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The Lancaster Canal is a canal in the north of England, originally planned to run from Westhoughton in Lancashire to Kendal in south Cumbria (then in Westmorland).
The section around the crossing of the River Ribble was never completed, and much of the southern end leased to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, of which it is now generally considered part.
Of the canal north of Preston, only the section from Preston to Tewitfield near Carnforth in Lancashire is currently open to navigation (42 miles; 68 km), with the canal north of Tewitfield having been severed in three places by the construction of the M6 motorway, and by the A590 road near Kendal.
The southern part, from Johnson's Hillock to Wigan Top Lock, remains navigable as part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The planned continuation to Westhoughton was never built.
The line of the canal was first surveyed by Robert Whitworth in 1772.
In 1791, John Longbotham, Robert Dickinson and Richard Beck resurveyed the proposed line, and a final survey was carried out later the same year by John Rennie.
An Act of Parliament received the Royal Assent on 11 June 1792, entitled An Act for making and maintaining a navigable Canal, from Kirkby Kendal in the county of Westmoreland, to West Houghton in the county palatine of Lancaster, and also a navigable Branch from the said intended Canal at or near Barwick, to or near Warton Cragg, and also another navigable Branch, from, at or near, Galemoss, by Chorley, to or near Duxbury in the said county palatine of Lancaster.
John Rennie was appointed as Engineer in July 1792, with William Crossley the elder as his assistant, and Archibald Millar as resident engineer and superintendent.
Work started almost immediately on the level pound from Preston to Tewitfield, and in 1794 on the Lune Aqueduct. By 1797 the aqueduct was open, carrying the canal 62 feet (19 metres) above the river, and boats were now able to travel the 42 3/8 miles (68.2 km) from Preston to Tewitfield.
In 1813, work began on the canal north from Tewitfield, which was completed to Kendal in 1819.
Construction on the 2.5 mile (4 km) Glasson Dock branch began in 1819, and it opened in 1826, with six locks carrying the canal down to the sea.
In 1941-42 the by then unused ½-mile (0.8 km) section north of Kendal Gas Works was closed because of leakage, and the canal carried its final commercial traffic in 1947.
In 1955, an Act of Parliament authorised the closure of the canal. It was drained of water north from Stainton because of leakage, and the last two miles (3 km) in Kendal were filled in. However, the route of the canal south from Kendal is still readily apparent, with most of the bridges remaining in place.
Construction of the M6 Motorway effectively ended navigation north of Tewitfield, with the canal culverted in three places, though it remains in water and can be used by small boats.
Packet boats provided an express passenger service between Preston and Lancaster, and later to Kendal at 10 mph (16 km/h), with passengers walking up or down the flight of locks at Tewitfield and embarking on a second boat. The seven-hour journey time halved the best speeds of stage coaches: because of the comfort of the journey, passengers stayed loyal to the packet boats even after the advent of railway competition in the 1840s.
The isolated northern part of the canal was finally connected to the rest of the English canal network in 2002 by the opening of the Ribble Link.
Most of the canal runs through open countryside except where it runs through the City of Lancaster. With the exception of the branch to Glasson Dock and the Ribble Link, the navigable Preston to Tewitfield section of the canal follows the same contour and is therefore free of locks.
The Kendal to Preston section now terminates at Ashton basin, but previously continued to the centre of Preston where there are a number of streets and pubs whose names give clues: Wharfe Street, Kendal Street, The Lamb and Packet (the lamb being the crest of Preston), The Fighting Cocks (formerly The Boatmans). Most of the ground formerly occupied by the canal basin is now the University of Central Lancashire.
By 1799, the canal was complete between Bark Hill near Wigan and Johnson's Hillock near Chorley. However, by 1801, no design had even been agreed for the aqueduct over the River Ribble, and in July 1801 it was agreed to build a temporary tramroad to cross the river and span the gap between the northern and southern parts of the canal. The double-track Lancaster Canal Tramroad was opened in 1803 with three steam-worked inclined planes and a low trestle bridge across the Ribble.
The canal was extended north from Johnson's Hillock to Walton Summit through a tunnel at Whittle Hills. This temporary solution become permanent, and the aqueduct was never built. Although this section was the busiest on the canal, income was insufficient to pay for construction of the planned aqueduct.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal having reached Blackburn by 1810, a decision was made to link with the Lancaster Canal's southern end to avoid constructing a parallel waterway. The Lancaster Canal built two short branches to connect with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, from Johnson's Hillock including 7 locks, and from Bark Hill to Wigan Top Lock – the Act authorising this construction also authorising additional tolls to make it worthwhile the Lancaster Canal co-operating with the Leeds and Liverpool. In 1851 the Lancaster Canal leased the tolls on the southern end to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in return for an annual rent, and this agreement was made permanent in 1864.
The tramroad was closed from Bamber Bridge to Preston in 1864, and the remainder to Walton Summit in 1879.
The canal between Walton Summit and the Leeds and Liverpool link at Johnson's Hillock was last used in 1932, and now much is buried under the M61 motorway.
The remainder of the southern end is now normally considered as part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and remains well used by leisure traffic.
Long term plans are being developed to reopen the section north of Tewitfield, which is still in water for 9 miles (15 km), fed by a reservoir at Killington near Tebay: the final 5 miles (8 km) into Kendal are dry. The Northern Reaches Restoration Group (NRRG) aims to restore the canal from Tewitfield to Kendal. There are nine partners: British Waterways, Cumbria County Council, Inland Waterways Association, Kendal Town Council, Lancashire County Council, City of Lancaster Council, Lancaster Canal Trust, South Lakeland District Council, and The Waterways Trust. The restoration will involve restoring the six places where the canal is culverted (including the three places where the M6 Motorway construction blocked the route), restoring Hincaster Tunnel, restoring the 5 dry miles, and a new crossing of the A590 road near Kendal, as well as many more minor works including work on 52 listed structures. The extensive engineering required will be expensive (a 2002 estimate being £60 million), and so restoration is planned to proceed in phases.
The first phase is planned to be restoration of 3.7 miles (6.0 km) southwards from Canal Head in Kendal to Natland Road. Funding of £750,000 was provided in 2005 for the planning and design of this first phase: construction works are not expected to commence before late 2007 with completion in 2009 at the earliest.
The Grade 1 Listed Lune Aqueduct was scheduled for a two million pound facelift in 2009/10. The organisations responsible for the aqueduct have been awarded £50,000 by the Heritage Lottery fund to enable them put together a credible bid for funding, but the work is not now expected to be completed until 2015.