Grid Ref: SJ 535 967 (Visitor Centre) & SJ 571 939 (Bradlegh Old Hall)
Date: 29 January 2010

Bridge   Havannah Flash
Bridge over a section of the old canal   Havannah Flash
George Stephenson's Bridge   Detail of arches
George Stephenson's Bridge of 1829   Detail of the arches


The Sankey Valley holds a unique place in British industrial history. In 1732, the River Weaver in Cheshire had been made navigable by making it wider and deeper. This was used by barges taking salt from Cheshire to Liverpool. To the north of the river Mersey lay the rich coal fields around St. Helens. Transport by road was slow and expensive and often impossible in winter on the rough tracks. Henry Berry surveyed the Sankey Brook and Blackbrook to see if they could be made into a waterway from St. Helens to the Mersey. Parliament had just refused an Act to create a new canal and so when the Bill was presented it called the new water course the Sankey Navigation, but included clauses to allow cuts, canals, trenches or passages to be dug where necessary. The Act was passed and work commenced in 1755. In 1757 the new water course was opened. Most of its ten mile length involved newly cut canal, making it the first canal of the industrial age. It was a great success in transporting coal to Liverpool and subsequently trade in the other direction brough copper ore from Anglesey to smelting works at Blackbrook.

The first scheduled passenger railway service started in 1830 between Manchester and Liverpool. George Stephenson was the surveyor and subsequently built the track. This required crossing the Sankey Valley with a viaduct of nine arches. In 1848 the railway and canal companies merged and in 1864 the company was taken over by the London and North West Railway Companyl. Subsequently the canal became neglected and the Ravenhead branch closed in 1898. By the 1930s the canal beyond Newton Common was no longer in use. Sankey Sugar Works continued to use part of the canal until the 1960 and it then fell into total disuse. Part of the canal were filled in using of material from slum clearance in St. Helens. The lock gates were destroyed and the whole area became a landfill site for disposal domestic refuse. The need for more tipping space led to the destruction of woodlands in the valley. As a result of reports in the mid 1970s, plans were made to reclaim the land and turn it into a linear park. It includes the remaining sections of canal, the brook and replanted tip and spoil heaps. Work began in 1977. Not shown in my pictures is the northern end of the park, which includes Carr Mill Dam, a large body of water frequented by wildfowl. There is a visitor centre where the track crossed the A58.

This area, with its important role in industrial history, has been badly abused by both industry and local government in the past but is now making a recovery and is a haven for wild life.


A short walk from the Sankey Valley Park by public footpath is Old Bradlegh Hall, a moated site, once the propery of the Legh family of Lyme Park. My picture does not do justice to it as it was taken into the setting sun. It has the appearance now of a Victorian farm but below the brick can be seen a course of sandstone. The Legh's of Lyme are covered on my Cheshire pages. However it is appropriate to mention here that Sir Peter Legh who fought at Agincourt in 1415 married Joan, the daughter of Sir Gilbert Haydock by whom he obtained large estates in the Haydock area. Sir Peter's mother was Margaret Danyers, granddaughter of Sir Thomas Danyers of Grappenhall, just south of Warrington. She and her husband, also a Peter Legh, were granted Lyme Hanley near the the modern Disley in 1398 in recognition of her grandfather's deeds at the Battle of Crécy on 25 August 1346. She was sole direct heiress of Sir Thomas Danyers but there were other male relatives to whom the Danyers land descended. It is likely that there was no substantial building on the Lyme site at the time as it was a hunting forest but it is known to have had a hunting lodge in 1465. In the early 1400s in addition to Lyme Hanley the family had land left to Margaret Danyers by her mother, and the Haydock estates, centred on Old Bradlegh Hall between St. Helen s and Warrington. From Old Bradlegh Hall one can see the steeple of Winwick Church (shown on my Legh's of Lyme page) where generations of the Legh's were buried up to the early 19th century.


Bradlegh Old Hall spacer gateway
Bradlegh Old Hall   Remains of the gatehouse
moat   rear of house
Part of the moat at the back of the property   Rear view of the hall



Pamphlet available at the visitor centre entitled Sankey Valley Park, from Industry to Parkland.


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