickly replaced the old wooden swing bridges. The Canal, however, remained largely in water right up into the centre of St Helens, although its terminus had been truncated in 1898, when Canal Street was built over it.

The Sankey’s immediate commercial success, followed soon after by that of the Bridgewater, led to a mania of canal building, and for extension schemes for the Sankey. One would have linked it to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal near Leigh, to the North-East, and another to the Bridgewater Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal via an aqueduct over the Mersey at Runcorn to the South-West. Apart from early extension (1762 - to Fiddlers Ferry from Sankey Bridges, for better locking into the River, and 1775 - to St Helens itself) the only major change came in 1832, when, to meet Railway competition, an extension was built down to new locks at Widnes.

The Sankey Canal became more commonly known as the St Helens Canal after 1845, when the St Helens Railway Company took over the then more prosperous Canal Company to form the St Helens Canal and Railway Company.

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