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The Shropshire Union Canal is a navigable canal in Englandmarker; the Llangollenmarker and Montgomery canals are the modern names of branches of the SU system and lie partially in Walesmarker.

The canal lies in West Midlands, Staffordshire, Shropshiremarker and Cheshiremarker in the north-west midlands of England. It links the canal system of the Midlands, at Wolverhamptonmarker, with the River Merseymarker and Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Portmarker, Cheshiremarker, distant.

The "SU main line" runs south east from Ellesmere Port on the River Mersey to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker at Autherley Junctionmarker in Wolverhampton. Other links are to the Llangollen Canalmarker(at Hurleston Junctionmarker), the Middlewich Branchmarker (at Barbridge Junctionmarker), which itself connects via the Wardle Canalmarker with the Trent and Mersey Canal, and the River Dee (in Chestermarker). With two connections to the Trent and Mersey (via the Middlewich Branchmarker and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker) the SU is part of an important circular and rural holiday route called the Four Counties Ring.

The SU main line was the last trunk narrow canal route to be built in England. It was not completed until 1835 and was the last major civil engineering accomplishment of Thomas Telford.

The name "Shropshire Union" comes from the amalgamation of the various component companies (Ellesmere Canalmarker, Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canalmarker, Montgomery Canal) that came together to form the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company. The main line between Nantwichmarker and Autherley Junction was almost built as a railway although eventually it was decided to construct it as a waterway.


Wirral Line

From Ellesmere Portmarker on the River Merseymarker, the SU crosses the Wirral peninsula to Chester. This stretch was built in 1805, as the Wirral Line of the Ellesmere Canalmarker. It connected Chestermarker (and the River Dee) to the River Merseymarker at Ellesmere Portmarker. The Ellesmere Canal was to have continued west and south to Wrexham, and Trevor and then on to the River Severn at Shrewsburymarker. The line from Chester to Trevor was never built, and the section beyond Trevor was not completed in its planned form. However, some stretches of the Ellesmere were built: these now form the modern Llangollen Canalmarker and Montgomery Canal both of which are strictly speaking branches of the Shropshire Union Canal, although nowadays considered to be separate canals.

Chester Canal

In Chester, from the top of the arm leading down to the Dee, the SU follows the old Chester Canal built in 1772 to connect Chester and Nantwich. The canal passes alongside the city walls of Chester in a deep, vertical red sandstone cutting. After Chester, there are only a few locks as the canal crosses the nearly flat Chester Plain, passes Beeston Castle, and the junctions at Barbridge and Hurleston and arrives at Nantwich basin, the original terminus of the Chester Canal.

The two junctions on this stretch are very important links in the English/Welsh connected network.
  • At Barbridge, the Middlewich Branchmarker of the SU goes NE to Middlewichmarker on the Trent and Mersey Canal (via the tiny Wardle Canalmarker). This was the original planned main line of the Chester Canal, but was in fact built much later than the Nantwich stretch.
  • At Hurleston, the old Ellesmere canal from Llangollen and Montgomery made a connection from Frankton Junctionmarker eastwards to the old Chester Canal after it was realised that the planned main line from Trevor to Chester along the Dee was never going to be built. This canal eventually merged with the Chester Canal and became the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire Union. These waters are now known as the Llangollen Canalmarker and (south from Frankton Junction, and still being restored) the Montgomery Canal.

Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal

The odd angle between Nantwich basin and the next stretch of the SU shows that the journey southwards is on a newer (and narrow) canal originally constructed as the narrow Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canalmarker to connect Nantwich, at the end of the Chester Canal, to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker at Autherley Junction, near Wolverhampton. An important lost link can be seen at Norbury Junctionmarker, where a branch (1841) ran south-west through Newportmarker to connect with the Shrewsbury Canal at Wappenshall Junctionmarker.

After Nantwich basin, a long sweeping embankment incorporating an aqueduct carries the canal across the main A534 Nantwich-Chester road. The canal then has to climb out of the Cheshire Plain by means of a flight of 15 locks at Audlemmarker. The canal passes near Market Drayton. Further south there are substantial lengths of embankment through the Staffordshire village of Knightonmarker. There is an aqueduct south of Norbury Junctionmarker and deep cuttings at Loyntonmarker near Woodseavesmarker, and Grub Street, south of High Offleymarker.

The lengthy embankments are equipped with flood gates at regular intervals to prevent loss of water should the canal be breached in this area. During World War II these locks were kept closed at night because of the risk of bomb damage.

At Gnosallmarker (pron. "Know-sull") the canal enters the Cowley Tunnel. Originally the tunnel was planned to be long, but after the rocky first , the ground was unstable, and the remaining length was opened out to form the present narrow and steep-sided Cowley cutting.

The canal then continues as the remarkable mile-long very tall Shelmore Embankment. Repeated soil slippage during construction meant that this was the last part of the B&L Junction Canal to be opened to traffic.

At Wheaton Aston, the canal climbs its last lock to reach the summit level, fed by the Belvide Reservoirmarker just north of Brewoodmarker (pron. "Brood"). North of the reservoir, the canal passes by Stretton Aqueductmarker over Watling Street (the A5 road).

The SU terminates at Autherley Junctionmarker on the Staffs and Worcester Canal. Immediately before the junction is a very shallow stop lock built to prevent the loss of water to the new rival canal from the pre-existing Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker. Unusually, the B&L Junction canal's summit level was designed to be a few inches lower than the older canal, so the newer canal gains a small amount of water each time the lock is cycled (the reverse of the practice usually insisted on by canal companies as a condition for not opposing the construction of a newer one).

Onward Links

The link with the Staffs and Worcester provides a choice of onward journeys


Image:Canal Near Beeston.jpg|Canal boats on the Chester Canal near BeestonImage:Thomas Telford aqueduct over A5.jpg|A5 aqueductImage:BettonMillOnShropshireUnionCanalAtMarketDrayton(AndyAndHilary)Apr2005.jpg|Betton Mill on the Shropshire Union Canal at Market Drayton

Formation of the "Shropshire Union" company

The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company was formed in 1846. The Ellesmere and Chester canals had amalgamated in 1813, and the absorption of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal by the Ellesmere and Chester Company was authorised by an Act of Parliament passed in 1845. A further Act, passed in 1846, changed the name of the company to the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company and authorised the acquisition of the Shrewsbury Canal and other canals in the east Shropshire network (linking modern-day Telfordmarker with the River Severn to the south at Coalportmarker). Then (in 1847), the latter was taken over by the London and North Western Railway Company, which allowed the Shrewsbury Canal and the branch from Norbury Junction to decline.


In order to promote the interest in, use of, and restoration of parts of the Shropshire Union Canal, the Shropshire Union Canal Society was formed.

The canal in Chester is promoted by Chester Canal Heritage Trust.

See also


  1. Shropshire Routes to Roots

Further reading

  • Gordon Emery - The Old Chester Canal (2005) ISBN 1-872265-88-X

External links

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