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The Early Working Years

© Copyright 2002 Graham Cousins and the Railway & Canal Historical Society.


Branch to Biddulph?

On 25 January 1838 a meeting was called to consider whether the Company should apply for an Act of Parliament to allow the construction of a branch canal from Buglawton (Congleton) to Biddulph.21 The idea of a branch canal serving the coal mines around Biddulph stirred up some opposition as may be judged by two letters which were published in the Courier.22

Sir, The principal argument brought forward in favour of the intended branch canal to Biddulph, appears to be the large coal field, and the great thickness of coal, that it is said, will be brought into the market; and the increased tonnage which the present canal will derive from that source, in addition to the saving to the public in the price of the article; for the projectors of a new scheme (kind souls) never consider themselves: it is entirely the welfare of others they wish to promote. Now, permit me through the medium of your valuable paper, to enquire if it has ever occurred to the projectors of the canal that, in addition to the expense of making the intended branch, they may have to pay for a very considerable quantity of coal, which it will be requisite to leave for the support of the canal; and also the expense of law-suits, and damages, in any case where the water from the canal may find ingress to the colliery; and which damages and loss of coals will, of course, not be restricted at their present value, but according to the value they will bear in the market when brought into it by the new branch canal. Really, Mr Editor, this most forcibly reminds one of the fable of 'the Snake and the Hedgehog’, for most assuredly, unless the Canal Committee are upon their alert, they will have to pay heavily for their charitable acts.

I am, Mr Editor,
Your Obedient Servant,
A Looker On


Sir, My attention has been called to the notice advertised in your paper, of a meeting to be held on Thursday, the 25th instant, of the Proprietors of the Macclesfield Canal, ‘to consider the propriety of making a branch canal to the Biddulph coal field’. Not being much acquainted with the country through which the canal passes, I naturally concluded upon reading this advertisement, that there must be a great scarcity of coals, and that there were no mines upon the line of the canal; and consequently that this projected measure might be desirable; but judge of my surprise, Mr Editor, on making enquiries through the medium of a friend to learn that there were already coal fields of almost inexhaustible extent, and of excellent qualities, upon the line of the canal, and fully adequate to supply any demand for a century. Then what may I ask is the object of this proposed branch? Is it to benefit a few individuals? It cannot be to the benefit the canal; for if I am rightly informed, any quantity of coals can be supplied by Mr Kinnersley, and the other coal masters, whose mines require no branch canal; and as I am but a poor arithmetical, I am somewhat puzzled how to make it out, that the Macclesfield Canal Proprietors are to be benefited by making a branch for coals which I am told would go a shorter length on the line than the coals from the Harecastle and other mines.23

I must be permitted, further, to add, that before the Committee had at all entertained this matter, it was their duty to have examined the state of the exchequer; whether the finances of the Macclesfield Canal Company were in that flourishing condition - their coffers so overloaded with surplus funds - or their dividends paying so large a percentage to share holders - as to justify such an outlay, without a remunerative prospect, unless indeed, it be by ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

Sir, I protest against any such project on the following grounds - that there is already a coal field of sufficient magnitude for any purposes on the line of the present canal - that the Company of Proprietors would obtain no advantage from the proposed branch, inasmuch as what tonnage might accrue from coals brought from Biddulph, would be more than counterbalanced by the loss of tonnage from the Harecastle and other mines. That the finances or revenue of the Company are not in such state as to justify the contemplated outlay either for speculation or proper purposes - that since the opening of the canal the dividend which has been paid is, I think, 2½%; and for some years nothing; and that therefore until the Company’s debts are discharged and they are in a condition to ensure an annual dividend of £6 per share, it would be an act of injustice to the Proprietors at large to entertain for a moment any such outlay.

I am, Sir, your Obedient Servant,
A Proprietor of the Macclesfield Canal

The meeting was duly held at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel on 25 January, and it was decided to apply to Parliament for an Act for the construction of the branch and to raise the necessary funds.24 It was reported that the resolutions were carried by large majorities. On 24 February 1838 a notice was placed in the Macclesfield Courier advising that application was to be made to Parliament for an Act for the construction of the branch.25, 26 The Act would authorise the construction of a railway or tramroad from the canal at Buglawton, beginning in Beech Field owned by the representatives of the late Lewis Porter (close to where the Biddulph Valley railway line now passes under the canal), to the Red Cross Toll Bar on the Bosley & Tunstall road at Biddulph (now Knypersley cross roads). A branch would leave the main line near a reservoir at Lee Mills (Biddulph Forge) and terminate at Trough Stone Quarries - a further branch from this would run to Woodhouse Colliery. From the main line another branch would begin at Marsh Green and end at collieries at Gillow Heath, being worked by Charles Lancaster, James Lancaster and John Bayley. Another branch from the main line would run to the Falls Collieries. The Act would also allow for the building of a canal rather than a railway for the first 2,640 yards of the main line from the proposed junction with the Macclesfield Canal, if this was felt to be more appropriate. The plan, sections, and a book of reference containing the names of owners, lessees and occupiers of the land through which the main line and branches were to pass would be deposited for public inspection by 1 March with the Clerks of the Peace at Chester and Stafford, and that by 1 April a copy of so much of the plan and sections as related to each parish would be deposited with the respective Parish Clerks. By 1 April a copy of the plan, sections and book of reference would also be deposited in the Private Bill Office of the House of Commons.

The Committee minutes of 9 March 1838 recorded that the ‘Subcommittee for the Biddulph Branch Canal’ had tried (and failed) to gauge the feelings of Captain Mainwaring towards the branch.27, 28 It was initially decided that an immediate application to Parliament would not be made and that the Subcommittee would seek the advice of John Rennie (Junior) as to whether the proposed railways in the Biddulph area would be feasible. Rennie supported the idea and the Subcommittee decided to have the required surveys carried out so that an application to Parliament could be made in the next Parliamentary session. It was resolved that Mr Philips, Mr Simpson and Mr Watts should see Captain Mainwaring and find to what extent he will pledge himself to go in relation to the formation of the railway and branches and the facilities he would be willing to grant to other coal owners. At the next Committee Meeting on 18 May Mr Hall, the Company Agent, read the correspondence between himself and Captain Mainwaring concerning the proposed branch. A letter from a Mr Fenton was also read which stated that Captain Mainwaring meant to oppose the application for an Act of Parliament for the proposed branch.

Continue the story - 1838, committee ; 1845-1846