Leeds & Liverpool Canal


The building of the canal presented various problems. Changing circumstances, difficult terrain, and availability of funds, all led to route changes and long delays. Consequently, although work commenced on 7 November 1770 the canal was not finally opened until Saturday 19 October 1816. Work began in three sections: from the river Douglas to Liverpool; from Skipton to Bingley; from Shipley to Leeds. For the most part it was built by navvies from Dales villages, Ireland and Scotland. As a result of working on the navigation they were referred to as ‘navvies’. Various Acts of Parliament were required over the years and the total cost was eventually over £1,300,000.

Leeds Intelligencer 1770


Work finally began at Halsall in Lancashire on 7 November 1770.


Leeds Intell 25 March 1777


The Leeds Intelligencer, 25 March 1777 advertised for masons and carpenters required for the construction of the Dean Lock to Wigan stretch.


Manchester Mercury 3 May 1791Contract Masons and Diggers


Construction was a boon to the local economy as contracts were advertised for suppliers of various building materials when the various stages were being built and for masons and diggers. On 3 May the Manchester Mercury advertised for workers required to build the stretches at Greenborough and Gargrave.


Leeds Intell 9 Nov 1790



The building of the Foulridge Tunnel at the summit of the canal near Coln, presented enormous challenges. It is 1,640 yards long.

The three main men employed building the canal were: –

JOHN LONGBOTHAM (died 1801) He was the chief engineer and clerk of works of the canal. He surveyed the route and when James Brindley died in 1772, he was  appointed chief engineer and completed the canal between Bingley and Skipton. He then resigned in 1775. He  surveyed the Bradford Canal, the Lancaster Canal and the proposed Leeds & Selby Canal and was also invited back to complete the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in 1791. He died in poverty in 1801 and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company paid his funeral expenses.


James Brindley


JAMES BRINDLEY (1716–1772) He was one of the most notable engineers of the eighteenth century. When the committees in Bradford and Liverpool fell into dispute about the route Brindley was called in to arbitrate. He recommended Longbotham’s original route and was appointed chief engineer on a salary of £400.  When he died in 1772 Longbotham was appointed to the position.




ROBERT WHITWORTH (1734 –1799) He was a surveyor and engineer who trained under John Smeaton and James Brindley. In 1789 Whitworth proposed changes to the route that used a more southerly line in Lancashire and Parliament gave its authorisation in 1790.