Canal history

Littleborough Church school annual trip. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways TrustLittleborough Church school annual trip. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways Trust

The people behind the Rochdale canal

From 1766 onwards, business owners began to explore various possible routes and plans to build a canal link between Sowerby Bridge and Manchester, but they were opposed by many mill owners along the route of the canal. These mills were powered by water wheels using the water in the fast streams and rivers of the Pennines – and the canal needed that water.

It was not until 1794 that the Rochdale Canal Act was passed by parliament and construction could begin, with the canal opening along its full length in 1804.

A subscription scheme to fund the building of the Rochdale Canal, and to charge for the carriage of cargoes along it, raised £60,000 in one hour.

John Rennie and William Jessop were two of the best-known canal engineers, in great demand across the country. Rennie was first appointed as principal engineer of the Rochdale Canal, and was followed by Jessop, who completed the job. Once the route was agreed on and work was under way, the actual works would be supervised by resident engineers – usually local men.

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