Anderton Boat Lift
The Anderton Boat Lift near the village of Anderton, Cheshire, in north-west England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 provides a 50 feet (15.2 m) vertical link between two navigable waterways: the River Weaver
River Weaver
The River Weaver is a river, navigable in its lower reaches, running in a curving route anti-clockwise across west Cheshire, northern England. Improvements to the river to make it navigable were authorised in 1720 and the work, which included eleven locks, was completed in 1732...

 and the Trent and Mersey Canal
Trent and Mersey Canal
The Trent and Mersey Canal is a in the East Midlands, West Midlands, and North West of England. It is a "narrow canal" for the vast majority of its length, but at the extremities—east of Burton upon Trent and west of Middlewich—it is a wide canal....


Built in 1875, the boat lift
Boat lift
A boat lift, ship lift, or lift lock is a machine for transporting boats between water at two different elevations, and is an alternative to the canal lock and the canal inclined plane....

 was in use for over 100 years until it was closed due to corrosion in 1983. Restoration started in 2001 and the boat lift was re-opened in 2002. The lift and associated visitor centre and exhibition are operated by British Waterways
British Waterways
British Waterways is a statutory corporation wholly owned by the government of the United Kingdom, serving as the navigation authority in England, Scotland and Wales for the vast majority of the canals as well as a number of rivers and docks...

. It is one of only two working boat lifts in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

; the other is the Falkirk Wheel
Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift located in Scotland, UK,connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, opened in 2002. It is named after the nearby town of Falkirk which is in central Scotland...

 in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...


Economic background

Salt has been extracted from the rock salt beds underneath the Cheshire Plain
Cheshire Plain
The Cheshire Plain is a relatively flat expanse of lowland situated almost entirely within the county of Cheshire in northwest England. It is bounded by the hills of North Wales to the west, and the Peak District of Derbyshire and North Staffordshire to the east and southeast...

 since Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 times. By the end of the 17th century a major salt mining industry had developed around the Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

 "salt towns" of Northwich
Northwich is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies in the heart of the Cheshire Plain, at the confluence of the rivers Weaver and Dane...

, Middlewich
Middlewich is a market town in the unitary authority of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It is east of the city of Chester, east of Winsford, southeast of Northwich and northwest of Sandbach....

, Nantwich
Nantwich is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The town gives its name to the parliamentary constituency of Crewe and Nantwich...

 and Winsford
Winsford is a town and civil parish within the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies on the River Weaver south of Northwich and west of Middlewich, and grew around the salt mining industry after the river was canalised in the...


The completion of the River Weaver Navigation in 1734 provided a navigable route for transportation of the salt from Winsford
Winsford is a town and civil parish within the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies on the River Weaver south of Northwich and west of Middlewich, and grew around the salt mining industry after the river was canalised in the...

, through Northwich
Northwich is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. It lies in the heart of the Cheshire Plain, at the confluence of the rivers Weaver and Dane...

, to Frodsham
Frodsham is a market town and civil parish in the unitary authority of Cheshire West and Chester and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. Its population is 8,982. It is approximately south of Runcorn, 16 miles south of Liverpool, and approximately south-west of Manchester...

, where the Weaver joins the Mersey
Mersey may refer to:* River Mersey, in northwest England* Mersea Island, off the coast of Essex in England * Mersey River in the Australian state* Electoral division of Mersey in the state of Tasmania, Australian...

. The opening of the Trent and Mersey Canal in 1777 provided a second transport route, which ran close to the Weaver Navigation for part of its length, but extended further south to the coal mining and pottery industries around Stoke-on-Trent
Stoke-on-Trent , also called The Potteries is a city in Staffordshire, England, which forms a linear conurbation almost 12 miles long, with an area of . Together with the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme Stoke forms The Potteries Urban Area...


Rather than competing with one another, the owners of the two waterways decided that it would be more profitable to work together. In 1793 a basin was excavated on the north bank of the Weaver, at Anderton, which took the river to the foot of the escarpment of the canal, 50 ft (15.2 m) above. Facilities were built for the trans-shipment of goods between the two waterways, including two cranes, two salt chutes and an inclined plane, possibly inspired by the much larger Hay Inclined Plane
Hay Inclined Plane
The Hay Inclined Plane is a canal inclined plane in the Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire, with a height of 207 feet . It was located on a short stretch of the Shropshire Canal that linked the industrial area of Blists Hill with the River Severn. The inclined plane was in operation from 1792 to 1894...

 at Coalport
Coalport is a village in Shropshire, now part of the new town of Telford. It is located on the River Severn at , a mile downstream of Ironbridge...

. These facilities were extended with a second quay built in 1801 and the construction of a second entrance to the basin in 1831.

Planning and design

By 1870 the Anderton Basin was a major interchange for the trans-shipment of goods in both directions, with extensive warehousing, three separate double inclined planes and four salt chutes. However, trans-shipment was time-consuming and expensive, and the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation decided that a link between the two waterways was needed to allow boats to pass directly from one to the other. A flight of canal locks was considered but discarded, mainly because of the lack of a suitable site and the loss of water from the canal that would have resulted from operating locks. In 1870 the Trustees formally proposed a boat lift between the waterways. The Anderton Basin was the obvious site for such a boat lift. The Trustees approached the North Staffordshire Railway Company, then owners of the Trent and Mersey canal, to ask if they would contribute towards the cost of the boat lift. However, this approach was unsuccessful, so the Trustees agreed to fund the boat lift themselves.

The Trustees asked their chief Engineer, Edward Leader Williams
Edward Leader Williams
Sir Edward Leader Williams was an English civil engineer, chiefly remembered as the designer of the Manchester Ship Canal, but also heavily involved in other canal projects in north Cheshire.-Early life:...

, to draw up plans for a boat lift. Leader Williams considered various ideas and finally settled on a design involving a pair of water-filled caissons, which would counter-balance one another, and so require relatively little power to lift boats up and down. A similar boat lift on the Grand Western Canal
Grand Western Canal
The Grand Western Canal ran between Taunton in Somerset and Tiverton in Devon in the United Kingdom. The canal had its origins in various plans, going back to 1796, to link the Bristol Channel and the English Channel by a canal, bypassing Lands End...

, completed in 1835, used chains to connect the caissons via an overhead balance wheel. However, this design required a very solid masonry superstructure to support the weight of the loaded caissons. Leader Williams realised that if he used water-filled hydraulic rams
Hydraulic press
A hydraulic is a machine using a hydraulic cylinder to generate a compressive force. It uses the hydraulic equivalenta mechanical lever, and was also known as a Bramah press after the inventor, Joseph Bramah, of England. He invented and was issued a patent on this press in 1795...

 to support the caissons instead, then the weight of the caissons would be borne by the rams and their cylinders, buried underground, and a much lighter superstructure could be used. He may also have been inspired by inspecting a hydraulic ship lift and graving dock at the Royal Victoria Dock
Royal Victoria Dock
The Royal Victoria Dock is the largest of three docks in the Royal Docks of east London, now part of the redeveloped Docklands.-History:...

 in London, designed by experienced hydraulic engineer Edwin Clark.

Having decided on a hydraulic ram design, Leader Williams appointed Edwin Clark
as principal designer. The Anderton Basin, at that time, consisted of a cut on the north bank of the Weaver surrounding a small central island. It was decided to construct the boat lift itself on this island. The two wrought iron
Wrought iron
thumb|The [[Eiffel tower]] is constructed from [[puddle iron]], a form of wrought ironWrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon...

 caissons were each 75 ft (22.9 m) long by 15 in 6 in (4.72 m) wide by 9 in 6 in (2.9 m) deep, and could each accommodate two 72 ft (21.9 m) narrowboat
A narrowboat or narrow boat is a boat of a distinctive design, made to fit the narrow canals of Great Britain.In the context of British Inland Waterways, "narrow boat" refers to the original working boats built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for carrying goods on the narrow canals...

s or a single barge with a beam of up to 13 feet (4 m). Each caisson had a weight of 90 tons when empty and 252 tons when full of water (because of displacement
Displacement (fluid)
In fluid mechanics, displacement occurs when an object is immersed in a fluid, pushing it out of the way and taking its place. The volume of the fluid displaced can then be measured, as in the illustration, and from this the volume of the immersed object can be deduced .An object that sinks...

, the weight is the same with or without boats). Each caisson was supported by a single hydraulic ram consisting of a hollow 50 ft (15.2 m) long cast iron
Cast iron
Cast iron is derived from pig iron, and while it usually refers to gray iron, it also identifies a large group of ferrous alloys which solidify with a eutectic. The color of a fractured surface can be used to identify an alloy. White cast iron is named after its white surface when fractured, due...

 vertical piston with a diameter of 3 ft (0.9144 m), travelling within a buried 50 ft (15.2 m) long cast iron vertical cylinder with a diameter of 5 in 6 in (1.68 m). At river level the caissons sat in a water-filled sandstone lined chamber. The above ground superstructure consisted of seven hollow cast iron columns which provided guide rails for the caissons and supported an upper working platform, walkways and access staircase. At the upper level the boat lift was connected to the Trent and Mersey canal via a 165 ft (50.3 m) long wrought iron aqueduct
An aqueduct is a water supply or navigable channel constructed to convey water. In modern engineering, the term is used for any system of pipes, ditches, canals, tunnels, and other structures used for this purpose....

, with vertical wrought iron gates at either end.

In normal operation the cylinders of the two hydraulic rams were connected by a 5 in (12.7 cm) diameter pipe, which allowed water to pass between them, thus lowering the heavier caisson and raising the lighter one. To make adjustments at the start and end of a lift either cylinder could be operated independently, powered by an accumulator or pressure vessel at the top of the lift structure, which was in turn kept primed by a 10 hp steam engine. If necessary, the steam engine and accumulator could operate either hydraulic ram on its own, thus raising the caissons independently, although this would take about 30 minutes to raise a caisson from river level to canal level, as opposed to 3 minutes in normal operation.


In October 1871, the Trustees of the Weaver Navigation held a Special General Meeting, which resolved
to consider the desirability of constructing a lift with basins and all other requisite works for the interchange of traffic between the River Weaver and the North Staffordshire Canal at Anderton and of applying to Parliament for an Act to authorise the construction of such works ....

In July 1872, Royal Assent was granted for the Weaver Navigation 1872 Act which authorised the construction of the boat lift. The contract for construction of the lift was awarded to Emmerson Murgatroyd & Co. Ltd. of Stockport
Stockport is a town in Greater Manchester, England. It lies on elevated ground southeast of Manchester city centre, at the point where the rivers Goyt and Tame join and create the River Mersey. Stockport is the largest settlement in the metropolitan borough of the same name...

 and Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

. Work started before the end of 1872, and took 30 months. The Anderton Boat Lift was formally opened to traffic on 26 July 1875. The total cost of the work was £48,428 (£ at today's prices).

Problems of hydraulic operation

For its first five years of its life the boat lift operated successfully, with the longest closures being during spells of cold weather when the canal froze over. However, in 1882 one of the cast iron hydraulic cylinders burst while the caisson that it supported was at canal level with a boat in it. The caisson descended rapidly, but fortunately the water escaping from the burst cylinder slowed the rate of descent, and the water-filled dock at the river level softened the impact. No-one was hurt and the superstructure of the lift was not damaged. During subsequent testing, the second cylinder failed too, and the boat lift was closed for six months while sections of both cylinders were replaced and the connecting pipework, which was thought to have contributed to the cylinders' failure, was redesigned.

Volumes of traffic through the lift grew steadily through the 1880s and 1890s, but the hydraulic cylinders continued to give problems. The gland of one cylinder (where the piston travelled through the cylinder wall) had to be temporarily repaired in 1887 and replaced in 1891, and the gland of the other cylinder was replaced in 1894. However, the main cause for concern was corrosion of the pistons. The use of canal water as a working fluid in the hydraulic system, and the immersion of the pistons in the wet dock at river level led to corrosion and "grooving" of the pistons. Attempts to repair these grooves with copper made matters worse, as this reacted electrolytically with the acidic canal water and hastened the corrosion of the surrounding iron. In 1897 the lift was converted to use distilled water as its working fluid. This slowed down the corrosion, but did not stop it completely. Over the next few years maintenance and repairs took place with increasing frequency, each occasion requiring either the complete closure of the lift for several weeks or a period of reduced and slower operation with a single caisson.

Conversion to electrical operation

By 1904 the Trustees faced the imminent prospect of a having to close the boat lift for a very considerable period in order to replace the hydraulic rams. They asked their chief Engineer at the time, Colonel J.A. Saner, to investigate alternative solutions. Saner proposed an innovative solution in which the hydraulic rams would be replaced by electric motors and a system of counterweights and overhead pulleys, allowing the two caissons to operate independently of each other. Although this system involved many more moving parts than the hydraulic system, these would all be above ground and easily accessible, so it offered easier and cheaper maintenance and a longer working life.

As the entire weight of the caissons and counterweights would now be borne by the superstructure of the lift, this would have to be greatly strengthened, and put on much stronger foundations. However, by building a separate stronger superstructure around the original lift frame, Saner promised to achieve the conversion with only three short periods of closure to traffic.

The new superstructure consisted of ten steel A-frames, five on each side of the lift, which supported a machinery deck 60 ft (18 m) above the river level. The electric motors, drive shafts and cast-iron headgear pulleys were mounted on the machinery deck. Wire ropes attached to each side of each caisson passed over the pulleys to 36 cast iron counterweights, 18 on each side. Each counterweight weighed 14 tons, so that 18 counterweights would exactly balance the 252 ton weight of a loaded caisson. The electric motor was required to overcome friction between the pulleys and their bearings. A 30 hp motor was installed, but normal operation only required about half of this power.

In addition to new foundations and superstructure, the conversion also involved converting the wet dock at river level into a dry dock and strengthening the aqueduct between the lift and the canal. The original caissons were retained, but modified to take the wire ropes that now supported them on each side.

The conversion work was carried out between 1906 and 1908. As Saner had promised, the lift was only closed for three periods during these two years, for a total of 49 days. The converted lift was formally opened on 29 July 1908 (although one caisson had in fact been carrying traffic on electrical power since May 1908 while the second caisson was being converted).

Operation after conversion

After conversion to electrical operation the boat lift was successfully operated for 75 years. Regular maintenance was still necessary. In particular, the wire ropes supporting the caissons suffered from fatigue as a result of repeated bending and straightening as they ran over the overhead pulleys, and had to be replaced quite frequently. However, the maintenance was simpler than before because the mechanism of the electrical lift was all above ground. It was also less expensive because the caissons were now designed to be run independently, so most maintenance operations could be carried out while one caisson remained operational, thus avoiding the need to close the lift entirely for any extended period.

Another regular maintenance job was repainting. The new superstructure of the converted lift was found to be susceptible to corrosion. To reduce this corrosion the entire lift was painted with a protective solution of tar and rubber, which had to be renewed every eight years or so.

During 1941 and 1942 the hydraulic rams of the original lift, which had been left in place in their shaft beneath the dry dock constructed during conversion, were finally removed in order to salvage the iron.

During the 1950s and 1960s the commercial traffic on British canals declined. By the 1970s the Anderton Boat Lift traffic was almost entirely recreational, and it was almost unused during winter months.

During repainting work in 1983 extensive corrosion was found in the lift's superstructure, and it was declared structurally unsound and closed.


During the 1990s British Waterways
British Waterways
British Waterways is a statutory corporation wholly owned by the government of the United Kingdom, serving as the navigation authority in England, Scotland and Wales for the vast majority of the canals as well as a number of rivers and docks...

 carried out preliminary investigations before launching a restoration bid. At first it was intended to restore the lift to electrical operation but in 1997, after consultation with English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

, it was decided to restore the lift to hydraulic operation using hydraulic oil.

A partnership was forged between the Waterways Trust, the Inland Waterways Association
Inland Waterways Association
The Inland Waterways Association was formed in 1946 as a registered charity in the United Kingdom to campaign for the conservation, use, maintenance, restoration and sensitive development of British Canals and river navigations....

, the Anderton Boat Lift Trust, the Friends of Anderton Boat Lift, the Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs
Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs
The Association of Waterways Cruising clubs is a waterway society and umbrella organisation in England, UK. It was founded in the early 1960s by the St Pancras, Dunstable, Uxbridge and Lee and Stort boat clubs as an inter-club scheme for an emergency service for boaters, and for safe overnight...

, British Waterways and the Trent and Mersey Canal Society, to raise the required £7 million. Heritage Lottery Fund
Heritage Lottery Fund
The Heritage Lottery Fund is a fund established in the United Kingdom under the National Lottery etc. Act 1993. The Fund opened for applications in 1994. It uses money raised through the National Lottery to transform and sustain the UK’s heritage...

ing agreed to contribute £3.3 million, and over 2000 private individuals also contributed to the scheme, raising between them a further £430,000.
Restoration commenced in 2000 and the lift was re-opened to boat traffic in March 2002.

Although a modified version of the original hydraulic system was reinstated, the 1906-1908 external frame and pulleys have been retained in a non-operational role.

See also

  • List of Scheduled Monuments in Cheshire (post-1539)
  • Strépy-Thieu boat lift
    Strépy-Thieu boat lift
    The Strépy-Thieu boat lift lies on a branch of the Canal du Centre in the municipality of Le Rœulx, Hainaut, Belgium. With a height difference of between the upstream and downstream reaches, it is the tallest boat lift in the world, and will remain so until the Three Gorges dam boat lift in...

     – World's tallest boat lift, in Le Rœulx, province of Hainaut, Belgium
    Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

  • Falkirk Wheel
    Falkirk Wheel
    The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift located in Scotland, UK,connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal, opened in 2002. It is named after the nearby town of Falkirk which is in central Scotland...

  • Peterborough lift lock
    Peterborough Lift Lock
    The Peterborough Lift Lock is a boat lift located on the Trent Canal in the city of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, and is Lock 21 on the Trent-Severn Waterway....

     – World's highest hydraulic boat lift, in Peterborough, Ontario
    Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

    , Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

  • Foxton Inclined Plane - former inclined plane on the Grand Union Canal
  • Canals of the United Kingdom
    Canals of the United Kingdom
    The canals of the United Kingdom are a major part of the network of inland waterways in the United Kingdom. They have a colourful history, from use for irrigation and transport, through becoming the focus of the Industrial Revolution, to today's role for recreational boating...

  • Canals in Cheshire
    Canals in Cheshire
    A large number of canals were built in Cheshire, England during the early phases of the Industrial Revolution to transport goods and raw materials. This resulted in a significant canal network which is now enjoyed by holiday-makers, anglers, walkers, and others.-Bridgewater Canal:The Bridgewater...

External links

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