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Ellesmere Wharf & the Llangollen Canal

A short walk from the end of the canal arm to opposite the historic canal workshops.

Distance: About three-eighths of a mile each way.

Surface: Good in all weathers.

Location: The walk starts in the square at the end of Wharf Road, Ellesmere [SJ399346].

Parking: In the town centre or at the Tesco store [satnav SY12 0GD].

Refreshments: Several places in the town of Ellesmere. 

The Ellesmere Canal

The Ellesmere Canal was originally intended to link the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the Dee at Chester and the Mersey at what became Ellesmere Port, passing through the industrial area of Ruabon and Wrexham.  Because of financial problems, only half of the main line was built and, instead, the branch to Whitchurch was extended to the Chester Canal near Nantwich. 

It is not known for certain why the name ‘Ellesmere Canal’ was adopted.  The canal company’s meetings were held in the Royal Oak Inn at Ellesmere (renamed in 1806 the Bridgewater Arms and now called the Ellesmere Hotel), presumably because this was centrally convenient for the committee members.  Alternatively it may have been to attract investors, the ‘Earl of Ellesmere’ being a title of the Duke of Bridgewater, owner of the highly successful Bridgewater Canal.

The canal opened to Ellesmere in late 1798 or early 1799, though it was not until 1805 that the link to the Chester Canal and hence to Ellesmere Port was made.

Ellesmere Wharf

The 7th Earl of Bridgewater inherited the title and lands in 1803, and set about developing the town. The Bridgewater Estate’s timber yard was on the west side of the square at the end of the canal arm.  The Earl’s agent had his offices on the north side of the square. 

The crane at the end of the canal arm is a typical London & North Western Railway goods yard crane, made at its Crewe works.  The 1901 Ordnance Survey map does not show a crane here, whereas the 1924 map does.

The brick warehouse dates from the second half of the 19th century and retains its ‘Shropshire Union’ lettering. 

To the south of where Tesco’s store now stands was the most significant of the canalside industries: William Clay’s Bridgewater Foundry.  This made iron and brass products, mainly for the agricultural industry but also the castings required by the canal company.  The foundry was established in the first half of the 1850s, becoming a major employer in the town, and survived until the First World War.  After its demise its site was taken over by Great Western & Metropolitan Dairies (later United Dairies), the attraction being the ready availability of water for cooling purposes.

To the south of the foundry was the gas works  This was built in 1832, a relatively early date for a small town works.  It used the canal both to receive fuel and to dispatch the tar by-products.

Opposite the gas works was the coal wharf.

The junction with the main line

On the east side of the canal arm, just to the north of the footbridge, was a boat-building yard.

A tragic accident happened at the footbridge on 9 October 1858.  The servant girl (unnamed in the press article) of James Ralph, landlord of the Eagle Inn, had taken out his two children, a boy and a girl, in a carriage for an airing.  In returning over the bridge, the little boy’s hat blew off and rolled onto the towpath.  The servant girl followed, drawing the carriage after her down the steep incline.  When nearly at the bottom she left it in what she thought was a safe position whilst she went for the hat.  Unfortunately, the movement of the children started the carriage moving, and before she could get back to it, it had rolled into the water.  She rescued the boy but Ann, the 21-month old girl, drowned.

Ellesmere Office & Depot

The depot can be viewed from the towpath opposite.  It is open to the public only on special occasions, such as the Heritage Open Days each autumn.

The canal office (later known as Beech House) was built in 1805–6 as the administrative headquarters of the Ellesmere Canal Company, the committee room being in the semi-circular wing at the end of the building.  There were rooms for the accounting records and for the plans, and apartments for the General Accountant and the Resident Engineer.  The various canal companies merged to form the Shropshire Union in 1846; the following year the main administrative offices were moved from Ellesmere to Chester.

Ellesmere Depot is a rare survival of an early 19th century work­shop complex, extended in the middle of the century.  Thomas Telford’s report in 1806 recommended:

At Ellesmere, adjacent to the Canal Office, a yard must be inclosed, in which there must be a carpenter’s house and workshop, also a bricklayer’s house and store room.  In this yard there must be provided spare lock gates, stop gates and let offs, also separate pieces of each.    There must likewise be a weighing house in this yard, over which may be a store room.

The depot is still in active use today, though lock gates and other large items are now made elsewhere.  One room includes wooden patterns for ironwork, many of the patterns being over 100 years old. 

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