Top Locks to Ship Canal

Hello people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here again. Me and my human walk around our town of Runcorn on most days. We try to vary the routes that we take. If we aren’t driving to the Peak District, Snowdonia or the Lake District we usually walk for twice in the day in Runcorn. Runcorn is a fairly large town in north-west Cheshire. It is an industrial area with an expanding new town. The area has a rich history and plenty of interesting places to see, if you simply open your eyes. The town grew up on the River Mersey and since then it has been a town that has been reliant on its waterways. One of Runcorn’s most important waterways in the past has been the Bridgewater Canal. Since the 1960’s, when the ‘new’ Silver Jubilee road bridge was constructed, the Bridgewater has terminated at Waterloo Bridge. In 1773 the locks linked with the River Mersey and on its completion in 1894, with the Manchester Ship Canal. From Waterloo Bridge the canal ran downhill, through a series of five paired locks, to the Ship Canal. These locks still exist and have been backfilled with sand and rubble since the 1960’s. With the building of the Mersey Gateway Bridge, the Silver Jubilee Bridge is no longer the main road crossing of the River Mersey at Runcorn. Some of the approach roads to the Silver Jubilee Bridge have been removed and opened up the possibility of the reinstating of the locks to the Ship Canal. Under Waterloo Bridge from Top Locks a view has reappeared, admittedly, not an expansive one, but it is an improvement on a brick wall. The whole area is in the process of regeneration and landscaping. Hopefully, we will see a vast improvement both aesthetically and functionally to the area.

Waterloo Bridge at Top Locks

Me and my human decided to take a walk from Top Locks, by the Waterloo Bridge along the route of the flights of locks to the Manchester Ship Canal. With the demolition and construction work that was in progress, this wasn’t a straightforward walk. We had to detour a few times but, we managed to cover most of the route.

Top Locks

We started our walk under Waterloo Bridge and after taking a few photographs, we left Top Locks at the side of the old Waterloo pub, currently a Buddhist Temple. On the corner of Waterloo Road, opposite the old pub, there is a Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp, just over a low wall. The purpose of these lamps was to vent the methane and other nasty gases from the poorly designed sewers underground. The methane was vented off and ignited and basically, killed two birds with one stone. The dangerous gases did not accumulate underground, with the possibility of an explosion, and also illuminated, with the igniting of the gas, the area providing a freely fuelled streetlight. They weren’t perfect though, as the flame would die as the gas source reduced naturally. So, they were modified to be jointly fuelled by the addition of town gas.

Sewer Gas Destructor Lamp

I managed to drag my human away from, what I thought, was merely a peeing post. We weaved our way through the fenced off construction areas, until we passed the building that was built in 1856 as a Welsh Calvinistic Chapel. It is currently a residential building almost underneath the approach to the Silver Jubilee Bridge. The church was built for the Welsh community that grew in the town in the early 19th century, populated by sailors, dock workers and quarrymen.

Spiritualist Church

We walked on and turned the corner into Ashridge Street, with its Spiritualist Church. This building was constructed, partly under an arch of the Ethelfleda Railway Bridge, in 1888. George Marshall, a chemist shop owner from Devonshire Square, funded the cost of construction, for the use of the Greenway Road Methodist Church and Home Missions. The building was used as a hospital for injured soldiers in the First World War.

Society mural

The next place to catch my dad’s eye on our walk, before we reached the old locks, was Society Ltd. The pub and microbrewery are housed in the 1928 Co-operative Society building. The amazing mural on the exterior of the building is definitely a sign of the time, with its main character wearing a facemask.

Dukesfield Playground

Just around the corner, as we entered Percival Lane, we decided to miss out the section of the old locks directly behind Waterloo Bridge, with the view to visiting that section on our return journey. Instead, we passed through the gates into the area that is currently Dukesfield Playground, descending the route of the Mid-flight of locks. Originally, one flight of locks served the link to the Mersey but, in 1828, a ‘New Line’ of locks were built to provide a one-way system up and down the flight. This was due to the increase in traffic on the canal.

The basin

There is a flat area at this point that was once a basin, surrounded by warehouses. The canal walls can still be seen lining the footpath, that heads downhill, and crosses Old Coach Road. It is hard to imagine that this tree lined footpath owes its existence to a thriving two lane highway for heavily laden narrowboats and barges. Well, I let my human ponder stuff like that. It was a good area for me to mooch around and sniff in the undergrowth.

Widening of the locks
Sculptured canal relic
Mid flight locks
Route of the locks
A quick lamppost sniff

Across Old Coach Road we came to a large Georgian building on our left, Bridgewater House. It was built in 1771 for the Duke of Bridgewater and is a Grade II Listed building. It has had various uses since its construction. The Duke of Bridgewater used it initially, to oversee the construction of the canal. It has been used as offices for the Bridgewater Trustees and for the Bridgewater Navigation Company and later by the Manchester Ship Canal Company. During the Second World War it was used by the Balloon Section of the RAF.

Bridgewater House

A few yards from the building is the Entrance Lock, or what remains of it, to the Manchester Ship Canal. This lock was constructed by James Brindley in 1774 on the bank of the River Mersey. Problems arose with the formation of sand banks at the entrance but, with the building of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894, the Bridgewater was linked to this canal instead.

The overgrown Entrance Locks
Entrance Locks
Entrance Locks
Manchester Ship Canal

We spent a few minutes in the overgrown Entrance Lock area, before we returned to the lock area behind the Waterloo Bridge, at the back of Hankey Street. At this point the locks passed under an arch of the railway bridge. There is currently so much construction and demolition work in this area that it is difficult to imagine how the old flight of locks could be re-instated. We walked around the re-routed footpaths and crossed Waterloo Bridge. The bridge has three arches, one for the old line of locks, one for the new line the central arch led to a dry dock. The bridge had cast iron extensions added in 1886 to widen it for road traffic. It is a Grade II listed building.

Railway arch
Demolition and regeneration at the site of the locks
Waterloo Bridge

Our walk home from Top Locks took us along the Bridgewater Canal and my dad said that he was trying to imagine how this tranquil canal was once a major thoroughfare with an endless stream of heavily laden boats taking their cargo through the country’s waterways.

We were soon back home, and I had had my walk and the big feller had had his fix of Runcorn history. We were both content. Till next time!

12 thoughts on “Top Locks to Ship Canal

  1. Just discovered your walks via the Walking for pleasure Facebook page. Really excellent and informative articles with plenty of history. Thank you so much for sharing your walks. I’ve only just discovered Runcorn as a place to explore and your walks provide new ideas.

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  2. Loved the canal, we used to join it at Bates Bridge at the bottom of Sea lane and cycle to Walton Gardens as kids, until the New town development, then it became too dangerous with hordes of mini criminals, and rubbish being dumped from folks houses. This so called “progress” was the beginning of the end of what was once, a beautiful part of Cheshire. The death of the working canals can not be blamed on the newer developments, the railways and later the motorways and trucking saw to that. It would be wonderful to see more visiting canal boats in the area,but that won’t happen until there are safer places to moor the boats and more facilities for the canal boating community.Thank you for your wonderfully insightful blog. I enjoy reading them from afar, Wyoming USA, which is landlocked, but thankfully lacks new developments, and one can hike for days without seeing another human.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. You make some valid points. The area has been spoilt somewhat by bad planning and neglect by the authorities. People seem to have divided into two camps. One with total disregard and disrespect. The other who care and are considerate. One group spoils it for the other. Fortunately, there are still some beautiful areas left to enjoy 🐾🐾👍

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    2. You’ll be pleased to know that the canals aren’t plagued with hordes of mini criminals, and it is quite safe to walk, run, cycle, row in fact do whatever you like right from bate’s bridge to Walton Gardens or the other way into the old town. I know this to be true as I’ve lived all my life in Runcorn (53 yrs) and never had any problem, or heard of anyone else having a problem, and I use the canal tow paths most days.

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  3. I live in Widnes so Runc’n heritage and history is all fairly new to me ..I loved the idea of the methane gas being used for lighting in Widnes we have a tower ….enjoyed your travels with your human..thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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