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The Early Working Years

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


The opening of the Macclesfield Canal in 1831 had an immediate beneficial effect upon the trade of Macclesfield and its surroundings, as can be judged by the following item from the Macclesfield Courier of January 1832:12

The advantages of water communication are daily manifesting themselves in the instance of the Macclesfield Canal. It is well known that for many years past this town has been mainly dependent upon the Stockport millers for its supply of flour; but since the formation of the canal and the consequent erection of the extensive steam mill of Messrs J. P. Swanwick & Co. not only is the town and neighbourhood chiefly supplied thereby, but flour is now exported from Macclesfield to Stockport; a cargo of 150 loads was dispatched on Thursday to a respectable flour dealer in the latter town from the Macclesfield steam mill.

Carriers and traders of all types advertised their services. J. Brereton, salt manufacturer and canal carrier of Middlewich, announced that in addition to his regular services to and from Manchester, Liverpool, the Staffordshire Potteries, Stone, etc. he intended to work his boats to Congleton and Macclesfield, whilst John Lawton advertised that Staffordshire blue bricks, tiles and pipes were on sale at Macclesfield Wharf.13, 14

The Annual General Meeting of 1833 was held on 18 July.15 Edward Stanley, the Chairman of the Management Committee, made a detailed statement to the shareholders on the state of the canal and the traffic carried. William Crosley’s tenure as Engineer had terminated on 24 June 1833 and before he left he had inspected the line of the canal, the reservoir at Bosley, and the other works. Crosley’s report to the Committee reads as follows:

Having recently surveyed the whole of the line of the Macclesfield Canal, and the reservoir at Bosley, and having very carefully examined every part of the works, I have great satisfaction in reporting to you, that the whole are in perfectly good order, and in a sound state. The various great embankments which occasioned, during the construction of the canal, so much delay and anxiety, have all stood perfectly firm, and there has been no settling whatever in any of them, except such as has been caused by the natural consolidation of the earth of which they are composed. The masonry of the locks, aqueducts, and bridges, has all stood very well; and a considerable time having now passed since the works were completed, there is no reason to apprehend the giving away of any part. The reservoir at Bosley has been frequently filled to the full height during the last two years, and it has generally during that period remained nearly full. I am therefore of opinion that this work is perfectly safe; as in the event of there being any fault in the puddles, it would have been observed from its effects before this time. I can have no difficulty in reporting that all parts of the works are in a very satisfactory state, and that the soundness of the execution of the whole may be relied upon.

Edward Stanley then went on to report that since the opening of the canal the Committee had been working to promote trade and that during the first year (to 25 March 1833) 98,201½ tons had been carried, producing an income of £6,116 19s 4d. The Company was aware that it would take some time before an extensive traffic could be permanently established upon the new canal and therefore the Committee felt encouraged that such a large income had been obtained so early, despite the reduced tonnage rates being charged. The Committee had been constantly monitoring tonnage rates and last October had reduced the rates still further so that they were in line with the rates being charged on other canals. The current rates were as follows:


¼d per ton per mile

Lime, Lime ashes, and Roadstone

½d per ton per mile

Coals for burning Lime

½d per ton per mile

Coals (except for burning Lime) and Coke

¾d per ton per mile


¾d per ton per mile

All goods, wares, merchandise, and other articles, matters, or things not mentioned above

1d per ton per mile

The Committee was pleased to report that this reduction in tonnage rates had not produced a corresponding drop in income. On the contrary, the increase in traffic had been so considerable as to more than outweigh the deficiency arising from the reduction in rates. During the first six months of the year ending 25 March 1833, 43,506½ tons had been carried producing an income of £2,912 11s 9½d. During the second six months 54,695 tons had been carried, resulting in an income of £3,204 7s 6½d. The Company had an overall balance of £3,420 15s.

It had been decided at previous General Meetings that enough warehouses and wharfs should be built as quickly as possible so that trade on the canal would not be compromised by lack of these facilities. It was reported that the Company now had wharfs at Marple, High Lane. Bollington, Macclesfield, Congleton, and Harding’s Wood, whilst a wharf at Bosley was currently being built. Warehouses had been constructed at High Lane, Bollington, Macclesfield, and Congleton, and there were ten houses along the canal for Toll Collectors, Lock Tenders, and Bank Rangers. Company offices had been built in Macclesfield. Plans were in place to build a second reservoir, in addition to the one at Bosley. This new reservoir was to be at Sutton, and it was reported that the Company had purchased (and paid for) the additional land which would be required. They had already built the necessary feeders etc. whilst the compulsory powers given in the Act of Parliament still applied. In order to fund the various building projects the Company requested authorisation to borrow a further sum of £20,000. With this extra money the Committee felt that they would be able to settle all debts owed by the Company. A sum of £50,000 had been already borrowed, sanctioned at the General Meeting of 29 August 1831, so that the total debt owed by the Company was then £70,000. As a set-off to this debt the Company had 337 shares, which could be sold to raise capital.

A Special Meeting of the shareholders was called for Wednesday 7 August 1833 for the purpose of making an order and entering into a resolution, to borrow and take up at interest upon the credit of the navigation and undertaking, such a sum of money as shall seem meet and convenient for the purposes of navigation - no doubt the £20,000 referred to earlier.16

At the Committee Meeting of 3 April 1834 it was reported that several fatal accidents had occurred at Bosley locks.17 The accidents were attributed to the way in which the lock paddles worked. It was ordered that the paddles be altered so as to correspond with the method of operation which had recently been adopted by the Trent & Mersey Canal Co. At the subsequent meeting on 15 May Mr Hall reported that one of the locks had been altered and that it worked well. The plan of the alteration was inspected and it was decided that Mr Winter should show the plan to Mr Brown and, if he approved it, all the other locks should be altered in the same way.18 On 10 July Mr Hall reported to the Committee that the paddles on five of the locks had been modified. At this meeting the thanks of the Committee were conveyed to the Ashton and Peak Forest Canal companies for the use of their boat during the recent inspection of the canal by the Committee.

At the Committee Meeting held the same day as the Annual General Meeting (17 July 1834) Mr Hall reported that if the current spell of dry weather continued for much longer then the Peak Forest Canal would be short of water. As this would obviously affect trade on the Macclesfield Canal it was agreed that Mr Hall be authorised to supply the Peak Forest Canal Co. with water - at least until ‘Bosley Reservoir be drawn down two thirds’. At that point further directions were to be sought. At the Annual General Meeting held later that day the report made by the Management Committee again went into detail about the tonnages being carried by the canal:19

In the report of the Committee at the last General Meeting in July 1833 a statement was made of the amount of tonnages up to 25 March preceding by which it appeared that after deducting all payments and expenses up to the same period, there was a balance in favour of the Company on that date of £3,420 15s. 2d. The Committee in the same report expressed their expectation that the tonnage (carried) on the canal would gradually and regularly increase; and they are happy to have it in their power to assure the Proprietors that the expectation so held out has been realised as the quantity of tonnage upon the canal during the year ending on 25 March last exceeded that of the preceding year by upwards of 27,000 tons.

The tonnages carried in each quarter of the preceding two years were set out in a table in the report. The report went on to say that the Committee felt assured, as they had done the previous year, that the increase in trade would continue. During the quarter ending 24 June 34,550½ tons had been carried, producing an income of £2,028 0s 1¼d, this being about forty five per cent more than the income for the corresponding quarter in the previous year. Income was considerably above the expenses, so much so that the balance in favour of the Company on 25 March was £5,270 2s 0¾d. The Committee recommended that a dividend of £1 per share should be paid. The Committee had recently inspected the whole length of the canal and together with the report made by Mr Nicholls, the Resident Engineer, felt that it was in good repair. The report also mentions that Mr Cririe, the Clerk, had resigned in January, because he was retiring from business. In such situations the Act of Parliament allowed the Committee to appoint a temporary replacement until the subsequent General Meeting. The Committee had appointed Mr Stephen Heelis to the position. The choice of a successor to Mr Cririe then fell to the shareholders at the meeting, Stephen Heelis being confirmed in the position.

At the Committee Meeting of 28 August 1834 Mr Hall was authorised to pay bills amounting to £54 16s for alterations made to the lock paddles.

Money was evidently still uppermost in the minds of the Canal Company because another special meeting was called for 4 December 1834:20

... to consider the propriety of lowering and reducing certain of the rates, tolls and duties now taken upon the said canal, and of advancing and raising certain of the rates, tolls and duties which have been heretofore lowered or reduced, and to make such orders and enter into such resolutions with reference to the lowering and reducing, or advancing and raising such rates, tolls and duties, respectively, as the Proprietors, present at such meeting, or the major part of them, may deem expedient.

A Committee Meeting was held prior to this special meeting where the question of the resolutions to be proposed at the meeting were considered. It was resolved that the Committee should recommend to the meeting that the rate for coal and coke carried on the canal for twenty miles or more should be reduced to ½d per ton per mile. It was also resolved that the question of tolls payable on coal and coke carried on the canal for less than twenty miles should be left open for discussion at the meeting.

Continue the story - 1838; 1845-1846