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Ellesmere Canal

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The Ellesmere Canal was a canal in England and Wales, originally planned to link the Rivers Mersey, Dee, and Severn, by running from Netherpool (now known as Ellesmere Port) to Shrewsbury.

The canal that was eventually constructed was very different from what was originally envisioned. Part of the Ellesmere Canal has now become known as the Llangollen Canal, part forms a section of the Montgomery Canal, and part forms a section of what is now called the Shropshire Union Canal main line.

1791 The formal proposal for the canal was launched at a meeting in Ellesmere for a canal from Netherpool on the River Mersey to the River Dee, and from there via Overton (south of Wrexham) to the River Severn at Shrewsbury. This proposed canal would have branches, to the iron making and coal mining areas at Bersham between Wrexham and Ruabon, and to Llanymynech.

There were suggestions that it would be better to take a more westerly route from the Dee to the Severn, passing directly through the Ruabon industrial area, and John Duncombe was asked to survey such a route. The engineer William Jessop was called in to advise, and he recommended Duncombe's route.

This route posed formidable engineering obstacles, with deep valleys to be crossed and high ground to be tunnelled. Duncombe's survey involved a climb of 303 feet from Chester to Wrexham, a 4,607 yard tunnel at Ruabon, a high level crossing over the Dee at Pontcysyllte, a further tunnel and aqueduct near Chirk, and a tunnel in Shropshire near Weston Lullingfields.

A plan of the canal, published in 1795 shows the intended route, with the main line running from the River Mersey to the River Severn passing through or past: Great Stanney; Stoke; Wervin; Caughall; Chester; Saltneyside; Leech Hall; Rough Hill; Cuckoos Nest; Wrexham; Ruabon; Plas Maddock; Chirk; Hordley; Dandyford; Shade Oak; Weston Lullingfield; Eyton; Walford; Hancott; Shrewsbury. This plan showed four branches. A three mile branch would run to Holt. A five mile branch would from near Wrexham to Brumbo. A branch would run from near Hordley to Llanymyneck, via Maesbury, Morton and Crickheath. A 17-mile branch would run from near Tetchill to Prees Heath, via Welshampton, Fenns Moss and Whitchurch.

1793 An Act of Parliament was passed and Jessop was appointed engineer while Thomas Telford was appointed as General Agent.

1795 The easy section from the Mersey to the Dee near Chester, was first used in 1795. This allowed the company to generate revenue from tolls in order to help finance construction of the rest of the canal.

For the second, upstream, crossing of the River Dee, rather than crossing at full height, Jessop had offered a cheaper solution using locks on both sides of the valley to take the canal down to a more manageable height, although this would have required backpumping the water they would use. Although it is not clear exactly with whom the credit should lie, between them Jessop and Telford developed a proposal for a cast-iron aqueduct at Pontcysyllte in 1795 without any locks or backpumping, thus maintaining the original level.

In 1796 construction on a feeder reservoir at Moss Valley was started.

In 1796 the Llanymynech Branch was opened, linking the main line at Frankton Junction with Llanymynech. This joined the Montgomeryshire Canal at Carreghofa Locks when the Montgomeryshire opened in 1797.

In 1798 work on this section of canal was ceased. This isolated section ran from Ffrwd to a basin in Summerhill.

The Mersey to the Dee section was joined to the Chester Canal in 1797.

On the main line section, the Chirk Aqueduct was opened in 1801, and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 1805. By this time the proposed line from the Dee at Chester to Ruabon had been abandoned as uneconomic. The canal was therefore terminated at Trevor Basin, 2 miles southwest of Ruabon.

Also abandoned was the plan to reach the Severn, as the Shrewsbury Canal was already serving the town, and the poor navigational state of the Severn meant that additional traffic would not justify the cost of the building works.

As the canal would now not reach its proposed main source of water northwest of Wrexham, a feeder was constructed along the side of the Dee valley to Horseshoe Falls at Llantisilio. This narrow feeder branch was made navigable, allowing boats to reach Llangollen.

What was originally to be constructed as the main line of the canal in fact only ran from Pontcysyllte Basin to Weston Lullingfields, some 18 miles long. This left the canal isolated from the rest of the waterways network, so so the planned Whitchurch branch was re-routed to link the canal to the rest of the waterways network.

The 29 mile "branch" was constructed, from Frankton via Ellesmere to the Chester Canal at Hurleston Junction. It was finished in sections between 1797 and 1806 and became considered the main line. As the new route by-passed Whitchurch, the extension included a short arm to reach the town. Another branch originally intended to reach Prees; however this never reached its destination, and was only constructed as far as Quina Brook.

The section from Frankton Junction to Weston Lullingfields, originally intended as part of the main line, was then considered a branch, known as the Weston Branch. The uncompleted section between Weston Lullingfields and the River Severn Shrewsbury would have been 9.5 miles long, with 107 feet of lockage and a 487-yard tunnel at Weston Lullingfileds.

The Ellesmere Canal merged with the Chester Canal in 1813, forming the Ellesmere and Chester Canal company.

A merger with the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal in 1845 was followed in 1846 by the formation of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company.

In 1917 the Weston Branch was closed following a breach near Hordley Wharf,.

By 1939 traffic on the line from Hurleston to Llangollen had ceased, and the whole of the Ellesmere Canal network other than the line from Ellesmere Port to Chester was closed to navigation by Act of Parliament in 1944. However, the line from Hurleston to Llangollen was retained purely as a water feeder for the Shropshire Union Canal main line and for drinking water, with an agreement in 1955 with the Mid & South East Cheshire Water Board securing the line's future.

Despite the formal closure, increasing popularity of the canal with pleasure boats led to its acceptance as an important amenity, and the rebranding as the Llangollen Canal.

The Ellesmere Canal south of Frankton Junction, including the Llanymynch Branch and the Montgomeryshire Canal, is nowadays referred to as the Montgomery Canal, and the isolated northern section from Chester to Ellesmere Port considered part of the main line of the Shropshire Union Canal.

The Weston Branch is now infilled, save for a very short section, which has a British Waterways amenity block.

The configuration of the locks at Chester was altered when the Ellesmere Canal was joined to the Chester Canal, with the original 5-lock staircase being replaced by the three Dee locks. This section is now part of the Shropshire Union Canal.

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Sources of Information