Canal history

The Shamrock iced up on the Rochdale Canal. ©The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways TrustThe Shamrock iced up on the Rochdale Canal. ©The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways Trust

Life (and death) on the Rochdale

Working on a boat meant long hours of hard physical work in all weathers but although pay was low, it was better than an agricultural labourer or unskilled mill hand.

The boatman could live aboard the vessel although much of the trade on the canal was short-haul, so the boatman would only be away from his home base for a night or two at a time. The system of ‘family boating’ where families lived and worked aboard which was common on the narrow canals further south was not in such wide use on the Rochdale canal.

Many other jobs were necessary to keep the canal working on a day-to-day basis: lock-keepers who supervised traffic through the locks; lengthsmen, who walked their ‘length’ doing minor repairs; reservoir keepers; toll clerks; labourers; wharfingers (the owner or manager of a wharf); warehousemen; ostlers (stableman); clerks and office staff.

In addition to these there were the craftsmen working in the Rochdale Canal Company’s workshops including carpenters, blacksmiths and tinsmiths and masons.

Over the years there have been a number of deaths associated with the canal; boatmen were not immune from accident and many other people have fallen in by accident or design.

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