The Trent and Mersey Canal

It is by no coincidence that Jesse Shirley built his Bone and Flint Mill in Etruria on the junction of the Canals. The waterway links would provide a clean, safe and cost effective means to transport materials to his customers who were bone china manufacturers and included many household names such as Wedgwood, Aynsely and Doulton.  

In 1761, Josiah Wedgwood showed an interest in the construction of a canal through Stoke on Trent for the fast and safe transport of his pottery. Wedgwood’s plan was not to connect the two rivers by canal, but to connect the potteries to the River Mersey, and thereafter the port at Ellesmere.

In 1771, Wedgwood built the factory village of Etruria on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent, close to the caldon canal. The plan of a canal connection from the Mersey to the Trent was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1776 and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood in at Middleport. The engineer James Brindley completed the canal in 1777, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels.

Up until 1777, pots had to be carried on the short journey from Etruria, over the top of Kidsgrove Hill, and to the other side, where the canal had been constructed to Ellesmere Port. The only obstacle that still had to be tackled by the canal company was the hill at Kidsgrove through which the Harecastle Tunnel was being dug.

The Trent and Mersey canal was built to link the River Trent at Derwent Mouth in Derbyshire to the River Mersey.

The Harecastle Tunnel was actually two tunnels. The first built by James Brindley measured 2,880 yards (2,633 m) long. Barges were 'legged' through by men lying on their backs and pushing against the roof with their feet. This was a physically demanding process and created major delays. The civil engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a second, and wider, parallel tunnel with a towpath. This 2,926 yard (2,676 m) long tunnel was opened in 1827.

In the 1900s, the Brindley tunnel was closed due to severe subsidence, but the Telford Tunnel - although also prone to the same problems - remains in use, and is the fourth-longest navigable canal tunnel in the UK.

The Caldon Canal        

The Caldon Canal commences at Etruria, immediately adjacent to the top lock of the Stoke flight on the Trent and Mersey canal. A statue of James Brindley, the engineer for the Trent and Mersey main line, stands near the junction.

Following the course of the River Trent, the waterway climbs to a summit level at Stockton Brook, which carries it over the watershed between the Trent and Churnet Valleys. Thereafter the canal descends through locks at Hazelhurst and then Cheddleton, into an initially broad flood plain.

The first plans by Trent and Mersey Canal Company to construct a canal from the summit level to Leek were considered in January 1773. This would have been a tub-boat canal, as the boats were designed to carry just 5 tons, and rather than using locks, inclined planes were to be used at points where the level of the canal needed to change.

Two more plans were considered, and the third included extra reservoirs which would supply the summit level of the existing main line. Having secured contracts with several owners of limestone quarries in the Caldon Low area, the company sought an Act of Parliament to authorise construction of the new works, which it obtained in May 1776.