the Whitchurch Arm Lift Bridge

The Whitchurch Arm

In 1800, the committee had decided to save money by not building the three-quarter mile long section from New Mills to Sherryman’s Bridge. According to the Ellesmere Canal Company minutes, this economy was suggested by ‘several gentlemen of considerable property in Whitchurch’, which seems surprising, particularly in view of subsequent developments. John Knight, a Whitchurch solicitor, was a committee member and attended this particular meeting.

In July 1805 a group of Whitchurch businessmen, led by William Turner (who occupied one of the warehouses at Grindley Brook), asked the committee for permission to build a branch canal from New Mills to Sherryman’s Bridge (as authorised in the Company’s Acts) then a further quarter of a mile on to Castle Well. The latter terminus would be closer to the town centre and be much more convenient — from Sherryman’s Hill the road rose 38 feet with a maximum gradient of 1 in 7, whereas the rise from Castle Well was only five feet. Because of the Canal Company’s financial difficulties, the committee readily agreed in principle, subject to them being able to take over the branch any time within ten years of its completion. Again, John Knight was present. However, at a subsequent meeting the committee concluded they did not have the authority to delegate the powers in their Acts.

The following summer an alternative proposal was made which had the same effect. The Canal Company was to contract with a consortium led by Samuel Turner (William’s brother, and a Whitchurch builder) to build the canal from New Mills to Castle Well for the sum of £2,000, which the consortium would lend to the Canal Company for four years ‘with lawful interest’ (later agreed as 5% per annum). The Company would apply to Parliament for powers for the extension from Sherryman’s Hill to Castle Well. Despite realising that they had no powers for the extension, they instructed that construction should start at Castle Well; the next meeting of the committee gave permission to start at New Mills instead. The arm opened to Sherryman’s Bridge on 6 July 1808. A temporary wharf was established there, but as there was no winding hole, boats had to be drawn back rudder-first to New Mills after unloading

The Canal Company seems to have done nothing about obtaining the Act for the extension until 1809. John Knight referred to ‘blunders and neglect’ by Messrs Potts & Leeke, the Canal Company’s solicitors, presumably concerning this delay. The pamphlet published to influence public opinion in favour of the further extension of the branch stated that no extra tolls would be charged; however, the Act clearly gave the right to charge the same tonnage rate as elsewhere.

It had been thought that all the landowners affected had agreed not to oppose the Bill; now two of them, William Trevor and Mr Taylor registered their opposition and gathered signatures for a petition against it. Taylor owned the wharf land on the west bank at Sherryman’s Hill (the east side was swampy and unsuitable for a wharf), and Trevor owned the property most affected at the site of the proposed basin at Castle Well.  

Telford’s plan would have given Trevor control of the land for the wharfs, so William Turner drew up an alternative plan whereby five people (including Trevor and himself) would have been able to make wharfs, and it was this alternative plan which was submitted to Parliament. Knight’s assessment was blunt: ‘Trevor’s sole object is monopoly.’ Knight organised a petition in favour of the Bill; and either the Trevor and Taylor saw the futility of their opposition or some informal agreement was made, because they withdrew their objections. William Turner assisted Messrs Potts & Leeke in preparing the case, and John Turner (who was either William’s or, less likely, Samuel’s son) gave evidence to Parliament; and the Act was passed.

This was not the end of the arguments with Mr Trevor and Mr Taylor. There was a difference of opinion about the amount of land to be taken for the canal, so a high-powered subcommittee, including the Earl of Bridgewater and Sir John Hill, was deputed to meet them and settle the differences. An independent surveyor was asked to make the measurements. Even that did not conclude the matter. The following year, William Trevor alleged that John Kynaston Powell (the previous Chairman of the Canal Company) had promised him that a footbridge would be erected over the Whitchurch arm; a subcommittee investigated and, without admitting liability, offered to pay Trevor £60 in lieu.

The Whitchurch arm opened in 1811. The various plans show a rectangular basin, but what was actually built was a narrow triangle (as at Ellesmere).