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The Early Working Years

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


The opening

At a General Meeting of the Canal Company held on 20 January 1831 consideration was given to the tonnage rates which had been authorised in the Act of Parliament and whether the rates should be reduced when the canal was opened. It was agreed that the Management Committee should seek the views of other canal companies, specifically naming the Trent & Mersey, Peak Forest and Ashton companies. 

In its edition of Saturday 9 July 1831 the Courier carried an article which gave some indication of the state of the canal construction at the time and again of the importance of the canal to the local communities. 

The Committee yesterday traversed the line of the canal from Marple to this town and will tomorrow complete their survey of the cutting. We understand the state of the works, so far as the Committee have proceeded in their inspection, is perfectly satisfactory. The point on which depends the opening of the canal is the ‘settling’ of an embankment near Bosley. There is good reason to anticipate that the opening will take place about the middle of next month, but that will be determined at the General Meeting of Proprietors on the 21st inst. We trust that an event of so much importance to the district through which it passes, and to the towns of Macclesfield and Congleton in particular, will be observed as a day of rejoicing; and measures adopted to give éclat to that ‘our opening day’.

The Annual General Meeting of the Canal Company was held at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel on Thursday 21 July at 11 am, when no doubt the survey which the Committee had just completed would have been discussed in detail. The Committee reported that they had considered what tonnage rates should be charged when the canal opened - their recommendations were as follows. 

  • For every ton of limestone and lime ashes - the sum of ½d per ton per mile.

  • For every ton of lime, flags, paving stones, ashlar and all other stone, dung, soil, marl or manure (except such as is exempt by the Act of Parliament), sand, gravel, bricks, clay, tiles, quarries or earthen pipes, slates and coal for burning lime - the sum of 1d per ton per mile.

  • For every ton of other coals - the sum of 1½d per ton per mile for ten miles, then to pass free.

  • For every ton of goods, wares and other merchandise, articles, matters or things not mentioned above - the sum of 1½d per ton per mile.

The Committee reported that the tonnages charged by the Trent & Mersey Canal Co. were already as low as, or lower than, those proposed in the above list. They had attended meetings of the proprietors of the Peak Forest and Huddersfield canals, and a committee meeting of the Ashton Canal Co., with the aim of inducing these companies to reduce their rates of tonnage. The Peak Forest Canal Co. agreed to reduce their rates, but the Ashton and Huddersfield companies had left the matter for further consideration.

The Courier of 13 August carried the following comment on the construction of the canal. 

We stated some weeks ago that the opening of the Macclesfield Canal would probably be celebrated in the course of this month; though at the same time we said it must chiefly depend upon the ‘settling’ of the great embankment at Dane-in-Shaw between Bosley and Congleton. We now learn that the Committee are of the opinion that this embankment is not yet sufficiently consolidated. They have deemed it prudent to defer the opening a short time longer. The public will naturally feel some disappointment at the delay; though they must applaud the determination of the Committee, not to incur the risk of injury to the undertaking by the temporary advantage that would be obtained in the opening of the canal earlier than prudence dictates.

The Company was obviously keen to get the canal opened - a Special Meeting of shareholders was called for 29 August in order to borrow £50,000 for a more rapid completion of the canal.  Finally the great day arrived - the Courier of 22 October reporting that the intended date for the opening of the canal was to be Wednesday 9 November 1831. 

The following notice, taken from the Courier of Saturday 5 November 1831, gives details of the planned arrangements for the opening of the canal on the following Wednesday .

There will be two processions or divisions of boats, one from the north and one from the south end of the canal. They will concentrate at the wharfs on Macclesfield Common, and no boat will be allowed whatever to navigate the canal on that day except such as join in one or other of the processions. The leading boat of each division will be occupied by part of the Committee of the Macclesfield Canal, immediately followed by a boat containing a band of music; after which will follow the boats of the committees of other canals, in order of seniority according to the dates of their Acts of Parliament; then the pleasure boats of any gentlemen choosing to join the procession; and lastly the trade boats, in the order of their arrival. The trade boats from the Staffordshire end of the canal will assemble at Congleton on Tuesday, the 8th instant, and the first boat, namely that of the Committee of the Macclesfield Canal, will leave Congleton Wharf on Wednesday morning at eight o’clock precisely. The division from Marple will leave that place at half-past seven and will stop a short time at High Lane, from which place the first boat, namely that of the Macclesfield Canal Committee, will proceed precisely at nine o’clock. Any boat at any intermediate station on the line of the canal, wishing to join either of the processions, may do so by waiting until the procession has passed, and then taking its station astern of the last boat in the division; but it is particularly requested that no person will attempt to break the line - and no boat will, on any account, be permitted to proceed in a direction contrary to the order of sailing, so as to meet and thereby interrupt or cause confusion of the processions.

The Marple division will proceed to Hurdsfield Road Bridge, and the Congleton division to Foden Bank Bridge, (both places distant from Macclesfield Wharf about seven eighths of a mile) and there wait, sending messages to Macclesfield Wharf, to notify their arrival at these respective stations; and on such notification, a gunner, stationed for the purpose, will fire a gun as a signal for both divisions to advance, so as to arrive at Macclesfield as nearly as possible at the same time, which it is hoped will not be later than two o’clock. On arrival of the two processions in the basin at Macclesfield, a salute will be fired, and the Band of the Macclesfield Cavalry (stationed on the high ground opposite the wharfs) will strike up ‘God save the King’. The boats will take their berths alongside the wharfs as they continue to arrive, and the boat-masters must be careful to moor them as speedily as possible. In order to prevent confusion, no boat from one division will be permitted to proceed beyond the Macclesfield Basin, until the whole of the other division shall have arrived.

From the wharfs, the Committee, Proprietors, and invited guests, preceded by the Cavalry Band, will proceed to the Macclesfield Town Hall, where a Dinner will be prepared about four o’clock, for which tickets will be issued to the Proprietors etc. on application being made at the Canal Office, Macclesfield, on or before the 8th instant, or on the morning of the opening, to Mr Hall at Marple or to Mr Crosley, at Congleton. The Congleton division will be directed by Mr Crosley, and that from Marple by Mr Hall; and the boatmen and all others concerned are requested to be attentive, quiet and orderly throughout the day, particularly to create no unnecessary hurry or confusion in passing through the locks.

The notice was signed by Edward Hall , Principal Agent to the Company, and dated 2 November 1831.

This new and gratifying era in the commercial history of the important and populous, but neglected and suffering town of Macclesfield, occurred on Wednesday last, and will be recurred to by after ages with the most deep and fervid feelings of admiration and delight, that the energetic and persevering spirit and the scientific knowledge and genius of their progenitors enabled them to triumph over the almost insuperable obstacles that were presented to the satisfactory completion of a design at once philanthropic, enterprising, and worthy of emulation.

So began the account of the opening of the Macclesfield Canal which appeared in the Courier for Saturday 12 November 1831 . Macclesfield was obviously delighted with its new means of communication and marvelled at the boldness of its construction. The newspaper article went on to comment briefly on the construction of the canal, its anticipated benefits and then described the opening ceremony in detail:

The line to the southward joins the Trent & Mersey Canal at its summit level near to the Red Bull; that to the northward forms a junction with the Peak Forest Canal at its summit level near Marple; the entire length being twenty seven and a half miles. The choice of the section has frequently been a matter of surprise to noviciates in canal speculation, on account of the immense embankments required, but mature consideration and perfect investigation have convinced them that it must have been selected by persons of superior intelligence, information and experience, and they have finally stamped it with their unqualified approval. The principal embankments are at Middlewood, Bollington, and Dane-in-Shaw, some of them eighty feet high. The only locks upon the line are at North Rode. These are twelve in number, and are considered by competent judges to be a most beautiful specimen of masonry. They were constructed by Messrs Nowell & Sons, the contractors, under the superintendence of Mr Crosley, the Chief Engineer. At Bosley there is a reservoir covering upwards of eighty acres of land, and capable of containing eleven thousand locks of water, which with the saving occasioned by the side ponds to the locks, promises to furnish an ample supply for the purposes of navigation, even supposing it likely to fill only once a year. Commodious wharfs are in the course of formation at various stations, particularly at Macclesfield, where also extensive corn mills, worked by steam, have been erected, and the works of which are now in active operation, to the manifest benefit of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood, who were heretofore suffering under the inconvenience of being compelled to obtain flour at an expensive and burdensome land carriage.

Amongst the almost incalculable advantages anticipated from the opening of the canal, we may enumerate the facilities of communication which it will afford for the general purposes of commerce between the large towns of Yorkshire and those of the southern counties; a considerable shortening of the distance of water conveyance between London and Manchester; the opening of the southern end of the Peak Forest Canal - thus rendering a cul de sac, as it were, a complete thoroughfare; then again will be ensured a cheap and speedy transmission of stone from the quarries at Kerridge and Cloud Hill; of coals from the pits at Poynton, Worth, Ridacre, and Staffordshire; of lime, both as manure and for building purposes; of other kinds of manure so much required by the poor lands along the line, and of hay, corn and other agricultural produce. A reduction in the price of these necessary articles of consumption, to the amount at least of the difference in the rate of carriage must necessarily follow; and thus the poor man’s wages will go further than at present, and the saving to the manufacturer will the better enable him to bear up against that ruinous system of policy which sanctions foreign competition in his own market, and, reducing his prices below a remunerating scale, compels him unwillingly to infringe on the comforts of his unfortunate labourers for his own protection and support. There is also a strong possibility that the cotton manufacture may be more generally encouraged in Macclesfield and the neighbourhood through its instrumentality; and of the desirableness of that effect, we believe that there does not exist any diversity of opinion.

The day originally fixed for the opening was 30 August and it was then intended that a Fete Champetre should be given in the new corn mill to the fairer portion of the creation resident in the town and neighbourhood and that they should be invited to traverse the line. The ceremony, however, being postponed, in consequence of an apprehension that the great embankment (at Dane-in-Shaw) would be scarcely sufficiently consolidated to admit of the opening of that part of the canal for the general purposes xxx the subsequent arrangements it was thought inadvisable to include ladies in a participation of the ceremony, on account of the advanced period of the season, and a very natural anxiety for the preservation of their health, which might have been endangered by exposure xxx of boats; one from the north end comprising twenty five boats, and another from the south end composed of fifty two.

The leading boat of each division was occupied by part of the Canal Committee, the Proprietors and their friends, immediately after followed a band of music; then the boats of the committees of other canals who had joined by invitation; then came the pleasure boats of such gentlemen as joined the procession; and lastly the trade boats in order of their arrival, fifty of them containing 1,000 tons of coal, and the remainder conveying grain, salt, iron, timber, lime, coke, bales of cotton, groceries, and their merchandise. The Company’s two largest barges, the Macclesfield and the Congleton, were handsomely fitted up for the occasion, and were well furnished with refreshments, as well as those belonging to the Peak Forest Canal Co. and Messrs Pickford & Co. There was also in one of the divisions a boat made of iron, and intended to make way against the ice, in winter time, so as to open the suspended navigation. Each division in its progress was loudly cheered by the people, who crowded every bridge along the line and who were in groups on the banks.

By half-past one o’clock, at least 20,000 persons were assembled on the wharfs and banks near the basin, to witness the expected arrival of boats, and the sacks of flour in the Corn Mill had retired to make way for ladies, with whose presence every window was graced. About two o’clock the signal gun was fired, and in a few minutes, the two pageants were observed to approach. The scene then became truly unique and interesting. The boats were thickly studded with banners, which also waved from the summits of all adjacent buildings, and many of them were provided with pieces of artillery, which were repeatedly discharged. The bands of music (four in number), performed the National Anthem, in which they were joined by the band of the Cheshire Yeomanry, stationed on the bank of the canal. A royal salute was fired from the Waterworks Enclosure, which had been temporarily converted into a battery, and the boats were moored amidst enthusiastic cheers, and without a single accident, or instance of misbehaviour occurring on the part of any person concerned in the proceedings to mar the pleasure of the day. The weather was delightfully fine throughout.

When the opening ceremony was over the Canal Committee, shareholders and invited guests walked in procession to the Town Hall. There a 'splendid dinner' was provided by Mrs Foster of the Macclesfield Arms Hotel. The Rev Edward Stanley of Alderley, who was the Chairman of the Canal Committee, presided at the dinner and Richard Simpson of Moreton Hall acted as Vice-President. The occasion was concluded by speeches and toasts. A dinner was provided for thirty of the contractors at the Bulls Head Hotel in the Market Place whilst 500 of the workmen and 200 of the boatmen and drivers were each allowed a half-a-crown [12½p] 'to spend as they pleased'.

Continue the story - Benefits; 1838; 1845-1846