Sankey Brook Navigation (St. Helens Canal)

Sankey Brook Navigation History

Liverpool County Council were persuaded to survey Sankey Brook, a small river which ran into the Mersey near Warrington. It was already navigable for 1¼ miles from the Mersey to Sankey Bridges where a number of privately owned wharves had been situated since 1745. North of Sankey Bridges the unnavigable brook passed close to many coal fields in the Warrington and Haydock areas.

The Council's survey was undertaken by Henry Berry, a dock engineer who was a former pupil of William Steers. Berry reported that it would be possible to convert the brook for navigation and a Bill was prepared to be put through Parliament. Support and subscriptions came from many local businessmen though the main bulk of shares were bought by two salt works owners, John Ashton and John Blackburne.

The salt works of Cheshire desperately needed coal for fuel, most of this coal came across the Mersey from Lancashire and then up the River Weaver.On the Lancashire side of the Mersey there was no such navigable route and goods were still being carried on old roads, dirt tracks or the newer (but expensive) turnpikes.

An Act was passed enabling the tiny Sankey Brook to be made navigable from the Mersey (at Sankey Bridges) to the village of Broad Oak.

The Act granted the right to make the brook navigable but the word "canal" was carefully avoided because local river owners (such as the Mersey & Irwell Navigation Company) would have strongly opposed such a pioneering idea.

Henry Berry was employed to make the brook navigable. His tutor, William Steers, had been involved in canal engineering in Ireland but England had not yet built its first truly artificial cut. It is thought that Berry knew fine well that Sankey

Brook was far too small to be made navigable and he had already decided to build an independent canal rather than simply upgrade the brook. However, he did not tell the Sankey Brook committee this and construction went on with them (and everybody else) totally oblivious to what was really happening. It is probably because of this that Henry Berry failed to be recognised as the man who built the first British canal. However, just along the road at Worsley, near Manchester, the first waterway to be made which was completely independent of a river was soon to be built and its engineer, James Brindley, was to take Berry's place as the father of British canals.

The main bulk of the "navigation" was opened from Sankey Lock, at Sankey Bridges, to Broad Oak where there were numerous collieries in the Haydock and Parr areas. Thus far the Sankey Brook Navigation consisted of 8 single locks and a double staircase lock, all bridges were swing bridges and boats were mainly sailed along the route or hauled by gangs of men. The completed section was about 8 miles long though near the end of the line two extensions were still under construction. These were the 1½ mile "West" (or Gerards Bridge) Branch and the ½ mile "North" (or Penny Bridge) Branch. At this point there were no plans for the Sankey Brook Navigation to go into the village of St. Helens but a 3rd arm to the village of Parr was planned for a later date.

The "navigation" was quickly running successfully without the proprietors (or anybody else) realising that what had been constructed was actually a canal, this had its drawbacks however. The fact that the canal was officially a "river navigation" greatly reduced the potential profits, river navigations had to allow numerous cargoes the "right of free passage" and this included limestone, paving stones, granite, manure and road building materials, but thankfully not coal.

During Spring, the branch line to Gerard's Bridge (north of St. Helens) was opened.

Trade was roaring and the canal was making excellent profits, these were extended further when the company lowered its tolls. Most of the cargo was coal bound for Liverpool where it was transhipped into boats which travelled up and down the coast or onto the River Dee and River Weaver.

The Penny Bridge Branch at the far north end of the canal was opened and now the company turned its attentions to the Southern terminus at Sankey Bridges. The canal ended at a lock which dropped the route into Sankey Brook which in turn ran into the River Mersey.This had become very inconvenient for boats entering and leaving the canal as the tides at Sankey Bridges were very unreliable. The company decided to build a bypass which was to be 1½ miles long and locked into the Mersey further west at Fiddlers Ferry. When the line was open the company charged an extra 2d per boat for use of the new cut and most boatman chose to pay up and use the bypass rather than wait for the iffy tides at Sankey Bridges. There could still be hold ups due to the tide at Fiddlers Ferry but they were never as bad as they had been at Sankey Bridges.

A further extension was added to the Penny Bridge Branch, (near Blackbrook) enabling boats to reach the new industries in the expanding area to the north of the branch.

The final section of the canal - as planned in the original Act - was finally built and opened. This was the Boardman's Bridge Branch which I believe followed Sankey Brook south west for just over a mile from Broad Oak into Parr.

To the north of Merseyside, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal had reached Wigan and was transporting Lancashire coal to Liverpool via the River Douglas. This created direct competition for the Sankey Brook Navigation, they instantly lowered their prices and appointed coal agents in Liverpool. The canal company also began its own carrying business which became a big success.

The growth and success of the canal was bringing growth to the surrounding countryside. A number of businesses opened up along, or very close to the line. These included Ravenhead Copper Smelting works and the British Plate Glass Manufacturers which opened in St. Helens, this was the first such works in Britain. St. Helens itself was fast growing from a small village into a prosperous town and the canal company finally decided to extend its line into the town. They did this by creating an arm heading south from the Gerards Bridge Branch.

Due to the vast amount of new industries opening up along the canal, it was now carrying as much raw material into the areas along the route as it was shipping out to the Mersey. The Sankey Brook Navigation's profits continued to grow into the 1800's and the company could easily have gone over the top with its success. However, persuasions to build more extensions (to places like Widnes) were always rejected. Suggestions put forward by the Mersey & Irwell Navigation to make a link with their waterway were also resisted. The company seemed to believe that "if it ain't broke - don't try to fix it".

In October the first signs that something might break and need fixing arrived when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company chuffed into town making it clear that they wanted to break into the St. Helens coal market. At the same time a number of local colliery owners who had used the canal for years were also actively promoting a railway of their own which would take coal to Runcorn Gap further down the Mersey near Widnes.

The St. Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway Company gained an Act of Parliament to begin constructing their line. As if to really rub it in, the new line was authorised to cross the Sankey Brook Navigation twice. To counter the threat from the railway the canal company decided to extend its own route - also to Runcorn Gap. They had thought about doing this in 1819 to avoid problems with shallows on the Mersey but nothing had been done. They now successfully obtained an Act allowing them to extend their route from Fiddlers Ferry to Runcorn Gap in Widnes. Francis Giles was appointed as engineer and the canal extension was begun.

In February the St. Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway opened with its own wet-dock at Widnes, thought to be the world's first ever purpose built railway dock. However, the line had cost a lot more than the company had expected and as a consequence they were unable to build branch lines to as many collieries as they had planned.Passenger usage was also lower than expected and the line was hindered by the need for two inclined planes.

In July the new canal extension opened with twin 79 feet long locks at the entrance into the Mersey at Widnes. While the railway struggled to get going, the canal was an instant success. The canal proprietors must have given a huge sigh of relief.

After just one year the railway company were almost bankrupt while the new canal went from strength to strength. The railway began a toll reduction war but the canal won this battle too and gained even more business.

The railway's humiliation was so complete that its shareholders voted to amalgamate with the Sankey Brook Navigation.However, the railway's finances were in such trouble that the canal company wouldn't agree terms.

Talks reopened between the canal and the railway with a view to the two becoming one. It was decided that the canal should be sold to the railway and the two companies would become the St. Helens Canal and Railway Company. The Bill was put together and awaited its turn in Parliament.

While many waterways were losing out to railways or even closing down because of them, the Sankey Brook Navigation had continued to outdo its big rival. Tonnage on the canal had reached almost double that of the railway by the time the Act was obtained allowing the two companies to join forces.

The new company began to gain more income by selling canal water to local industries. However, the continued profits from the canal were not (like the water) put back into the canal. Plans were made and new railway lines were built while the canal was left with few improvements being made. Despite this, the canal was still carrying more tons per year than the railway.

A railway line was built to the new Garston Dock on the Mersey just south of Liverpool and for the first time the railway carried more than the waterway. Even then, canal tonnage still increased for the next 3 years.

The whole of the St. Helens Canal and the railway was absorbed by the much larger London & North Western Railway and the old company was dissolved. The new owners were forced by the Act of 1845 to keep the canal maintained, dredged and open for traffic. The LNWR weren't very happy about this and were more than unhappy when they found that the old company had not been maintaining the canal for a number of years. They described it as being in "miserable order". They were forced to spend £23,000 to put the waterway in a good navigable state.

The LNWR were given more headaches when consistent water pollution - caused by a local chemical works - caused damage to some of the canal's locks. The polluted water also sometimes managed to escape and overflow into Sankey Brook and neighbouring fields. The company gained an injunction to stop the chemical works from polluting the canal but they faced heavy compensation bills from local landowners. The company got off lightly by buying the land and paying itself the compensation!!

The next threat to hit the canal was mining subsidence.In one case the route dropped 18 feet in one year. After suffering for over a decade the company sued the collieries for damages. They lost the case at first but won later on appeal.

During the following decade canal usage declined at a steady rate despite the LNWR maintaining the route - albeit through gritted teeth.Over the years the canal's cargo was changing, coal carriage was declining rapidly and new cargoes of alkali, river sand, acid, oil, tallow, copper ore, salt, sugar and soap were taking over.

By the start of WW1 the canal was on a downward route with little hope of a return to the good old days. A fair tonnage was still being carried along the route but only 20 boats had made the entire journey from the Mersey to St. Helens since 1900. The outbreak of war did nothing to help the struggling waterway.

Any hopes of revival after WW1 were soon dashed. Only seven boats were counted at Newton Common Lock (at Newton-Le-Willows) during the whole year.

The St. Helens Canal was taken over by new owners when the LNWR was absorbed by the London Midland & Scottish Railway.

The new owners, with support from St. Helens Corporation, successfully obtained permission to close 5 miles of the canal. This included 2 miles of the main line along with the Gerard's Bridge, Penny Bridge and Boardman's Bridge branches.

Raven Street swing bridge in St. Helens was fixed - closing the canal route through the town.

Bridges at Redgate, Old Fold Double Lock and Pocket Nook were also fixed leaving less and less navigable waterway. The main line water was not drained however as it could still be sold and was needed as a feeder for the navigable stretches nearer the Mersey. Just south of Newton-Le-Willows the Sankey Sugar Company were still using the canal, running diesel barges at their wharf.

Right up to WW2 the canal still carried cargo, though very much less than it had done just a few years earlier. The war years were certainly not kind to the canal though and when trade eventually picked up again income was only ½ of what it had been before the war.

The government nationalised the inland waterway system and the St. Helens Canal gained its 5th owner - and 3rd reluctant one!

Tonnage's were up slightly on those of the previous decade. Cargoes now included raw sugar to Sankey, lead to Sankey Bridges and chemicals from Widnes.

When the government drew its list of canal classifications the St. Helens Canal was one of the "half" lucky ones!It was placed in class 2 which meant it was to be kept open and maintained to its current standard but not upgraded for future commercial use. In other words I guess this meant that because a few boats still used it, it should not be closed - for now.

Bad news for the canal arrived when bulk transportation of sugar was begun in Britain and because of this the last boats using the St. Helens Canal found themselves with nothing to carry. Traffic ceased completely.

The St. Helens Canal, or Sankey Brook Navigation - the first artificial navigable waterway to be built in Britain was officially abandoned after 206 years.

The canal was left totally neglected. It was dirty and ran through an area of chemical works and other industries.

With the closure of most of the chemical works, the area around the southern end of the canal in Widnes had become derelict and completely run down. In fact, at one point the area was described as "little more than an absolute disgrace"! Halton Borough Council began to restore the area and get rid of the derelict chemical factories which covered the whole landscape.

After 7 years of cleaning and restoring, the area around the southern end of the canal was completely redeveloped and opened to the public. Spike Island in Widnes, which had been home to a number empty factories, was landscaped and made into a green open space. A museum was opened in a former chemical works building and the canal, probably for the first time since it was built, was out in the open overlooking a green landscape.

Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS) was formed with the hope of stopping the rot and making the whole canal navigable once again. By this time much of the route north of Sankey Bridges had been drained and filled in. Many years of battles with town planners and other bodies (such as the Manchester Ship Canal) ensued. One example of the sort of battles that all canal societies have to face was the proposal by Safeway to fill in the top 50 yards of the canal to use as a car park. All the usual objections were made and SCARS were thankful that St. Helens council saw it their way and turned down the proposal. (Other societies on other canals have not been so lucky). The whole episode was somewhat embarrassing for Safeway who like to pride themselves on their environment friendly image. Elsewhere in St.Helens things have not gone quite so well. An access road to the Technical College campus was built over the canal on an embankment and British Rail have blocked one of their bridges over the canal.

St. Helens Council eventually began to see the good side of the old ditch which ran through their town. Although there is no through-route for boats as yet, the council re-gated some of the locks and cleaned up the area around them. Further plans to rejuvenate St. Helens were also made. Exhibition centres and open spaces were to be developed along the canal's route.

The SCARS news letter reported that the society were putting in a bid for Lottery and/or Millennium funding in the hope of building a brand new canal to link the Sankey Navigation to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, thus connecting the old canal to the rest of the inland waterways network for the first time. It is somewhat surprising that this was never done in the commercial days of the canal as the Leigh Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is just 4 miles (as the crow flies) from the Blackbrook Branch of the Sankey Navigation.

Although SCARS have done much to stop the canal from degrading any further and have had to work hard to stop BW from selling bits of it off on the quiet, the canal is still far from navigable. Long stretches to the north have been filled in while along the banks of the Mersey, although the canal is in good condition, there are many blockages (such as swing bridges which have been fixed). All the same, the restoration of the canal so far, especially around the one time filthy, smoking chemical works at its southern end, has turned the Sankey Brook Navigation from a site that made your eyes sore into a sight for sore eyes!!

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Sankey Brook Navigation Route

Before I begin describing the route of the Sankey Brook Navigation I would like to make an apology. This is one of very few canals that I have not seen from end to end and I do not have a full guide of the route. Therefore, my descriptions of the northern end of the route are somewhat sketchy. Describing the main line is easy enough but some of its branches are more tricky. Anybody who wishes to send me descriptions of the canal branches will receive a free bottle of Sankey Navigation water - if I can find any next time I make a visit!!As usual an OS map will make following the route a lot easier though the current Liverpool A-Z street map is equally useful. St. Helens can be found on page 37.

The northern end of the Sankey Brook Navigation now starts on the south west side of St. Helens town centre parallel to the A570 Linkway. The canal obviously went further west from here in days gone by as a road on the far side of the Linkway is called Canal Street.None of my current reference books give a very precise indication of the canal's route at the northern end though my 1996 Liverpool A-Z clear marks the waterway as it passes through St. Helens. The current terminus appears to be on the south of St. Mary's Market beside the car park. However, this is the area which is to be redeveloped with exhibition centres and open park land. New footbridges are to be installed over the canal to give access to these areas. The canal runs parallel to the Linkway (A570) heading south east. It soon runs under a railway but the bridge has been filled in by British Rail. The canal society hope this will be restored to navigable height by BR's successor. After ¼ of a mile the canal swings hard left and heads north east. In years gone by this was actually a T-junction with the Sutton Arm heading south west. However, this is now filled in and its route was built on when the Linkway was created.

The canal passes right around the centre of St. Helens, going under another railway and a number of road bridges including Corporation Street (A572). It was near here that at 7am on January 13th 1842 part of a coal train fell in to the canal. It is said that the engine probably had to be dismantled to get it out as there was no heavy lifting gear on hand.

After about 1¼ miles the route passes St. Helens refuse tip on the left bank and then reaches Gerards Bridge Junction. The Gerards Bridge Branch was 1½ miles long though I believe this measurement includes what is now thought of as the main line to the east. Only 600 yards of the branch are marked on the Liverpool A-Z street map. These show the branch heading west from the main line on the northern side of St.Helens. The place named Gerard's Bridge is less than a mile (as the crow flies) to the north west. There is no sign of the canal in the A-Z at Gerard's Bridge but the area is clearly very industrial and includes a glass works. Gerards Bridge Junction is another T-junction with the branch now going west and the main line going south and east.The road running parallel to the main line as it continues east is called Lock Street. Up till this point the canal has been marked as "watered" on my map but east of here it is now dry.

The dry line winds its way eastwards past the back gardens of a housing estate and then through open spaces. After about a mile it reaches Park Road (A58) and then Boardman's Road. The line of the dry canal is clearly marked on the Liverpool A-Z throughout this area which is named Broad Oak and was the original terminus of the main line. Sankey Brook arrives from the south and I believe the Boardman's Bridge Branch ran on or alongside the brook for about a mile south into Parr. The dry route of the main line continues east through a sewage works and then comes alongside Black Brook. The canal appears to take over from the brook while Sankey Brook runs parallel just to the south. Near here was the junction where the Penny Bridge Branch began and ran for about ½ a mile into Blackbrook. There is a wide stretch of water marked in the Liverpool A-Z running north on the west side of Blackbrook, this appears to be a section of Black Brook itself but may well have also been the canal branch.

To the east of the Penny Bridge Branch junction the canal runs off the edge of the Liverpool A-Z for a while though its route can be followed on a good road atlas. It runs very close to Sankey Brook as the two travel south easterly. On the south western edge of Newton-Le-Willows the canal runs through Earlstown. This is an excellent place to look at the canal. To gain access take the A572 from St. Helens to Earlstown, the canal bridge is a few hundred yards beyond the B5204 junction. Don't expect to find any water under the bridge, the canal is dry but there is much to see - or to be more precise - there is plenty of scope for looking for what there used to be to see!

The first thing you won't see is Newton Common Lock because it has been completely filled in. This is situated about ½ a mile south of the A572 at a point where Wharf Road comes alongside the canal.Apparently this is a fairly new road and the original Wharf Road used to run alongside the canal. The lock was still well buried when I was here in 1997 though I could see evidence of recent exploratory work.SCARS (the canal's restoration society) say the upper gates of the lock are actually still in place beneath the ground! A notice board stands over the lock giving information about the area. A typical canal bridge once crossed the waterway beside the lock and there was a lock cottage which was still lived in until 1963.

If you had trouble locating this lock then the massive Sankey Viaduct, will be somewhat easier to find. In fact, you will be able to see it, crossing the valley to the south on a dozen or more brick arches. The viaduct was opened in 1830, built by Stevenson to carry the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the first ever passenger service in the world. Past the viaduct, along the footpath which has replaced the canal, the surroundings become more rural. This is very misleading however as this area was once dense with industry. It was here that the last commercial cargo to be carried on the canal was loaded from the Sankey Sugar Company which stood beside the canal just past the viaduct, the last boat worked the canal in 1959. A little further south the footpath broadens out, marking the site of a winding hole which was used by the sugar company boats. Past here an oasis-like scene appears as the canal is suddenly in water. When I was here people were fishing, others were sunbathing and picnicking along the banks and the canal looked as though a narrow boat could arrive at any moment. Sadly this is not the case though this section was restored in the 1970's and is now maintained as park land.

The remains of Bradley Lock can be seen with its stone walls and upper gates in place. The lock cottage which used to stand here has long since gone but its occupants have not been forgotten. Apparently the people who lived here were called Mr. & Mrs. Tickle. The Sankey Navigation was different to most other canals in that the lock keepers were almost always women. Whether this was officially the way it was supposed to be is unclear though it would seem that the husband would be the lengthsman who maintained the adjacent stretch of waterway while his wife looked after the lock. In reality it could well be that the husband was employed to do both jobs but the wife looked after the lock while the husband was doing other canal work. Whichever is the case, one thing that is known for sure is that the house came (and went) with the job.

A few hundred yards south of Bradley Lock is a typical Sankey Navigation swing bridge. On the east bank between the lock and the bridge are some "lumpy" hills. A local man told me these are known as the mucky mountains and a chemical works once stood by the canal in this area. Further south is the site of the in filled Hey Lock but then the restored section ends and the canal is dry once again. A little further to the south, near the point where the Winwick to Burtonwood minor road crosses the route, is a stretch that contained 3 swing bridges, 2 broad locks, a canal cottage, canal workshops and the crossing of Sankey Brook. All I found was a dry footpath and even that was difficult to spot as it travelled across farm land. The brook is now culverted under the footpath. The route continues south under the M62 with Sankey Brook running parallel nearby. Past the motorway the canal passes through Winwick Quay and on to Dallam on the north west side of Warrington. It is here that the route reappears on the Liverpool A-Z but when it reaches the south of Dallam there is still no water to be seen.

Over to the west of the footpath which has replaced the canal is Gulliver's World Theme Park. Within ¾ of a mile south of Dallam the canal is back in water.Bewsey Swing Bridge is the first structure on this stretch as the route continues south towards the Mersey. Sankey Brook is still parallel to the canal as both pass under the A57 and into Sankey Bridges. Liverpool Road crosses both waterways at Sankey Bridges. The fixed canal bridge was built in 1972 but previously it had been a bascule bridge and before that it was a typical Sankey Brook Navigation swing bridge. Just to the east a much older bridge crosses Sankey Brook.South of Liverpool Road the canal is crossed by a railway bridge which is now fixed but in the days when it also used to swing a brand new locomotive narrowly missed crashing straight into the canal here. It seems that the policy was to leave the bridges open for passage of boats - after all, the canal was here first. Engine drivers had to stop their trains and get out to open and close the bridges!

Past Sankey Bridges the canal swings right around to head north west though originally it carried on for another 400 yards southwards through a lock and into Sankey Brook, the original terminus of the Sankey Brook Navigation. The brook itself still meanders for another mile or so before joining the River Mersey.

The main line of the canal runs under the fixed Mayers Swing Bridge and then it bends left to run dead straight towards the south west.Within ½ a mile it crosses the small Whittle Brook, ½ a mile further it goes under Penketh Bridge and ½ mile after that it reaches Fiddlers Ferry Bridge, there is still quite a lot of interest at Fiddlers Ferry. The canal here is in water, more than that, it is fully navigable. This stretch is home to Fiddlers Ferry Sailing Club and there are lots of moored sailing craft along the canal. Running parallel to the canal is a railway line which carried coal along to the power station whose huge chimneys can be seen in the near distance. Near the canal bridge is a level crossing with an old station house close by, the last passenger alighted in 1965. On the other side (south) of the canal is the River Mersey with a pub (the Ferry Inn) standing on its bank. Next door to the pub is a small "pets corner" containing hens and a donkey.

A few hundred yards along the canal is a junction where a short arm runs down into the Mersey via a huge lock, this was the terminus of the St. Helens Canal from 1762 to 1833. The lock was overflowing when I was here, a great cascading waterfall was surging over its gates while below it the tide was out and the approach from the river was completely dry. Beside the lock, over looking the restored canal, is a grassy area suitable for sitting down and having a picnic. A little further west is a boat yard beside another old swing bridge and then the canal is completely overgrown with weeds. I stood on the bridge here and looked back along the navigable stretch. It was a glorious hot day in the summer of 1997. I am sure this location would be incredibly popular if the whole canal was restored. By using the adjacent railway as a tourist attraction the area could even be made into one of those "canal theme parks" that traditionalists hate so much!

Further west the large power station looms over the canal and a large concrete structure draws water from the River Mersey to supply the power station. Waste water from the power station is discharged into the canal. Between the canal's south bank and the Mersey, but hidden from the towpath view, is a waste dump and some settling lagoons. Near the lagoons a short stretch of canal was filled in some years ago when there were fears that the lagoons were about to settle into the canal!This final and most modern section of the canal has a number of other obstructions, as well as the filled in section there is also Marsh House Swing Bridge which has been fixed in place and a pipe connecting the power station to the settling lagoons also blocks potential navigation. Past the pipe there used to be 2 swing bridges which have been removed to deter people from getting too near to Powergen's property. The power company has itself built a very high connecting bridge over the water channel. My reference book says the next feature of note is an open sewer which the canal crosses over, the book adds that its not quite as bad as it sounds - but it certainly does sound bad! To the south is a scrubby marshland named Cruerdley Marsh and this dominates the landscape between the canal and the Mersey. On the north bank, as the canal continues south west and dead straight, is the railway line which runs very close and parallel to the waterway. Beyond it are the buildings of what is left of Widnes' chemical industry.

At Carter House Bridge is a railway signal box and a level crossing on the road which crosses the canal. The redeveloped land to the south is known as Spike Island though it isn't actually a real island. The Countryside Commission claim the site was the birth place of the worlds chemical industry and industrial historians were angered whenderelict buildings on the island were demolished in the 1980's. The whole area has now been cleaned up and Spike Island is now a public open space. Footpaths cross the island and trees are beginning to grow. On the island are the remains of pyrites kilns and acid absorption towers, at the southern side of the island is the site of the large wet-dock which belonged to the St. Helens & Runcorn Gap Railway Company. Close by are the large locks which take the canal down into the Mersey. The canal runs right around the northern edge of the island, wide grassy spaces now lie where huge factories once stood belching out filthy smoke. The towpath forms part of a walk, the Mersey Way, created to promote the redevelopment of the area, there is a car park, picnic tables and a small information centre and shop beside the towpath. Beside the road which brings you to this area is a tower which is the last surviving building of Gossages Soap & Chemical Works. The tower has been restored and is now a science museum.

Between Spike Island and the towpath is the very broad looking St.Helens Canal. Like Fiddlers Ferry this is a haven for yachts and there are dozens of moored boats here. However, they do not line the banks of the canal, they are all tied up in the centre of the channel.From the locks it is possible to look out across the Mersey. Right across on the far side, over ½ a mile away, you can just make out the Manchester Ship Canal. Nearer, just to the west, the top of the arch of the relatively new Runcorn road bridge can be seen. The road system in the area just north of Runcorn bridge is currently going through something of a transformation. To reach Spike Island you must locate Mersey Road at a place known as West Bank. If you park at the car park on the towpath beside the information centre you can then walk north east along the towpath beside all the moored boats.The canal curves east and after half a mile arrives at a former swing bridge, now replaced by a wooden fixed bridge. Cross here and walk back on the opposite bank across Spike Island. At the far side you will pass the wet-dock, cross the locks and return to the car park.

Visit the Sankey Canal Restoration Society's official website

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