Trent and Mersey Canal
Following the opening of the Bridgewater canal in 1761, Josiah Wedgwood showed an interest in the construction of a canal through Stoke on Trent for the fast and safe transport of his pottery and the import of raw materials. Wedgwood’s plan was to connect the River Mersey on which the west coat port of Liverpool stands with the River Trent between Derby and Nottingham from which it is navigable to the east coast port of Hull. This provided the pottery towns with a good transport route to the west coast towns, Ireland and the Americas and the east coast towns and near continent.
The plan of a canal connection from the Mersey to the Trent was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766 and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood at Middleport. Engineer James Brindley was engaged, and surveyed and designed the canal but died in 1772 five years before it fully opened in 1777. It is 93 miles (150km) long, has more than 70 locks and 5 tunnels the longest of which is the Harecastle tunnel a few miles north of Etruria.
The Harecastle Tunnel is actually two tunnels. The first built by James Brindley measured 2,880 yards (2.633m) long. Boats were ‘legged’ through by men lying on their backs and pushing against the roof with their feet. This was a physically demanding process and created major delays. The civil engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a second, and wider, parallel tunnel with a towpath. This 2,926 yard (2.676km) long tunnel was opened in 1827 and allowed two-way traffic, in effect doubling the capacity of the canal.
In the 1900s, the Brindley tunnel was closed due to severe subsidence, but the Telford Tunnel – although also prone to the same problems – remains in use, and is the fourth-longest navigable canal tunnel in the UK.
In 1771, Wedgwood built the famous factory village of Etruria close to the Trent and Mersey canal. As a main transport highway, many other factories were built along its length, including Shirley’s Bone and Flint Mill.
The Caldon Canal commences at Etruria, immediately adjacent to the top lock of the Stoke flight on the Trent and Mersey Canal. A statue of James Brindley, the engineer for the Trent and Mersey main line, stands near the junction.
Following the course of the River Trent, the waterway climbs to a summit level at Stockton Brook, which carries it over the watershed between the Trent and Churnet Valleys. Thereafter the canal descends through locks at Hazelhurst and then Cheddleton, into an initially broad flood plain. It was built to transport limestone from Caldon quarries into the potteries and elsewhere. Limestone and its derivatives are required for building work, the smelting of iron and for agriculture. It also provided a general transport route to the Staffordshire Moorlands and even more important was and is the feeder canal to the summit section of the Trent and Mersey Canal. Initially two reservoirs on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent, Stanley reservoir (pool) and Knypersley reservoir (pool) fed the system and in 1798 Rudyard reservoir near to Leek was constructed. Renamed Rudyard Lake, it became a tourist destination from 1800. The famous author Rudyard Kipling is named after it as his parents liked to spend time at the attraction.
Canal Warehouse, Check Office and Gauging Dock
The warehouse was used from the early 1800s by the Canal Company and later by British Waterways (now the Canal and River Trust) to store goods and equipment. Attached is a gauging dock where boats were ‘gauged’, that is known weights added and the displacement marked on the side of the hull so when the boat went to a check office the weight of the cargo could be seen and the correct tariffs, normally based on the weight and type of goods charged. The check office for the Caldon canal may be visited. From the 1770s to the coming of the railways canals were very profitable and the companies paid very good dividends to the investors.
Summit Lock of Trent and Mersey
This lock is the highest on the Trent and Mersey Canal. From here, it is downhill into both the Trent valley and, after passing through Harecastle tunnel, also into the Cheshire plain, which results in significant water loss. The Caldon Canal is a feeder canal conveying water from Rudyard Lake, near to Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands to replenish the water lost in both directions.
Staircase Lock on the Caldon
Officially known as the Bedford Street Double lock, this is the last existing staircase lock in Staffordshire.