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Canal Architecture

Canals developed their own architecture. The canals themselves have their own structures: bridges, locks, aqueducts, lifts, inclined planes. The canal companies had their operational buildings like toll houses, offices, lock and bridge keepers houses, stables and their warehouses and wharves.  The canals attracted industry to their banks, there are still remains of lime kilns, coke ovens and brick works.


  • Canal
  • Bridges
  • Locks
  • Buildings
  • Industry
  • Symbols

Canals themselves have their own structure and architecture: the channel, the towpath, embankments, weirs etc

An empty canal showing the profile of a canal is saucer-shaped with a bank at the sides. Quayside stones, even when the canal is filled in the large stones at the edge of the basin are easy to see.  
The towpath is usually on the downhill side of the canal as it runs along the contour. The towpath makes the downslope bank of the canal stronger. A hedge or fence is alongside the towpath.
On wharves and by some locks and bridges you will find cobbles.
The canal crosses roads on aqueducts like this, sometimes called culverts. Stop planks like these are used to block off the canal when there is a breach. Bollards are used to tie boats to or to slow boats down as they enter locks. This bollard has been worn by ropes.
At bends in the canal or near railway bridges you can find these slopes. They are designed to allow horses to get out of the canal after falling in.
Another horse escape slope. Horses could be pulled in if a barge suddenly stopped in shallows or horses bolted, frightened by trains etc


Bridges had to be built either for roads and track to cross the new canal or to allow landowners access to land divided by the canal. On the Leeds & Liverpool Canal there were a standard design for the early stone bridges from the time the canal was first built. Some of the stone bridges built on later sections of canal near Johnsons Hillock look to be based on a design by John Rennie.

Wooden swing bridges were a cheaper option for the canal builders, these have mostly been replaced by metal swing bridges or removed all together. In recent times swing bridges have been modernised and are now electric.

When railways were built they often had to cross the canals at acute angles giving rise to some interesting bridges.

Modern roads cross on large stone and steel bridges which still have some style tha the concrete bridges of the 1960s onwards lack. Motorways stride over the canal on high viaducts.

A typical Leeds & Liverpool Canal bridge circ 1770's A later Leeds & Liverpool Canal bridge, a bit chunckier than the older ones. A bridge on a hillside
One of the Liverpool's metal bridges A metal and stone road bridge  
Makers Name Makers Name Makers Name
Burnley Coat of Arms Blackburn Coat of Arms Leeds Coat of Arms
Rope worn marks on a bridge A replacement wooden roller A metal roller
A roller spike Roller Holders  

Locks were first invented in China. Before canals they were used to help boats pass weirs or changes in river levels. On the canal they are used to the the canal up and down hills.
A simple lock is a chamber with gates at both ends. The water level in the chamber can be raised or lowered to match the water lever above and below the lock. Water is let into and out of the chamber via sluices. These suices are found either on the lock gates or in the ground.
The sluices are opened and closed using various types of mechanisms. The most common is a geared ratchet which is wound up and down, lifting and lowering a cover or paddle over the sluice.

Bingley Five Rise Staircase lock    
Disused lock chamber    
Disused lock, this is where the gate once was. The lock gate's hinge The lock gates hinge
a clough a box clough a ground paddle
site of a ground paddle in the lock chamber. Many were removed to save water. ground paddle winding gear in a lock chamber  
Winding Gear A lock handle or windlass is attached here to wind the paddle up and down. A scissor clough's winding gear.
  Lock Gates with long balance beams. The beams are pushed to open the gates. Lock gates opened by winding gear due to the bridge being too close for long lock gate balance beams.
There are many types of buildings directly associated with the canals and canal companies. Warehouses and wharves are common. Locks and bridges often had houses built next to them for the canal workers.
Canal Offices Leeds Toll House Johnsons Hillock Toll House Burnley
  Lock Keepers House Basin Managers House
Canal Depot Canal Depot  
Covered Warehouse
Covered Warehouse
Railway Style Warehouse
Wigan Pier Shipley  
Loading Arm Covered Loading Arm Road Access to Canal Warehouse
There are still some relics of old canal-side industry
Coke Ovens Brick Kiln Lime Kiln
Limestone Quarry Mill Pub
There are many signs and symbols to be found on the canal. Canal notices, bench marks and masons marks.
  Street names  
  House dates  
Company Notices Boundary markers Company Notices
bench marks bench mark Masons marks



This page was last updated on 10-Oct-2015
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