Usually in my spare time I travel the country documenting hidden history around Britain, but current situations have meant that local history has become my focus and living just off the canal here in Runcorn I have compiled what I soon came to realise was a missing collective documentation of the 'Dukes' bridges'. Taken over several walks during lockdown this is what I have been able to collect in terms of what is known about these fascinating little structures, most of which are approaching 250 years old. Shockingly, during my research I came to realise that none of the original brick-built bridges are historically listed in Runcorn, and only from Daresbury onwards have any had their application granted.
In 1761 the Bridgewater canal opened linking Worsley to Manchester. Just a year later it's head engineer James Brindley assisted in obtaining parliamentary approval for the Bridgewater Canal Extension act which allowed the construction of an extension to the canal, from Manchester, to the River Mersey at Runcorn which completed in 1766. The prospects for the Duke of Bridgewater and the city of Manchester were endless in that they would finally be able to achieve a link to the open sea – an upper hand that Liverpool had always boasted which at one time was able to call itself the world’s busiest port. The canal was therefore put in place to effectively steal some of that thunder, and was designed to accommodate Mersey flats, allowing them to reach Manchester irrespective of tidal patterns on the unpredictable route of the river Mersey used for centuries before. This concept would mean that the low fixed bridges required traffic on the canal to be able to lower or unship their masts, and until motor powered vessels came into circulation, the vast majority of journeys along the canal were made using horsepower alone. These tow paths still exists today and were once used by guides who led horses along the entire stretch of the canal, which after Runcorn was entirely free of locks. Restored as public walkways, they now serve as one of the best edge-to-edge walks in Halton, and this photo collection will follow the path of the Runcorn extension to the end of what is now Halton borough, to appreciate and identify the bridges built along the way that were in place during the 1800’s when the canal was most prosperous. In the description of each bridge, I have provided the GPS coordinates to be copied into google maps for anyone who might want to retrace my steps.
(Click on any image to enlarge)