“ Lift Lane, Anderton, Northwich, Cheshire, CW9 6FW. Tel: 01606 786777. „
I first remember becoming aware of the name of the Anderton Lift when it appeared on a postage stamp decades ago, either in the 60s or 70s. I had no idea about canals then, so noticed an unusual structure with a distinctive shape and thought no more of it than other names like Jodrell Bank or the Forth Bridge.
Years passed by, and then I was staying in Cheshire, and was taken to Anderton to see the lift. This was in the early 1980s. In those days, you could park fairly near, and then had to cut your way through undergrowth to get near. The impressive but sad sight that greeted me was of a huge rusting metal mulit-legged beast facing the wide waters of the River Weaver. It was then that I learned what the lift was for.
The River Weaver is one of the oldest navigations (i.e. an improved river) in the country, leading through some of the salt areas of Cheshire to the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey. It thus is and was a useful river for communication. Above it, in the 18th century, the Trent and Mersey canal was built, which connects with the rest of the English canal network. for a long time, goods were transhipped between boats at Anderton on the T and M to more boats on the Weaver, 50 feet below
This took time. a flight of locks was considered, but this would have taken both time and used precious water from the canal, necessitating either back-pumping or an increase in the supply.
Thus it was that in 1875, verylate in the first canal age, that the Anderton Boat Lift was made. Originally, it operated hydraulically, but was converted to electric power in the early 20th century. By 1983, corrosion had set in sufficiently for the lift to be declared unsafe, and it remained out of use until restoration in 2002.
Thus, on one of our canal trips, we came to it just a couple of years later, and we have since been back a few times.
Now, when you get there, everything gleams. the restoration was entire and thorough, and you definitely feel safe on the Lift. If you visit by boat, you can use it without charge, but you might have to wait for a passage, so there is a booking system for £5. We hire boats, (hope to own one day) so decided to book to avoid any panic about being held up.
British Waterways look after you well. You moor up, check in at Reception, and then await instructions. Once invited to bring your boat on to the Lift, you either go straight in (from the Weaver) or on to an integral aqueduct (from the T and M) before into the Lift proper. You boat is then flating inside a big metal bath called a caisson. Look up or down, and you see an identical caisson above or below, possibly containing boats. Final preparations are made, and then the lift begins its slow descent. You don't really feel anything happen, but just become aware of movement through what you see. The journey down takes a few minutes to cover fifty feet, so that gives you an idea that it's majestically slow.
Inside the lift, you see a forest of black metal. The Anderton Lift is sometimes described as the Cathedral of the Waterways, and you get a real understanding of this from inside it. It's also one of the so-called "Seven Wonders of the Waterways".
Coming out on to the River Weaver is magnificent. There are usually quite a few people there, as many come to see the Lift just for a day out, and so you feel very important as you pilot your boat from the mysterious structure. Camera snap, and people wave. Going up is just as good, although there is less of the celebrity feeling, and the canal seems surprisingly small after the wide Weaver.
The Lift makes a great day out even if you don't have a boat. Unfortunately, you have to pay a couple of pounds to park your car, so you might want to park a mile or two away, and walk there along the canal. You can walk around quite a bit of the site free, but you have to pay to get inside the main buildings, where there is a very good exhibition, explaining the history of the lift with diagrams, models and books, complete with refreshments. you can then get close up to the lift down at river level. If you are going there, then you really have to take a trip on the Lift. There is special boat for this, named after the first engineer, Edwin Clarke. For £7, you can go down and up the Lift - better value is to add a short trip up the Weaver for another £4, which allows you to see the Lift from a distance at water level.
Whether you like the rest of the area depends on whether you enjoy industrial architecture. From the canal, you get a great view of Winnington and its chemical works, and if you walk a few miles in either direction, there are fine views of the Weaver.
Pick a nice day to go and see the Lift: if you are a canal enthusiast already, then it virtually amounts to a pilgrimage to go there!
I’m telling you, this is one huge construction! Not at all what you’d expect to find on a canal. Not only is it huge, it’s ugly too! My best friend’s a canal enthusiast and as she’s recently been staying at mine, she dragged me all over the show to look at canal things. I drove, she admired the Cheshire countryside. It was nice though, because I like canals too, just not as much as she does. The Anderton Boat Lift was re-opened on 27th March, the day after Carol arrived, having stood unused since it’s closure in 1983, so a drive up to Northwich was inevitable. The lift, built in 1875 and known as “The Cathedral of the Canals”, was the world’s first boat lift and currently the only example in the UK. The idea behind it was to simplify the movement of cargo, especially salt from the three salt works close to the site, between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal, where a height difference of 50 feet had been a constant problem. The solution was to build a hydraulic lift that would move the boats from the canal to the river, and vice versa, without the need to load and unload. As you can imagine, the process of moving tons of salt by hand from one boat to another was slow, even though primitive railways had been laid between the two waterways. The original structure is 60ft high, and the lift itself is 85ft in length. That’s a huge lift! Connecting the actual lift construction to the Trent & Mersey is a 165ft aqueduct. The whole thing looks monstrous! It really isn’t pretty, but it certainly does the job for which it was intended. About 30 years after the original opening of the lift, a major overhaul was needed as the water had caused serious corrosion to the lift’s hydraulics. An electric motor was added, along with shafts, gears, weights and pulleys. Everything was hunky dory until 1983 when, once again, serious corrosion was discov
ered. As the canals were no longer used for the shipment of cargo, the lift was closed and everybody thought that would be the end of its life as a working lift. But the canals have since enjoyed a revival as boating has become a more and more popular form of recreation. Our 200 year old canal system is again buzzing with life. The “New Canal Age” has arrived and British Waterways are optimistic with regards to the future of our inland waterways network. The Anderton Boat Lift became one of British Waterways’ major restoration projects, backed by The Cheshire Anderton Boat Lift Development Group, a consortium of two local borough councils, Cheshire County Council, The Inland Waterways Association and the Trent & Mersey Canal Society. As the lift is a scheduled monument (whatever that might be), the permission of English Heritage was required before the restoration work could begin. Permission was granted, but huge amounts of money were needed, seven million pound in all. Thanks to a £3.3 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, part of the National Lottery, the work finally commenced in December 2000. The remaining funds were offered by local businesses, councils and associations along with a public appeal that alone raised £250,000. Parking was a problem during our visit, as the visitor’s car park was full and we had to park on double yellows. It was a bank holiday though, and several others had parked there, so we took the chance. I’d imagine that the abundance of visitors was due to both the bank holiday and the fact that the lift had only recently been re-opened, so the car park is probably more than adequate under normal circumstances. And it’s free. The car park is situated on the Trent & Mersey level. One path leads to the end of the aqueduct, another leads down to the main structure. The latter is a relatively long, steep path but there were motorised buggies shuttling those who
217;d have trouble walking. There’s nothing much to see at the Trent & Mersey end, so we just sat on a bench for half an hour, enjoying the sun. On the lower level there’s a visitor’s centre selling all the usual paraphernalia. If anybody’s interested, Carol bought me a mug. As well as selling bits of tat, the centre shows a film explaining the history of the lift and how the restoration was accomplished. I didn’t actually watch the film (had to look after the dog) but both Carol and my daughter found it fascinating. If you want to actually experience the lift from the air, so to speak, boat trips are available too. It’s a specially designed glass topped boat that seats 58 people. There’s a wheelchair lift and a disabled toilet onboard so it should be suitable for everybody. Prices are as follows: Adult £3.50 Child (under 16) £2.50 *under 5’s go free Concessions (Senior Citizen, Student, Disabled) £3.00 *carers go free Schools £2.00 per child Family ticket (2 adults, 2 children 5-15) £11.00 We’d hoped to take a trip, which lasts just under an hour, but unfortunately we were too late to book for that day. Maybe another time. Simple gardens have been developed around the visitor’s centre and the lift itself, with lawns and pathways. The weather was beautiful during our visit so luckily the grass was dry and we could sit on the lawn to relax. There should’ve been more benches really, but perhaps more will be added in time. Some areas still have a building site feel about them, but presumably these will be improved. The area directly surrounding the lift isn’t particularly pretty. The salt factories dominate the landscape so don’t expect tranquil countryside. The path along the river offers a reasonably pretty walk though. We saw one boat pass though the lift during our visit. It was interesting to watch, no doub
t about that, but took what seemed like forever as the lift moves very slowly. Evidently, the re-opening of the lift has proved to be so popular that the Weaver Navigation Office is unable to take further passage bookings until 1st May. Most bookings for passages before May were filled before the lift even opened! The cost of a single passage for a boat with a beam up to 7 foot is £20. Return passages are £30. Season tickets are available at £100. Sounds like a lot of money to me, but I suppose it’s pretty costly to keep the lift operational. All in all it was a decent afternoon out. It didn’t cost more than a bottle of Fanta to quench our thirsts, a packet of Maltesers and the cost of the petrol. Can’t do better than that, can you? ~~+~~+~~