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Proposals 1765 - 1824

Macclesfield Canal proposals, 1765-1824

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

Earliest ideas, 1765

Over the years there had been a number of schemes to improve transport by linking the Macclesfield area to rivers and canals. For example, in 1765/6 there was a proposal to link Stockport and Macclesfield to the river Weaver. This initiative was defeated largely by the efforts of the Duke of BridgewaterIn 1796 a survey was made by John Nuttall for a canal from Marple on the Peak Forest Canal to Endon on the Caldon Canal. The canal would have run via Poynton and Bollington to Macclesfield and then on through Bosley and Rudyard to Endon on the Caldon Canal. The reservoir at Rudyard hadn't been built at the time, and it was intended to make a branch to Leek and one to . A further scheme appeared in 1811 which used much the same route, but nothing more became of that either .

Finally, almost 60 years later

In 1824 rumours of schemes to link Macclesfield to other towns were reported. One such would have involved the Cromford & High Peak Railway . A meeting was held at Matlock to consider the building of this railway to link the Cromford and Peak Forest canals. A branch line to Macclesfield had been suggested. However, the idea was deferred because no one from Macclesfield attended the meeting. An idea also in circulation at the time was for a canal to be built from the Red Bull inn at Church Lawton through Congleton, Macclesfield, and Stockport to the Bridgewater Canal near Manchester . It was acknowledged, however, that at both ends of such a canal problems would occur with having to deal with the Trent & Mersey Canal Company and the Trustees of the late Duke of Bridgewater respectively. Both parties had vested interests in allowing things to remain as they were – they were both happy to take the maximum tolls possible on their canals. The editorial in the Courier of 3 July 1824 urged the traders and townspeople of Macclesfield, Congleton, and Stockport to give serious thought to the subject of transport.

On Saturday 18 September 1824 an advertisement appeared in the Courier requesting the Mayor of Macclesfield to call a meeting to consider applying to Parliament for an Act to enable a canal to be built from the Peak Forest Canal (at Marple) to the Trent & Mersey Canal (near to the Red Bull at Church Lawton).The advertisement was signed by five prominent townsmen – John Ryle, John Daintry Jun, R. Wood, Thomas Brocklehurst, and Thomas Swanick .The Mayor, Thomas Allen, responded in a footnote to the advertisement by calling a meeting for the following Wednesday (22 September) to be held at the Macclesfield Arms Hotel at 12.00 noon. 

The newspaper of 18 September also carried a long editorial congratulating its readers on the revival of the Macclesfield Canal project. The main arguments put forward in the editorial were as follows:

  • Goods could be conveyed by water for one quarter of the cost of road carriage.
  • Some forty steam engines and 5,000 houses in Macclesfield were currently supplied with coal at a cost exceeding by one third that which it would cost if canal transport could be used.
  • Great hardship to both the rich and the poor had been caused by the lack of a canal.
  • Material required for the manufacturing industries, imported through the ports of London and Liverpool, would be cheaper with canal transportation.
  • Grain, and the other staples of life, would be reduced in price, as would timber, slate, flagg, and stone.
  • Macclesfield was at the centre of a flourishing manufacturing district. There were other competitors so why should the district be handicapped by the lack of a canal? This south east part of Cheshire was also rich in coat, freestone, lime, and timber.
  • It was recognised that there would be two canal companies whose business would be affected by the proposed canal - the Trent & Mersey Canal and the Bridgewater Canal. The Duke of Bridgewater built his canal 'through some of the finest estates in the country' to foster the trade of Manchester by connecting it with the port of Liverpool. Manchester, at that time, was scarcely larger than Macclesfield was at this time. Some sixty years previously a group of businessmen had been successful in a project to connect the Trent with the Mersey so that Nottingham, Derby, and the Potteries could be linked by canal with both the North and Irish seas.

The editorial went on to highlight the foreseen problems with the Trent & Mersey Canal Company and the Bridgewater Trustees – that both would object to the proposed route which would save some twenty-five miles on the journey between Manchester and London. It was argued that the proposed Macclesfield Canal would, in fact, generate new business for the other two canals.

At the meeting on 22 September 1824 a number of resolutions were passed . It was agreed that a canal was required because Macclesfield and its surroundings had a population of some 30,000 people and was sixteen miles from the nearest canal. A Committee, consisting of the five townsmen who had organised the meeting, together with the Mayor, was appointed. The Committee was requested to win the consent and cooperation of landowners on the proposed line. The towns of Stockport and Congleton were also to be invited to co-operate in the venture. The meeting was then adjourned to Wednesday 6 October 1824.

An editorial in the newspaper of 25 September 1824 argued the case for the proposed line. An earlier idea for a canal from Sale on the Bridgewater Canal via Macclesfield would only have passed through farmland and would not have served local coal mines. The current thinking could also see a line from the lower level of the Peak Forest Canal to Red Bull, but numerous country estates would be affected. The favoured line, in contrast, would well serve farmland, mines and quarries. There was a growing market for coal in Macclesfield, twenty-five factories having been built in the town during the previous six years.


The town of Congleton was keen to take part in the venture. John Johnson, the Mayor of Congleton, had just been re-elected. At his reception he proposed 'Success to the intended new canal from Macclesfield by way of Congleton to Lawton '. One of the people at the reception, a Mr Clement Swetenham, said that he had attended the meeting in Macclesfield and had pledged Congleton's support. This comment was evidently well received by the people at the reception and it was decided to call a meeting in Congleton to discuss the proposed canal . This meeting took place in Congleton on Monday 4 October 1824 where it was decided that a deputation would attend the forthcoming meeting in Macclesfield to co-operate in the promotion of the canal.


The meeting in Macclesfield was reported in depth in the Courier of 9 October 1824. The Committee had not yet been able to establish the views of all the principal landowners on the probable line of the canal but they had no reason to suppose that any one of them would oppose it. It was agreed that £100,000 should be subscribed initially in shares of £100 each. Some nineteen additional 'gentlemen' were elected to serve on the Committee.

Canal or railway?

During the meeting a Mr Wakefield raised the question as to whether a railway should be built rather than a canal. He was in favour of a railway for a number of reasons:

  • Canals were subject to drought in summer and on average were liable to two months stoppage in every year due to frost.

  • The only obstruction to which a railway was subject was snow in the winter.

  • The proposed line of the canal was at a very high elevation and the supply of water might be a problem.

  • A canal was costed at £6,000 per mile whilst a railway was costed at £2,000 per mile.

In Mr Wakefield's opinion the consent of landowners would be more easily obtained for a railway than a canal. Mr Ryle replied that he still favoured a canal and that there would be sufficient water due to the junction with the Peak Forest Canal alone, without even tributary streams feeding the canal. He felt that landowners would prefer a canal rather than having 'a railroad transversed by smoking steam carriages '. The overriding advantage of a canal in this instance, he felt, was that through traffic would be possible to and from the Trent & Mersey and Peak Forest canals without the problems of loading and unloading goods. Mr R. Leycester MP commented that, although he had spoken at a previous meeting in support of a railway, he now wished to withdraw that request fearing that division within the Committee would lead to a delay. He felt that Macclesfield's need for cheaper transport was very important at this time. The Government had removed the prohibition on the importation of foreign silk which necessitated domestic manufacturers to reduce the price of their goods . Parliament, he felt, should offer every opportunity for manufacturers to meet such lower prices. A canal would help them to a considerable extent.

Mr Cholmondeley also supported the idea of a canal, saying that a canal was the preferred option of the trades people of the area. He feared that any indecision might reduce the take up of the shares in the project. The Committee should press ahead with the present canal project but should also give careful consideration to the comparative advantages and disadvantages of a canal over a railway. At this point the meeting agreed that the subscription should be for a canal rather than a railway.

A meeting of the Committee took place on 14 October 1824 where the appointment of a solicitor and treasurers took place. The solicitor was William Cririe of the Manchester firm of solicitors Eccles, Cririe & Slater. Messrs Brocklehurst & Co, Bankers, of Macclesfield were appointed as treasurers. £100,000 had already been raised and it was decided to raise a further £50,000 by share subscriptions. Books for share subscriptions were opened at a number of banks in the district.


On 23 October 1824 a letter appeared in the newspaper from a shareholder at Knutsford expressing concern over the appointment of the tresurers . It implied that the Committee had made the appointment without reference to the shareholders, and that the particular company appointed would not benefit the town of Macclesfield and had not shown previous interest in the canal undertaking. A letter to this effect was presented to the Committee on Friday 29 October 1824.  The shareholders felt that Messrs Daintry, Ryle & Co should have been appointed. The Committee refused to move on this matter, the subscribers declaring that they would convene a special meeting to consider the situation. No further action appears to have taken place in this regard, although as will be seen later there was some confusion over the election of treasurer(s) at the first general meeting of the Company. 


Mention has been made of Congleton's interest in the canal and that the line was now to run through Congleton, rather than bypass it. Stockport had, so far, played little part in the promotion of the canal. On Wednesday 3 November 1824 a meeting was held at the Warren-Bulkely Arms inn in Stockport to approve the plan and to co-operate with the Macclesfield Committee. The proposal was to have a 'connecting railway or a branch canal to Stockport'. A coordinating committee consisting of five members, including the Mayor, was formed. It was hoped that £20,000 would be raised by share subscriptions in the Stockport district.

Surveying the route - Thomas Telford

It was reported in December 1824 that there hadn't been sufficient time to take the required surveys and prepare the necessary documents for an application to be made to Parliament for an Act in its next session. This would have required the submission to be lodged by 30 November 1824. A comment was made that, had the submission been rushed, no doubt a mistake would have been made and the application would have been thrown out.

On Wednesday 30 March 1825 a Committee meeting was held to receive Thomas Telford's report on the feasibility of the undertaking. It was said that Telford most unequivocally declared in favour of a canal.  The surveys and other requirements were well advanced and it was hoped that the bill would be passed by Parliament in its next session. The newspaper report closed with the following comment –

We heard of the appearance of a gentleman deeply interested in the success of railroads, but as soon as he was shown Mr Telford's report he was off again like a shot, leaving canal triumphant in possession of the field.

The Courier of 6 August 1825 printed Telford's preliminary report on the projected Canal. In it Telford states that he had finished all the trial levels and surveys. During this work he was accompanied by a Mr Brown 'who is thoroughly acquainted with all the various localities. Telford's plan was to branch from the summit level of the Peak Forest Canal at Marple and continue at that level past Macclesfield and to the north-east side of the river Dane valley where the canal would lock down to the summit level of the Trent & Mersey Canal. From the bottom of the locks the line would cross the Dane-in-Shaw valley and pass about half a mile south east of Congleton. It would join the Trent & Mersey Canal at the north end of Harecastle Tunnel. Telford stressed that the canal would be on two levels only, and that he had no concerns about water supply – 'The line I have described passing, for the whole of its length, along the skirts of mountainous country, the means of obtaining supplies of water are abundant'. He examined five possible sites for the construction of reservoirs. In his report Telford also considered the alternative line for the canal which would run from the summit level of the Trent & Mersey Canal across 'a lower part of the country' to the Peak Forest Canal. He rejected this line for a number of reasons, particularly because it would not have passed near the mines, quarries or manufacturing locations of the district. Telford also considered the requirement of a branch to Stockport, but decided against it, because the town was 270 feet below the line of the projected canal and was already served by the Ashton and Peak Forest canals.

Application to Parliament

The scene was now set for the parliamentary application to be made for the construction of the canal. On 5 November 1825 the following notice, from Eccles, Cririe & Slater, was placed in the Courier.29

That application is intended to be made to Parliament in the next session, for a Bill to make and maintain a navigable cut or canal, together with reservoirs, channels, feeders, and other works, and conveniences, to be connected therewith, from. and out of the Peak Forest Canal, at or near the northerly end of the summit level of the same canal, in the township of Marple, in the parish of Stockport, in the county palatine of Chester, to join and communicate with the canal belonging to the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey, at or near a certain lock upon such canal, called Harding's Wood Lock, in the township or hamlet of Talke, or Talke-on-the-Hill, in the parish of Audley, in the county of Stafford, and near to the northerly end of the Harecastle Tunnel, and which said navigable cut or canal, reservoirs, feeders, channels, and other works, are intended to be made from, in, through and into the several townships of Marple, Lyme Hanley, Poynton, Pott Shrigley, Adlington, Bollington, Rainow, Tytherington, Hurdsfield, Macclesfield, Sutton, Gawsworth, Bosley, Wincle, North Rode, Buglawton, Congleton, Newbold Astbury, Moreton, Odd-Rode, and Church Lawton, in the parishes of Stockport, Prestbury, Gawsworth, Astbury, and Church Lawton, in the said county palatine of Chester, and the said township or hamlet of Talke or Talke-on-the-Hill, in the said parish of Audley, and county of Stafford.

On 16 November 1825 the Committee held a meeting to complete the arrangements for the Parliamentary application.  The Bill was finally passed by Parliament on Monday 20 March 1826.  This event was greeted with excitement and enthusiasm by the townspeople of Macclesfield. The Courier carried reports during April 1826 detailing the benefits which the canal would bring to the town – it would, of course, benefit the commerce of the area and during its construction would provide a source of employment for the many unemployed in the district.  The Bill received the Royal Assent on 11 April 1826. 

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