The Sankey Canal

The Act authorising the Sankey Brook Navigation was passed in 1755. The Canal which was cut subsequently was carrying coal by 1757, making the Sankey England's First Canal of the Industrial Revolution.
The Engineer for the Sankey was Henry Berry, who was Liverpool's Second Dock Engineer. With Thomas Steers, Liverpool's First Dock Engineer, he had a part in building the Newry Canal in Northern Ireland, the first Canal in the British Isles.

The Sankey was built to bring coal down to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool. They rapidly expanded, and spread back along the line of the Canal to St Helens, Earlestown, and Widnes, which were small villages until this period. The Sankey can thus be credited with the industrial growth of the region.
The Sankey was built for Mersey Flats, the sailing craft of the local Rivers - the Mersey, Irwell, and Weaver - and the Lancashire and North Wales coasts. To allow for the masts of the flats, all the roads in the Canal's path had to be carried over on swing bridges. When the Railways came, they too had to cross in similar fashion - except at Earlestown, where Stephenson erected his massive Viaduct for the country's first passenger railway from Liverpool to Manchester, leaving 70 foot headroom for the flats' sails.
England's first double locks were built on the Sankey at Broad Oak, St Helens. A second set were built later at Parr.
Built primarily to take coal down to the Mersey and Liverpool, the final traffic on The Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction - raw sugar for the Sankey Sugar Works at Earlestown, from Liverpool.
The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to the closure of the Canal in 1963. North of the Sugar Works, closure had taken place in 1931, and fixed bridges quickly replaced the old wooden swing bridges. The Canal, however, remained largely in water right up into the centre of St Helens, although its terminus had been truncated in 1898, when Canal Street was built over it.
The Sankey's immediate commercial success, followed soon after by that of the Bridgewater, led to a mania of canal building, and for extension schemes for the Sankey. One would have linked it to the Leeds-Liverpool near Leigh, to the North-East, and another to the Bridgewater and the Trent and Mersey via an aqueduct over the Mersey at Runcorn to the South-West Apart from early extension (1762 - to Fiddlers Ferry from Sankey Bridges, for better locking into the River, and 1775 - to St Helens itself) the only major change came in 1832, when, to meet Railway competition, an extension was built down to new locks at Widnes.
The Sankey Canal became more commonly known as the St Helens Canal after 1845, when the St Helens Railway Company took over the then more prosperous Canal Company to form the St Helens Canal and Railway Company

The Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS) was formed in 1985, with the help and encouragement of the St. Helens Groundwork Trust. The principal aim of the Society is to achieve the full restoration of the Canal. To bring this about, the Society actively publicises and promotes the cause of the Canal, particularly in the three Boroughs through which it runs - Widnes (Halton), Warrington, and St Helens.

The Society supplements and supports the work the three Boroughs carry out themselves, particularly through their respective Ranger Services, covering the Canal's length.

In their turn, the Boroughs have positive policies towards the Canal and its restoration. A Feasibility Study was completed in the mid-1990's. Our partners in the Local Authorities are now working on a follow-up Economic Benefits Study.

SCARS carries out a Restoration Programme throughout the year, often in conjunction with the Waterway Recovery Group, which is the practical work arm of the national canals' organisation, the Inland Waterways Association.

The IWA supports the Society's aims, and is represented on its Executive Committee. From September to April, monthly Members' Meetings are held. These usually take the form of talks illustrated with slides, covering the Sankey itself, restoration work on other canals in the country, and subjects of related interest to the Canal and the towns it served.

During the warmer months, Guided Walks are organised along the Canal, and visits to other restoration projects are undertaken.

A team of Members staffs the Society's publicity caravan and stall at various Shows and Rallies in the region.

All information Copyright SCARS. With thanks

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