Last week I travelled to Northwich in Cheshire to visit the Anderton boat lift. Once nicknamed the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ the lift is a scheduled monument. It was constructed in 1875 to raise freight barges and narrow boats 50 ft from the River Weaver Navigation to the Trent & Mersey Canal and was in use for over a hundred years until its closure in the 1980s. Restored in 2001, it was reopened a year later and is used by visitors and boaters passing through Cheshire and the Midlands.
The lift was designed by Edwin Clark, who had also designed another hydraulic ship lift at Victoria Docks, London. It consists of two wrought iron cassions, or containers, 75ft long, 15ft wide and over 9ft deep, and a superstructure of iron columns with a platform, walkways and a staircase. It is powered by hydraulic pistons. The project was managed by chief engineer Edward Leader Williams and was a joint enterprise between the canal and river companies who were keen to speed up the shipping of locally mined salt and pottery from Staffordshire to markets in the UK and beyond. A series of locks had been considered but rejected as too expensive and inefficient. The lift was relatively cheaper and simpler in design.
Set in pleasant surroundings and with a small waterside cafe, Anderon Boat Lift is quite a nice spot to enjoy an hour or two even for those not interested in its history.
Advance booking was required as is mostly the way these days. We were able to get tickets for the short lift ride but the longer canal and river cruises were already sold out. We decided to go anyway, in the hope that there would be cancellations, but with plans to visit other local places of interest if our optimism proved fruitless (as it did).
We had a bit of time before we were due to be lifted skyward, so we had a look at the small exhibition about the region’s industrial heritage and the role the boat lift played in that. My favourite part of the exhibition was a selection of Victorian arcade games. Apart from being of the lift’s era and also being mechanical, I wasn’t sure what the connection was, but they were fun anyway.
For the price of an old penny I decided to consult Old Mother Shipton, hoping for confirmation that I would soon be setting sail on a river trip, or that I would come into money and not have to return to work this week. Alas, she told me neither of those things, but she did say there would be an embarrassing half hour whilst I had some explaining to do, but that all would turn out well in the end.
With Old Mother Shipton’s words still in my mind, and wondering if something was about to go badly wrong, we headed to the lift for our elevation experience.
Our on-board host gave an interesting talk about the boat lift and its context within the industrial revolution and the region and about the long process of its restoration after being abandoned. If not for the history presentation, the lift ride would have been quick and quite unremarkable: contained within the deep iron cassion troughs with sides higher than the boat, there was no view or sense of moving through the air.
As we ascended, a small number of spectators (possibly themselves unable to get tickets to be aboard) observed our emergence from the giant iron frame and gasped in awe. OK, they were not really quite so impressed, but in its early days it would have been quite something to travel in the boat lift.
Social distancing was still being enforced on board, despite it having been abandoned on public transport in July. The boat and river trips were sailing at half capacity, with alternate rows of seats empty. We tried to talk our way onto the longer boat trip, and even counted the passengers boarding and found them to be fewer than the ‘Covid safe’ capacity of 28 (actual capacity 56), but were still not allowed to board. Frustrated and rather vexed, we sulked for a bit and then went to enjoy the scenery on foot.
I’m still wondering about that prophesy…..