Preston - Walton Summit

Posted by Merlin (Merlin) on 24th June, 2008
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The South End - the challenge to be solved.

The long - distance walker, keen to trace the full length of the original Lancaster Canal from near Wigan to Kendal, will encounter several obstacles, but the route of the original tramway that linked Preston to Walton Summit is still reasonably clear, both on the ground, as a well-maintained cycleway/footpath, and on the Ordnance Survey maps. A remarkable industrial relic that suggests that 'canal mania' was sometimes not sufficient on its own to overcome natural obstacles..

The route of the canal from the top of the Wigan flight of locks, at Haigh Park, follows ten miles of navigable waterway, now the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, to the foot of the Johnson's Hillock locks and then suffers the indignity of urbanisation, industrial estates and motorways, before emerging briefly as a distressed tunnel and short length at Whittle-le-Woods to plunge into more housing covering the site of the Walton summit basin. The planners then throw us a clue with a 'Tramway Lane', but it is Bamber Bridge before the clear line of the route, then a tramway - now a cycleway, takes us into Preston. The rest is very common ground with the navigable Lancaster Canal, the remaindered stretch from Tewitfield and the dewatered (often recovered) line remaining as a footpath into Kendal.

The story of the 'missing link', the tramway from Preston to Walton Summit, begins with the opening of the Preston - Tewitfield section of the canal, (the North End), in 1797. The original (1792) Act of Parliament for the full route from Kendal to Westhoughton allowed for a series of 32 locks and a 600ft. long aqueduct to cross the Ribble and reach the 'South End' at Walton Summit. However, our famous Lune Aqueduct 'one of the finest structures of the Canal Age' had cost the Lancaster Canal Company some �48,321 and had virtually exhausted the issued capital of the company. It was hoped that the revenue from the South End, (at that time Johnson's Hillock to Haigh, a mile short of Westhoughton), and the North End would refill the coffers and find a conventional canal to link the two ends. This plan was scuppered by the extremely poor nature of the tumpike link between Johnson's Hillock and Preston and another Act of Parliament (1800) enabled a further �200,000 to be raised to finance a tramway, (Walton Summit to Preston), three miles of canal from Johnson's Hillock to Walton Summit, and a new canal basin in Preston.

After a great deal of debate the Canal Company gave the go-ahead in 1801 and the relationship between William Cartwright as engineer and Sam Gregson, company secretary was renewed. We are fortunate that the correspondence between these two, who had worked so closely in the initial phases of the Canal, is preserved in the Public Records Office at Kew, since it traces a project history that is not so dissimilar to some epics of the 20th Century.

There was indecision at the Canal Company Board, grasping landlords reluctant to sell to the Company, and a variable labour force very likely to upset the populace. The Canal Company also had trouble with its suppliers, especially with the cast iron rails for the tramway. The cheapest supplier was hired and eventually produced inferior rails which were rejected and left on the quayside at Liverpool, subsequently to be purchased at knockdown prices and used for less critical sections of the tramway. In the meantime the alternative, Yorkshire, foundry was asked to increase supplies. In the year 2001 there are still stone 'sleepers' to be found in all sorts of places, generally foundations and retaining walls, but the only samples of rails are in the museum, although a section of tramway has been re-created in Worden Park, Leyland.

In 1803 the five-mile tramway was completed and set off on nearly 60 years of service, with the last consignment going from Walton Summit to Preston in 1862. The section from Walton Summit to Bamber bridge remained in service until 1878. William Cartwright did not survive as long, dying, as a young man, in 1804. (Part of the fine house built for his occupation can be seen behind the facade of the Littlewoods store in Preston).

The long lock-free level of the Lancaster Canal remains one of its attractions to today's leisure boaters and the two mainline sections of the original canal, the North End and South End were attractive in their day, too, by eliminating the water requirements of broad gauge locks. But the penalties incurred by using the tramway remained severe.

Transshipping the coal, (northbound), and the limestone, (southbound), twice must have played havoc with costs and efficiency of the link , although it has been suggested that each horseman made two round trips daily from the Summit to Preston. Inclined planes at Avenham, (down from Preston to the Ribble), and up the other side at Penwortham were powered by steam engines and a further slope at the Summit remained horse-powered. The smoky steam engine at Penwortham was a particular bone of contention with its neighbours, and there were constant accidents on the tramway as the technology of the day succumbed to overloading and lack of maintenance.

TramwayOn foot, today, the missing link remains a reminder of ambitious businessmen determined to make a living from moving coal and limestone to where they were needed. In Preston there are few signs of the canal route, just a street name and a pub sign to hint at an active business 200 years ago. The terminal (basin) site of the 1800 Act is now occupied by Aldi (opposite the Corn Exchange) and the tramway tunnel under Fishergate has been accommodated in service access to modem shops. In Avenhain Park landscaping by the Victorians has made the incline less significant, (the engine house was demolished in 1869). The original tramway bridge was bought by the Corporation in 1872 as part of the Victorian gentrification of the riverside and later replaced by today's concrete replica.

The route of the tramway is clearly available, as a modern cycle track, as if climbs the hill to Penwortham, although this is an 1820 revision to make the incline less severe, and can be followed as a cycle track to the A6, and is then occasionally visible across the fields. At Bamber Bridge the route went between the McKenzie Public house and what is now Autosave. Today's industrial estates obscure the balance of the route, and the best estimate of the site of the Walton Summit terminal basin (Grid Ref. 583245) puts it firmly into the modem village of Clayton Brook, without even a plaque to locate the site! The terminal was quite ambitious for its time with three bays, a covered transfer shed, and dedicated north road, for coal, and south road, for limestone. It appears that the planned third incline at Walton Summit was never engined and was of a gradient suitable for horse haulage. The modem Walton Summit Industrial estate, with its Gregson Lane, and Tramway lane, is a few hundred yards north of the terminal site. Is there a Cartwright Lane tucked away somewhere?

From Clayton Brook Village the line of the South End of the Lancaster Canal emerges occasionally as a footpath and then protected line in front of a modem housing development. There is a brief stretch and a preserved bridge adjacent the Whittle Tunnel, (GR583218), before the M61 and M65 road works obliterate the balance of the route to Johnson's Hillock, where British Waterways have kindly labeled the abandoned link to the main run of what we know as the South End, (whilst mere boaters call it the Leeds and Liverpool). Incidentally, the canalside walk from here to Wigan is very pleasant, with good public transport links and some identifiable Rennie Structures, (e.g.. the aqueduct across the River Douglas), to admire.

In 2001 the transshipment of cargoes from water to rail is painless but 200 years ago it must have been a real problem. The horse - powered tramway link, however, did operate reasonably effectively from 1804 - 1862. The Canal company had an on-off relationship with the emerging railways of the region that has been widely documented elsewhere. In 1864 the North End was leased to the London and North Western Railway, and the South End to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, with eventual sale to the railway and winding up of the Canal Company in 1886. All this leaves the tramway as a few miles of footpath and some hidden stone sleepers, whilst we dream of that magnificent viaduct across the Ribble that never left the drawing board we can now welcome the Ribble Link is yet another solution to linking the South End of the Lancaster Canal to the North End.

'The Old Tram Road' by Steve Barritt
ISBN 1-85936-058-0)

Last changed: 24th June, 2008 at 8:47 am

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Page last updated on: 01.12.2014, 17:22 by Merlin