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.

St Helens Canal

History

The St Helens Canal ran from the River Mersey near Warrington to reach the outskirts of St Helens.  It’s sometimes known as the Sankey Canal as it used the line of the Sankey Brook in places. The broad locks enabled the barges already in use on the River Mersey to reach the Lancashire Coalfields.

The main line of the St Helens Canal was open by 1757, pre-dating the Bridgewater Canal by at least six years despite many claims that the Bridgewater Canal was the first.  Over the next twenty years four branches extended the St Helens Canal to reach the centre of St Helens and an extension of the main line reached Widnes.

Route of the St Helens Canal
Route of the St Helens Canal

The far end of the Ravenhead Branch was filled in over 100 years ago and gradual decline led to official abandonment of the canal in 1963.

Proposals for restoration face many obstacles but progress is already being made with the Linking the Locks project, restoring the line between the locks to the River Mersey at Widnes and Fiddler’s Ferry, with more information on the website of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society.

Maps of the St Helens Canal

Extract from St Helens Canal Map
Extract from St Helens Canal Map

There are detailed maps of the St Helens Canal on my website, available for download in Acrobat (pdf) and Memory-Map (qct) formats.  Like all maps for restoration projects they are free to download.

Virtual Cruise of the St Helens Canal

You can also take a virtual cruise along the St Helens Canal and its branches.

Newton Common Lock
Newton Common Lock

Select your starting point and click on the Next links to see the canals as they are today.

Tavern Swing Bridge

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Tavern Swing Bridge
Tavern Swing Bridge

Photographed just beyond the current limit of navigation of the Ravenhead Branch, this is where the canal once passed from where the white vehicle is just visible at the left of photo, the keeping the rounded end building on its left it passed straight into the distance just to the right of centre along what is now called Canal Street.

It may be hard to imagine, but Tavern Swing Bridge once crossed the canal in the middle of this photo.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS-RB 25.090.03
OS Grid Reference SJ 51009 95122
Date and Time 160114 134107
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Ravenhead Branch – End of Navigation

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Ravenhead Branch - End of Navigation
Ravenhead Branch – End of Navigation

This will be the limit of navigation on the Ravenhead Branch when it’s restored.  Visitor moorings and a winding point are all that’s needed to complete this scene.  It;s more than 100 years since the branch continued behind the camera and later photos will show why restoration isn’t practical beyond here.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS-RB 25.000
OS Grid Reference SJ 51082 95122
Date and Time 160114 133826
Copyright © Paul Balmer

Limit of the Ravenhead Branch

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Limit of the Ravenhead Branch
Limit of the Ravenhead Branch

The limit of navigation of the Ravenhead Branch of the St Helens Canal.  The branch once continued for around 650m (700 yards) further but that was more than 100 years ago.  Substantial developments across the former alignment mean this is as far as the canal restoration is likely to go.  This is a great place to finish as it’s the closest the canal gets to the centre of St Helens and a little ingenuity would soon create moorings and a winding point.

Waterway and Kilometerage HELENS-RB 24.925
OS Grid Reference SJ 51174 95090
Date and Time 160114 133643
Copyright © Paul Balmer