Canal history

The Rochdale Canal Company transporting goods. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways TrustThe Rochdale Canal Company transporting goods. © The Waterways Trust Archive (Ellesmere Port) / The Waterways Trust

Trade on the canal

There was a wide variety of cargoes carried on the canal: raw materials for industry, wool, cotton, limestone, grain, timber, salt and many other materials. Just as important was the carriage of finished goods (manufactures) for distribution or export. The amount of goods carried increased steadily, as did the toll revenue, until the opening of the Manchester and Leeds Railway. As an example, in the year 1839, total tonnage was the highest to date, 875,436 tons and toll revenues were £62,712. However, in 1842, tonnage had dropped to 667,311 but revenue had fallen to £27,266. There was a ‘price war’ with the railway company until agreements were reached on carriage rates. After this, in 1855, the canal was leased to a consortium of railways companies until 1890. This allowed the canal company to continue paying a dividend to shareholders of £4 per nominal £85 share. This compares with £3 per share immediately before the start of the lease or £6 per share in the best year, 1839.
Tolls charged were different for each type of cargo and were usually charged at a rate per ton per mile. ‘Drawbacks’ or rebates were sometimes given if the company wanted to obtain or keep certain traffics. There were other variations; a boat passing through the summit pool (3/4 mile) would be charged tolls equivalent to 5 miles, to compensate for the use of lockage water. (Bradshaw 1907)