Runcorn Locks

Runcorn Locks once linked the Bridgewater Canal to the Runcorn & Weston Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal and, previously, the River Mersey.

Bottom of Runcorn Old Locks
Bottom of Runcorn Old Locks leading onto the Manchester Ship Canal and, formerly, the River Mersey

History

Opened in 1776, the Bridgewater Canal was linked to the River Mersey at Runcorn by a flight of ten locks, arranged as five pairs of staircase locks. These became so busy another flight of ten individual locks was constructed to provide a parallel route, becoming known as Runcorn New Locks, while the original flight became know as Runcorn Old Locks. In 1859 the Runcorn & Weston Canal opened, completing a link between the River Weaver Navigation and the two lines of locks at Runcorn, forming junctions with them two locks from the bottom.

Runcorn New Locks
Runcorn New Locks are mostly built over with modern housing

When the Manchester Ship Canal opened in 1894 the canal was shortened and opened into the ship canal, with a further lock, now derelict, allowing access from the ship canal to the River Mersey. The canal gradually fell into disuse and both old and new flights of locks were filled in around 1965 when the line was blocked by construction of the approach roads for the Runcorn Road Bridge.  The new locks line has been built over with modern houses but the line of Runcorn Old Locks has been preserved and the only obstacle to restoration seems to be the bridge approach roads.

Future

A new road crossing for the River Mersey, the Mersey Gateway, is under construction with opening planned for late 2017.  This will take much of the traffic from the old road bridge and may permit reconstruction or realignment of its approach roads to permit re-opening of the canal. The Runcorn Locks Restoration Society, formed in 2004, developed the Unlock Runcorn Campaign to support the restoration of Runcorn Old Locks. If this is accompanied by restoration of the Runcorn & Weston Canal to restore the route through to the River Weaver Navigation it will create a new cruising ring, including the Anderton Boat Lift.

Free Maps

You can download a map for the Runcorn & Weston Canal, including Runcorn Locks, in a choice of Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all my maps for restoration projects these are free to download.

Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map
Extract from Runcorn & Weston Canal Map (which includes Runcorn Locks)

Virtual Cruise

You can take a virtual cruise through Runcorn Locks, showing the route as it appears today.  Just select your starting point and keep clicking the next links.

Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway project will provide a new road link to relive pressure on the existing road bridge at Runcorn. It’s being constructed to the east of the existing bridge, and scheduled for completion in late 2017.

Can you identify the four navigable waterways the route will cross – there’s a clue for one of them in the title of this post.

Runcorn Road Bridge
Runcorn Road Bridge

This is the iconic road bridge that carries all the road traffic across the River Mersey at Runcorn today but it’s very congested, especially around the rush hours. You can just see the parallel rail bridge behind.  These bridges also cross the Manchester Ship Canal.

It’s the approach roads to this road bridge that block the line of the Bridgewater Canal at Runcorn Locks.  It’s hoped that, when the Mersey Gateway Bridge is opened, that realignment or modification of the existing approach roads will permit re-opening of those locks.

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

Taken from the existing (old) road bridge this shows how wide the River Mersey (Waterway 1) is, and how little water it carries at low tide, with the many sandbanks that make navigation difficult.  Across the centre of the photo is a temporary causeway linking the piers with tower cranes on them which are building the new Mersey Gateway Bridge.  Running along the right hand edge of the river is the Manchester Ship Canal (Waterway 2).

Mersey Gateway Bridge - Under Construction
Mersey Gateway Bridge – Under Construction

A closer view shows the northern pier and the tower crane starting it’s construction.  The temporary causeway linking this to the north bank of the Mersey is visible too.  In the background are the cooling towers of Fiddler’s Ferry Power Station.

Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route
Bridgewater Canal crossing for the Mersey Gateway route

To the south of the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal the Mersey Gateway route will cross the Bridgewater Canal (Waterway 3) and construction of this bridge is well in hand.  It’s already shown on my maps and I wonder how long before others show this new bridge.

Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal
Mersey Gateway route crosses the Bridgewater Canal

The towpath and navigation of the Bridgewater Canal remain open most of the time, with short temporary closures for critical phases of work on the bridge.

That’s three waterways named. Have you identified the fourth?

That’s to the north of the River Mersey

Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed
Views along the River Mersey show the Runcorn Road and Rail bridges beyond the Mersey Gateway Bridge being constructed

There’s no pictures of the bridge work over the fourth waterway yet – this is the nearest I can get to take a photo.  The Mersey Gateway will continue north (to the right in this photo) and cross the St Helens Canal (Waterway 4).

Well done if you identified the four waterways before reading this far down the post.  You will have realised these are (from North to South):

Mersey Gateway Map
Extract from England & Wales map showing the Mersey Gateway

The Mersey Gateway is shown on my England & Wales waterway maps, and the individual maps for the Bridgewater Canal and the St Helens Canal.

Limit of Navigation

< Next Bridgewater Canal JUMP TO >
< R&W Canal Jn MSC Jn >
Limit of Navigation
Limit of Navigation

The limit of navigation on the Bridgewater Canal is Waterloo Bridge at Runcorn.  Immediately beyond is the approach road for the Runcorn Road Bridge which severed the canal and prevented restoration.

A new Mersey Gateway Bridge is scheduled for opening in late 2017 providing an alternative route for most of the traffic.  It may be possible for the old bridge approach roads to be modified after that to permit restoration of the Bridgewater Canal.

Waterway and Kilometerage BRIDGEW 45.165
OS Grid Reference SJ 51006 82898
Date and Time 151229 094229
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Railway Viaduct is still there

< Next Bridgewater Canal Next >
< R&W Canal Jn Top of Locks  >
Railway viaduct is still there
Railway viaduct is still there

Looking up the line of Runcorn Locks the two arches of the railway viaduct that once straddled the two lines of the canal are still there.  Immediately beyond are the approach roads for the road bridge that block the canal.

The line of the Old Locks continues directly behind the camera while the line of the New Locks diverges to pass out of the bottom right corner of the photo. The two lines merged into one large basin before passing through two parallel sets of locks through the two railway viaduct arches.  The two lines swapped sides, with the Old Locks passing through the right hand arch and the New Locks passing through the left hand arch.

Waterway and Kilometerage BRIDGEW 45.445
OS Grid Reference SJ 50777 82892
Date and Time 151229 090957
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Looking down Runcorn Old Locks

< Next Bridgewater Canal Next >
< R&W Canal Jn Top of Locks  >
Looking down Runcorn Old Locks
Looking down Runcorn Old Lock

A footpath wanders gently down the line of Runcorn Old Locks, passing through the centre of the lock chambers. There were ten locks, arranged as five pairs of staircase locks, with one pair behind the camera under the railway viaduct.

Waterway and Kilometerage BRIDGEW 45.455
OS Grid Reference SJ 50737 82929
Date and Time 151229 091108
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Stonework for the Locks

< Next Bridgewater Canal Next >
< R&W Canal Jn Top of Locks  >
Stonework for the locks
Stonework for the locks

The stonework clearly shows the position of the staircase locks.  We’re standing at the top gates, with the seat positioned in the recess for the centre gates and the stonework sloping down to the lower lock of the pair beyond.

Waterway and Kilometerage BRIDGEW 45.670
OS Grid Reference SJ 50648 82994
Date and Time 151229 091224
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Looking up Runcorn Old Locks

< Next Bridgewater Canal Next >
< R&W Canal Jn Top of Locks  >
Looking up the Runcorn Old Locks
Looking up the Runcorn Old Locks

The stonework marks the position of the five pairs of staircase locks for the line of Runcorn Old Locks. To the right, the line of Runcorn New Locks, built as single locks rather than staircases, is lost under modern housing developments.

Waterway and Kilometerage BRIDGEW 45.745
OS Grid Reference SJ 50590 83037
Date and Time 151229 092846
Copyright © Paul Balmer