Runcorn to Latchford Canal (1804)

The Runcorn to Latchford Canal was also known as the Old Quay Canal or locally as “Old Quay Cut” or “Black Bear Canal”.

The canal was built to bypass the shallow stretches of the Mersey at Fiddlers Ferry. It extended for 7 miles (11 km), ending to the east of Runcorn Gap close to the centre of the township of Runcorn, and cost £48,000. At Latchford, it joined the Mersey at a lock which was located above Howley Weir. At its terminus a dock was built which became part of the Port of Runcorn. The canal was built under powers embodied in the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Act (1720) which permitted new cuts to be made without the necessity of further recourse to Parliament. It opened in July 1804.

The canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation were bought out by the Bridgewater Canal Company in 1844. The new owners invested little in the canal and its condition gradually grew worse. They in turn were bought out by the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the 1890s, who particularly wanted ownership of the Runcorn to Latchford Canal, as the ship canal would use the same course for part of its route.

The only section of the Runcorn and Latchford still in water at Eastford Road near Wilderspool

Much of the western end of the canal, including the docks at Runcorn, disappeared when the much larger ship canal was built. The eastern end fared rather better, as the section between Twenty Steps Bridge and Latchford Lock was retained. A new lock, called Twenty Steps Lock, was built where the old canal left the course of the ship canal, and it was used to supply tanneries at Howley with hides which were imported from Argentina, and this trade continued until the 1960s. This section was called the Black Bear Canal, and it ceased to be used after the tanneries closed.

The canal as built had a locks at both ends, both of which dropped into the river. As it had no natural water supply, and water was lost every time a boat passed through a lock, a feeder was built from just above Paddington Lock on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation. The water was then carried across the Mersey in an aqueduct, which also acted as a footbridge, and followed the banks of the Mersey to arrive at Latchford Lock. It emptied into the canal just to the south of the lock.

The Manchester Ship Canal cut the Old Quay Canal off in its prime at this point

When the Black Bear Canal section was created, Twenty Steps Lock also rose from the ship canal, and so the feature was retained. Latchford Lock was usually known as Manor Lock after the construction of the ship canal, as the locks immediately above its junction with the Black Bear Canal were called Latchford Locks.

The canal remained in usage for the transportation of hides to tanneries until the 1960s, when it fell into disuse. In 1981, Warrington Borough Council bought the land and converted it into a parkland,

Black Bear Park, forming a line from Victoria Park through to Stockton Heath. It also forms part of the Trans Pennine Trail.

In 2015 the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society launched its Unlock Runcorn campaign, which is dedicated to reopening the flight of locks in Runcorn’s Old Town. The society believes that the increase in passing boat trade that would come from reopening the locks has the potential to bring economical, recreational and social benefits to people within the region.

We’ll look more at Black Bear Park in Warrington Green. In the meantime enjoy these photos of the route of the Runcorn and Latchford Canal in Warrington. The final two images show where it met the Manchester Ship Canal at Twenty Steps Lock and the River Mersey at Howley respectively.

Some information from Wikipedia