Waterways of England and Wales

1880 - 1890


Introduction to 1880 - 1890

Click on one of the coloured areas to see an enlarged view.


These historical maps are by the late Dr. Mike Stevens

The Last Canals

Just as the system seemed to be running down completely, there was a short-lived burst of new building. Over the preceeding half-century there had been many proposals for ship canals to bring sea-going vessels to inland ports, but the last one to be successful was the Gloucester and Sharpness (proposed as the Gloucester and Berkeley in the 1780s and completed in 1827). In this decade we see three more. Two of these, one connecting Bristol and Gloucester and the other linking Winsford on the Weaver to Wolverhampton by way of the Potteries and Stafford, came to nothing like their recent predecessors.

The third was the Manchester Ship Canal, destined to become Britain's last, and by some measures greatest, canal. It was a massive undertaking which had huge effects on other waterways in its area. Since it planned much of its route along the line of the Mersey & Irwell Navigation it had to buy that, together with the Bridgewater Canal (which owned the M&I). The Duke's original stone aqueduct taking the Bridgewater across the M&I was replaced by the famous and dramatic Barton Swing Aqueduct. The River Weaver at Weston Point and the Shropshire Union at Ellesmere Port would now make their junctions with the MSC instead of the Mersey.

Two other new successful proposals were made during the decade. One was the Slough Branch of the Grand Junction Canal.

The other was the New Junction Canal. The River Don (or Dun) Navigation had merged with several adjoining waterways and had fallen under railway ownership in 1850. Now, as the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, it broke free and, inspired by the MSC, proposed its New Junction Canal to link to the Aire & Calder, with its flourishing port at Goole.

Closures in this decade were fewer than in recent ones. The Hereford and Gloucester was the only canal to close, although among river navigations we lost the Western Rother, the Horncastle and parts of the Sleaford and Arun.