The history of the Montgomery canal was the subject of the last meeting. Andrew Jenkinson commenced the talk with a general history of canal building. Francis Egerton, the third Duke of Bridgewater, built the Bridgewater canal to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to the industrial areas of Manchester. This was the forerunner of all the other canals and is often described as England’s first canal as it was the first to be built which did not follow a natural watercourse, and required the construction of an aqueduct across the river Irwell. It’s success stimulated an intense period of canal building.
In 1791 a grand scheme was developed to build the Llangollen Canal (Ellesmere Canal) to link the River Mersey to the River Severn at Shrewsbury, past Chirk, Ruabon and Wrexham to the Dee at Chester, then continuing to the Mersey at what was to become Ellesmere Port. Branches to the limestone quarries at Llanymynech and the town of Whitchurch were also proposed. Only some of this was realised but the branch to Llanymynech was completed in 1796. It was also suggested that the canal be continued on to Welshpool and then to Newtown.The section from the Frankton junction to Carreghofa, just south of Llanymynech, was built by the Ellesmere Canal scheme.The rest of it was the independent Montgomeryshire Canal which opened from Carreghofa to Garthmyl in 1797, but by then had exhausted its money. The final six miles into Newtown was separately financed under an Act of 1815, and opened in 1819.
The role of the Montgomeryshire canal was mainly the transport of limestone to the many kilns that lined the canal. This allowed the local production of quick lime for agriculture. It was not a commodity that could have been produced at the quarry and then transported as any contact with water would have slaked the lime in a volatile reaction. So the canal would also have been necessary to transport coal and wood for the kilns.
More recently the route in Welshpool was threatened by road building in 1968 which produced a mass “dig” in 1969 when more than 200 volunteers from the Shropshire Union canal Society cleared the channel through the town. Then in 1987 the British waterways Act conferred powers to restore and operate the canal. The canal was renamed the Montgomery Canal. Renovation and operation was taken over by the Canal and River Trust in 2012. The canal continues to be renovated. A lot of the canal is now a SSSI.
The next talk will be on Wednesday 16th May when Guest speaker Dr. Richard Carter will give a talk entitled: “ Postglacial Environmental Change and Human Adaptation During the Mesolithic in Sussex.”