Westport Lake near Tunstall, where it all started
The original idea of connecting the rivers Trent and Mersey by an artificial navigation was that of Lord Gower, brother-in-law to Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater, who’s canal from Worsley to Manchester was proving a great success. James Brindley was employed to survey the route, but the scheme never got underway until the involvement of Wedgwood.
Wedgwood’s pottery business was thriving, but was affected by the poor roads over which his products had to be carried. He wanted a fast, reliable, but above all safe method of shifting raw materials from, and finished goods to, the Mersey ports. A canal fulfilled these needs, and he became a major force in promoting the project.
So it was, in July 1766, he wielded a spade and dug the first hole which was to become the 93½ mile waterway we now know as the Trent and Mersey Canal. He was so convinced that the canal would be successful that he moved his entire operation to Etruria before the canal even reached there, building a new factory and worker’s village on the site. He was proved right, apart from the problematic construction of the tunnel through Harecastle Hill the canal to the Mersey became the main transport route for the potteries.
Soon, other businesses recognised the potential of the new link and relocated to take advantage of water transport. The canal used to be lined by potteries and associated industry, but since the almost total demise of the industry most of the distinctive bottle kilns have been demolished leaving just a few protected by preservation orders. The old buildings, if they still stand at all, are derelict and forlorn.
Another one bites the dust…
The exception is Middleport Pottery, home to Burleigh Ware. This company is still trading in the factory built when it moved to it’s current location alongside the canal in 1889, and still doing well.
At Longport, the wharf and warehousing here have been taken over by a boatyard, and a large modern pottery built alongside a wide winding hole in the canal.
…that stand cheek-by-jowl with reminders of the past
The massive Shelton Ironworks has been almost surgically removed from the landscape leaving nothing but an extensive level area.
Around the corner Festival Park occupies the site of Wedgwood’s pottery, a coal mine and part of the ironworks. It’s now a retail and leisure park, with a small marina.
We pulled in just past Bridge 117 to pick up a couple of bags of smokeless from GT Fuels, then continued on a few hundred yards to Etruria Junction.
It’s here that the Caldon Canal branches off to the left, and straight on Etruria or Stoke Top Lock starts the descent to the Trent valley. There are moorings on the towpath immediately above the lock, but it’s a lot nicer to take the trouble to go left, turn around and moor near the Etruria Industrial Museum or below the first of the Caldon locks. Which is what we tend to do. Our regular spot was occupied so we fetched up near the museum.
I’ve a long run in the morning, so will be in no fit state to tackle locks tomorrow. We’ll move downhill on Monday.
Hi Graham. It wasn't just me, then. I'm blaming the camera...
Hiya Sue. I know you don't like tunnels at the best of times, so we can hardly expect you to take pictures as well as steering a straight course! I've been known to stop to take a picture of a particularly interesting structure, but it's not recommended in Harecastle. The tunnel keepers would be concerned if the beat of your engine suddenly stopped...
Locks 0, miles 2¾