You are here: Home > News > News Article 10  

News: 24 June 2019

Focus on Aqueducts

Aqueducts form a crucial part of the canal network creating an ingenious way of allowing the canal network to pass over rivers, roads and valleys. The Images of England website features hundreds of examples but here we focus on just four.
Although in England canals are mainly associated with the Industrial Revolution, aqueducts have a longer history. The word aqueduct is derived from the Latin words "Aqua" which means "water" and "Ducere" which means "to lead". Some of the first recorded aqueducts were Roman and were used to carry drinking water. The French were the first to adapt them to be used by boats and from there the idea was transferred to Britain. The Duke of Bridgewater had been so impressed by what he had seen in France that he commissioned, in 1761, an aqueduct to be built at the Worsley Colliery near Manchester.
Chirk Aqueduct, Weston Rhyn, Shropshire - IoE number: 255822 © Mr John Garton-Jones ARPS From then the use of aqueducts flourished. Thomas Telford is one of the best-known engineers connected with the building of aqueducts especially those that form part of the Shropshire Union Canal. The Images of England website currently features two of these aqueducts. Probably the most impressive of them is the Chirk Aqueduct which is over 200 metres long and almost 20 metres high. One unique feature of this aqueduct is that as it spans the valley it crosses the border into Wales. The list description for the Chirk Aqueduct is very detailed and includes plenty of information. As well as the architectural description it also gives the cost of building the aqueduct, �20,898; when it opened, 1801; and the two engineers responsible for building it, William Jessop and Thomas Telford. The photograph, as well as showing the aqueduct in its impressive surroundings also shows another unique feature. Just peeking out from behind the aqueduct you can see the arches of the Chirk Viaduct, also listed, built next to the aqueduct in 1846-8 for the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway.
Chirk Aqueduct was also an experiment. Thomas Telford was using cast iron, a new material at the time, for the trough in an attempt to prevent the aqueduct from leaking. Although he had already built a totally cast iron aqueduct at Langdon, Shropshire, this was the first time a cast iron trough had been combined with a stone structure.
The use of a cast iron trough was to be adopted widely and Thomas Telford went on to use it in further aqueducts such as the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales and the Stretton Aqueduct, also part of the Shropshire Union Canal. The Stretton Aqueduct, built in 1832, was not only one of Telford's last aqueducts but it was also part of the last surge of canal building. Soon after it was built the railway revolution began in earnest and the long decline of the canal network started. Stretton Aqueduct is also the only one of Telford's aqueducts to bear his name in the form of an inscription as described in the list description for the aqueduct. Stretton Aqueduct, South Staffordshire - IoE number: 271584 © Mr GW Tanner ARPS
Waterhouses Aqueduct, Failsworth, Greater Manchester - IoE number: 212440 © Ms Pamela Jackson LRPS Of course, Thomas Telford was not the only engineer building aqueducts. Amongst others there was Benjamin Outram who built the Waterhouses aqueduct in Failsworth, Greater Manchester and John Rennie who built the Lune Aqueduct near Lancaster. The Waterhouses Aqueduct was used to carry the Manchester and Ashton under Lyne Canal over the River Medlock thus providing a valuable transport link for many of the cotton mills that surrounded Manchester. The Lune Aqueduct was built in 1797 to carry the Lancaster Canal over the River Lune.
These are just four of the many aqueducts featured on the Images of England website. Each of them has its own fascinating history just waiting to be discovered. Wherever you are in the country, why not use Images of England to access photographs and list descriptions of your local aqueducts and launch yourself into further research on these fascinating structures. Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster, Lancashire - IoE number: 181858 © Malcolm Shaw
To search for more aqueducts you will need to register to access the Advanced Search facility. Under Advanced Search choose "building type" and enter "aqueduct". This will allow you to view the aqueducts currently on the Images of England site.

Quenby, R., Thomas Telford's Aqueducts on the Shropshire Union Canal, 1992, Swan Hill Press
Smith, P. L., Canal Architecture, 1997, Shire Publications Ltd.
Main news page  News archive
Please note that the inclusion of a listed building on this website does not mean it is open to the public.