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The Leeds and Liverpool Canal main line is 127 miles (204 km) long and crosses the country from Liverpool, Merseyside to Leeds, West Yorkshire.
It has two main side-branches, the Leigh Branch and the Rufford Branch.
The summit level is at 487 feet (148 m). The canal was built with locks 60 ft (18.3 m) long and 14 ft 3 inch (4.3 m) wide to accommodate the Yorkshire Keel barges already in use on the Rivers Aire and Humber. However, the locks on the Leigh Branch and the mainline between Wigan and Liverpool (and Rufford Branch), were extended to a length of 72 feet (21.9 m) to accommodate the longer boats trading on the rest of the canal network following the building of the Leigh Branch.
The original Liverpool terminus was at Clarke's Basin in present-day Old Hall Street. This later moved to Pall Mall when land was sold to a railway company. The Leeds end of the canal runs into the Aire & Calder Navigation.
At Liverpool a direct connection to the docks via Stanley Dock was built in 1846. A new £17 million Liverpool Canal Dock Link is now completed, which re-connects the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Liverpool's South Docks via Stanley Dock, allowing boats to travel past the world-famous Three Graces and into the Albert Dock.
From Liverpool to Appley Locks, the canal runs for 27 miles (43 km) without locks, across the West Lancashire Coastal Plain.
The two main side-branches both connect to other waterways.
The Rufford Branch links into the River Douglas and, via the Ribble Link and the River Ribble to the previously isolated Lancaster Canal. The Leigh Branch from Wigan leads to the Bridgewater Canal and thus to Manchester and the Midlands.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is said to be the longest single canal in England, but it is shorter than the longest canal of all, Grand Union canal which was made up of many smaller canals merged together. The Leeds Liverpool Canal includes the southern part of the Lancaster Canal between Johnsons Hillock and Wigan Top Lock.
A very famous part of the canal is at Aintree where it passes close to the racecourse and gives the name to the course's Canal Turn.
It has one of the country's most photographed canal features - the 5-rise staircase locks at Bingley.
Bingley Five Rise and the Burnley Embankment are two of the original Seven Wonders of the canal world chosen by Robert Aikman.
In the mid 18th century the growing towns of Yorkshire including Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, were trading increasingly. While the Aire & Calder Navigation improved links to the east for Leeds, links to the west were limited to primitive and unreliable road transport. On the west coast, traders in the busy port of Liverpool were restricted in their ability to sell their goods from around the world to the rich towns of Yorkshire.
Inspired by the effectiveness of the wholly-artificial navigation, the Bridgewater Canal opened in 1759-1760, a canal across the Pennines linking Liverpool and Hull (by means of the Aire and Calder Navigation) had obvious trade benefits.
A public meeting took place at the Sun Inn in Bradford on 2 July 1766 to promote the building of such a canal.
John Longbotham was engaged to survey a route.
Two groups were set up to promote the scheme, one in Liverpool and one in Bradford. The Liverpool committee was unhappy with the route originally proposed, considering that it ran too far to the north, missing key towns and the coalfields of south Lancashire. A counter-proposal was produced by John Eyes and Richard Melling, which was rejected by the Bradford committee as too expensive. James Brindley was called in to arbitrate, and ruled in favour of Longbotham's more northerly route, a decision which caused some of the Lancashire backers to withdraw their support, and which was subsequently amended over the course of development.
An Act was passed in May 1770 authorising construction, and Brindley was appointed chief engineer and John Longbotham clerk of works; following Brindley's death in 1772, Longbotham carried out both roles.
By 1774 the canal had been completed from Skipton to Shipley, including significant engineering features such as the Bingley Five Rise Locks, Bingley Three Rise Locks and the seven-arch aqueduct over the River Aire. Also completed was the branch to Bradford. On the western side, the section from Liverpool to Newburgh, was dug. By the following year the Yorkshire end had been extended to Gargrave, and by 1777 the canal had joined the Aire & Calder Navigation in Leeds.
By now, the subscribed funds and further borrowing had all been spent, and work stopped in 1781 with the completion of the Rufford Branch from Wigan to the River Douglas.
In 1789 Robert Whitworth developed fresh proposals to vary the line of the remaining part of the canal, including a tunnel at Foulridge and a more southerly route in Lancashire. These proposals were authorised by a fresh Act in 1790, together with further fund-raising.
In 1794 a further Act was granted authorising yet another change of route, and yet more fund-raising, as Foulridge Tunnel was proving difficult and expensive to dig. It opened in 1796 and was 1,640 yards (1,500 m) long. The new route took the canal south via Burnley and Blackburn, but the latter was not reached until 1810. The latest plan for the route had it running parallel to the isolated southern end of the Lancaster Canal, but common sense prevailed and the Leeds and Liverpool connected with the Lancaster Canal between Wigan and Johnson's Hillock.
The main line of the canal was thus completed in 1816. The canal took almost 40 years to complete, in crossing the Pennines the Leeds and Liverpool had been beaten by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Rochdale Canal.
The heavy industry along its route, together with the wise decision to build the canal with broad locks, ensured that, unlike the other two trans-Pennine canals, the Leeds and Liverpool remained open.
The canal suffered some damage during World War Two. It was breached by a German mine in Bootle and the headquarters at Pall Mall were damaged. Files from the headquarters were moved to a house in nearby Formby. The canal in west Lancashire was part of Britain's defensive plans against invasion. Along the canal there were tank traps, bunkers and blockhouses. Some buildings such as barns and pubs along the canal were fortified. There are still some remaining concrete pill boxes and brick built blockhouses.
Trade continued on the canal until the 1960s. Coal was shipped to the power station in Wigan and corn to Ainscoughs mill in Burscough. The last horse drawn barge was Parbold.
The especially cold winters in the early 1960s finished off commercial use of the canal. The section of canal between Aintree and the Liverpool terminus was classed as Remainder in the review of the waterways and therefore only receives enough maintenance to keep it structurally sound.
The Leeds Liverpool Canal is one of the quietest canals for leisure boating on the network.
In the 1960s the Pall Mall terminus basin was filled in up to Chisenhale Street Bridge (Bridge A).
In the 1980s the Eldonian Village housing estate was built for the community which was disrupted by the building of the Mersey Tunnel and the demolition of the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery. This meant the canal was filled in between Chisenhale Street Bridge (Bridge A) and just north of Burlington Street Bridge (Brdge B), As part of the development a new bridge was built, Vauxhall Bridge (un-numbered) which was opened by Cilla Black. The terminus was by the Eldonian Village Hall till the new Liverpool Link opened in 2009 extending the canal from there through the dockland and the pier head to the Albert Dock.