8th December 1765. Speeding the Way.
Today in 1765 the Leek (Staffordshire) born James Brindley married at the age of 49 Anne Henshall aged only 19, but no doubt with an eye on the main chance for Anne’s brother Hugh was like Brindley a notable canal builder.
Henshall had purchased The Greenway Bank which allowed him to concentrate his resources on canal freight as Hugh Henshall & Co., the carrier for the proprietors of the new Trent and Mersey Canal.
The canal was to provide the financial means by which early carriers and boat builders were to rise to become squires and High Sheriffs. One such was the Sutton Family of Aston-on-Trent, Derbyshire, close to the junction of the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey Canal at Shardlow, who were to trans-ship and convey goods to many towns in the Potteries,Midlands and Lancashire.
They also owned the Rode Heath and Shirleywich Salt Works so were able to transport this vital commodity by river and canal.
It was in 1758 following a survey on behalf of Liverpool merchants that Brindley and John Smeaton began surveys for a Grand Trunk Canal that would link the Rivers Weaver and Trent and so Hull and Liverpool.
Planning of The Trent and Mersey Canal (Grand Trunk) came from Brindley, via an Act of 1766, with the first sod being cut by Josiah Wedgwood in July at Middleton, and was to be completed in 1777, with 70 locks and 5 tunnels, with an HQ at Stone (Staffs).
The Trent and Mersey had been largely sponsored by the Potter, Josiah Wedgwood, who in a Report to the Commons Committee commented on the poor state of the medieval main roads of Staffordshire which avoided the six towns of the Potteries.
However the passing of the 1766 Act authorising a navigable link between the Trent and Mersey wasn’t to the liking of the Lessees of the monopolistic Trent Navigation Company at Burton. (1)
This Company had made the Trent navigable 70 years before and didn’t want its rights washed away by the Canal Company, their argument was that this Company should pay tolls at the junction of the Navigation Company at Burton for the 14 miles to Wilden Ferry (Shardlow).
As usual ‘might was right’ and the Canal Company overcame the rights of the Burton business-men, no tolls were paid, resulting in local objections for the next 20 years.
Notwithstanding by 1777 when the Trent and Mersey Canal, with its Harecastle Tunnel was complete, Burton-on-Trent was linked by navigable waterways to wide areas of the country including the major ports of Hull, Liverpool and Bristol, which considerably aided Burton’s brewing industry.
However the arrival of the railways in the 1840.s was to sound the death knell of the canals and the ninety three miles long Trent and Mersey Canal was eventually bought by the North Staffordshire Railway in 1847, thus enabling that company to control its main competitor before any railway lines had been built.(2)
What the foregoing does remind us is how in days of old, transport routes could be completed in a matter of years which nowadays would be spent in talking and planning.
(1) Trent Navigation was originally opened as the Burton Boat Company.
(2) Canal was purchased on Jan. 15th 1847.
london-canal-company/Pic of Map.
burton-on-trent/great-trunk-canal/Pic of boat.
wikipedia.org/trent-and-mersey-canal/old plan Pic.