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Pontcysyllte Basin

Canals that never were: NarrowBoat, Winter 2012

Richard Dean

Richard Dean brings together historical mapping of Pontcysyllte Basin and the Plas Kynaston Branch

Canalmaps Archives

On a summer weekend, the canal at Trevor is alive with activity as hire boats come and go, watched by customers at the Telford Inn overlooking the wharf and browsers in the visitor centre. Through the bridge by the inn is a quieter wooded area, with the canal finishing in a stone-lined double basin as the ground starts to rise towards Acrefair and Ruabon.

The Ordnance Survey plan of 1872 shown here reveals much about the Shropshire Union’s Ellesmere Canal, and its links to the former industries of the area. The navigable feeder from the River Dee at Llantysilio joins the main canal just north of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with the SUC’s double dry dock opposite. Along the south bank of the feeder is a former ironworks, served by a siding from the railway lines on Pontcysyllte Wharf. The main transhipment point from rail to water is at the double basin, with the SUC Railway running down to it from the north on the site of an earlier tramway. Most of this line was sold to the Great Western Railway in 1896, and by the time the photograph of the basin was taken in 1922, traffic appears to have ceased.

The present Telford Inn is an early canal building with the old-established local name of ‘Scotch Hall’, no doubt after Telford and his associates working on the aqueduct, and the plan shows several other canalside cottages, stables and workshops, some of which still survive.

At the north end of the easterly basin arm there is a warehouse with a shipping hole and rail access, described on early plans as ‘Iron Warehouse’. It appears to have been of unusual construction, with several massive stone buttresses. The private Pickering’s or Plas Kynaston Canal branches off alongside, originally running a short distance to a basin with a bank of lime kilns. It was extended in about 1830 across the Tref-y-Nant Brook to serve industries in Cefn Mawr including the Plas Kynaston Foundry (where Hazeldine had earlier cast the ironwork of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct) and the Plas Kynaston Chemical Works. These later grew under Graesser and Monsanto to engulf the whole area, including the site of the canal. At the very end of the branch it is joined by a tramway bringing coal from Plas Kynaston Colliery.

The extracts of earlier plans below show how the basin site developed.

Part of a Shropshire Union Canal map of 1886 showing the location of Pontcysyllte Basin and the SUC feeder railway from Llwyneinion.

Canalmaps Archives

Canalmaps Archives

Canalmaps Archives

Pontcysyllte Basin in 1922 with the railway sidings and a loading chute. Although a poor photograph, it is the only one seen which shows the curious transhipment warehouse prior to its demolition. Today the view is rather different.

This early plan of the completed basin would have been made around 1810, and shows Scotch Hall adjoining the road junction, with the start of the ‘Railway’. This was the canal company’s tramway to Afon Eitha, built to tap the developing industries of the area after the decision had been taken not to complete the canal. There is little record of the construction, but it seems to have been a cast iron plateway on stone block sleepers.

Canalmaps Archives (www.canalmaps.net)

Part of the 1796 parliamentary plan of the Ellesmere Canal showing the authorised route. Having built their magnificent aqueduct across the Dee Valley, the company’s money, water and resolve were all in short supply and the main line of the canal went no further than the foot of the six locks (marked with red ‘X’) intended to bring it up to a summit level at Cefn Mawr.

Canalmaps Archives

By the 1860s the tramway, busy with coal, iron, brick and tile traffic, was attracting interest from railway companies. The London & North Western, as virtual owners of the Shropshire Union canals, sought parliamentary authority to build a line along its route in 1863–4, and although their scheme did not proceed the plans provide a good record of the basin and its existing network of tramways extending as far as the ironworks alongside the Llangollen Arm. Later in the decade the SU realigned and converted it to a standard gauge locomotive line under its existing powers, with a northwards extension to Llwyneinion near Rhosllanerchrugog.

Canalmaps Archives

Canalmaps Archives

Canalmaps Archives

The disused Pontcysyllte Wharf in 1922 with Scotch Hall (later to become the Telford Inn), and the same scene today. The tram rails along the canal bank were installed as part of a recent ‘improvement’ scheme and unfortunately bear no resemblance to any historic infrastructure which would have existed here.