Ribble Tunnel

Tunnel from Lancaster Canal to River Ribble

This article pulls together all a number of Facebook threads regarding a "possible" tunnel between the Lancaster Canal and the River Ribble in the early 1800's.  The original post contains the comment/query

Can anybody give me information about a pumping house, steam engine and tunnel running from the Ribble to the canal in Preston, opened in 1806 to supply water to the canal. This is all the information I have but would like to know where the engine house was. Any other information would be interesting.

Various correspondents replied with suggestions that William Millar, the canal engineer who took over when William Cartwright died in 1804, was responsible for this particular tunnel but without giving any idea of its position or reason for it.

The need for any extra water supply was queried.  It was pointed out that the levels were normally maintained by rainwater draining the fields.  Also that barges travelled between Preston and Lancaster even before the canal system had even been completed into the centre of Preston. 

The word "tunnel" also promoted discussion.  The distance from the canal to the river was also queried as far as a tunnel was concerned. "Pipes" would also have been a more suitable way of holding the pressure.

The originator of the thread, Mike Allen, then provided more background:-

The information about the pumping engine that I started with came from 'The canals of North West England' by Charles Hadfield and Gordon Biddle 1970. In this book they say that '[the canal engineer] Cartwright also designed and supervised the cutting of a tunnel from the canal at Preston down through the rock into the Ribble, through which water was pumped by a Boulton and Watt steam engine. Pumping commenced in July 1806.  Later they state that the engine and land were sold in 1836 as the water from the Killington reservoir was found to be adequate to supply the canal.

The book also says that the work was completed by Cartwright's assistant James Miller. Perhaps the canal was leaking.

The position of the pumping engine was discussed with the most likely place being under the present University buildings, adjacent to Leighton street.  This being the shortest distance to the River Ribble.

The difference in shaft/tunnel reared its head again which led onto the possibility of taking water from boreholes.  Where they taking water from water table and thinking that this was the River Ribble?  Unfortunately, the only boreholes shown on the BGS viewer are located on the far side of Leighton street, away from the canal.

Various maps were analysed and on the 1840 O.S map a " pump" is shown close to Victoria mill at the river end of Marsh lane. There is also an enclosure next to the mill marked with what looks like "well". If the engine and land were sold off in 1836 presumably the engine was either dismantled and used elsewhere or put to use to supply a new venture, perhaps Victoria mill?

A reference, almost contempory with the construction of the tunnel/pipe was re-discovered.   Marmaduke Tulket wrote a book in 1821 called 'A topographical, statistical and historical account of the borough of Preston' in which he says [when describing the Horrock's canal street cotton mill]

''Opposite to this cotton mill, upon the north-west bank of the canal, stands the large steam-engine house, built of stone, and erected at the sole expence [expense?] of the canal company, in 1805,for the express purpose of conveying water into the canal, when deficient. The water is pumped by means of this powerful engine, out of deep subterraneous tunnels, forming a communication with the river Ribble. The engine enveloped within the walls of this massive building is rated at fifty boraes horses power; but at present la very seldom used."

Barney Smith, of Preston Digital Archive fame, suggested that the pumping house - or what remained of it (with adjacent well) was opposite Canal Street Mill. Still extant in 1862 when the following map was produced.

canal engine1

The working map for the canal company also shows the same position.

canal engine2

canal engine

Since all of this area is now covered by University buildings all the building records available at Lancashire Archives looking for any sign of a cover for the tunnel.  Nothing was found.

More information appears in a document dated 20th November, 1809, in which the Lancaster Canal Company and Messrs Horrocks & Co agreed over various land disputes. The important portions, as far as this old discussion is concerned, is that Horrocks & Co “relinquish all claims…..in respect to use of their steam engine at the Canal Street Factory, during the time the Tunnel from the River Ribble was in execution”. Prior to the canal being built, the factory used “springs which drained Spittle Moss” for supplying water to their steam engines - now, it seems, they used canal water. Another important line in the document reads "during the time the Tunnel from the River Ribble was in execution" so the tunnel was only in operation for a very limited time.  Presumably the "leaks" on the canal had been reduced.  Canal street ran from the Lamb & Packet to the canal. It doesn’t explain what the word “tunnel” means but it does fix it into this area - as identified by Barney Smith.

The last document, for the moment, concerns an agreement (30th December, 1806) between the Proprietors of the Lancaster Canal Company, the Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses of Preston and John Grimshaw*.  In it there is a description of the Proprietors erecting a steam engine for the purpose "of drawing and raising water from the River Ribble into the said canal."  This should be achieved by "a tunnel or watercourse" which went through or underground land owned by Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses and known as Spittle Moss.  After a payment of £63 and a yearly rent of two shillings and sixpence the proprietors should "at all times hereafter leave and keep open one Eye Pitt or Hole" and that " the said pit eye or hole will and sufficiently covered or fenced off to prevent passengers and cattle from getting or falling into the same."  Also part of the agreement was "to remove spoil banks from Spittles Moss thrown up by the digging or to pay for damage occasioned by the spoil banks".  Does this imply that the tunnel was at a low level, perhaps a few feet below ground level?  Also, did the tunnel go futher to the north, over Spittle Moss before going down to the Ribble?  If so, why?

*Probably John Grimshaw who was an attorney in 1768 and owned land near to Davil Meadows, adjoining Marsh lane.  Was Mayor in 1782.

I did wonder if the marsh/Ribble end of the pipe might have something to do with the outlet which, it has always been supposed, was associated with Spa baths just above Watery lane.

The Corporation records for 1836  (CBP 1/1) show that the Lancaster Canal Co had to pay a rent of 2s 6d for the Tunnel under a part of the Marsh to their steam engine near the canal in Marsh Lane.  This must be related.

Other "probably" useful documents can be accessed at the PRO.

RAIL 844/11/15 Ribble Tunnel, design for principal beach - 1805

RAIL 844/11/14  Ribble tunnel.  Plan of foundations of engine house - 1805 

More information has come to light after a personal communication from Peter Bolton. He possesses the original agreement between John Grimshaw and the Lancaster Canal Company dated 1st January 1805.  This document contains much of the 30th December, 1806 mentioned above with the addition of the phrase "make a tunnel or water course (underground)".  It also mentions various distances - "three roods and twenty eight perches customary measure of seven yards to the rod or thereabouts" - which, given the lack of standardization at the time makes it difficult to work out exact distances.  

Another document has recently come to light which further confuses the situation.  A note, written in 1801 by William Cartwright, describes the "Specification for driving the tunnel from the River Ribble to the Intended engine Pit" close to Mr Horrock's mill (RAIL 844/248).  Since the plans for the engine house were only drawn up in 1805 (see above) presumably this version of the tunnel was abandoned.

Brock Cottages

One of our members, who happens to be a Wyre Ranger for the River Brock, discovered a derelict building by the side of the Brock, between Brock Mill and Brock Bottoms. This building appears on the 1846 Ordnance Survey map but all later maps failed to show it. The discovery was mentioned at a Wyre Archaeology meeting and much discussion ensued.  After some consultation with the landowner it was decided to put in a dig to investigate.

OS 1846

On the 1848 6 inch Ordnance Survey map a building appears (to the right of BM 243) but by the 1890's 24 inch series there is no sign.  This map also shows the track going behind the cottages - away from the river - with a croft in front of the cottages.  Further research, using the tithe map for the area (undated but probably around 1840) also shows the building but also gives a description from the schedule.  It seems that area behind the cottages was called "Bathalen Holme" and in front of them 2 houses and croft.  The rental value gives the impression that they were run down.

OS 1846

Further research uncovered a couple of estate maps which took the buildings back to, at least, 1800. The cottages are towards the right-hand side of the map - next to the 52.

cottages 1800


brock start

On the 9th November, 2019, Wyre Archaeology started their investigation of the site.  Most of the site had been cleared and the majority of the undergrowth had already died back.  The first task was to determine the extent of the cottages which was surprisingly easy to do.

brock first wall

Walls soon appeared.  The initial indications seemed to indicate a building with two rooms; possibly with some form of mortared floor.  Not surprisingly, in an area that has been popular with walkers, families and campers, a number of finds quickly appeared.  Broken glass being the primary find.  A completely intact beer beer bottle from Fleetwood (without contents) was discovered.



central cafe


One interesting find, no doubt left by picnickers, was an easily identifiable knife.  Morris' Cafe could be found at 10 Foxhall Road, Blackpool and was run by Frederick Llewellyn Morris.  He was at that address in 1901, at the age of 34, but died in 1919 when the business was taken over by his son of the same name. The 1929 Barrett's directory lists it under his name but as the Central Cafe.  The cafe continued to as late as 1938 with the implication being that the knife was "liberated" around this date.

 More digging took place on the 16th/17th November.  In spite of the midges, four enthusiastic members continued the excavation of the South-east corner of the site.  Probably the most important find, in terms of dating evidence, was a 1817 George III silver sixpence.

Due to coronavirus, the whole of 2020 was wiped for any kind of digging.  The site was re-investigated in late May, 2021 and found that the weeds had returned.  A couple of days weeding returned the site to digging status.

Ribchester - Catterall: Roman Road




11 & 12 AUGUST 2019


That the Romans were great road builders is an undisputed fact. Both on the Continent and in Britain, examples can be seen as surviving physical remains and arrow-straight lengths of modern tarmac overlying Roman routes. How Roman engineers laid out those routes has been, and continues to be, a subject of conjecture if not of dispute among many experts; some favouring the opinion that routes were mapped out over considerable distances between significant forts or settlements, whilst others argue that their engineers surveyed over more limited horizons using natural vantage points or temporary structures to take bearings, taking into account natural hazards such as bogs, and obstacles such as steep inclines.

red scar

 A further point of discussion lies in, or rather around, roadside ditches; major roads generally had two on either side. Were they simply for drainage taking water from the neatly cambered agger, or for traffic control, separating military from civilian road users, horse-drawn from pedestrian, or did they have a more significant purpose? In the absence of any surviving Roman Road Builder’s Manual, no-one can claim to have a definitive answer. An emerging view potentially lends support to the idea that Roman engineers laid out roads over short – admittedly straight – sections and that the ditches, particularly the inner pair, were dug first in order to mark out the line, the spoil contributing to the build-up of the agger. 

 The roads were essential to the pacification of Britain following the initial conquest and to its later development as the Province of Britannia. Despite a number of more recent studies, the reference point for most investigators is Margary’s Roman Roads of Britain (Margary I D, 1955-7), in which were classified all the then-known or surmised roads in a numerical system which has remained as the most comprehensive gazetteer of Roman road since then.


The Roman conquest of the island of Britain began in the south-east in AD 43, the legions over the next 20 years subduing tribes in the south-west, gradually establishing a de facto frontier on a line from the Humber to the Severn. Progress was temporarily halted by Boudicca’s rebellion in AD 60/61 and it wasn’t until the later 60’s that the North began to come under Roman control, with the Brigantes and the Parisii tribes becoming assimilated into the Empire in the early 70’s. The North-West remained a hostile, or at least unsettled territory during this period and even towards the end of the 70’s Roman control was not fully established; the Brigantes and the Selgovae of southern Scotland having to be subdued again in around AD 79, coinciding with the foundation of the major legionary forts at Chester and Lancaster. It’s likely however that these forts were built on or close to the sites of earlier turf and timber forts dating from around AD 71 or possibly earlier, since the fort at Ribchester and the outpost at Kirkham (and possibly Burscough) already existed at this time. 

The construction of the Roman road network necessarily followed the progress of the conquest, the roads being built by the military for the purpose of moving troops and supplies between military stations. Therefore it’s likely that the Ribchester - Walton-le-Dale - Lancaster road was constructed sometime between AD 69 - AD 73 and the Ribchester - Catterall - Lancaster ‘link’ road being constructed later, possibly between AD 73 and AD 79. 


The route taken by a road from the Roman fort at Ribchester to that at Lancaster had been the subject of speculation and of serious research for close on two centuries. The prevailing view was that the road followed a fairly direct line NNW, over Longridge fell, passing either east or west of Beacon Fell and joining the S-N road near Galgate. The rationale for this was simply that such a direct route must have existed; there were place names along the line (Broadgate, Street, Street Bridge, Stang Yule (probably a misprint for Staney Gate) associated with Roman roads, and there were here and there isolated landscape features that hinted at the possibility of an agger. Despite the lack of any hard physical evidence this route was included in the 1846 First Edition Ordnance Survey map as ‘supposed Roman road’ and was later enshrined in Margary’s 1957 Roman Road bible as Margary 704. 


The public access to the Environment Agency’s LiDAR data was the key to disproving this supposition. Roman road researcher David Ratledge had used this technology to locate the route of a number of Roman roads, in some cases proving the OS maps to be incorrect. A significant LiDAR-based discovery was that the Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster road (Margary 70d) did not follow the direct route of the current A6 but at Cabus headed NNW towards Cockerham (in Roman times on the sea) before turning NNE at Ashton and then N just south of the Lancaster fort.  

LiDAR imagery now led Ratledge to identify the Ribchester - Lancaster route as running through Longridge and Inglewhite to Catterall where it joined the S-N road. David was able to check out his discovery in the field by visiting accessible points on the route and looking for indications of an agger or cutting typical of Roman road engineers. Ian Milnes, a metal detectorist and associate of David's, using David's published LiDAR projections to identify potential detecting targets had, over several weeks, been detecting at a farm in Claughton near Bilsborrow and had realised that something significant lay under the surface of a particular field. Having gained the farmer's trust, Ian got agreement for Ratledge to visit the site and he, investigating by using a metal probe and small test-pits, was now convinced that the road had been located and suggested to colleagues in Wyre Archaeology that an excavation could put this beyond any doubt. 

The detectorist sought and obtained permission from the farmer for a limited excavation once his crop had been harvested and before his winter crop sowing. Accordingly, after a brief site survey that revealed a promising 21 metre-wide scatter of small stones and pebbles across the length of the field, a two day window was proposed as a suitable opportunity to excavate.


matshead join




excavationThe excavation by the Wyre Archaeology team took place over the two days 11 and 12 August 2019. The earlier site survey had identified an appropriate location clear of an overhead HT cable where it was planned to open two trenches at points where it was thought the inner boundary ditches might be located and, subsequently, open a trench across the presumed centre of the agger. Depending on progress a further trench might be opened outside the field in the grass verge bordering the metalled farm track where the track rose to pass over the agger. In the event, having located and opened trenches to expose the ditches, these trenches were simply extended across the full width of the agger.

The field surface was thickly covered in stubble from the recent harvest. Under this stubble was found a distinct stone scatter some 21 metres wide running the entire length of the field corresponding to the line of the road as perceived in the LiDAR image. The topmost plough soil had a depth of between 100 and 150mm.


The two presumed inner boundary ditches were excavated to a depth of approximately 800mm but although in section there appeared to be a distinct fill they did not appear to conform precisely to the expected Roman v-shaped cut and it transpired that the eastern ditch had been truncated by a cut at its northern side to lay a ceramic field drain. On closer inspection it appeared that this had also compromised the eastern surface of the road. The western ditch also contained a semi-cylindrical feature at a depth of 75cm that could have been decayed organic matter – possibly a D-shaped wooden post however this could not be verified and it may be that this ditch had also been compromised by the laying of a drain.


On extending and joining up the 1m-wide ditch trenches, the surviving surface of the road was revealed to be just over 8m wide and comprised of small stones, probably pebbles taken from the nearby River Brock and approximately 20mm -25mm in size.  The surface had an obvious camber, rising some 100mm from the edges to the centre. This surface layer was approximately 150mm in depth, although it was apparent that the topmost metalling had been disturbed and dispersed by ploughing over previous centuries. At the centre of the agger a 1m x1m trench was opened and excavated down to what was presumed to be the natural surface in order to reveal the underlying structure of the road. 







Beneath the surface layer was a further layer of pebbles of varying sizes from 25mm to 150mm. These in turn were laid on a bed of larger river stones of approximately 200mm in size. Since there was no apparent dark humus layer indicating decayed turf it appeared that this foundation layer had been laid directly on the natural clay which was blue-grey in colour, at a depth of + 800mm beneath the topsoil.

At the conclusion of the excavation, as agreed with the landowner, then trench was closed and backfilled.


The excavation and surrounding area were subject to a thorough metal detecting survey and field walk but there were no significant finds.


The dig was a success in that it achieved the aims set out in the project plan. However in post excavation discussion there have emerged a number of valuable lessons. Firstly more time could have been taken to investigate the boundary ditches more thoroughly, particularly when evidence was found that they had been compromised. Extending the ditches parallel to the line of the road by another 1m may have offered more definite proof that they were the actual ditches and that they had been explored to their full depth. Similarly the 1m sondage at the central point of the agger could have been excavated to a slightly greater depth to satisfy the question of whether the clay surface encountered was indeed the natural. However, on balance, given the limited time slot and the very changeable and sometimes very unpleasant weather the outcome was rewarding. It is hoped that another opportunity will be forthcoming to revisit the site and excavate elsewhere along the line of the road.


That this is the location of the Roman Ribchester-Lancaster link road there can be little doubt. The excavation proved the existence of a road constructed in a method known to be Roman and its line conforms exactly to the route revealed by LiDAR imagery. In the total absence of any contradictory evidence it is well justified to classify this road as Margary 704aa. 



Tom Anderson, Dave Berry, Chris Birkett, Chris Drabble, Mike Edwards, Brenda Evans, David Hampson, Andy Jackson, Darren Meadows, Simon Millward-Hopkins, David Ratledge, Steve Rice


1. Roman road ditches at Red Scar Industrial Estate Preston on Ribchester to Walton-le-Dale road.  Google Earth

2.  Roman Roads in Lancashire showing location of WA Excavation. D Ratledge

3. LiDAR image of route of Roman road north of River Brock crossing at Matshead, Claughton.  D Ratledge 

4. Excavation Site. D Ratledge/Roman Roads in Lancashire

5. Trench plan. D Ratledge/D Hampson

6. Eastern Ditch. D Hampson

7. Western Ditch. D Hampson

8. Road surface looking west. D Hampson

9. Drone photo showing road surface, side ditches and central sondage. C Drabble

10. Plan and profile of road surface. C Drabble

11. Section photo/drawing of road structure. C Drabble



Roman Roads in Britain. Vol II. Margary I D, 1957. 

Lancashire's Roman Roads, a Lidar Reassessment. David Ratledge, Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society Transactions Volume 110, 2017.

Romans and Britons in North West England. Shotter D, 2004

REPORT PREPARED BY: D W Hampson & D Ratledge, 3rd November 2019

The "First" Tram Road

Preston's "Tram Bridge" has been in the news recently when it was condemned as being unsafe.  Many Prestonians will have fond memories of wandering through Avenham and Miller parks, over the bridge and then up the old tram road.  This document is intended to show that this may not have been the original tram road and that another, earlier, tram road was planned and may well have been put into operation.  

geograph 5110185 by Stephen Richards  

old tram bridge

Tram Bridge & Tram Road

On the 22nd November, 1797 a section of the Lancaster Canal between Preston and Lancaster was opened to traffic - or so the story goes.  As we will see, this comment needs a little more investigation for several reasons which we will come to eventually but, for the moment, we need to look at the reasons for the construction of the canal and some of the issues that it had to overcome.

The industrial developments in the late 18th Century resulted in an explosion of canal building linking manufacturing areas with their markets.  The Lancaster Canal project, particularly, revolves around coal, extracted from the Wigan coal fields, being required in Preston, Garstang, Lancaster and Kendal with limestone being carried in the opposite direction.  The lime produced from it used to spread on the land or in the building industry.  The colours of the main cargoes gave rise to the moniker "Black and White canal".   The image below shows the canal in 1817 along with the geography of this part of Lancashire and the geographical obstacles that needed to be overcome.

lancaster canal 1817

1817 Plan of the L:ancaster Canal            

Coal had been extracted from the Wigan area since Roman times but transport had always been a problem; moving it from where it was mined to where it was to be used.  The condition of the late 18th century roads meant that little coal was transported this way and, what was, was expensive.  Thomas Steers, who was an 18th century engineer and surveyor, decided to look at alternative route; the River Douglas which runs from near Wigan down to the Ribble estuary.  He suggested that the river be canalised in places so that it was improved for freight traffic.  By 1720 coal demand had increased in the nearby towns (without any commensurate improvements in the roads) so an Act of Parliament was passed to allow the improvement of the River Douglas (also known as the River Asland) using many of Steers suggestions. Some limited improvements took place over the next 50 years but it was only when the river/canal system was bought by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company in the 1770's was real progress made.

As far back as 1772 investors got together to employ Robert Whitworth to survey a route between the Wigan coal fields and Kendal.  He came up with two proposals; a lower and a higher route.  The lower route would involve more locks going down to the Ribble and then back up again; the higher route needed a more expensive aqueduct.  Although neither of these routes were ever put into operation they did provide the basis of the  canal survey was carried out by John Rennie in 1792.   For the Preston to Lancaster section Rennie also adopted a "contour" approach whereby locks were avoided by contouring around landscape.  Built-up embankments or cuts were used to counter any undulations in the landscape but this also caused issues with leaks and subsidence.  These, however, were small compared to the expense of crossing rivers Ribble, Wyre and Lune.  The Wyre was relatively easily overcome with the aqueduct just south of Garstang.  The Lune bridge and and its associated aqueduct cost more money than was expected so little was left in the kitty for the crossing of the Ribble.  The solution was to have, unlike over the Lune, a relatively low bridge across the Ribble that would take coal laden tram road trucks from Walton Summit into Preston and thence onto the canal "proper".  The difficulty with this being that the tram bridge was only completed in 1804 and so this route could not have been used to transport coal when the first canal barges travelled from Preston to Lancaster in 1797.

The first stage, in moving the coal down the Douglas, would have been to transfer the coal onto "coal flats".  The National Canal Museum at Ellesmere has a "Mersey flat" dating from the 1850's (see below) that something similar, would have been used to transport coal down the Douglas. In the "Lancashire Local Historian - No 16" there is an article covering the development of the Douglas which contains the surprising information that the original flats were hauled by men - not horses - at least in the early days and they were paid between 8d and 12d a day.  The coal could then be transferred to a more stable boat for the journey across or along the Ribble but, as we have seen with the development of the Ribble/Millennium link, at slack tide conventional barges or flats could still be used.    In one the General Meetings in 1797 for the Lancaster Canal Company3 it was mentioned that some of the Douglas navigation boats could carry about 30 tons each and but could only go up the river at spring tides - so there are limitations in this method. Some idea of the charges can be gleaned from an agreement in 1754 where the charge was one shilling for every ton of coal, cannel*, limestone & stone transported down the Douglas and this agreement was in place for the next 21 years - a sign that no-one expected rapid inflation in the mid 18th century.  Barritt quotes a ton of coal delivered to Preston would be 6s 6d; Garstang 7s 8d, Lancaster 8s and Kendal 11s.  So money was to be made by reducing these costs by means of a canal.

*cannel coal was a coal that burnt very brightly - Wigan was famous for it.

The alternative method of connecting Wigan with Preston, and the one ultimately implemented by the Lancaster Canal Company involved the construction of a canal from the edge of Wigan, through to Johnson Hillock and on to Walton summit.  From there a tram road would run down to the River Ribble and over the tram road bridge.  A powerful steam engine then lifted the coal trucks up to a higher level where they  finally ran down to the main wharves in Preston.  As far as the first coal barges coming from Preston are concerned there is one main problem - the tram road bridge was only implemented in 1804 - several years later than the first barges going into Lancaster.  Coal transported by the conventional road network, even in the late 18th Century, would have been extremely expensive so we need to go back to investigate the use of the Douglas for getting coal into Preston.  The map below shows the various areas of interest within this article.

outline map

Prior to the canal being completed to the north-west of Preston most of the river traffic was berthed in the dock to the south-west of Watery lane - close to where the Old Dock Office can now be found.  Goods would then be transported either via Watery lane, Water lane, Fylde Road and into town or along the side of the marsh onto, what is now, Marsh lane and hence into town.  Presumably the positioning of these wharves/docks would have been a compromise between being close to the centre of Preston, the depth of the water and the tide levels. The further you go upstream the more difficult it would be to get the depth of water required for shipping.


Shakeshaft's map of 1808/9 shows the basic structure of the Preston marsh dock area without giving too much detail.  The map of 1838 below shows the docks, wharves, cranes, warehouses and even a custom house.  Nothing comparable appears further up river.



Back to 1797.  By this stage most of the Fylde portion of the canal was complete and was making progress into Preston and the route, described above, was more than likely the route to move coal from the dock to the canal.  This was explained by the resident engineer, William Cartwright, in the Canal Company General meeting of 2nd July, 1799.  He said that coal

 was brought down the Douglas navigation (subject to all the additional expenses of freight and tonnage duty on another canal), and from thence the boats come up the river during tide time, where they are discharged at Preston marsh, and the coals are carted up to this canal.

 he later adds

railroads have been found, by experience, to answer every purpose of conveying goods cheaply and expeditiously

Coal had been transported from Stanley, County Durham down to the Tyne by railroads4 for nearly three-quarters of a century so the technology and economics were well understood.

The Lancaster Canal Company General Meeting for 1797 contains a reference that the boats started at Spittle moss for the journey up to LancasterSpittle moss was an area either side of Fylde road near the present Guild pub and closer along the canal to the town centre.  Along that section of canal could be found Green Bank wharves but it contained no docks or even basins for turning around the barges.  But this starting point seems unlikely since Cartwright, several months later on the 2nd March, 1798 in a letter to his employers states:-

The canal thro’ Tulketh Hill  I hope will be navigable to the Bason in about a month from this line….[he needs to] give directions for providing the materials for making the stages & landing places at the bason for the trade - and also gravel or stones for the road and whart(wharf) ought to be provided as well as the road forming

The two statements can't both be true.  Cartwright, being the person on the ground, you would suspect, should provide the definitive answer but it also means that an alternative route for transporting coal onto the canal is needed.  Perhaps the quote from the General Meeting is to keep shareholders happy. Other documents for the sale of the land around the basin and the area to the north of Fylde road to the Canal Company show these were only signed in August 1797.  An even greater argument against the Spittle moss route can be seen in the fact that Preston Borough only sold off the land to the Canal Company in 1802.

Again, later on the 10th August 1798, Cartwright describes another problem:-

Deep cutting at Tulketh Hill on the offside the canal north of Cross’s Bridge a very large slip appeared a few days ago

Which implies problems still existed with this area of the canal.  Revenue would soon be affected if this was the only route for transporting coal to the canal and alternatives were needed.

The present canal ends close to a dock basin at the back of Tulketh brow and, even though none of the records appear to mention this, this was also the obvious place for loading to take place, barges to be moored and still be reasonably close to the river dock.  And it backs up Cartwright's assertion that "coals are carted up to this canal."  The longer route, onto Spittle moss, was impossible as we will see later.  This basin was most probably the one referred to by Cartwright above.

The main dock(s) at this time were still by the side of the river, as shown in the map below.  Shakeshaft's map of 1808 shows the whole of the river going through Preston but the only place docks are mentioned are by the side of the river in Ashton.  The most obvious route from the Ribble docks would follow the continuation of Watery lane along the side of Swansea gutter up to the old Wheatsheaf pub.  From here there appears to be two possible routes.  The shortest, but with the steepest incline, would be up Bray street, right onto Wyre street (which appears to have no other reason for being there and doesn't appear on any earlier maps) and then across Tulketh brow onto the dock basin (shown on the map below.)  The alternative, with a lesser incline, would have been to continue up Watery lane to the junction with Fylde road and then left up Tulketh brow.  Unfortunately this route is slightly longer.


According to Barritt, when commenting about the tram road south of the Ribble,  he says

that two horses were expected to pull six wagons fully laden with coal (2 tons) from Clayton Green to Preston and return with limestone within 4 hours. 

The route, shown above, was only 0.9km and a goodly portion of this along the flat so transporting the coal this way shouldn't have been a problem.


canal basin1

                                                                       Modern view of the basin

Following Cartwright's earlier comment, it may well be that some form of rail track was used to help the movement of the coal and this was no doubt used prior to the combination of tram road/tram bridge being used from about 1805 onwards.

There is, fortunately, an alternative that uses Savick brook (or Savok brook as it is named in a number of the old records) as a way of getting coal flats close to the canal.  This route has been rejected by modern scholars on the grounds that the brook wasn't and never has been navigable. A map, from 1756, show one of the channels of the Ribble passing further to the north.  The dwelling, labelled "Fish House" is probably the modern Savick Brook Farm.

clifton ribble

By permission Lancashire Evening Post & Lancashire Archives (DDPR 144/7)

It has been suggested that only with the development of the Ribble/Millennium link was the depth of water increased to allow barges to move freely.  The other argument against this route was that the distance from the brook to the canal was greater than the Preston marsh route.  To counter the first of these arguments there is a map, created in 1781 when the toll bridge onto Clifton marsh was proposed, which shows a vessel going up the brook - so it was navigable.  The various OS maps give an upper high-water level to which any vessel could travel so, probably to give some leeway on berthing.savok navigation  5By permission of J C Hilton Lord of the Manor of Lytham - DDCL/583

Looking in more detail into the toll bridge agreement between the Hoghtons and Cliftons we see

[the parties] have agreed to throw into common certain quantities of land on each side the said River Salwick otherwise Savick to be appropriated for the making of Wharfs timber and coal yards and for such other uses and purposes as they shall mutually agree upon5

So there was a view that Savick brook could, at some time in the future, be used for more commercial uses.

Dated 12th July, 1792 the Clifton family produced a notice reminding users that there should be no trespassing over Clifton Marsh - perhaps this was a way of preempting the Lancaster Canal Company or, perhaps, a bargaining chip.

To all Owners and Captains of Vessels, Navigating up the River Ribble, and all others whom it may concern.

Whereas Vessels are frequently unloaded at Clifton Caul, and the Goods and Things taken from such Vessels, carted over the Marsh, whereby much damage is done thereto, to the Herbage and Soil of John Clifton, Esq. NOTICE is therefore hereby GIVEN, That if any Person or Persons shall hereafter unload any Vessel upon any part of Clifton Marsh, or cart any Goods over any Part thereof, (without first having obtained the consent of James Gradwell of Clifton, who is authorized by Mr Clifton, to give Leave at particular Times, under certain Circumstances, and subject to Terms and Regulations) he and they will be prosecuted as a wilful Trespasser and wilful Trespassers.

Secondly, there appears to be at least three "green lanes" working their way north from the brook towards the canal. Possibly one of the lanes could have been a private route from Lea Hall to Lea town since there is a bridge over the brook.  Another could, possibly, be a route to a mill or something similar but three routes seems to be overkill.  On all of the available maps these lanes don't have any equivalent going south from the brook - which is a little strange - but it is the left hand route is the most intriguing since there is no bridge.  Also, in the 1838 tithe map, this particular lane appears to have no owner and is now a public footpath.

OS 1848

The third point and the origin of this article can be traced back to a comment found when transcribing the Cragg family diary.  The diary covers the thoughts and background of various generations of the Cragg family that lived for more than 100 years in Upper Wyresdale.  The entry that stood out was

"Lancaster canal which was opened on the 22nd of November (1797) and since that time several large loads of coals and cannel have been brought to Lancaster and Galgate from Savok a little below Preston." 

The Record Society of Lancashire & Cheshire, in Volume 142 contains an interesting article on the Cragg family - together with a full transcription of the diary. In it it is suggested that the word "Savok" is presumed to mean "Salwick, five miles west of Preston."  This seems unlikely; the old maps and records often give the name "Savick" brook as "Savock/Savok".  

So, at least, this track was proposed but was it put into execution?  The Cragg diaries implies that it was.

There are further arguments in favour of the Savick/Savok route being implemented - at least as a temporary solution.  William Cartwright, in his letters, recounts numerous breaches in the canal - the stabilising of the embankments at Tulketh and over Savick brook in Ashton were major problems - and these are on the Preston side of this Lea route.   Also, as mentioned earlier, Cartwright describes that he hopes the basin (above Tulketh road) would be ready in about a months time.  This being the 2nd March, 1798 - more than three months after barges had left from Preston.

Another point mentioned in one of the general meetings being the barges only having access to the Preston wharves at high tide.  The further you go up the river the less the tidal range.  Using that logic would imply that there would be a greater tidal range on the Savick - making it easier to unload the coal or even load up with limestone. 

In "Canals of North West England" by Hadfield & Biddle6 there is a comment on page 189 stating that coal was "carted down to the Douglas and so taken that way to Preston; there it had to be labouriously carted again up to the North End".  A further comment states "In 1796 and 1797 various proposals were considered for a short branch canal from Salwick or the North End to Savock followed by an inclined plane down to the Ribble or alternatively a tram road from the canal at Tulketh, the idea being to exchange traffic with the Douglas. The Leeds and Liverpool agreed to improve the Douglas but the Lancaster [Canal Company] was unable to finance their work."  Hadfield & Biddle only treat this route as a "proposal".   Perhaps the Cragg family diary entry elevates this idea above a proposal.

Yet another reason for choosing the Savok route was the distance between the Savok and the wharf in Ashton is a couple of kilometres - at least half an hour in time for the coal flats going up the Ribble. The return distance, along the canal, between the Tulketh Brow basin and Lea Town would be about 4 miles. All of this adds time to the journey.

In the De Hoghton7 records within Lancashire Archives (DDHO 486) there is an agreement for new road between Clifton & Lea which is "indemnified against charges for the purpose of wharfages, landing coal, limestones & other stone slate, timber...".  It is dated 1/5/1781.  It isn't obvious whether the wharfages refers to the Ribble, Savick Brook or both but, since the boundary between the Cliftons & Hoghtons runs along the brook, it is more than likely that any wharfages refers to Savick brook.

The last, and possibly most important, bit of evidence for Savick brook being used appears in a map produced for Lancaster Canal Company8 that covers the area between the Ribble and the canal at Lea Town.  The focus of the map shows the track from the brook, onto Darkinson lane, through Lea and on to the canal.  The first portion of the map shows the brook coming north from the Ribble, passing under, what is now Blackpool road, and onto the junction with the "green lane".  All along the route the fields are numbered - presumably to tie in with the owners of the land that this route goes through and to provide compensation.

savick start

The high water level is shown on the OS maps some distance upstream from the confluence of the brook and the "green" lane.

The most northerly portion of the map takes the track up to the canal to the north of Lea town.

track ends

Now we come to the most important part.  Zooming in on the section of the map nearest the canal end the words "rail ends" appears. 

rail end

So, at the very least, this particular route was planned and, given the issues at the Preston end of the canal, seems to be the only solution.  A rail track could have been inexpensively added and, even if it was never or infrequently used, could provide a back-up method of getting coal onto the canal.  Within a few months the basin at Tulketh would have been completed and, given the infrastructure at the Preston marsh docks, would probably mean that that route would have been used until the wharves in the centre of Preston, the tram bridge and "new" tram way completed.


1.  DDPR 144/9 - Lancashire Archives

2. "The Old Tram Road: Walton Summit to Preston Basin" by Steven Barritt

3.  "Transcripts of Reports on Lancaster Canal 1790-1800" by R.W.G. Bryant. - Lancashire Archives 

4.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causey_Arch

5.  DDCL/583 - Lancashire Archives4. 

6.  "Canals of North West England" by Hadfield & Biddle

7.  DDHO 486 - Houghton deeds - Lancashire Archives

8.  RAIL 844/148 - Public Records Office


After visiting the site where the "green" road meets Darkinson lane, I have some slight changes to the arguments drawn above. 

1.  The last map in the article, RAIL 844/148 must have been produced pre 1800 because, by this time, most of the canal from Preston to Lancaster would have been stabilized.  There would have been no reason, apart from back-up, to produce a map for the Lea solution.  As mentioned before, all the landowners either side of the track were shown but the green lane seems to show it WAS ALREADY IN EXISTENCE.  So it had to be there for some other reason - possibly a track to a mill.

2.  The track from the canal, following the modern path, goes up a slight slope to Darkinson lane.  From there is goes quite steeply downhill for 100m.  If the Canal Company were buying up land for their tramroad it would make more sense to contour around this slight hill.

I don't think the above points change any of the original conclusions.  Coal did, indeed, flow from "Preston" to Lancaster in 1797 but not, as we have seen, from Spittle Moss.  It had to be transferred to the canal somewhere to the West of Spittle Moss and the Tulketh embankment. Savick brook is the obvious answer - if only for a short period of time before the Preston Marsh connection was stabilized.

3.  It has been pointed out that the basin above Tulketh road could also have been created to service the lime kilns.  So which came first, the canal or the kilns?  More research is required in this area.  The earliest map showing the possible route of the canal (shown in pencil) into Preston (~1795) shows some uncertainty regarding the position of the basin.  A circle of dots may, or may not, show the lime kilns.  Hadfield & Biddle mention that in 1791 Samuel Gregson was appointed clerk to the Lancaster Canal Company.  Possibly he used this position to form a company (Samuel Gregson & Co) to build limekilns along the route of the canal.

lime kiln basin