Bridging the family gap.

Although Eric was born in Yorkshire, his family roots are around this area of Cheshire and, what was formerly, Lancashire. And this week has been very much centred on family, after earlier visits from Tim, Jane and Kevin we were now looking back in time to places where Eric’s predecessors had roamed the streets, and as it turned out also the canals.
We moored up at Stockton Heath which is nestled between the Bridgewater and the Manchester ship canal, with Warrington being on the north side of the MSC.

Lumb Brook aqueduct

We deferred to brother David, who has taken a lot of effort to collate the information about the family. Mum was born in Warrington, sadly her father, died in an industrial accident while she was still at school, but Gran kept the family together by taking a job in the Stockton Heath telephone exchange. Mum was never able to follow her own dream of training to become a teacher as she also took work in the telephone exchange. She used to tell us stories about scurrying to get to work before the swing bridge was opened to let the first boats of the day along the ship canal. She’d be half an hour late and in serious trouble if she got her timing wrong. Eric and I took the opportunity to walk across the bridge and remember her.

Stockon Heath bridge, designed by Edward Leader Williams, same man that designed the Barton Swing Aqueduct, crossed by mum and Gran in the 1930s and ’40s

Eric’s father was also born in Warrington, and he did get chance to complete his education, eventually gaining a doctorate in theology

The Rev Dr Harry, Dad


Although he knew he had a calling to become a Methodist minister, he followed his mentors advice and worked elsewhere before he trained for the ministry. Mum and Dad met and married at (now demolished and rebuilt) Bold street Methodist church in Warrington. I don’t know what it was like then but now Stockton Heath seems quite a trendy place and had the Bridgewater time restrictions allowed we would happily have explored further, we did see a blue plaque, but alas not commemorating Eric’s great achievement’s, it’s where George Formby lived.

We continued cruising through leafy Cheshire, through Daresbury which is where Dads grandparents Willie and Martha Jones had lived on a farm at Newton Bank around 1865 to 1890

Martha and Willie Jones, great grandparents

The weather was against us with strong winds, rain and poor mooring so we weren’t able to explore on foot. But we did go on to Preston Brook because that is where Willie had worked as a canal porter. Now the home of a rather uninspiring Midland chandlers

Midland Chandlers on the site of Dandys wharf with the M60 behind


The info board shows there were several wharfs here, where the Bridgewater shortly joins with the Trent and Mersey Canal or takes a sharp bend under a bridge and continues 5 miles to Runcorn.

From David’s investigations we suspect Willie worked at Norton Wharf just beyond the bend,

Approaching Norton Wharf heading towards Runcorn

which is now a canoe manufacturer and housing development.

I wonder what Willie would have made of this

When Eric and I first decided to move onto the water we had no idea of his great grandfathers past. Around 1890 Willie left the canals and moved to Warrington to become a white lead worker. I think that says something about the hardship of life on the canals that white lead was preferable to coal and cotton. It’s been a strangely surreal time walking the same footpaths and bridges that our family was 150 years ago.

Preston Brook Bridge and the cottages on Willies walk to work

I hope someone will read this in 150 years and feel the same sense of family pride that I do.

(Since my previous post David has sent more information about relatives working in Lymm, which I have added onto that page.)

Lovely Lymm

We had been told that the Bridgewater was a pretty canal, but nothing quite prepared us for lovely Lymm. It seems to be a thing on this canal that you turn a corner or go under a bridge and wham a stunning house on the bank. Lymm didn’t disappoint.

A very des res

It’s a chocolate box village and I hate to think how busy it would be in the “old normal”. We’d picked up Eric’s cousin Jane and her husband Kevin who live in this area for a short cruise and they acted as our tour guides.

Jane, Eric and Kevin

Lymm’s history is fascinating, yet small enough for the local heritage centre to be well worth a visit.
The central gathering point is a mediaeval cross built on a sandstone mound. It’s very similar to the red sandstone used to build Liverpool cathedral. Although I don’t recall seeing stocks outside the cathedral.

Lymm cross


Lymm was here long before the canal, it’s mentioned in the doomsday book. The turnpike road from Warrington to Stockport passed this way, but the industrial revolution and the canal brought many changes to this mainly agricultural community.

Not sure the working canal was quite this tranquil

In the early 1800s the women had a cottage industry as Fustian cutters. For those of you, like me, Fustian is a thick woven cotton/linen cloth that has a cut pile. Generally used for coarse working garments but also includes fine fabrics such as silk velvet. The woven fabric is brought from the mill to the cutters, it is dressed with a stiffener to enable the cutters to work their magic. It’s laid onto a long table where the cutters use special rods and knives to delicately cut the fibres.
The rise of the cotton mill industry demanded a huge workforce and many relocated to the towns to secure a steady, if meagre income, however Lymm being slightly further afield but on the canal route was able to transport cloth to and from Manchester and the cottage industry became the mainstay of Lymms victorian economy. Three story terrace cottages were built where the entire top floor was one long cutting room. Whole families worked as cutters including the men not just the women. The children were given laudanum and alcohol, sold for teething, to keep them passive until the were old enough to learn the trade, around 8 years old. Despite the work being intricate yet very poorly paid many of these families knew of nothing else, it was simply their way of life and was accepted.
However Lymm has other claims to fame, the Fustian industry had largely died out by the early 20th century as the process became mechanicalised. Wright’s of Lymm Ltd became a prominent employer making gold leaf until the 1980s. Wright’s gold leaf is what was used to decorate the gates to Buckingham palace. Not all of Lymm’s trade sparkled so. £30000 a year was made transporting nightsoil to be used as agricultural fertiliser.

Getting rid of rubbish must be one of Lymm’s current day assets as well. If you recall that big black binliner full of cardboard from our solar panel installation that had been sitting in the shower for the past week. Lymm has a dedicated boaters recycling bin. Oh the things that make me happy.

A welcome sight

We enjoyed a whole day in Lymm, Eric went off to visit Kevin’s workshkop. Sponsored by the Methodist church, Kevin runs the Chapel in the Fields project, providing a safe space for creativity and spirituality for the community.


He made us a lovely oak plaque for Firecrest. If we lived locally I’m sure it’s something we would both be actively involved in.

Firecrest

While Eric was being treated to the sights and smells of a woodworkshop I went off for a walk through the woods around Lymm Dam.

Lymm Dam, a pleasant 1.5 mile walk.

Since writing this post, we’ve discovered some more family history. Eric’s great grandfather, Thomas was born in Lymm, he was a labourer and moved to Warrington. Eric’s second great grandfather was Jabez Plinston(1826-1898), both he and his first wife were Fustian cutters. They were married in 1845, and had 2 children, sadly both died before their first birthday. Maria also died aged 26, Jabez remaried and a few generations later along came Eric.

The second leg, Bridgewater Mainline


We pushed on after doing the Barton Swing Aqueduct, as the Bridgewater, skirts through the suburbs, throught Salford past Trafford and the junction at Watersmeeting in Stretford. This is where we effectively leave the Stretford and Leigh branch and the merge onto the Main line. We could have turned left into central Manchester but we’ve had our fill of cities for a while.

Watersmeet of the Strettford and Leigh Branch with the Mainline

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect in this vicinity, it could have been a backwater strewn with barbed wire, litter and graffiti, but apart from watersmeet, it was a surprisingly pretty and interesting journey. Over the river Mersey on the Barfoot aqueduct, which seemed rather tame after the Barton, but just as essential to for our journey.

Barfoot Aqueduct over the Mersey

And although we didn’t try, I’m sure we could have moored up overnight without undue concern. We sailed through Sale, (sorry couldn’t help myself) past a mix of trendy revitalization taking advantage of the waterside. The large Linotype Works at Broadheath is currently being redeveloped although sadly most of its original grandeur has been lost. In its heyday over 10000 people worked here up until the 1960s, making typesetting machinery for the newspaper industry. The company also built 185 houses and recreational amenities for it’s employees along similar lines to what we saw last year in Saltaire.

We moored up just in proper countryside just beyond Altrincham. Not completely isolated because Tim was able to catch a train to join us for a cream tea hug for the first time in 6 months.

Homemade scones and strawberry jam, two of my favourite things

The Barton Swing Aqueduct

Reputed to be one of the 7 wonders of the canal navigation, the Barton Swing aqueduct deserves this accolade. It spans the Manchester ship canal and is still opened regularly. It is the only swing aqueduct in the world.

Looking down to the central island


It was in 1761 when James Brindley built the first navigable aqueduct in England. He created a 3 span brick and stone structure to take the Bridgewater canal over the River Irwell.

The original Barton Aqueduct


Over a hundred years later 1885 the Manchester ship canal company, bought the Bridgewater canal and in order to facilitate the passage of larger vessels into Manchester, realised they would have to demolish this structure and replace it with something taller or something moveable. Edward Leader Williams designed the Barton Swing Aqueduct, which was built by Andrew Handyside and Co 11 years later. It was a huge feat of Victorian civil engineering. The river Irwell had to be diverted during construction and, because of its proximity to the old bridge, they were unable to test that the swing would work until after it’s completion, when they were able to demolish it.

The old aqueduct just before it was demolished in 1893

Fortunately it all went to plan and on 1st January 1894 the new aqueduct was opened and is still in operation today.

Onto the Aqueduct

It is approximately 100m long 2m deep and 5.5m wide, weighs 1500 ton and carries 800 tons of water. It pivots 90°over a purpose built central island.

The views up and down the ship canal are amazing, looking East to central manchester’s city skyline

Looking towards Manchester


And west towards Mersyside and the M60, although this view is dominated in the foreground by the sister, swing road bridge and the central control tower.

Looking towards Merseyside, over the road bridge and towards the M60

Oh boy am I glad I am not responsible for opening and closing this particular swing, it’s a bit heavier than I’m used to. I enjoyed the crossing from the safety of the boat.

Hope it holds

It was originally swung by steam operated hydraulics until 1940 when that system was replaced by electric pumps. The central pivot system consists of a 8.2 m race plate embedded in granite blocks. Sixty-four tapered cast iron rollers sat on top of the race plate, held in position by a spider ring. On top of that an upper race plate supports the aqueduct and its circular gear rack. But its collosal weight caused these rollers to deform.
a hydraulic press was installed in the pivot to help reduce the pressure. When water was admitted it took up to half the weight, but it was still pushing the structure to its limits and by 1927 it had dropped by nearly 10cm
In 1928 the hollow iron rollers were replaced with steel and since then the bridge has dropped by only 2.4mm and the hydraulic press wasn’t needed any more. Sadly the current custodians aren’t paying much attention to the aesthetics and although it is in working order, it’s in need of more than a lick of paint.

Looking back towards Barton

The crossing only took us 5 minutes and I wanted to turn round and do it again.

And we’re on our way to Trafford now.

The original swing aqueduct was built with an elevated suspended towpath 2.5m above the water level. I wonder what the horses thought as they pulled their narrowboat cargo. I don’t think I’d have been brave enough to use it.

Don’t look down

I would have liked to have seen it being swung and although I believe it is opened twice a day, I couldn’t see any information about when.

Onto the Bridgewater canal

Welcome to the Bridgewater

Once you’ve picked up the weekly groceries from the canal side Aldi in Leigh, it’s under the bridge and straight onto the Bridgewater canal. Bye bye Leeds and Liverpool, it’s been home for almost a whole year as we set off from Leeds on 1st August 2019

Bye bye Leeds and Liverpool

The Bridgewater is a little different to other canals because it isn’t managed by CRT, but is still privately owned (currently by the same people that own the Manchester ship canal) Boats that are permenantly on the Bridgewater don’t need a CRT licence, cause they pay their own fee, however, there is a reciprocal agreement that CRT boats are allowed free passage for the period of 7 consecutive days. And they do keep a count (I believe that there is a new system of booking starting later this year) undeterred we set off on the floatiest of canals.

I think this sign at Boothstown is made up of knitted squares

The Bridgewater was one of the earliest commercial canals in England, when Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater realised he could transport the coal from his mines more quickly cheaply and efficiently than by road. The Packet house is a most pleasing sight as you come under the noisy bridges of the M60

Not so pretty

And under the old Worsley Bridge

Now that’s a pretty bridge

And wow, an 18th century black and white mock Tudor ticket office, for canal passengers. And whilst i was looking up it’s history, I noted it was for sale, £375,000, (insert shocked face emoji. ) Then we realised that it was only the narrow timbered section. Still, a home with a nice view. Even if the water is frequently stained orange from the mines residue of iron oxide

The Packet house Worsley

I would have like to have stopped here to explore this pretty village, Milton Keynes might have concrete cows but Worsley has brass ducks but we’d arranged to meet family so pushed on.

The Worsley ducks

It’s always reassuring to have a lighthouse guiding your way when you’re at sea but we weren’t aware of any dangers on the canal at Monton. Why a light house here? “Barnacle” Phil Austin, a canal enthusiast built it in the 1980s, just for fun.

The Monton Lighthouse, Salford

Some structures do serve a purpose though and the Barton Swing Aquaduct is known as one off the seven wonders of the canals. I’ll share more in my next post.

Approaching the Barton Swing aquaduct

Taking advantage of the sunshine

We didn’t take into account the full advantages of solar panels when we were designing Firecrest so we didn’t have them incorporated into the build. However Eric did foresee that we might retro fit them so we always had that option available. Last April, we stuck 4 flexible panels to the roof. Here’s what I wrote at the time

Being boaters, cruising took priority. Then a certain amount of fear and trepidation set in as Eric needed to drill holes in the roof in order to wire them in. Consequently that didn’t get done until we were laid up in Liverpool. We decided the best option to get the wires to the battery management system would be through ports drilled either side of the bathroom pancake vent.

Drilling holes in the roof for the solar panel wires

With the wiring channelled out of sight, behind the calorifior and through the dinette seating to the controller under the dinette.

It’s not a difficult job, but clearing up afterwards is.

Ironically as shorepower was included in our mooring fee we didn’t reap the benefit from solar until we started cruising in late June. Eric has promised me and those interested that one day he will share all the facts and figures. Photonic Universe has been incredibly helpful advising and supplying our panels so last month we opted to add a fifth panel.
As all continual cruisers know getting deliveries to a boat needs a little creative thinking and frequently involves helpful family. This time it was my mum’s turn in their camper van to kindly provide an address and onward transport. The huge packaging was manhandled onto the boat and all bode well for us to install a few days later while moored at Appley bridge.

Not sure where we will sleep tonight


The sun was shining, the towpath was wide and our enthusiasm at its peak. We unwrapped our parcel and to our dismay discovered the panel was cracked. And it was a Sunday, no way to contact the company for another 24 hours. This was so frustrating, not so much the delay in fitting a new panel, but knowing we were well over the deadline for reporting a damaged in transit parcel, and when and where we would could organise a replacement.

Only a small crack, but it would seriously undermine the efficiency and might cause delamination

As we have already said Photonics universe is a great company, and after a few photos and a bit of forward planning we realised the advantage of “the closed down canalside pub” … They still have good mooring, postcodes and car parks. Dover Lock Inn, is sadly one of those pubs, and Photonics pulled enough strings to organise both a pick up and drop off on the same day. This time the panel was inspected instantly and found to be in good working order

Big panels need big lorries

Although we had found a more convenient place to store this large panel, the weather was in our favour to stick it onto the roof the next day. We had opted to go for one larger panel rather than a further two more identical ones. The roof and edges of the panel had protective masking tape applied to help us stick it in place accurately.

Careful positioning and marking out.

Although the panel isn’t too heavy, it’s large and flexible so very vulnerable to being damaged. We practiced our manoeuvres several times before Eric was allowed anywhere near the glue. He uses CT1, which although it’s £10 a tube, (and we used 4) it’s waterproof, flexible and incredibly strong.

There’s no way this panel will unstick

Together, we finally lowered the new panel into place, but you’ll have to take my word for that cause I couldn’t take photos at the same time. We spent a lot of time carefully easing out any air gaps and weighting it down with our 20kg boat ballast weights

Phew. We got that bit right

All in all a very satisfying days work. Now I just have to find a CRT rubbish point where I can get rid of a colossal bag of card board. Cause right now it’s living in our shower.

Wonder where the next CRT rubbish bins are….and if they have space for this lot.

Did I say getting rid of the rubbish was all that was left to do. Come back in 12 months to see if this new panel is wired in cause right now it’s just looking pretty and not earning it’s keep.

• Some quick facts.
• Peak power: 350W
• Maximum power voltage: 39.1V
• Maximum power current: 8.7A
• Open circuit voltage: 47.7V
• Short circuit current: 9.0A
• Dimensions: 2024 x 99a1 x 2 mm
• Weight: 6.82 kg

The Leigh Arm


We weren’t sure what to expect from the Leigh Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. It’s only 7.5 miles long and was built to connect the end of the Bridgewater canal at Leigh with the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Wigan. Moving coal and cotton, it was crucial for trading links to Manchester. It’s celebrating its 200th birthday this year as It was completed in 1820 at the cost of £61,419. There’s still the occasional working boat to be seen although this beauty is not a local boat and not trading.

A traditional boat

We had a few jobs needed doing on the boat so we spent a week mooring in various spots along its route.

Firecrest at Plank Lane

Waking up in the morning to perfect peace.

Early morning mist

This area was rich with coal deposits and consequently was mined heavily. There were several huge collieries within the Wigan coal field each capable of producing a million tonnes per year. Over the years as the seams were exhausted and economics changed, the land suffered from subsidence, and what with the abandoned slag heaps, the countryside was really a no go area until a serious attempt at land reclamation in the 70s and 80s. Apart from the info boards along the Towpath there’s no mining in sight now.

Info boards along the towpath


The rivers and canal overflow filled the depressions and created several lakes known as the flashes and along with new houses for the people, wildlife habitat was also created.

Family outing

The whole area is now a diverse and thriving environment, with nature reserves, outdoor activities and water sports . Much of the area is designated an SSSI with rare flora and fauna to be found in the reedbeds, I think July is the season of pink flowers.

We moored along side the Scotsman’s flash. Fortunately it wasn’t too windy, and whilst I can safely say we weren’t treated to the most spectacular canal scenery, we did see a lot of yellow ragwort, also known as stinking willy…..

Stinking Willy

some of the local youngsters took advantage of the sunshine and water and held their equivalent to a beach party. And away from their gettoblasters, it is a peaceful place to be.

The Scotsman’s flash party

The canal here is long and straight. The banks are wide and the towpaths are very well maintained,

From crankwood bridge

but we chose to walk a little way off the beaten track.

Woods by Westwood Flash

All in all I’d be happy to cruise this way again.

Person’s flash

Reaching for pastures new

With only another 5 miles to Wigan, we were almost upon pastures new for us. We had last cruised this way 10 months ago in September 2019, travelling westward intending to enjoy just one week in Liverpool. Little did we know what was to come. The day promised some sunshine, but we’ve heard that before. So we set off in a spirit of adventure. Passing the Baby Elephant, an Indian Restaurant which closed down some time ago.

The Baby Elephant

It’s sad to see so many canalside venues closed down especially when we see so many people walking the Towpath.

It’s thirsty work seeing a boat through a lock


But this area is coal mining country, so although there’s lots of new development there’s also a lot of run down property. One thing that has made us grimmace chuckle is CRT’s love of signs, including portage notices advising canoes to be taken out of the water at swing bridges and carried through. There might be logic if the bridges were closed but so many swing bridges are permenantly open and completely inoperable. It just strikes us as a complete and utter waste of money and lack of any intelligence.

Canoers should walk past here

However not to spend too long being grumpy, we passed the impressive Wigan pier

Wigan Pier

We wondered what George Orwell would have made of the fancy redevelopment opposite around the wharfs, warehouses and mills.

Recycling at its most profitable

After a stop to fill up with water we rounded the corner and there it was, the Leigh Branch. It’s still technically part of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, but for us, we’re breaking new ground and it feels good.

Turning right, , onto the Leigh Branch

During this section of our journey, we passed by two historic boats, Ambush and Viktoria. Most canals have a specific style to maximise the efficiency and profit of their specific routes. Above Wigan the Liverpool Shortboats, dominated. Ambush and Viktoria were built for the H &R Ainscough Mill in Burscough, they are Liverpool Longboats to carry grain and flour. They are 60’long and 14’wide. nowadays Ambush is still a working boat delivering fuel to boaters between Burscough and Leigh. Canal Junction writes and intersting article about these boats

Ambush and Viktoria

Fairies as far as the eye can see


We haven’t seen hills for months, so now that we have one on our doorstep I thought it time to stretch some dormant muscles. There are two significant local beauty spots with in walking distance of Appley Deep Lock, both involve a climb, Parbold Hill rewards with views for miles and we’d chosen a good day.

On a clear day, you can see forever

To the southeast we could see way beyond Wigan towards Manchester and the peak district beyond. My photo doesn’t do it justice, we could see the M6 crossing the river Douglas and the Heinz factory

To Wigan and beyond

To the southwest we could see the tall cranes along the Mersey docks

That’s where we have come from, Liverpool in the distance

And to the northwest Blackpool tower and a hint of the Lakeland fells behind

If you squint you can see Blackpool tower

Parbold hill has special memories for me as a child. Mum and Dad would lift me and my brother from our beds, wrap us in blankets and put us into to boot of the VWCombi at 6 am on a Saturday morning and we’d drive from our home in Crosby up to the Lake District in time to make Bacon butties in Ambleside for breakfast. Ok I know that would never be allowed to happen now, but just in case you were worried, it was more of a parcel rack than a closed in boot, and I don’t think seatbelts had been invented back in the early 70s. The combi must have chugged and splutterd to get to the top of Parbold Hill, cause we always greeted it with a fanfare.
Those carefree days must have really nurtured my inner hippy and my love of outdoor living. Half a mile down the hill is a trail that leads to the Fairy Glen. A woodland walk that follows the path of Sprodley Brook almost back down to the canal. I did search high and low for the fairies but I think they were practicing social distancing.

I’m sure there’s a fairy in the glen

The path became steeper and more of a scramble, perfect for little waterfalls

Fairy showers


I wanted to skip back to the boat filled with the joy of the day, but oh boy did we ache. 8 months in Liverpool didn’t do our fitness levels any good. Time for tea and cake back on Firecrest

Fairweather cruising


One distinct advantage of being continual cruisers is that we don’t have to cruise continually, (with the proviso that we move on every 14 days in accordance with the rules) So when it rains we stay put, but when the sun shines we make the most of it and enjoy hearing the frequently used phrase “nice day for it”. And we agree, “it’s a hard life but someone’s got to do it”
So onward we meander. Past the bridge that traverses the junction of the Rufford branch of the L&L. Our plans back in April were to have cruised this way so we could cross over the Ribble link onto the Lancaster, however with all the uncertainties we’ve decided to do it another year.

Rufford branch junction

And through Parbold with its lovely old mill, now transformed into James Bartholomew’s art gallery,

The Mill House gallery


I even saw my very first black blackberry of the season, but as it was below knee level, it stayed put.

First blackberry of the season


We settled for a few nights with a view of the hills near Appley deep lock.

Hills


And moored up with view of cow parsley

This is what we see through the round window today