Passing Through Worsley

Canal Postcards: NarrowBoat, Spring 2023

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones looks at postcard images of coal carrying on the Bridgewater Canal


All four images here show Worsley Bridge on the Bridgewater Canal, with coal being taken towards Manchester, Runcorn and elsewhere. This coal was mined locally and transported along the Leigh Arm of the Leeds & Liverpool from Wigan to Leigh, then onto the Bridgewater and under Worsley Bridge, which carried Barton Road over the cut.

Although the two artificially coloured postcards show the water as blue, in actuality it was a reddish ochre, having been stained by local iron ore deposits.

This view shows transom stern barge Alfred of Runcorn about to shoot Worsley Bridge, although the presence of the photographer is distracting the steerer. This craft was owned by Samuel Taylor, Frith & Co Ltd of Runcorn, and was of some age when this image was taken. The business was a partnership formed in 1904 between Samuel Taylor, an old established lime and coal merchant, and John Robert Frith, the manager of Runcorn Gas Co. John and Samuel were also next-door neighbours in Halton Road, Runcorn.

Samuel owned a sizeable fleet of narrowboats and several wide-beam craft to serve his Runcorn-based business, and also his lime works at Dove Holes, near Buxton, which was connected to the Peak Forest Canal at Bugsworth via a tramway. In comparison, John Robert Frith owned a mere three boats: a pair of narrowboats and a barge.

A large number of these craft, mainly narrowboats but with a small number of wide-beam boats, were disposed of with the formation of the new business. The remaining fleet comprised about a dozen craft, including the wide-beam Alfred of Runcorn. This was an old boat previously owned by coal and salt merchant William Bate of Runcorn, and was subsequently reregistered to Samuel Taylor in October 1880. It had a new forecabin built in September 1894.

Of particular note are the two unusually shaped wooden fenders hanging down either side of the rudder like giant teardrops with large spots painted on them. Wooden fenders seen on other Leeds & Liverpool craft were often used as a surface for extra decoration.

Over time, Samuel Taylor, Frith & Co Ltd became mainly coal factors. However, Alfred of Runcorn, along with most of the company's fleet, was put out of commission in the early 1920s. By February 1947 the company had only one boat in operation: Margaret carried slack to Runcorn gasworks, which was organised by carrier Jonathan Horsefield Ltd of Runcorn.


A transom stern short-boat passes through Worsley; this time it is Pluto, owned by the Wigan Coal Corporation Ltd. Pluto was built in January 1911 for the Wigan Coal & Iron Co Ltd of Kirkless Hall, Wigan. The craft was registered at the town for the company in February. As its name suggests, the company was involved in coal and ironstone mining, lime burning, brickmaking and iron and steel production in Lancashire.

In 1930, following an amalgamation of the Pearson & Knowles Coal & Iron Co Ltd of Wigan group of companies with the Wigan Coal & Iron Co Ltd, the coalmining section of the business was controlled by a new company called the Wigan Coal Corporation Ltd. The business controlled 24 collieries, while the iron and steel section was put under another new concern called the Lancashire Steel Corporation Ltd of Warrington.

In September 1930, Pluto was reregistered for the newly revamped coal company with William Davies as its captain. The main route was recorded as between Wigan and Blackburn transporting coal but this image, along with several inspections of the craft at Leigh, shows Pluto was working along the Bridgewater Canal as well.

By January 1933, William Davies was replaced by Richard Tootle who stayed with the boat for the rest of the 1930s, followed by John Tickey in the 1940s. Pluto was eventually broken up in March 1946 after 35 years of service.


Although wide-beam craft dominated the region’s canals and rivers, narrowboats also played a big part in canal transport, as can be seen here with three heavily laden coal-boats being towed in a train. All are heavily built six-plank Bridgewater boats typical of the area, the nearest being Willie.

Coal and roadstone were the sort of cargoes they transported and several carriers owned large fleets of these boats, such as Jonathan Horsefield, coal merchant of Runcorn, and Simpson, Davies & Sons, coal and salt merchants, also of Runcorn. A number of other smaller carriers used these deep boats, e.g. salt merchant Thomas Hassall of Manchester.

It might be the case that these are day-boats en route to Manchester and, therefore, they did not need to be registered under the Canal Boats Acts.


The Duke of Bridgewater’s collieries were the reason why the Bridgewater Canal was built: to transport his coal to Manchester, then Runcorn, Liverpool and elsewhere. The ‘Canal Duke’ Francis Egerton, the 6th Earl and 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, died in 1803 aged 67 and, thereafter, as instructed in his complicated will, a trust was created with a superintendent to run the canal and collieries, trading as the Bridgewater Trustees. On 31st August 1872 the canal navigation aspect of the trust was transferred to the newly created Bridgewater Navigation Co Ltd, while the collieries part of the trust continued for 100 years to 1903, at which point the dukedom had expired and the pits came under the possession of the Earl of Ellesmere.

In 1903 the Earl of Ellesmere’s mines started trading as Bridgewater Collieries, coal, coke and canal proprietors, and the ownership of its boats was also transferred to the earl. He continued working these pits until they were bought by a new business named Bridgewater Collieries Ltd, established in 1923.