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.

Rochdale Canal Locks

Building the Rochdale canal was an expensive process. Initial estimates were based on a canal suitable for 72 foot-long narrow boats, rather than the 72 foot-long wide boats that the canal was ultimately built for. Additional expense was caused by the decision in May 1795 to have intermediate lock gates, designed to reduce the amount of water used by the shorter 57 foot 6 inch-long Calder & Hebble Navigation boats when passing through the locks.

The Rochdale Canal has also seen a large number of alterations over the years. As early as 1810, the Committee Minutes state that many locks needed rebuilding, particularly around the summit level. Several locks were totally reconstructed in the late 19th Century, but the majority have simply undergone piecemeal alterations.

A common challenge along the stone-built Rochdale canal was keeping the lock sides impervious to water. Between 1876 and 1879, locks 43, 56 and several others were all or partially rebuilt using concrete blocks manufactured at the Company’s Rochdale workshops. However, these blocks did not solve the problem, and some lock walls were rebuilt using brick in the 1880s. At Punchbowl (lock 40) a special tunnel was built alongside the locks to take away water leaking from the lock chambers, which was causing problems for the mill alongside. Following the tragic drowning of a boatman, iron hand rails were also fitted to lock gates from 1880 to allow people to cross the lock gates with greater safety.

The design of gate anchors, used to hold the top of the gate, has also changed over the years. Good examples of the earliest type can be seen on the intermediate gate quoins on Lock 1 at Sowerby Bridge and on Lock 45. A second standard type of anchor was introduced in the mid-to-late 19th Century, and was used on lock 30 when it was rebuilt during construction of the Manchester & Leeds Railway in the 1840s. All 18 and 19th Century anchors are cast iron frames which were sunk into the top quoin stone. Later variations, introduced in the 20th Century, are of the flat plate type. There are examples of these on the Rochdale canal, two of which date from the first half of the century. The modern gate anchors are not recessed into the stonework.

Another feature sometimes found on wide locks were metal rods hung under or on the side of the balance beam, which were used to prop open the gate. In a few cases, such as on the off side upper gate on Lock 13, the grooves caused by the rod dragging on the ground can still be seen. There are also numerous rope grooves on lock stonework and paddle gear made by the tethered horses which were used to work boats through the lock.