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Macclesfield Canal construction

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


The Act empowered the Company to raise the money required for building the canal and its associated structures this sum was to be a maximum of £300,000. The money was to pay for the costs of obtaining the Act of Parliament, for the surveys, plans and estimates, and for the construction and maintenance of the canal. The sum of £300,000 was to be divided into 3,000 shares of £100 each. The estimated cost of building the canal and its associated works was put at £295,000. Of this, £260,900 had already been subscribed by the time of the Act. It was enacted that the whole of the sum of £295,000 had to be subscribed before the powers given in the Act could be put into force. The Company was enabled to raise a further sum of £100,000 for the completion of the canal by raising a mortgage upon the credit of the navigation.


The tolls which the Company could charge for the carriage of goods on the canal were set out in the Act as follows:

  • For every ton of sand, gravel, paving stones, bricks, clay, coal for burning lime, limestone, and rubble stone for roads – 1d per mile.

  • For every ton of ashlar stone, slate, flags, spar, coal (except for burning lime), and other minerals – 1½d per mile.

  • For every ton of timber, lime, goods, wares, and all other merchandise, articles, matters, and things not mentioned above – 2d per mile.

Tolls were payable to the next quarter of a mile travelled and to the next quarter of a ton as loaded. The Company was required to set up posts every quarter of a mile along the canal – where such a post was not fixed the Company would forfeit up to £10. The Company had to erect boards listing the tolls at all the places along the canal where tolls would be charged or collected.

First AGM

The first General Meeting of Canal Company s hareholders took place on Thursday 25 May 1826 at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel at 12 noon.35 Sir H. M. Mainwaring was the Chairman. The business of the day consisted mainly in the appointment of officers of the Company. Mr William Cririe was elected as Clerk. The next appointment to be made was that of Treasurer. The Rev Edward Stanley proposed Mr William Brocklehurst and this was seconded by John Ryle. A counter proposal for this post was a Mr Edward Smythe, his name being put forward by John Daintry and a Mr Jones. However, it was felt that a banker would be the best person to appoint as Treasurer since no salary would be paid. William Brocklehurst was finally appointed without opposition, but it was then found that he wished his brother, Mr Thomas Brocklehurst, to be appointed instead. Thomas Brocklehurst was proposed as Treasurer by Mr Stanley and appointed. Mr Cririe explained the work of the Committee to the assembled shareholders – covering the early stages when the Parliamentary Bill was being promoted to the present time when they were met to put the Act into force. The negotiations with the Trent & Mersey Canal Company were detailed. The Trent & Mersey Company was a powerful opponent of the Macclesfield Canal project and it won the right to excavate the last mile of the canal and to take the tolls on that length when it was completed. The cost of obtaining the Act, including Engineer's, Surveyor's and other fees, was said to be between £5,000 and £6,000.

Work creation scheme

In October 1826 an editorial in the Courier raised concerns about the lack of employment for the poor during the coming winter. It suggested that an application should be made by the Poor Law Overseers of the town to the Committee of Proprietors to contract with them for the cutting of that part of the canal which passed through the Macclesfield area.36

Finding contractors

During that same month the Canal Company was advertising for contractors to start excavating the canal between Marple and the head of the flight of locks at Bosley, a length of about sixteen miles. The work was to be let in five lots. Plans and specifications were to be ready for inspection at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel from Wednesday 25 October until Monday 13 November. William Crosley, the Company's Engineer, would be available during this period to provide further information.37, 38 People who were interested in contracting for the work were invited to send tenders for each lot to Mr Cririe, no later than 13 November 1826.

The Committee met on Wednesday 15 November to discuss the various tenders which had been received. There was evidently so much difference between the various tenders that they were referred to Thomas Telford for a final decision. It was estimated that the work, when it began, would bring £500 per week into the town of Macclesfield. The contractors for the Marple to Bosley section of the canal were decided upon at a meeting of the Committee on 27 November and it was estimated that within a month about 800 ‘navigators' would be employed.39

The first sod

The ceremony of 'turning the first sod' was performed at Bollington on Monday 4 December 1826 by John Ryle. The navvies evidently celebrated the occasion in their usual manner because it was reported that 'the navigators, upon the occasion, were regaled to their heart's content with libations of the barley-beer '. No doubt little progress was made that day with the digging! The Courier also reported that Mr William Wrigg of Macclesfield was in treaty, on behalf of the Poor Law Overseers, for a part of the lot that was to be cut over Macclesfield Common, contracted for by a Mr Jenkinson. The newspaper felt that if Mr Wrigg was successful it would be a great benefit to the town.40

Progress 1827

In April 1827 the Courier reported that 'The Macclesfield Canal is in a state of great forwardness, under the very able direction of Mr Crosley, the Engineer. We understand the line will be shortened nearly two miles by the skilful management of that gentleman.'41 During the week of 2 July the Committee inspected the work being carried out on the canal and were very pleased with the progress being made.42 The second Annual General Meeting of the Company was held on Thursday 19 July 1827. The Committee was re-elected, with the additions of Messrs Randle-Wilbraham, Kinnersley, and the Rev F. Brandt. The business of the day was followed by dinner with Mr Oldknow as Chairman.43 A letter from James Potter to Thomas Telford dated 19 October 1827 requested that he inspect the new Harecastle Tunnel and also informed him that the cutting of that part of the Macclesfield Canal which was being built by the Trent & Mersey Canal Company had begun.44

Progress 1828

The Committee surveyed the whole line of the canal during the two days Thursday and Friday 22 and 23 May 1828. They were able to travel by boat from Marple to High Lane. Again they expressed their satisfaction with the work being carried out.45 Thursday 17 July 1828 was the day of the third Annual General Meeting of the Macclesfield Canal Company. The accounts were presented to the forty or so shareholders in attendance and Crosley made his report on the progress of the work.46, 47 The line between Marple and the locks at Bosley had been split into five sections. The first section ran from the junction with the Peak Forest Canal to Lyme Hanley, and had been contracted to Messrs Seed & Son. A good length of this section was now navigable. The embankment at Middlewood was in this section and it was estimated that 220,000 cubic yards of earth would be required for its construction. The second section was 3¼ miles in length and included two embankments, one at Hagg Brook and the other between Adlington and Pott Shrigley. The third section, contracted to William Soars, ran to Tytherington. This was a distance of 2¾ miles and included the large embankment at Bollington. This was also estimated to require 220,000 cubic yards of earth. However, because of the rocky nature of the ground, it had been possible to reduce the width of the base by making the slopes more perpendicular. It had been calculated that 150,000 cubic yards of earth would now be needed. The fourth lot terminated at Sutton, being three miles in length, and was also contracted to Messrs Seed & Sons; some two miles of this section were nearly ready for the water to be let in. The fifth section terminated at the top of the locks at Bosley, being about four miles in length. Two miles were full of water and a further 1½ miles was ready for filling. Messrs Jennings, Jenkinson & Otley were the contractors on this length. Of the summit level 12¾ miles, out of 16¼, were nearly ready to contain the full depth of water. Forty arched stone bridges, six swivel bridges, five aqueducts and large culverts and fifty-one smaller culverts had been completed. There remained to be built four arched bridges, the arch of the road aqueduct at Bollington, part of the large culvert at Middlewood and eight swivel bridges, five of which were in progress.

Crosley then came to report on the rest of the line to its junction at Harding's Wood with the Trent & Mersey Canal. The first section included the locks and terminated at Buglawton, a distance of three miles. This length was contracted to Messrs Nowell & Sons. Work on the locks had not yet started, the contractors having been occupied by opening a quarry on Bosley Cloud for the required stone, and building a railway from the Cloud to the line of the canal. The second section on this level was some three miles in length and was contracted to William Soars. There were to be four embankments in this section, three requiring 180,000 cubic yards of earth, with the fourth at Dane Henshaw (Dane-in-Shaw) needing 240,000 cubic yards. The third section was contracted to Messrs Pearce & Tredwell and was just over four miles in length.


In August 1828 the Company was advertising contracts to build two reservoirs near Macclesfield (Sutton and Bosley), together with associated feeders to and from the reservoirs, new brook courses and associated works. Plans and specifications could be inspected at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel between Tuesday 16 September and Tuesday 23 September. Sealed tenders for these contracts were to be sent to Mr Cririe no later than 23 September 1828.48

The T&M length, 1829

On 20 March 1829 Thomas Telford wrote to James Caldwell reporting on an inspection which he had made of Knypersley Reservoir, Harecastle Tunnel, and the part of the Macclesfield Canal which was being built by the Trent & Mersey Canal Company.49 Telford was generally satisfied with the work being carried out, although he objected to the use of 'dense blue clunch ' to cover the clay puddle. He ordered that this should be removed and a lining of gravel be laid. At one point on the line water was found to be getting below the clay lining. It had been proposed to pave the canal bed with flat stones below the clay lining in order to prevent the water from rising. Telford thought this to be an uncertain and expensive operation and advised that the water should be cut off by drain xxx concluded by saying that he had 'fully explained these matters to the Superintendent and the contractor Mr Pritchard '.

A letter from William Faram, on behalf of James Caldwell, to Thomas Telford, dated 6 May 1829 indicated that problems with water still existed on this length.50 Faram advised Telford that they had found water in the sand when they had started excavation. The clay puddle would not stay in place so they had covered some seven yards with stone. This appeared to be successful with the water seeping up between the stones, but bringing little sand with it. It was also planned to face the sides of the canal with stone at this point.

Committee inspection, 1829

The Committee carried out the annual inspection of the canal on Tuesday 30 June 1829.51 They were especially pleased with the work on the locks at Bosley, and during the day the first stone of the aqueduct over the river Dane at Bosley was laid by Randle Wilbraham, the Chairman of the Committee. The ceremony was watched by numerous spectators and upwards of 400 of the workmen.

The Annual General Meeting of the Company was held on 16 July 1829.52 Things were going well and it was estimated that a saving of up to 10% would be made on the cost of construction. This arose in part because only two reservoirs would be needed, rather than the five which had been originally projected. Crosley's report to the Company, however, did highlight two or three areas of concern, namely the embankment at Bollington, the aqueduct over the river Dane at Bosley and the embankment at Dane in-Shaw. His concern about the embankment at Bollington is quite evident from this extract from his report.53

A slip has taken place in this embankment, which has not only retarded the work, but has injured the masonry of the culvert. The cause appears to be this – Finding that the embankment would be chiefly composed of stone, I concluded it would stand upon a much narrower base than was intended by the original contract, and that, by making the slopes twelve inches to a foot, instead of twenty-four inches to a foot, a saving of about £1,700 might be effected; and, I was the more induced to recommend this alteration to the Committee, as, in the event of its not answering, I considered that the original plan might be resorted to, and the work completed at a sum not exceeding the amount of the original contract. When I found the work giving way, a stop was put to it for about six weeks, in order that the effect produced by time and the heavy rains which were then falling, might be seen. The work was resumed several weeks ago; and, as no further slip has taken place, I am of opinion that the embankment will stand without any extension of the base. But, if I should be deceived upon this point, and it should be found desirable, either as a matter of necessity, or of prudence, to adopt the original contract, the extra work will be performed for the sum which has been deducted from the contract, so that no additional expense will fall upon the Company. With respect to the injury of the culvert to which I have before alluded, an inner arch has been constructed in that part; which, if continued entirely through, will render it quite safe. Should the work stand without any further alteration, about 20,000 yards will complete the embankment.

The report goes on to document his thoughts about the aqueduct at Bosley and the completion of the canal as follows:

The masonry of two locks is completed, and two others are in progress. The large aqueduct over the river Dane is included in this division. In consequence of the foundations proving very unsound, it was thought advisable to consult Mr Telford as to the propriety of a deviation from the original plan. Mr Telford being of opinion, after considering the circumstances, that the sort of aqueduct originally intended to be adopted could not be relied upon, and having suggested various alterations, the work is now proceeding according to the plan drawn out by him; by which all doubts that were entertained of the safety of the aqueduct are now removed. By the terms of the contracts for the execution of the lower line of the canal, that portion of it between the Trent & Mersey Canal and Congleton was stipulated to be finished by 1 January next. This I have no doubt will be the case. The remaining part of the line of this level, which includes the very great and important embankment at Dane in-Shaw, the different locks, and the aqueduct over the Dane, was to be completed by 1 January 1831; but in consequence of the unavoidable delay occasioned by the deficiencies in the foundations for the aqueduct over the Dane, and the necessity of making some alterations, the time for completing the aqueduct has been extended to 1 May following; and I feel quite satisfied that every part of the works will be completed within the periods that have been fixed upon. The locks are executing by Messrs Nowell & Sons, the contractors, in a very superior manner, and with respect to the whole line, with the exceptions which have been pointed out, the whole of the work is going on without accident; and the different contractors are executing their respective portions in a manner perfectly satisfactory. The reservoir at Bosley is proceeding rapidly: the pipes are laid for taking the water through the embankment, and the masonry at the end of the same is in progress. In consequence of the difficulty of finding a good foundation for the puddle, in the centre of the embankment, I have concluded to have a lining puddle under its seat, and along the bottom of the reservoir, till it can be tied into firm and watertight ground. The forming of the feeders has also been commenced. The reservoir, together with the feeders, will be completed by the time they are required for the use of the canal.

After the business of the meeting was concluded the 'proprietors sat down to a sumptuous dinner, provided in Mrs Foster's usual style of excellence '.

Telford's inspection, 1829

Thomas Telford inspected the line of the canal during the autumn of 1829 and made the following comments on its construction.54

The canal is in general laid out with much judgement, with very proper curves for navigation, except near the Macclesfield School land, where there is an inconveniently quick bend which will be required to be altered. The canal banks and towing path have also been very properly executed excepting in some places, where in crossing valleys by embankments of sand which have been much injured by the late heavy rains, should be remedied by covering the surface with a coating of clay. The forty seven arched stone bridges and eleven swivel bridges are all judiciously placed and well executed with their approaches properly protected. The locks at Bosley are executed in a very perfect manner, and when complete will, for materials and workmanship, exceed any others in the kingdom and be a great credit to the Canal Company. The materials of which the aqueduct over the river Dane is composed are singularly good, and the workmanship equally so. All the operations of the contractor for this aqueduct and the locks before mentioned are carried on in a most masterly manner. A few minor improvements are suggested for securing the foundations of the aqueduct, the culverts and the embankments. The river arch at Sutton will require to be repaired by one of greater strength and curvature, placed upon a better foundation. The culvert at Bollington to be altogether abandoned, and a new channel for the river constructed through the free stone rock on the north side by tunnelling, from immediately below where the two brooks meet at Bollington village, and rejoining the present river channel on the lower side above the mill. The road archway and the mill culvert near it are perfectly strong, and when the new channel is constructed and the present culvert filled up, the embankment will be secured.

Telford was obviously pleased with the workmanship and materials of the locks at Bosley and the nearby aqueduct over the river Dane. These thoughts can still be appreciated many years later.


On 26 June 1830 the Macclesfield Courier carried an article which again described the benefits which the canal would bring to the district, and commented upon the building of a corn mill by the banks of the canal. Macclesfield had been dependant upon other towns for its supply of flour and it was suggested that these millers had made a good living at Macclesfield's expense. The money that had previously been spent in other towns would at last be retained and circulated within the immediate neighbourhood.55 The Annual General Meeting of 1830 had been scheduled for Thursday 15 July. However, King George IV died on 26 June and his funeral was held on that day. The meeting was adjourned and was subsequently held on Saturday 24 July 1830. The arch of the aqueduct over the river Dane was completed on Saturday 23 October 1830. The Macclesfield Courier of 30 October 1830 gives some interesting details of its construction the arch is a semi circle of forty two feet span and it springs twenty-four feet from the bed of the river. It contains 10,212 cubic feet of stone. 'The very superior stone of which the aqueduct is composed, and also the twelve adjoining locks, which are now complete, have been procured from the adjacent mountain ' (Bosley Cloud).56


The canal was eventually opened throughout on 9 November 1831 – a discussion of the events of that year, the opening ceremony and the early trading days of the canal form the basis of a subsequent article.

Mr William Wrigg

Webmaster's addition - one day in 2006 a couple from New Zealand visited the Discovery Centre at Clarence Mill, Bollington. They said they had called on chance and did we know where in Bollington the first sod of the canal had been cut. I didn't, but thought it likely that it had been at the company wharf opposite Adelphi Mill. They said their interest was raised by the fact that the gentleman's great, great, great grandfather was William Wrigg! Mr & Mrs Wrigg, how nice to meet you! Thanks very much for visiting us.