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FAREWELL TO THE SUMMIT - Lancaster Canal Summit Branch and Tramroad


The following text is taken from a 1968 publication entitled "FAREWELL TO THE SUMMIT" that was given to me by a friend who has a mutual interest in Canal related history.

It was written by Ian Moss to accompany a visit to the Southern section of the Lancaster Canal towards Walton Summit and the adjoining Tram Road to Preston.  At the time, both were in a state of disuse, but were much more visible than today.  At the time of the visit, the construction of the M61 Motorway was underway, and this highway cut through the canal.  Thus, putting it out of action forever.

I am not sure if there are any copyright issues with sharing the text.  My understanding is that it isn't a formal book publication with an ISBN etc.  I am only trying to get this information out to a wider audience, and share an account from over half a century ago.  If you know otherwise, please let me know.  If is causing anyone an issue, I can remove it.  The text has been modified slightly, as I ran the output of a scan through an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software and then had to adjust it in Google Documents.  





Historical notes to accompany a visit to the Walton Summit Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Lancaster Canal Tramway made by members and friends of the North Western Group on May 4th, 1968.


On 1st June, 1883 Clement E. Stretton, during a walk over the line of the Tramway read, at Walton Summit, a paper on "The History of the Preston & Walton Summit Plateway". It was read again twenty years later on the 100th Anniversary of the opening. We are not the first - though we are probably the last.



Our journey begins at Botany Bay Where the Chorley-Blackburn Road (A674) crosses the south End of the Lancaster Canal. Of recent months the area has been razed in connection with the works for the new motorway (M61) which are advancing rapidly. A few hundred yards on we pass under the nine arch viaduct which was built in 1868 to carry the joint L.N.W.R.-L&Y line from Chorley to a junction with the East Lancashire Railway at Cherry Tree, near Blackburn. The line closed to passengers on 4th January 1960 and completely on 3rd January 1966. The contract for the M61 includes demolition of  this viaduct during the next few months. Another few hundred yards would, in Rennie's original plan, have seen the junction of the Duxbury Branch, which, almost three miles long, was to have served the centre of Chorley and the coal pits which were just to the South of the town. I have never seen reference to it other than on this plan- probably no further action was taken. There is a winding hole nearby for boats serving Hope Mill (now a "chicken" factory, lately a cotton mill and on the site of a mordant works) and the Moss Lane Malt Kilns a little way ahead. At Moss Lane bridge we see the junction with the main line locks rising away to the right. Immediately below the locks is the building of the old Whittle Springs brewery which closed in the 1920s after a working life of some sixty years.  In grounds near the brewery are the "Springs" -spa waters which were discovered in 1836 and made the area into something of a tourist centre- Chorley station once bore the sub-title "for Whittle Springs" and the Howard Arms (in the springs grounds) was erected by H. Heys Esq. in 1847. Mr. Heys "..... expended a considerable sum of money in fitting baths and laying out pleasure grounds...." His efforts remain in the grounds of' the still flourishing Howard Arms. The brewery is now a chicken factory.

The locks, which make connection with the Leeds & Liverpool were built by the Lancaster Canal Co. although they are of typical Leeds & Liverpool design and construction was presumably under that Company's supervision. The design of the paddles (Cloughs' on this canal) is very different from narrow canal practice, especially on the top gates where the gate paddles slide rather like camera shutters and the ground  paddles are operated by a worm and nut. We shall walk up this very attractive flight. Half way up, on the left is a farm and a group of cottages owned by the canal co.

Before the war there were a few horses kept on the farm to assist pairs of boats through the locks. In the valley to the West is a factory chimney marked on the 1846 0.S. map as "Denham Print Works". No local residents - and I have consulted some who are well over eighty - remember the works in action. At the top lock is the lock house and the toll office (this was of course a junction of canal properties). Mr. W. Wilson who lives here succeeded his father as lock keeper.

To return to the junction and walk along the Branch - after a quarter of a mile we come to the first bridge and a wharf - for about three years the terminus of the canal. A private house near the wharf was at one time the Navigation Inn. Beyond this is a shallow cutting, which after a few hundred yards dramatically opens out onto an embankment across the Lostock Valley. The river and a footpath are carried through the embankment by a tunnel which looks remarkably like a canal tunnel. Immediately following the embankment are the Whittle Tunnels - two tunnels separated by a deep cutting. Originally there was one long tunnel but it collapsed in 1837 and was opened out. The towpath through the tunnels is in poor condition and in the cutting it is overgrown with shrubs; the prudent might prefer to follow the road over them.

The canal emerges into the centre of the village of Whittle. This was well served by the canal - the quarry through which the tunnels are cut, several cotton works, the Co-op and other coal merchants, and a chemical works all made use of the canal.

The road which crosses the canal twice in a short distance was the main road between Chorley and Preston until the building of the lower road in about 1830. At one time, to serve canal and stagecoach there were ten pubs in less than two miles. There are still five. Of those that have closed the "Paletot" now a private house still bravely bears its name and the inscription "Whittle Springs Noted Ales" although it has been closed for at least forty years.

We pass the site of a chemical works and the Co-op coal yard and take a footpath on the non-towpath side of the canal. Along here is an old lime kiln to remind us of one of the canal's original functions. We cross to the towpath by a wooden accommodation bridge and walk the last few yards to our lunchtime stop at Radburn Basin.

A road from Leyland to Blackburn crosses Here and for about five years, from 1810, goods were transhipped to road and taken to Blackburn for onward. conveyance by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Next to the bridge a mile post tells us that we are one mile from the Summit. This last mile makes a very attractive and often lonely walk.

The towpath is muddy and overgrown at first, but rather surprisingly it improves towards the Summit. We pass a winding hole and shortly afterwards a wooden footbridge next to a disused waterworks, which I believe to have been the last commercial user of the branch (in about 1932), the canal now takes a sharp turn to the left on low embankment and passes under the last bridge - Summit Bridge. From here to the summit the canal is in a shallow cutting. This last few hundred yards has two towpaths, but one is now impassable. As the basin is reached we see the "3 mile" post. 

The Summit affords an excellent view of the Ribble Valley and it is worth pausing here to examine the remains of a warehouse, the tramway bed and a few almost unrecognisable hulks of boats. It is said locally that within living memory it was well worthwhile dragging the bottom of the canal to eke out coal supplies in time of shortage.


The line of the inclined plane is still clear and there are a fair number of sleepers still to be seen - not in their original position, for they have at some time been used to make a roadbed for the farm. The incline is on private  property and permission must be sought from Summit Farm (at the bottom of the hill) before venturing on it. There is a public footpath across the end of the basins at right angles to the general line of the canal. The one to the left (facing Preston) leads to Gough Lane which falls down the same hill as the incline and crosses its line at the bottom.

The engine house was on the site of Summit Farm. The line of the tramway is clear until it crosses Kellet Lane, where a house and a bungalow have been built on the line. For about a mile beyond this the track is in fields and is not very near to a public footpath. It is not convenient for a large party to follow it. In Bamber Bridge the line crosses the A6 next to the McKenzie Arms; until very recently one could have Joined it again here but in these last months a housing estate has been built on the line (some of the land was purchased from the British Railways Board.). We can briefly pick up the line again as it passes under the railway just west of Bamber Bridge Station (at the point where the line into Preston leaves that used by direct Blackburn-Liverpool traffic) and there are hints of it in fields a little further on but much of the area is covered with housing.

However, for the last two miles the line is complete - indeed it is a public footpath. The path begins near Todd Lane - it is clearly marked on the O.S. map - and leads down to the "Old Tram Bridge" in Avenham Park.

There are several sleepers still in situ and some in nearby stone walls. To the right of the slope at Carr Wood the line appears to branch, possibly to the site of the original engine worked incline  plane. A long tree-lined embankment (with the East Lancashire line to the left) brings us to the Old Tram Bridge across the Ribble. The present concrete structure is in the same style as the one which carried the tramway. The Avenham incline is now a park footpath with the site of the engine occupied by at park shelter. The tramway line veers to the left at the top of the incline and continues as a park footpath for some way but is eventually lost in housing built late last century. The only remaining signs of the tramway are the abutments of a bridge in Garden St. and one entrance of the Tunnel, which took it under Fishergate this, in enlarged form is the road access to Butler St Goods depot. Over a mile of the North End of the Canal in Preston has now been dewatered, a Technical College has been built on the end basins and an aqueduct (in Aqueduct St.) has been demolished for road widening.

The Summit Branch and Tramway Map from FAREWELL TO THE SUMMIT by Ian Moss
The Summit Branch and Tramway Map



Following the Act of 1792 work began on the two longest pounds of the Lancaster canal and by 1797 the section from Preston to Tewitfield (which at 42 miles remains the longest level ever constructed on a single canal) was open, followed in 1799 by the section from Park Hill, near Wigan to Johnson's Hill. The South End did not attract a great deal of trade since it served only one sizable community (Chorley) and to carry goods Northwards transhipment to road was necessary. Preston could be more easily reached from the Wigan coalfield by means of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the Douglas Navigation (Interestingly, in 1829 the Leeds & Liverpool complained to the Lancaster that this latter route was unfairly losing traffic to the South End and the Tramroad because of low rates on the Lancaster. The Lancaster raised their tolls).
The Lancaster Committee instructed their resident engineer, William Cartwright, to prepare a fresh estimate for closing the gap in the canal and on 2nd July 1799 he submitted two - £172,945 for completing the canal, £60,000 for a tramroad as a temporary expedient. (but with extensions of the canal in Preston and from Johnson's Hill to Walton Summit). In 1800 the Company obtained a further Act enabling them to raise £200,000; it was some time later when the Company realised that they were not empowered to build tramroads. Their Act of 1807 gave the power - the Tramroad had then been in use for over three years!

Cutting of the South End extension to Clayton Green began (started) before it had been decided how to cross the Ribble. Cartwright's Tramroad plan would have separated Northbound and Southbound Roads for a good deal of their length but when John Rennie and William Jessop were asked to report they suggested a straightforward double track along the Parliamentary line.

But it was not a clear cut decision to have a tramway at all. The section of the "Company of Proprietors" whose interests lay in the southern part of the canal's area were dissatisfied with the idea of makeshift; reasonably, and correctly they were sceptical of its "temporary" nature. However on 7th July 1801 the suggestions of Rennie and Jessop were adopted, and a General Meeting authorised construction.

By January 1802 the short extension to the North End of the canal was ready, but on the South End the Whittle Tunnel was giving trouble. It was June 1803 when the first boat from the South reached Walton Summit. Its cargo was taken to Bamber Bridge on the tramroad and the Blackburn Mail waxed eloquent about the celebrations. The North Bound or "coal road" was completed to Preston in November and the Southbound or "limestone" road was ready in January almost simultaneously with the death of William Cartwright the conscientious and able engineer.

There were three inclined planes with engines - at Avenham, at Carr Wood and at Walton Summit (this last with the engine at the bottom). Only the Avenham one seems to have been powered throughout the tramroad's useful life (at 1 in 6 there was little alternative) - its 6 h.p. engine was replaced by a more powerful one in 1822. The Carr Wood incline was eased by rerouting in about 1820 (the original line appears to be alongside the present path) and was presumably then horse operated - certainly the present line would not lend itself to powered operation. In 1829 it is reported that nine foot plates (three times as long as the original were laid on the Western Side of the Summit incline and that five laden wagons could be taken up instead of two; this suggests the use of horses - certainly the 1846 O.S. map shows no engine house at either Carr Wood or Walton Summit.

The 1830s saw several attempts to come to agreement with Railway Companies. But it was clear to the ever realistic canal proprietors that the future of their "canal-in-two-parts" was limited and rivalry between Charles Vignoles and J.U. Rastrick enables the company to be rid of the tramroad on favourable terms. Vignoles and Rastrick had both been associated with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway but in the early 1850s the former was engineering the Wigan & Preston (later North Union) line and the latter was engineer to the Bolton & Preston Railway. While surveying near Farington the two met and it is said that Rasterick suggested a joint line into Preston, but that Vignoles would not agree. This was in 1830 or 1831 - no more work was done on the Bolton & Preston for five years. In 1836 Rastriek returned to Chorley to pick up on the threads of the Bolton-Preston Line and the result was an offer to the Lancaster Company in 1837, to which they agreed and an Act was passed on the 15th July. The Bolton & Preston Railway were to lease all the tolls on the South End except those for traffic to and from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the tramroad for £8,000 p.a.
The Bolton & Preston Railway intended to use the tramroad line from Bamber Bridge to Preston as part of their through line and the lease bound them to provide connection with both ends of the canal. There was a stipulation - I think in the act - that they should not start work between Chorley & Preston for three years. Less than a year later on 4th July 1838 the Bolton & Preston obtained an Act empowering them to enter Preston over the North Union Railway from Euston. The North Union gained extra traffic, the Bolton & Preston saved themselves the expense of two viaducts (at Whittle and Preston) and a tunnel at Clayton Green. They had £55-4-11 (£55,411) profit from their year's tram road operation and the two bills had cost them nearly £34,000! (is this £14,000?)
The Bolton & Preston were thus left with a tramroad, which they did not want but, which they agreed to maintain in exchange for a reduction in the lease from £8,000 to £7,000. Their relations with the North Union lacked cordiality for some time but that is beyond the scope of our subject. The two railway companies amalgamated in 1844 and a few years after the North Union was taken over jointly by the L & N.W.R and the L & Y. R. The Lancaster Canal Co must have been quite content - its Southern End busy with Leeds & Liverpool traffic, its North End busy on its own account and the decreasing asset of the tranroad offloaded onto a railway company.
The Railway came to find it an expensive toy - it was losing £5,600 by 1850. The Canal Company were not inclined to be co-operative about maintenance and the Railway Company spent a good deal of money, in the 1850s, not always with good grace.
Trade depression and the continuing spread of the railway system decided the canal committee - who seem to have been blessed with more than usual business acumen - to dispose of their canal altogether. The Lancaster Canal Transfer Act of 1864 leased the North End to the L.N.W.R. and the South End to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Co (for £7075 p.a.) Powers were granted to the L.N.W.R
to close most of the tramroad although the section from the Summit to Barber Bridge was to remain open - as it turned out until 1879.

In 1869 the Avenham Engine house was demolished and in 1872 the line of the tramroad from Preston to Carr Wood was transferred to Preston Corporation. The Fishergate Tunnel was at some time after 1885 turned into a road entrance to Butler St. Goods yard.
In 1885 the Lancaster Ganal Company was vested in the L.N.W.R. the Canal Co being wound up on 1st January 1886, with at least one remarkable record - Samuel and B.P. Gregson, father and son, had between them been clerks to the Company from 1797 to 1886.

Maps from FAREWELL TO THE SUMMIT by Ian Moss
Maps from FAREWELL TO THE SUMMIT by Ian Moss


Brindle Waterworks is close to the canal near White's bridge and according to local boatmen and Mr W. Wilson lock keeper's son and subsequently lock keeper at Johnson's Hillock for most of the present  century it was one of the last places to be served commercially by the canal. 

A request for information about the waterworks produced a very full history from Mr. J.A. Bailey, the Preston and District Waterboard Engineer. The Board have no record of the works being served by the canal (presumably this is not evidence that the canal was never so used), but they have records that a borehole was made close to the South Bank just East of White Bridge. A pumping house, treatment house and reservoir were built in 1883. In 1896 the supply to Brindle Works was augmented by an 8" main from the Thirlmere Aqueduct at Hoghton.

By 1906 the supply from the borehole was diminishing and in 1921 the well was closed and the machinery sold. The works has now been demolished but the old main from it is still in use and the old construction can still be seen - the main changes from round to square section and the water is carried across the canal by a rectangular wrought iron box girder. The pipe on the other side of the  bridge is a feed from Thirlmere to Walton-le-Dale laid in 1961.

Another main from the Thirlmere Aqueduct passes along the towpath at Whittle Tunnels.


The Lord Nelson - date stone 1668 - was originally a farmhouse which ran the Inn trade as a sideline. Its early name is not known, but since it was also a tannery it is at least possible that the name was connected with that trade; it was probably renamed very soon after Trafalgar. Kuerden, a local historian writing towards the end of the 17th century calls it a "fair stone building the inheritance of Mr Thomas Walmsley."

Walmsley was a relation of Judge Walmsley well known in the reign of Elizabeth I; there is a hotel named after him at Whalley.


Preston is the lowest crossing point on the Ribble and the seven bridges which cross the River in less than two miles are perhaps worthy of some description even if the author is not in possession of full details. The lowest, most Westerly, bridge is that carrying the Liverpool Road, the A59 which was built fairly late last century. Some 400 yards upstream is the old road bridge which, erected by public subscription in 1755 fell down the same year. It was re-erected in 1759. It is now open for pedestrians only.

There follow three railway bridges - the first carried the west Lancashire line from Southport and was opened in 1880. The West Lancs was absorbed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire in 1897 and from then its trains were directed into the main Preston station - the West Lancs Bridge was subsequently goods only. Next is the giant North Union Bridge which carries the West Coast main line. Opened in  1838 it was built by one McMahon who estimated for one arch and, in submitting his tender forgot to multiply by five; happily he recouped his losses on other parts of his contract. The East Lancs

(Lancs & Yorks) Bridge carrying the line from Blackburn and Liverpool is somewhat overshadowed by its North Union neighbour. Opened in the late 1840s it leads to what are still known as the "East Lanes" platforms at Preston Station. The East Lanes had, for a little time, enjoyed access to Preston only via the North Union.

Just upstream is the Old Tramway Bridge and then after a half mile gap the road bridge carrying the A6, formerly the Preston & Wigan (North of Yarrow) Turnpike. The next crossing is nine miles away, at Ribchester. 

[Ash Preston - If you don't know about the Bridge at Brockholes Brow taking the A59 towards Blackburn and then Yorkshire]



Most of the detailed history of the Summit Branch and Tramroad is from the research of Mr. Gordon Biddle, member of our Society and joint author of a book, soon to be published, on the Canals of the North West. The author of these notes has carried out some research at the Preston Record Office and would like to thank the staff for their courteous help.
Some of the information about Chorley and District is from an excellent miscellaneous history of the area "Over the Five Barred Gate" by G. Birtill; (Chorley Guardian Press , 7/6).
Mr. Birtill, who is Editor of "The Ghorley Guardian" has supplied information about "The Lord Nelson" especially for this booklet.

The Engineer of the Preston and District Waterboard kindly supplied detailed information about the Brindle Waterworks.
The details of the history of the North Union and Bolton and Preston Railway are from a series of articles from the "Chorley Guardian" in October 1940 by A Penney.
Information about Preston is from "Peeps at Old Preston" by George Miller, published some years ago by "The Preston Guardian".


The author would like to thank Mr. J. Freeman British Waterways Area Engineer for permission to visit canal property, Mr & Mrs Bell of Summit Farm for permission to walk down the site of the Walton Summit inclined plane, Mr Leslie Wain landlord of the "Lord Nelson" for hospitality during the walk and Mr. W. Wilson, lock keeper at Johnson's Hill for many years, for much informal information about the canal given over many years.


The cover is a drawing by Mr Norman Wilkinson of the Verdin Grammar School, Winsford, showing the Junction of the Summit Branch and the Leeds & Liverpool Main Line.


The Maps were drawn by RJ. Dean, Secretary of the Group


Published by the Railway & Canal Historical Society (N.W. Groups) May 1968.


Published by the Railway & Canal Historical Society (N.W. Group).

Further copies of this booklet may be obtained from the following address for 3/6d post free:

R.J. Dean.
Group Secretary,
R. & C. H. S.
5, Marbury Road,
Vicar's Cross,




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