Canal history

© Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence© Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Hollins Lock

Hollins Lock (number 27) has all the features associated with water supply and control along the Rochdale Canal. From its beginnings, channelling water for the canal was a problem as there were already water-powered mills along the route that needed to protect their supply. Gauges were installed on streams and rivers at many locations to ensure that the canal only took water when the mills had been supplied with what they needed.

However, there was no control over the amount of water that these small streams provided, so after heavy rainfall, the water level in the canal could rise enough to breach the canal walls. To overcome this problem, waste weirs were established, like the one just above Hollins Lock. Passing over the weir, any excess water was returned to the streams or rivers alongside the canal, where it was again available to power water mills.

One of the small streams that feeds the Rochdale canal enters just below the road bridge by Hollins lock. This stream has a ‘wrack dam’ where any silt or debris carried by the stream can settle before the water enters the canal. The dam has to be cleaned out every couple of years for the system to work effectively.

Few steam or motor boats used the canal when it opened; most were horse-drawn. Canal stonework was curved to ensure that the towlines did not snag, as a sudden stop could force the horse into the canal. Even with these curves, the towlines would made grooves in the stone over time, a good number of which can be seen on the bridge parapets at Hollins Lock. These were mainly made by boats working uphill; the horse crossing the road at the end of a 30 metre long towline whilst pulling the boat towards the lock. The towline was then unhitched before the boat passed under the bridge into the lock. Going downhi

ll, the towline had to be passed under the bridge and then re-attached to the horse. The towline was run over a wooden roller to prevent the line from damaging the lower side of the bridge as the boat was pulled out of the lock. You can still see the rebate for a wooden roller on the towpath side of Hollins lock.

Hollins Lock also has several fittings that were installed to help the passage of boats. Bollards would originally have been on the towpath side of the canal only, as only one wide boat could use the lock at a time. With narrow boats, at least two can, so extra bollards have since been fitted on both sides of the lock. The ladder on the side of the lock chamber is also new; boatmen in working days would have climbed out up the lock gate. The large cast iron hooks by the top and bottom gates were used to control the boat whilst the lock was filling.

It is important that the mitre – the flat faces on a pair of lock gates where they meet to form a seal – always fit together properly. This is especially important for the larger lower gates. To ensure that this happened every time the gates were closed, a wooden frame was fitted to the chamber below the gates to support the top when they were closed. Today, most of these have been removed, but on many locks, including Hollins Lock, it is still possible to see the rebates in the stone coping where the frame was fitted.

© Copyright Paul Glazzard and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

© Copyright Paul Glazzard and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence