Ulverston Canal

Ulverston Canal History

The Ulverston Canal was different from most other canals in that it was never built to connect any major towns together, nor to serve any particular industries or to form a short cut across land. It was built solely to give the town of Ulverston, which was 2 miles from the sea, its own port. The canal was to run from the centre of town into Morecambe Bay.

The Ulverston Canal Company obtained their Act of Parliament and on August 23rd a procession of "delirious" towns-folk celebrated the cutting of the first sod of soil by the company chairman Lt. Col. Sunderland.

The Ulverston Canal opened in November having cost £9,000, it was 1½ miles long and was built on one level with its only lock at the sea entrance. It was quite a substantial waterway despite its short length as it was 15 feet deep and 66 feet wide, capable of accommodating very large ships.

Trade was fairly low at first, less than 100 ships used the canal in each of the first two years (about 1 every 3½ days). This was partly due to the uncertain tides and shifting sands in the bay and profits did not grow until these problems were dealt with over the following decades.

Regular sailing's to London, Liverpool and Glasgow finally put the canal into better profits. Improvements had been made to allow better access to the canal and around 260 ships per year were now using the canal (1 every 1½ days).

A steam packet (passenger service) began to run regularly to Liverpool. However, who this benefited most - the passengers, the steam boat owners or the canal - is questionable as the canal company charged incredibly strange and extortionist prices.

A fee of £10 per year was charged to every passenger who landed at Ulverston port. Even then there were strict restrictions on how much luggage each passenger could carry.

No more than 5lb could be brought into Ulverston. By this time the canal was doing very well, averaging 530 ships each year between 1829 and 1844.

The start of 2 years of constant boat use on the canal began. However, this is not the success that it sounds as the boats were carrying materials for the Furness Railway Company who had begun to build a line into Ulverston.

The Furness Railway opened its line through the Ulverston area and crossed Morecambe Bay on Leven Viaduct. From this time onwards the canal suffered from falling trade.

Within 3 years of competition with the railway the canal's receipts had dropped by more than half. To encourage trade a new breakwater was built in the bay (in the form of a pier and weir) to keep water flowing into the canal at regular times. Sadly this did little to stop the canal's decline.

The Furness Railway bought the Ulverston Canal for £22,000 which is a rare "profit" as most canals were sold to railways for a mere fraction of their original cost of construction. The railway kept the canal open and it continued to be used moderately for another 54 years.

Commercial use of the Ulverston Canal came to an end during the first world war.

The canal was officially abandoned but was not filled in.

The short Ulverston Canal is now under the control of Ulverston Council though I don't know whether or not they actively do anything or need to do anything to the waterway.

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Ulverston Canal Route

The word "route" is not really very apt for this canal. It is a straight 1½ miles of waterway which runs east out of Ulverston into Morecambe Bay. Much of the line can still be seen and has changed little since its creation. It is clearly marked on my Philip's Road Atlas.

At Ulverston the basin and terminus of the canal is situated about ¼ of a mile east from the centre of town behind the Canal Tavern. The canal was used by sailing boats and steam ships so there was never a towpath though a road (not marked on my road map) runs right along the northern bank of the canal. However, my reference book says there is a permanently locked gate at the far end of the road.

Along the canal there is substantial stone walling and on the south bank the sites of derelict works could still be seen in 1971 though they may have gone by now.

The entrance lock onto Morecambe Bay still had paddle gear on the upper gates during the 70's. They were said to be steadily decaying and I have no news of their state today. The lock could take vessels up to 27 feet wide but by the late 60's a concrete dam had replaced most of the woodwork across the bottom gates.

There was once a lift footbridge over the lock though this has now gone and although a nearby railway swing bridge (to a chemical works) is still standing, it no longer swings. Just to the south of the lock is the Bay Horse pub which is said to look very attractive and there are a number of old cottages nearby. A stone pier reaches out into the bay at Canal Foot and just to the north is the Leven Viaduct, built by the railway to cross Cartmel Sands.

To the south, Chapel Island can be seen which has been described as looking like a stranded whale topped with trees!

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