Peak Forest Canal

An Overview

The Act of Parliament permitting the incorporation of the Peak Forest Canal Company and authorized construction of the canal was 34 George III Cap. 26, which received the Royal Assent on the 28 March 1794 and became effective on the 20 May 1794.

An Act for making and maintaining a Navigable Canal from and out of the Canal Navigation from Manchester to or near Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, in the County Palatine of Lancaster, at the intended Aqueduct Bridge in Dukinfield, in the County of Chester, to or near to Chapel Milton, in the County of Derby; and a Communication by Railways or Stone Roads from thence to Load's Knowl, within Peak Forest, in the said County of Derby; and a Branch from and out of the said intended Canal to Whaley Bridge, in the said County of Chester.

Later, the Peak Forest Canal Company obtained another two Acts of Parliament to empower it to complete the construction of the canal.

Act 40 George III Cap. 38, dated 30 May 1800
An Act for altering and amending an Act, passed in the Thirty-fourth Year of the Reign of His present Majesty, for making and maintaining the Peak Forest Canal; and for granting to the Company of Proprietors of the said Canal further and other Powers.

Act 45 George III Cap. 12, dated 18 March 1805
An Act for enabling the Company of Proprietors of the Peak Forest Canal more effectually to provide for the Discharge of their Debts, and to complete the said Canal, and the Cut, Railways, or Stone Roads and other Works thereof.

Key Events of the Peak Forest Canal Co

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The line of this narrow canal was to be from the southern end of the Tame Aqueduct in Dukinfield, Cheshire, where it was to connect with the Ashton Canal, passing through Newton, Hyde, Woodley, Bredbury, Romiley, Marple, Strines, Disley, Newtown (New Mills), Furness Vale and Bugsworth and from there to its projected terminus at Chapel Milton. From Chapel Milton, a 'Railway or Stone Road' was to be built to Load's Knowl (near Dove Holes). A short branch canal to Whaley Bridge was also to be cut. The Act for the Peak Forest Canal became effective on the 20 May 1794 and Thomas Brown, the Resident Engineer, cut the first clod.

The Deposited Plan of the proposed canal (initially known as 'the intended Derbyshire Canal'), was drawn up by Thomas Brown and this plan and the estimates were deposited with the Clerk of the Peace for Derbyshire in 1793. This was done on behalf of the Peak Forest Canal Company by their Law Clerks, Worthingtons of Altrincham. The plan envisaged two flights of locks, one at Marple and the other at Whitehough beyond Bugsworth. There were to be three canal tunnels, these being at Butterhouse Green, Hyde Bank and Rose Hill, and a tramway tunnel at Stodhart.

As built, the Peak Forest Canal lay entirely in the County Palatine of Chester with the exception of a short section on the approach to Bugsworth, which was in Derbyshire. In the event, the canal was terminated at Bugsworth in order to avoid construction of Whitehough Locks and preclude the problem of an inadequate water supply for the summit pound and terminal basin at Chapel Milton. This would have required the construction of a special reservoir at Wash, which may not have been sufficient to guarantee and adequate supply of water. An additional, and less appreciated, reason for this change to the design was the discovery of an outcrop of gritstone just beyond Bugsworth, where the company subsequently opened the successful Crist Quarry and the later Barren Clough Quarry.

The company reached their decision to modify the design on the 8 July 1795 and this was done on the advice of Benjamin Outram and Thomas Brown, their consulting and resident engineers respectively. The Committee of the Peak Forest Canal Company expressed the opinion that it was in the interests of the company to:

'---- make the canal as far towards Chapel Milton as possible.'

The effect of this was that the Peak Forest Canal terminated at Bugsworth rather than at the projected terminus at Chapel Milton, which was two miles away, hence the Peak Forest Tramway was built two miles longer. The canal was the a little over 14½ miles long and the tramway was about six miles long.

In October 1795, the Committee asked Outram to stake out the line of Marple Locks but the company was becoming overwhelmed with financial problems, as a result of which their construction was delayed.

The Upper Peak Forest Canal and Peak Forest Tramway opened for trade on the Wednesday, 31 August 1796. The Lower Peak Forest Canal, between Dukinfield and Marple Aqueduct, was open in 1798 and Marple Aqueduct opened on the Thursday, 1 May 1800. Meanwhile, the need for locks at Marple was overcome by the construction of the temporary Marple Tramway that was in use between 1798 and 1807. The top four locks at Marple (locks 13, 14, 15 and 16) were opened on the Saturday, 13 October 1804 but it was not until November 1805 that the remaining 12 locks were opened. Thus, it was not until November 1805 that the Peak Forest Canal was fully open throughout its entire length. As a consequence, Marple Locks and Tramway were operated in tandem for two years.

Extract from the Derby Mercury, dated Thursday, 8 September 1796, page 4.

We are informed from Chapel-en-le-Frith, that on Wednesday last (31 August 1796) the works of the Peak Forest Canal and Railway (Tramway), from the Lime Rocks to Marple, were opened, being an extent of twelve miles. The Committee of the Peak Forest Canal Company assembled at Chapel-en-le-Frith early in the morning, to view the operations: ··· Waggons loaded with limestone were brought from the quarries, and passed down the inclined plane, and six of those loaded waggons, containing upwards of ten tons of limestone, were drawn by one horse to the head of the canal at Bugsworth, and from thence two boats, loaded with stone, were navigated along the canal to Marple. The facility and ease with which heavy loads are passed along the rail-way (tramway) and inclined plane exceed all expectations. ··· Preparations are making for erecting kilns to burn lime on different parts of the line of the canal and railway, by which means the country will soon be amply supplied with that that valuable manure (soil conditioner) on very moderate terms: and although the benefits of water communication with the lime works of Derbyshire cannot be fully attained until other parts of the canal are completed, yet the present opening to Marple will render the supply of lime to Manchester and Stockport, and the neighbourhood, much more cheap and plentiful than heretofore.
Further significant events are listed below:
The Cromford and High Peak Railway opened throughout and this linked the Cromford Canal at High Peak Wharf to the Peak Forest Canal at Marple.
The Macclesfield Canal opened throughout and this linked the Peak Forest Canal at Marple with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Hall Green, near Kidsgrove.
The Peak Forest Canal Company was leased to the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway Company. This company was a forerunner of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company. This acquisition was made by means of what is known as a perpetual lease, the annual consideration being £9,324 18s 0d.
The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company was incorporated.
The Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway Company; the Sheffield and Lincolnshire Junction Railway Company; the Great Grimsby and Sheffield Junction Railway Company and the Grimsby Dock Company all amalgamated to form the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company. As a consequence of this amalgamation, the Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals became collectively known as the Western Canal.
Ownership of the Peak Forest Canal Company passed to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company.
The Peak Forest Canal Company was dissolved and the canal and tramway were vested in the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company. An Act obtained by the railway company annulled the perpetual lease and this enabled the Peak Forest Canal Company to be dissolved. Between 1846 and 1883 the only functions of the original Peak Forest Canal Company were to distribute any dividends payable to its shareholders and to pay interest on any outstanding loans entered into prior to 1846.
The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company changed its name to the Great Central Railway Company. This change of name was prompted as a result of the company now having a rail connection to London.
Rail companies came under government control and this control also extended to canals owned by railway companies.
The Amalgamation Tribunal, formed as a result of the Railways Act of 1921, ratified the North Eastern, Eastern and East Scottish railway scheme whereby the Great Central Railway Company was to cease to exist at the end of 1922 to become an integral part of the London and North Eastern Railway Company.
The London and North Eastern Railway Company owned the Western Canal, which included the Peak Forest Canal.
The London and North Eastern Railway Company Act, 15 & 16 Geo. 5 Cap. 52, was passed and a clause in this Act permitted the legal abandonment of the Peak Forest Tramway.
A Transport Act was passed as a consequence of which the British Transport Commission (BTC) was established and they, in turn, established their Inland Waterways Division.
The London and North Eastern Railway Company was nationalised, along with the other three railway companies, under the terms of the 1947 Transport Act. Consequently, the Peak Forest Canal, as well as many other canal undertakings passed under the control of the Inland Waterways Division of the BTC. Subsequently, the Inland Waterway Division adopted the name,'British Waterways Board (BWB)'.
Another Transport Act became effective and this Act conferred a Charter on the British Waterways Board that provided it with a description, a constitution and a grant of rights and also laid down it powers and duties. Later, the name was changed to British Waterways (BW).

Under the terms of this Act, the Peak Forest Canal from the top of Marple Locks to Whaley Bridge Juntion and the Whaley Bridge Branch became Cruising Waterways. The Lower Peak Forest Canal, Marple Locks and the main line of the canal between Whaley Bridge Junction and Bugsworth Basin became Remainder Waterways. The Ashton Canal was also designated as a Remainder Waterway. It was only necessary for British Waterways Board to deal with them '---- in the most economical manner possible ----.' Consequently they became derelict and unnavigable.
The Lower Peak Forest Canal and Marple Locks, as well as the Ashton Canal, were officially re-opened after becoming derelict in the 1960s.
Bugsworth Basin at the terminus of the Peak Forest Canal was officially re-opened after lying derelict since the 1920s.
Eight transition trustees were appointed to oversee the establishment of the Canal & River Trust that will take responsibility for the care of the historic waterways of England and Wales cared for by British Waterways.
The Canal & River Trust was incorporated as a charitable company.
The Canal & River Trust formally took over the work of British Waterways.
The Canal & River Trust was publicly launched.


Lock 7 pound at Marple, 13 February 1991.

Captain Clarke's Bridge on the Lower Peak Forest Canal, 1980s. Burgess' Bridge on the Lower Peak Forest Canal, 19 February 2006.
Lock 1 of Marple Locks, June 1974. Whaley Bridge Junction, 1980s.
The Lower Basin Arm at Bugsworth Basin, 24 March 2005. The Middle Basin at Bugsworth Basin, 26 March 2005.

The two working boats are Joel and Maria.