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Llangollen Canal
Llantysilio, Denbighshire to Hurleston Junction, Hurleston, Cheshire, UK
associated engineer
William Jessop
date  1794 - 1808
UK era  Georgian  |  category  Canal/Navigation works  |  reference  SJ200434
ICE reference number  HEW 1204/02
The Llangollen Canal incorporates the central section of the Ellesmere Canal with a feeder branch from Llantysilio to Trevor (Trefor). It runs south eastwards over the Wales-England border from near Llangollen in Denbighshire to Ellesmere in Shropshire and then turns north eastwards to Hurleston in Cheshire, where it joins the main line of the Shropshire Union Canal. Its westernmost stretch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes the spectacular aqueducts at Pontcysyllte and Chirk.
Llangollen Canal has its roots in the planning of the Ellesmere Canal, which was intended as a trade route between Liverpool and Bristol. Ellesmere was planned as a series of inland waterways linking the rivers Mersey and Dee across the Wirral, passing the River Dee at Chester and ending at the River Severn in Shrewsbury. Branches were to be added from Wrexham to Brymbo, between Frankton (near Ellesmere) and Whitchurch, and from Frankton to Llanymynech.
An Act of Parliament was passed on 30th April 1793 sanctioning the construction of the Ellesmere Canal with capital of £400,000, plus a further £100,000 if required. William Jessop (1745-1814) was appointed engineer, assisted by Thomas Telford (1757-1834) from September 1793. Work began in 1794 and the Llanymynech Branch opened in 1796, becoming part of the Montgomeryshire Canal. Other sections were completed in stages until 1806.
However, the whole canal was never completed as planned. Though parts had been constructed at the Wirral and between Whitchurch and Trevor, plans for sections between Chester and Trevor and from Frankton to Shrewsbury were abandoned as uneconomic.
Scrapping the Chester section compromised the canalís water supply, and in 1808 a narrow feeder channel was cut along the north side of the Dee Valley from Llantysilio to join the wider canal at a junction (SJ270422) south of its terminus at Trevor. At Llantysilio, water enters the feeder from the River Dee via a regulating weir on the Horseshoe Falls.
To join with the growing national canal network, the Whitchurch Branch was extended to Hurleston, where it linked to the Chester Canal. Short branches were built from the main line to Quina Brook, Whitchurch and Ellesmere. The resulting 74km long feeder and canal hybrid between Horseshoe Falls (SJ195432) and Hurleston Junction (SJ625553) was known as the Llangollen Branch of the Ellesmere Canal and forms the Llangollen Canal we know today.
The canal crosses mountainous terrain, which meant boring tunnels at Chirk (SJ284376) and Whitehouse (SJ286400) plus excavating a number of open cuttings. Flights of locks were built at Frankton, Grindley Brook near Whitchurch and Hurleston Reservoir.
But the routeís major challenges were bridging the River Ceiriog south west of Chirk and the River Dee south of Pontcysyllte. Jessop and Telford took the bold decision of making high-level crossings that allowed the canal to remain at a constant level, rather than adopting the traditional approach of building low-level aqueducts with lock systems accommodating the transitions. These structures — Chirk Aqueduct (SJ287373) and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (SJ269420) — soar through the air carrying the canal in watertight cast iron troughs.
The canal was an important transport artery for the existing iron, coal and agricultural industries, and also enabled new industries to flourish, including mills, brick works and chemical plants. In 1845-46, it became part of the Shropshire Union Canal group.
When railways started to dominate the transport network, canals lost some of their importance. Llangollen Canal was eventually leased to the London & North Western Railway. Waterborne traffic peaked in the 1860s but by the 1930s it had almost ceased. In 1936, the Frankton to Llanymynech Branch on the Montgomeryshire Canal closed after a breach near Frankton Junction.
In 1944, a Parliamentary Act of Abandonment closed most of the Ellesmere and Llangollen canal network to navigation. A second act enabled the Llangollen Canal to remain open as a source for local water supplies and various industries. British Waterways took ownership of the network in 1948.
By the end of the 1950s, the Llangollen Canal had become well used for leisure and boating and its future was assured. It is now one of Britainís most popular waterways for canal holidaymakers.
On 27th June 2009, 17.7km of the canal between Gledrid Bridge (SJ298368) and Horseshoe Falls was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Resident engineers: John Duncombe, Thomas Denson, Thomas Stanton
Contractors: John Fletcher snr, James Houghton, Samuel Weston, John Simpson, William Davies, James Varley, John Wilson
Ironwork: William Hazledine
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH WalesBDCE1

Llangollen Canal