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.

Blackpit Aqueduct

The Rochdale Canal’s most remarkable engineering feature is its “lack of engineering features”. To drive a canal through such difficult terrain, along narrow river valleys and across the ‘backbone of England’ without resorting to long tunnels, deep cuttings and massive aqueducts is the product of great engineering skill.

However, a number of smaller examples can be seen. Among them are two principal aqueducts; Blackpit in Hebden Bridge, which crosses the River Calder, and Mills Hill near Rochdale, which crosses the River Irk. There are also lesser aqueducts at Luddendenfoot, Todmorden above Library lock (number 19), Gauxholme above lock 24, and Copperas House.

The most accessible aqueduct on the Rochdale canal is Blackpit at Hebden Bridge. Its name comes from the meeting of the River Calder and the Hebden Water immediately to the north of the aqueduct. When the two rivers are in spate they provide a frightening demonstration of the power of water, surging against the abutments, reaching almost to the top of the arches and creating a seemingly ‘bottomless’ pit of black water below.

The Blackpit aqueduct is a low, four-arched, listed structure. It is particularly sturdy and wide, with a footpath on the opposite side to the tow path. It has a total span of 127 feet, is 34 feet wide and the canal surface is about 16 feet above the normal level of the river.

Of special note is the carved stone head on the north face of the aqueduct. As a decoration, its position is strange, as it cannot be easily seen from the tow path. It has been suggested that the carving’s true purpose is to guard and protect the aqueduct and those crossing it from the power of the rivers below. There has long been a belief in the sanctity of water, especially where rivers join, and ancient Celtic mysticism connected with carved stone heads lingered even to the start of the nineteenth century.

The smaller aqueducts within Calderdale are less obvious. The first, immediately to the west of Boy Bridge which carries Station Road over the canal at Luddenden Foot, can best be seen from the access road leading to a group of houses between the river and canal, off Station Road (NGR SE03722507).

The next aqueduct west of Hebden Bridge is at Todmorden, immediately above lock 19 (Library lock), which takes Walsden Water under the canal (NGR SD93572401). Only its parapets are now visible, as the stream has been built over for some distance on either side. Walsden water can be seen before it disappears under a building adjacent to Salford Way, emerging again by Water Street.

The next significant aqueduct is over the Dulesgate Water at Gauxholme, near to the junction of the A6033 Rochdale Road and the A681 Bacup Road (NGR SD92922308). Again, the western side of the stream has been built over and is now used as a builder’s yard. The stream is visible to the eastern side, but the aqueduct is not accessible from below. It may be glimpsed from the main road.

The westernmost aqueduct within Calderdale is a short distance south, also at Gauxholme, where the canal once more crosses Walsden Water near to Copras House (NGR SD93062285). The eastern side is visible from the towing path near Copperas House Bridge.