the Creation of The ellesmere Canal

The creation of the Ellesmere Canal

In January 1791 the Shrewsbury Chronicle published extracts from a pamphlet written by ‘A Friend of Inland Navigation’ which extolled the suitability of the area between the Severn and the Dee for canals. Amongst the advantages would be the improvement of land through manuring, and the easier transport of the produce to market, thus making farming more profitable and increasing the value of land; also lime, coal, slate, ironstone and lead could be brought from the mines and quarries to where they were needed.

At that time the country was buzzing with proposals for new canals. On 31 August 1791 ‘a respectable number of gentlemen’ met at the Royal Oak, Ellesmere, to consider a proposal by John Duncombe of Oswestry for a canal from Shrewsbury to Chester and on to Stanlow, to uniting the rivers Severn and Dee and the Mersey estuary. This was to run to the west of the Dee; at this stage the exact route had not been settled, and a pamphlet approved at the meeting referred to the possibility of a branch to Whitchurch.
Joseph Turner, a Chester architect, put forward an alternative scheme routed to the east of the Dee, with Whitchurch being served by a heavily-locked branch about 10 miles long, up the Wych Valley from a junction near Threapwood.
The country’s leading waterways engineer, William Jessop, was employed to consider the two schemes and advise. He was assisted by Duncombe and William Turner of Whitchurch, Joseph’s cousin. Although in engineering terms the ‘Eastern Canal’ was easier, Jessop preferred the western route, as it better served Wrexham, Ruabon, the Denbighshire coalfield, the associated ironworks, and the limestone quarries at Llanymynech. This survey formed the basis of the application to Parliament in 1792, modified in various ways, including the addition of a long branch from Frankton to Whitchurch, then up three locks to Prees Heath.

A public meeting was held at Ellesmere on 10 September 1792 to take subscriptions for this scheme; on the same day in the same town, subscriptions were taken for the rival ‘Eastern Canal’. As a defensive measure, the Western Committee added a further branch (surveyed by William Turner) from Fens Hall, some three miles west of Whitchurch, to the Chester Canal near Tattenhall. The two groups formally merged in February 1793.