The Lancashire Evening Post, Tuesday, 28th June 2005
Canal Knowlwdge
Preston’s waterways could soon be transformed in an £800m scheme that includes plans to extend the Lancaster Canal. Richard Newton talks to the man behind one of the plans which could see a canal link into the city centre. By Richard Newton
With its traffic lights and endless queues of cars, Corporation Street is much like any other busy city centre road.

But, 200 years ago, a completely different form of transport navigated along its course in and out of the heart of Preston.

At his home in Victoria Road, Fulwood,canal enthusiast Colin Barnes points out the area of Preston where the road should be on a map published in 1827.

Fishergate and church Street are visible, cutting a swathe through 18th Century Preston, as is Friagate, which can be seen stretching, as it does today, from Market Place towards Fylde Road. But the area west of this road bears little similarity to that seen today. In the area of Corporation Street there was once a canal.

Mr Bames, who published a thesis on the Lancaster Canal to qualify as an architect, said: "The Lancaster Canal stretched all the way from where it ends today at Shelley Road to a tunnel going under today's Fishergate Centre and a rail track going towards the river.

"The canal boats used to reach this point before workers transferred their loads into carts to go on the rail line to the river crossing." It is difficult to imagine the junction of Corporation Street and Ring Way as it was then.

Colin Barnes
Water Dreams: Colin Barnes plans for "past, present and future"
Then horses pulled boats laden with limestone from Kendal, and workers cursed at the exertion of emptying coal from Wigan.

This was not only as familiar as today's families loading shopping bags into the back of cars outside Blockbuster, but also provided the impetus for Preston's rapid expansion from a small market town to one of the most important hubs of the industrial revolution.

It also inspired Victorian writers, like Charles Dickens who used Preston with its "painted face of a savage" and "black canal" as the model for his Coketown in the novel Hard Times.

However, for all its bustling industry, the Corporation Street interchange, denoted as much a failure of the canal as its success.

Mr Bames says: "In 1771, the merchants of Lancaster employed the engineer John Rennie to complete a survey for a canal running from Kendal to Westhoughton in Wigan passing through Lancaster and Preston.

The canal would pass over two aqueducts one across the Lune that was built and one across the Ribble that was not because, in part, of the expense of the Lune aqueduct.

"As a cheaper option, Rennie worked with Benjamin Outram to design a railway line passing under Fishergate to Bushell Place and a timber bridge (the Outram Bridge or the Owd Tram Bridge as it was known locally because we think of the Preston dialect) crossing the River Ribble. [See The Old Tram Road for more information.]

"But the cost of transferring loads was very high and contributed to its failure as a commercial enterprise, which was overtaken by the construction of railways in the 1800s." To future generations, the failure of the canal could also be seen in the decision not to connect it with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and one that was only resolved in 2002 when the Ribble Link was built sending barges via the Ribble and Douglas rivers.

This modern revival of Lancashire's waterways for leisure purposes is also behind the latest plans to rejuvenate the River Ribble and extend the Lancaster Canal.

One option is to send it down to the Dock; the other, which is the brainchild of Mr Bames and the Preston City Canal Trust, is to extend it along its historical route. Mr Bames says: "Our idea is to send it as far as Maudland Bank. You can't go any further because the university is in the way.

"The plans are for the past, present and future of the canal and the city bringing back the historical importance of the canal for future generations." The prospect of seeing a canal return to the centre of Preston will not only return England's newest city to its industrial roots but provide a small victory for the man who has an enduring passion for the waterway.

“when I was a boy I used to fish with a net and a jam jar in the canal and in the 1960’s I opposed plans to build the then technology college, which is now the university, over it.

“The canal is a magnificent piece of engineering, the amount of work that when into it was quite amazing, especially in that day and age.

“The plans to bring that back and tell its story for future generations is a wonderful thing.”

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© The Lancashire Evening Post, June 2005