Canal history

Canalside industry. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways TrustCanalside industry. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways Trust

The canal age

The construction of the canal coincided with the change from water power to steam power, and by making cheap coal available in the valley; the canal must have encouraged the movement of industry and population from the hillside settlements to the valley bottom. Many factories were built along the side of the canal. Some still remain and the ruins of others can be seen, all with openings on the canal path, or even with openings on to the canal itself.

A comparison of the 1805 plans of the canal in Hebden Bridge held at the Manchester County Records Office with early Ordnance Survey maps of the same area shows the expansion of canalside developments.

At the eastern end of Hebden Bridge was Mayroyd and the 1805 plan suggests that some land had been used as a quarry by the canal company. This was to become Machpelah, so named by the Reverend John Fawcett after Abraham’s burial place cited in the Bible.

The effect of the canal on the Reverend John Fawcett’s life can be seen in the following extract from the biography of him which contains this description of a rural idyll:

“On the opposite side of the public road from his house was an uncultivated bank, adjoining a part of the Rochdale canal; this he purchased from the Company, and planted with trees, retaining, even to the latest period of his life, that exquisite relish for the beauties of nature which had distinguished his early years. Here he erected a small apartment, as a solitary retreat, and found a constant source of enjoyment in the walks, &c. so long as he had strength to go down to it.”

Crossley Mill was also built alongside the canal in 1819. It was steam-powered bringing in coal by canal and used water from the canal. Crossley Mill (no relation to Crossley of Dean Clough, Halifax) was built as a six-storey building, as shown on the painting by John Holland and on the company’s early billheading. Part of it was reduced to a 2-storey weaving shed in the 1870s and was eventually demolished after being destroyed by a fire in 1964, leaving only the engine house. This is now rebuilt as a nursery.