Haigh Canal and Railway

Sunday 23rd November. A few weeks ago Trevor Boardman from the Greenheart Project contacted our Society asking about our knowledge of the Leyland Mill Iron Works (Haigh Foundry) and in particular the canal and railway that linked it to the coalfields around Whelley. I had heard of their existence but had no idea where they ran or if there was still evidence on the ground. His offer to show us the routes of these early transport links therefore, was an opportunity we couldn’t miss. So at quite short notice a field trip was quickly arranged.

The few of us who could make it met with Trevor at the Plantation Gates in Whelley. This is just south of the where the Whelley Loop line used to cross the main road to Aspull. Dismantled and made into a public footpath, this line originally opened in the late 19th century creating a by-pass from the L & Y line to the Northwest main line. Our tour started here as the construction of the line has destroyed any evidence of the canal and railway anywhere east of this point.

We weren’t long into our walk when Trevor showed us the first evidence of the canal – a ditch halfway up the side of the embankment. I must admit it wasn’t convincing but as we progressed further down the path and crossed the tarmac road leading to the hall, we found ourselves on a level metalled track. This did look like the embankment of a railway but the ditch running along side did not look particularly canal-like (it could have been just a depression caused by the embankment). However as we progressed along the track, a bank started to develop separating the railway from the ditch. The ditch was also getting wider and thus more convincing as a canal.

Rounding the next bend the canal feature seemed to take a shortcut through a cutting, the rail track however taking a wider sweep. Further on the track began to separate from the canal and started to go downwards on a gentle slope. The canal however remained level. After a short while the canal ditch ended  up in a small body of water which was held back by a dam with a foot bridge over it. This was obviously the source of the water for the canal.   Trevor BoardmanOn the other side of the water the canal continued and any doubt that it was a canal was removed as it was now full of water. Haigh Canal2Haigh Canal1After passing a disused stone quarry, we eventually we arrived at our destination i.e. Leyland Mill which is now occupied by industrial units. Here the canal stops abruptly as a steep precipice overlooking the mill site prevents it progressing any further. Material would have to be unloaded from the barges here and lowered down to the factory site. In the distance we could see the bridge carrying Leyland Mill lane and beyond more factories some dating to the 19th century. Haigh Foundry1The major mill buildings from the days of the foundry no longer exist but there other buildings and workshops that have survived.

Lord Lindsay, the Earl of Balcarres, established his Iron Works here in 1788 running two blast furnaces and a cupula furnace for re-melting the scrap iron. There were also forges here and also at Brock Mill just a few hundred metres up stream. The theory is that the canal was built to supply the foundry with the quantities of coal required for the smelting and forging. At some point in time the railway line was added to replaced the canal as it was able to run into the works thus avoiding the steep precipice. Smelting ended on the site sometime before 1815 but the engineering works continued until the mid 19th century. It would become well know for producing steam engines and other machinery including the famous Laxey Wheel on the Isle of Man.

The canal and railway are fascinating rare fragments Wigan’s early industrial heritage predating the huge Kirkless Iron Works site by over 70 years. In deed when Haigh Hall was rebuilt in the mid 19th century the estate was landscaped and planted with the ubiquitous rhododendrons – thus sweeping away much of the eyesores left by the many years of intensive coal mining. Studying the 1849 6 inch OS map shows that, apart from the small body of water, there is no sign of the canal or the railway. We are very lucky therefore that evidence for them still survives.

A good project for the Society would be to survey the route properly producing an accurate map (a surveyed was carried out by Donald Anderson when the features were first identified. However this was a height survey to establish that the canal was in deed level and the inclination for the railway wasn’t to great. If we could get permission to dig we could also answer other questions such as how wide the canal was and whether it actually did predate the railway. It would be useful to confirm the date of the canal (mining has been carried out on this estate since at least the 16th century) but proving its age might prove quite difficult.Culvert under Rialway EmbankmentCulvert running under the substantial railway embankment

 

19 thoughts on “Haigh Canal and Railway

  1. Soon after posting this I received a link from Eric Walter to the Cloggs & Ganzey Newsletter number 7 (2001) which has an article about a similar walk carried out by the members of the Leeds & Liverpool Sanal Society – http://www.mikeclarke.myzen.co.uk/C&G/C&G7.pdf .

    Interestingly the editor has added his own research which suggests the canal was commissioned in 1795 as follows:-

    ‘The best source of information which I have found is ‘Geographical Change and industrial Revolution’ by John Langton. Published in 1979 (ISBN 0 521 22490 X), this is a history of coal mining in South West Lancashire from 1590 to 1799, and it suggests that the coal mines and ironworks mentioned in this article were part of the Chadwick family’s empire, a footnote to page 178 stating: ‘The colliery was linked to the ironworks by a short canal. Haigh MSS/Canals Box/Articles of Agreement, Lewis v. Haliburton, June 22, 1795.’ When researching the L&LC, I looked at this agreement which was: …between John Lewis of Pool in Montgomery, canal cutter, and Alexander Haliburton for Earl Balcarres on June 22, 1795, to build a navigable canal from the steam
    engine at the iron works at Haigh thro’ Haigh Park to Marsdens Farm where Robert Marsden lives and a pit has been sunk for an intended steam engine. Length of canal 860 yards, depth of water 5 feet, width
    of canal at bottom 6 feet, slopes 3 horizontal to 2 vertical, width of water surface 21 feet. Embankments and towing paths 10 feet wide at the top (1 foot above water level). Puddling where required to be 6 – 8 inches above water level. Cost £315.’

    (As yet I haven’t be able to locate Marsdens Farm.)

  2. Hi
    thanks for this article following a suggestion that i visit your website by one of your members at kirkless sitr last sun . I read the article and went to the site which i have walked many time but never new it was a rail link and canal. I am now taking friends to see it.
    i believe marsdens still farm in the area
    cheers
    colin h

  3. Hi again
    there is also what appears to be the remnents of a shaft and the head gear supports in the old quarry which is adjacent to the path of where canal would have been prior to it being landscaped.
    cheers
    colin h

  4. Interested to read about the walk along the old canal down to Haigh Foundry. I’ve been interested in the local industry for years and have collected quite a lot of info on the Foundry and some of the remarkable machines and ironwork they made.
    My other connection is that I was in charge of moving the headgear from Bispham Hall to Haigh in 1979-80. To be honest, it was a daft place to put it as it was never really looked after, but at least Wigan MBC did offer it a home.

    I think the other notable survivors from the Foundry era are the two cast iron bridges over the Douglas, one at Brock Mill and one behind the surviving foundry buildings.

    Regards
    Ted McAvoy

    • Hi Ted – nice to hear from you. A shame about the headgear – it was never going to easy to protect it there but as you say at least they tried.
      The Haigh Foundry is a fascinating site – the more I read about it, the more impressed I am about what they were able to make there.
      As it happens our Society trip has just had a trip to Bersham near Wrexham which, as you may know, was operating about the same time, – so we’ve been learning quite a lot about the iron making industry recently. Although iron smelting doesn’t seem to have been too successful at Haigh, their cast iron production was immense. There must have been a number of ‘air-furnaces’ on the site (wonder if there is anything left of them). I’m particularly impressed by the number of steam engines they made (apparently over 100 – including two for Brunel’s GWR).
      I have seen the bridge at Brock Mill but not the one near the foundry buildings (a site visit seems in order in the near future).

  5. I have just read with interest the article on `Haigh Canal and Railway`, I was born and brought up in the Haigh Foundry Cottages, during the 1940`s and 50`s. and have always been interested in the history of the foundry. I have collected quite a lot of material including quite detailed maps of the two rail links to the foundry, If you let me have an e-mail address I will let you have copies. With regard to the canal I think its real purpose was to supply water to water wheels at the foundry. There are a number of ponds in the upper plantations, beyond the railway line. that all drain through ditches into the pond at the end of the canal thus providing a steady supply of water.

    • Hi Bill, great to hear from you. Yes, any information about the foundry would be very welcome – I will send you my E-mail address shortly. I must admit it hadn’t occurred to me that the ‘canal’ could be just for supplying water, however it does make sense (although there should be signs of a sluice or something at the foundry end – something to look for next we’re out there).

    • Hi Bill

      I am very familiar with the layout of the plantations and the ponds you mentioned. Ive visited the canal many times and find it facinating that i have walked the paths and never realised its purpose untill reading these pages. If possible could i have a copy of the maps please.

      Cheers
      Colin Holland

      • Hi Colin,

        Neither the canal nor railway appear on any map we’ve seen – the canal went out of use well before the 1849 OS map was published and the railway, which came after the 1849 map, was gone before the next survey late in the 19th century. We do however have a LiDAR image which picks out the route nicely. I published it in a Newsletter earlier in the year :-http://www.wiganarchsoc.co.uk/content/News_Letters/news190.htm

        Hope this helps,
        Bill

  6. In the early 1970s I was at Wigan Art School doing a predip for 1 year before doing a 3 year diploma at Exeter. I have a number of black and white photos taken along the canal (towards Rivington) and also of Lever Park, Rivington plus a few of Wigan itself. Most of them are filed as negatives and contact strips and I wondered if copies they might be of interest to your group. I also noticed that Haigh Windmill was restored in 2011 and I am sure I have a couple of photos of that as a ruin from the same period.

  7. I have done a quick recce of industry near the Leeds Liverpool from Top Lock to Ellerbeck. I am finding difficulty in getting info on most that disappeared pre 1920s. There are several areas near Haigh and between Red Rock and Adlington which have obviously seen industrial activity. Is there any society that I might join who have similar curiosity?

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