Canal history

Rochdale Canal Company flat, Primrose. Photo courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.Rochdale Canal Company flat, Primrose. Photo courtesy of Pennine Horizons Digital Archive.

Boats on the canal

The Rochdale canal is a broad canal, with the locks built to accommodate boats of a maximum length of 72ft and a width of 14ft2in.

The size and style of the boats was based on a variation of the ‘Mersey Flat’, initially a sailing barge used on the Mersey and the river navigations. The Rochdale, Bridgewater and the other north-western canals had their ‘cut flats’ (cut being the common term for canal).
Most of the boats for the Rochdale would have been built in Stretford, at either Rathbone’s or Mugg’s boatyards.

The Rochdale Canal Company and bye-traders also used narrowboats on the canal. There were some boats built specifically to trade across the Rochdale or Huddersfield Narrow canals and onto the shorter waterways in Yorkshire. The narrowboat ‘Elland’ was built at Mirfield to be able to travel on the Calder & Hebble as well as the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals.

The Rochdale Canal Company owned and operated its own boats, enabling it to make full use of the vessels and maximise its income. By 1892 the company had fifteen steam packets (named after rivers), fifteen keels and flats (many named after flowers) and thirty-eight narrowboats.

Horse drawn fly-boats were used on the Rochdale Canal operating an over night express service. Because of the speed with its demanding changes of horses, they were expensive to run, so they carried freight which paid a high toll.

Probably the best known of the early bye-traders on the canal was William Jackson who was a successful trader leasing warehouses at Sowerby Bridge, Rochdale and Manchester. He also had a fly-boat service. By 1845 he had over thirty-two barges, six narrowboats and 120 horses, an average of four horses per boat.

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