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The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Timeline
17th century The woollen industry is established in Yorkshire and Lancashire, using local raw materials. By the end of the century Liverpool is northern England and Ireland’s main port for trade with the colonies, particularly America.
1699 The Aire and Calder Navigation Act is passed. This helps the West Riding’s woollen industry to expand and import raw materials and other goods from East Anglia and mainland Europe.
1744 Unsuccessful petition to make the River Aire navigable between Bingley and Craven in order to access new supplies of lime for agriculture and building.
1766 John Stanhope of Bradford hires the engineer John Longbotham of Halifax to survey a possible route for a canal linking the industrial centres of the West Riding with Liverpool, thus greatly improving links with the raw materials and markets of the Americas. In Bradford the first meeting to promote the canal is attended by over 100 subscribers.
1768 John Longbotham presents his completed survey to subscribers in Bradford.
The Yorkshire and Lancashire Canal Committees form and 2,600 £100 shares in the newly formed Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company are issued to pay for the estimated cost of construction.
1769 The Lancashire subscribers withdraw their funds in protest of the proposed route through Lancashire which avoids key towns and coalfields. John Stanhope is replaced as chairman by John Hustler, a Bradford wool merchant.
1770 The Lancashire subscribers re-join the scheme once it is agreed that construction will begin at both ends of the canal simultaneously. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Bill receives Royal Assent. Hustler was key in convincing land owners to support the Bill. Work begins on the canal at Leeds and Liverpool.
1771 The Bradford Canal Act is passed. The canal is financed by many of the same Bradford backers as the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, but is independent from it.
1773 The first section of completed canal opens between Bingley and Skipton, allowing Craven limestone to be used to produce lime in Bradford and Airedale, while Bradford Coal can be cheaply sold in Craven and Airedale. The supply of lime was a key reason for building the canal, but coal and other goods quickly became much more important.
1774 The Bingley Five Rise and Three Rise locks are completed and the canal stretches from Skipton to Thackley. The Bradford Canal is completed.
1777 The Gargrave-Leeds section of the canal is completed and is linked to the Aire and Calder Navigation at Leeds. Construction funds run out and the American War of Independence prevents construction from restarting.
1786 The sections of canal built so far are profitable and shareholders receive a dividend for the first time.
1790 Construction recommences. The Lancashire shareholders persuade the Yorkshire shareholders to divert the canal along a longer route to serve the expanding
industrial towns of Burnley, Accrington and Blackburn and the nearby coalfield. Engineering advances since 1777 make it affordable to build tunnels and
embankments so the canal is less restricted to following the contours as it is in Yorkshire.
1816 The Yorkshire and Lancashire sections of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal are joined at Wigan, completing 1241/4 mile of canal. Construction is over 3 times Brindley’s estimate and the Canal Company is heavily in debt.
1821 A proposed branch canal to Keighley is abandoned following a survey.
1825 - 1850 The Leeds-Liverpool Canal is at its most financially successful. The Canal Company is free from debt by 1840. Much of this success is down to a lack of competition and the phenomenal growth of industry along the canal and the expansion of the towns themselves.
1836 - 1846 Railway lines linking Leeds, Bradford and Manchester are opened.
1847 An Act of Parliament allows the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company to transport goods along the canal. The Company bought out struggling private carriers to form a large carrying department which could undercut the railways for transporting bulk cargos such as coal and stone.
1850 The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company headquarters move from Manor Row, Bradford to Liverpool.
1872 The Bradford Canal is shortened, and deepened and reopens with water pumped up from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Over the
1870s some Bradford firms desert the congested and expensive Bradford for the better located Shipley and Bingley, where land is cheaper and there are good rail and canal links.
1893 The Board of Trade uses the 1888 Railway and Canal Transport Act to raise cargo rates at the Leeds Liverpool Canal to the same level of the railways. This detrimentally impacts canal traffic and profits.
1914 - 1920 A committee appointed by the Board of Trade runs the Leeds-Liverpool Canal during and after the First World War. 1919 is the last of 133 years where Canal Company shareholders received dividends.
1921 Rising labour costs and rigidly set tolls force the Canal Company’s carrying department to close.
1922 The Bradford Canal is closed and is filled in over following decades.
1920’s -1940’s The Leeds-Liverpool Canal remains an important and well-used industrial artery and escapes bombing during the Second World War.
1930* The L&L Canal Company in partnership with other carriers re-formed its carrying dept as Canal Transport Ltd in 1930 and had a new fleet of 26 iron (later steel) boats built. (Some of which I later operated). This fleet was nationalised in 1948 and operated until 1964.
1948 The Leeds-Liverpool Canal is nationalised along with the rest of Britain’s canals.
1950’s The nationalised canal is mismanaged and falls into disrepair. Traffic falls as industrial customers close or switch to other means obtaining materials and energy and transporting finished goods.
1962 The loss made on operating the Leeds-Liverpool Canal is over £200,000 a year.
1963 The British Waterways Board is formed.
1964-1982* The coal to Liverpool gas works at Athol St finished with the coming of natural gas in 1964.
1968 The Transport Act categorises the Leeds-Liverpool Canal as a pleasure cruising waterway.
1970’s The Leeds-Liverpool Canal becomes increasingly popular for tourism and leisure. British Waterways improves the condition of the canal, towpaths and onward buildings in its ownership. Buildings and sites along the canal attract investment which sees them find new uses and occupiers.
* Additional information from David Lowe (the Airedale Barge Co Ltd)
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