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.

Tuel Lock

When the Rochdale canal was opened in 1802 there were four locks at Sowerby Bridge, climbing up from the junction with the Calder and Hebble Navigation. These locks remained in use until trade ceased just before the Second World War.

The Rochdale canal was officially abandoned by Act of Parliament, in 1952, except for a 1¼ mile length in central Manchester, which remained open to supply coal to a power station and later serve as a vital link between the Ashton and Bridgewater canals.

In the 1960s the civic mood was for sweeping away the old and building new roads, and a scheme was put forward to fill in the canal from the bridge above lock 4 to Wharf Street Bridge, enabling Tuel to pass between the church and the public house.

Prospects for restoration seemed bleak, but only eight years after the canal was obliterated at Sowerby Bridge, the Rochdale Canal Society was formed. Many years of hard work followed, with increasing support from local authorities. Grants were sought and won and planning applications fought.

One of the key events, prior to the canal’s reopening, was the installation of Tuel lock and the reconnection of the Rochdale Canal to the rest of the waterways network. The project began in 1992 with a proposal to tunnel under the road, connecting the canal above lock 2 with a new single deep lock to replace locks 3 and 4. The original design was for a lock only 60 feet long; to take Calder and Hebble sized boats on the basis that Library lock in Todmorden had been restored to this length. However, with the development of plans to restore the guillotine gate at Todmorden (allowing full-length boats to pass through), it was decided to make Tuel lock full-sized, but with the water-saving feature of dual sets of bottom gates, so that a shorter lock could be used whenever possible.

Work started at Tuel lock in March 1994, but unstable ground conditions meant that more work than expected was needed to support the bank on the offside. The tunnel and lock officially opened on the May Day holiday weekend of 1996.

The lock has the greatest fall of any single canal lock in England, of 19ft 8 inches. As Tuel lock uses more water than the locks feeding it can provide, a supply can be taken from the River Calder at Luddenden Foot, and back-pumping from below Lock 1 can also be used. The water saving made by the duplex sets of lower gates is significant. The full-length lock will use about 134,250 gallons every time it is filled (as much water as a bath being filled and emptied nearly 3850 times), but the shorter lock will use only 107,400 gallons.

The tunnel below Tuel lock passes under Tuel Lane and Wharf Street to connect to lock 2. Pedestrian Access is across Wharf Street and then either down the tow path or via the entrance to Sowerby Bridge Basin, where there is a statue of a lockkeeper assisted by a small boy, pushing on a gate beam. The statue is said to be modelled on the first keeper of Tuel lock.