Littleborough’s History

Canal and Operation


One of the earliest references seen about the canal’s operation was on 8th May 1800 when Job Cogswell was paid £30. 2s. 4d - for a Boatload of Lime. Also, in 1802 there is an early reference to the Rochdale Canal Company paying rates to the township of Littleborough.  This comprised 8d Chapel Tax for Barton in the Township of Butterworth and 1/2½d for Sale Hey, also in Butterworth. Whilst Jessop suggested that the canal company make provision to supply mills with water to avoid objections, in 1809 Rochdale Canal Co obtained powers to charge £1 pa per horse power to provide water to steam engines in mills adjacent to canal. Later, around 1886, the company supplied the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s water troughs at around a rate of 4d per 1,000 gallons.  


Membership of the Committee of the Rochdale  Canal Co changed over time and a local appointment was Joseph Fenton of Clegg Hall on 2nd May 1811. Indicative of the consequences building the canal was the construction in 1818 of a toll road over the dam from the weir (approx where the Wine Press is now - 2021) to the bottom of Hollingworth Brow (now called Bear Hill) which superseded an earlier  foot-road. The road was extended at the same time to Rakewood. It was built by James Wild for for Messrs Midgeley and Rhodes who paid the Canal Co £1 pa for the privilege. The road fell into dis-repair so it was taken over by the Canal Co circa 1836 and later in March 1892 Agreement the Rochdale Canal Co and the Littleborough Local Board led to it being taken into council ownership. However, for many years the Rochdale Canal Company had gates and displayed signs at six points round the lake.


The Canal had barely been a going concern when proposals were made for a railway between Manchester and Leeds. Despite objections from the Rochdale Canal Company and others the Manchester and Leeds Railway opened throughout on 1st June 1841. Bearing in mind the close proximity of the canal to the railway line it is very likely that the canal company carried materials used in its construction and later on, the association was extremely close. Another aspect of rail and canal was demonstrated by 1845 adverts and directories (1847) of relatively local John and James Veever of Todmorden being ‘Carriers by Canal and Railway’. As the section on traffic volumes shows the railway had a significant impact on the canal’s traffic levels and in 1855 the Canal Co entered into a 21 year agreement with Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Co (L&Y) at a cost of £36,752. It was later extended to 1888 when the Rochdale Canal Company took back control. During this period the canal companies traffic levels actually benefited from the agreement. As indicated above (Water Supplies) the pumping engine at Hollingworth Lake stopped working and shortly afterwards in February 1857 a William Kitchen, 63, an inmate of Hollingworth Workhouse was charged with stealing a tap (58 lbs) and Boss (18 lbs) belonging to the Rochdale Canal Company’s Pumping Engine. He was sent to Assizes.


The mid to late 19th Century demonstrated the growing influence of the Littleborough local Board and in January 1879 the Littleborough wharf came into its possession. Later that year tenders were sought and let for building a Wharf Wall & Warehouse. In the late 1880s Ernst Harvey, director of the Fothergill and Harvey (F&H) Mill complex at Rock Nook stated that ‘Without the Rochdale Canal (there would be) no F&H mills & other mills in Littleborough as (they) would have required too many horses and carts to get grey cloth (& Cotton Bales) to/from Manchester’. At the time Rochdale  Canal claimed to be most successful trans-Pennine canal and in 1887 Rochdale Canal Co became a carrier in its own right with  drivers working in 10 mile stages and barges carrying 80 tons. A year later it took back control over the canal from the L&Y Railway.


A feature of the canal was its use for excursions and the Rechabites are pictures thus via this link Boat Trips using Canal Barges


As a review of the traffic levels shows that after the First World War volumes steadily decreased and in 1948 the Rochdale Canal wasn’t nationalised because it was only a water channel  beyond the Dale St junction. Subsequently in 1952 the Rochdale Canal Act extinguished the right of navigation on the canal between Dale Street (junction with Ashton Canal) in Manchester and Sowerby Bridge and allowed local authorities to replace hump backed canal bridges with new low-level crossings. A year later the Rochdale Canal was virtually abandoned and around 1956 – 1958 Punchbowl Dock at Rock Nook was infilled to create a car park for F&H Durn Bridge was culverted and in 1972 the narrow and inconvenient Ben Healey Bridge and Smithy Bridge Canal Bridges were similarly removed, culverted and road widened and or re-aligned.


Links to other pages:

Back to Canal

Job Cogswell Boat Master






Steam Boat on Rochdale Canal approaching Bent House Bridge heading west


Traffic Growth and Decline

1812 Traffic on canal 199,623 tons

1818 Traffic on canal 317,050 tons

1839 Traffic on canal 875,436 tons

1842 On opening of railway throughout, canal traffic reduced to 667,311

1845 Rochdale Canal carried 1M tons in the year

1880 Tonnage on canal 686,000, equal to

1893 the Canal Company’s boat fleet had reduced to 26,098 movements against 33,468 in 1885

1900 Tonnage on canal 583,000, equal to 50 boats per day

1908 Royal Commission on Inland Waterways Rochdale Canal Co still carrying 100,000 tons pa (coal 30%) and around 20,000 tons was through traffic.

1913 25,130 boat movements had been registered of which 20,635 were for trade between the Bridgewater & Littleborough and only 3, 223 had crossed the summit.

1921 tonnage on canal 180,000 or 12 boats per day

June 1921 Rochdale Canal Co ceased trading in its own right Tonnage down to 120,000 pa

1922 only 8,335 boat movements were recorded with 639 crossing the summit – tonnage 180,000

1929 Last cargo of Raw Cotton arr at Barge Dock at Rock Nook

1930 Little of through workings on Canal

1930s boats only be part-laden due lack of dredging   -  50 ton boats carrying  only 30 tons.

1937 last two boats traversed the canal from end to end

May 1939 last through passage was a cargo for the standard Wire Works in Sowerby Bridge and an empty boat for sale in Manchester

1941 last commercial operation was 2 narrow boats operated by  Kastner-Keller Co carrying acid from Widnes to chemical works in Chadderton and Littleborough


Boat at dock - location unknown