Canal history

© Copyright P & D Monahan© Copyright P & D Monahan

Rochdale Canal Paddle Gear

Paddle gear or ‘winding gear’ is the mechanism which allows paddles – the valves by which the lock chamber is filled or emptied – to be lifted (opened) or lowered (closed).

There have been several different types of paddle gear used on the Rochdale Canal. Those surviving today were designed around 1880, during the First World War, or have been introduced during recent restorations. Most of the Rochdale Canal paddle gear was removed in the 1950s when the canal was abandoned, but there is one remaining example controlling the water supply at Lock 37.

A major factor in the changing design and use of paddle gear was the size of the paddle opening. During the nineteenth century, as completion from the railways increased, the size of canal paddles grew to increase the water flow, and thus the speed of passage through the locks.

The earliest type of gate paddle may have been introduced in 1855. They were open framework ground paddles operated by a horizontal rack on the top of the balance beam, similar to those still found on the Leeds & Liverpool and Lancaster canals.
The second type of paddle gear may have been introduced from 1879, with three distinct types being found along the canal; two with supporting ribs at right angles to the canal, the other with a single one.

The third type of gate paddle was introduced in 1914 on Lock 49, and by July 1915, further examples had been fitted to Locks 7 and 52.

The fourth type of ground paddle was introduced during the restoration of the canal, and are of a modern construction. Another simple gate paddle, based on that introduced on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal about forty years ago, has been used on many of the locks in the Manchester area, with a few examples elsewhere.

A feature of the Rochdale Canal ground paddles was the use of air holes to control water levels. These are found on the Yorkshire side of the canal, with Lock 39 being the most westerly example. Excess water from the pool runs through the air hole, into the ground paddle chamber and then into the lock chamber. It should then run to waste through the bottom gate paddles. The system may have problems when large volumes of water are being supplied to lower sections of the canal or during heavy rainfall on sections not fitted with sufficient waste weirs. In these cases, flooding can result from blockage of the relatively small air holes.