Then & Now

1872 – 2017. The Sankey Canal, built onto the Mersey flats by Henry Berry who was Liverpool's Second Dock Engineer. The canal was built to bring coal down to the growing chemical industries of Liverpool from towns further inland along the Mersey, without having to work around the strict tides of the river. Young boys were paid by the coal companies to guide horses as they pulled the boats along the water and were led via the towpath on the bank of the canal, often up to 30 miles at a time. This was a tradition carried forward from as early as the mid 1700’s. At this time when the canal was first completed it spread back along the line to St Helens, Warrington and Widnes, which were relatively small villages until this period. Many historians credit the Sankey canal with the growth of the entire region by putting these towns onto the industrial map and linking them to the ports and factories at either end of the line. ​Whilst the canal was built originally primarily to take coal down to the Mersey and Liverpool, once the mines in St Helens started to close down the final traffic on the Sankey was very different, and in the opposite direction – bringing raw sugar from Liverpool to Earlestown in the late 19th century. The ending of the sugar traffic in 1959 led to full closure of the canal in 1963, allowing nature to reclaim it as its own. The immediate commercial success of the Sankey Canal instigated the so-called ‘canal-building mania’ across the country during the industrial revolution and it became a direct influence to the construction of the Bridgewater and Manchester Ship Canals that are still in use today.