The Canal & Its History

Account from Mrs Ann Hopper

My Great Grandfather, William Bond, (around 1890) was Captain of a vessel – the first one that was too wide to get into the canal. They had to lay-to until they could find somewhere to take the vessel. The crew searching in boats found Barrow. The vessel was birthed, unloaded and the cargo carried back to Ulverston.

Great Grandfather was taken to sea by his uncle, Michael Bond, in 1882, to train him as his father had been lost at sea.

During the Summer Holidays, Grandmother and her siblings went on the vessel.

He was a very cruel man and when he retired he was found drowned in the canal. Where he went in there were lots of footprints and it was suspected that they held him in!!

Who knew the Canal has such a grizzly history?!

It was a local solicitor, William Burnthwaite, who had the idea of building a canal in order to make the town more accessible. The estimated cost was just over £3,000. By the time it completed in 1796 the total cost was over £9,000.

The canal is 1.25 miles long, 15 feet (4.6 m) deep and 66 feet (20 m) wide and its the straightest canal in Britain.  In it's short working lifetime it accommodated thousands of vessels and various industries could be found here, including charcoal burning, hoop-making, gas works and ship building.  The last boat to be built was the Hearts of Oak, over 100 years ago and still in use. 

Hearts of Oak Ship
Rollig Bridge. Now the only one left in Europe

About mid-way along the canal can be found a rolling bridge.  Ignored for many years, it was due to a chance visit by an amateur industrial archaelogist that its real significance was realised.  It is believed to now be the only surviving bridge of its kind in Europe.  It has been granted grade II listed status.  Please click here to see the original working drawings.
We are grateful to Symmetry for their expertise designing an animation to show how the Rolling Bridge worked. They also supplied these drawings of the Rolling Bridge and Lifting Gear.

Workshops and businesses can still be found on and around the canal. At Canal Foot you'll find the Bay Horse Hotel and Restaurant which used to the be staging post for the coches that crossed Morecambe Bay in the 18th century.

Thank you to Jennifer Snell for contributing the following,


In 1808 Ulverston canal was only twelve years old, new buildings were still being constructed, ship yards were in the early stages of development, as were several large mills, maltkilns and factories within the town itself. To operate these new industries the need for coal grew rapidly, so a regular stream of coasting collier ships entered the canal and unloaded their coal cargoes near Canal head. In mid December 1808 this supply line was violently and tragically cut when a severe gale hit the coastline from Liverpool to Stranraer causing dozens of shipwrecks and loss of life.  The Lancaster Gazette (our nearest newspaper at that time) reported on the disaster thus:

"On Friday evening a gale of wind came on from the westward which caused great damage to the coasting vessels of Preston.  The JENNY (Capt. Iddon) laden with coal for Ulverston was driven on Horse Bank and went to pieces, the crew lost.  The ELLEN AND SUSAN (Captain. Rymer) laden with coal for Ulverston was lost on the Meols coast.  The BETTY AND MARY (Captain. Sharples) for Ulverston, stranded about two miles below Lytham.  The ENGINE (Captain. Ashworth) laden with coal for Ulverston, supposed to be totally lost with all her crew.  The AGNES (Captain Muncaster) for Ulverston is supposed to be lost, as her boat was taken up near Blackpool.  The LION (Captain Sumner) with coal for Ulverston was stranded near Blackpool and much damaged, crew saved.
Those small, almost certainly elderly vessels which were to be seen regularly in Ulverston canal plying to and fro carrying coal for the town fared worst, and until replacements were found Ulverston must have endured a 'fuel famine' over the Christmas and NewYear period.


Thank you to Roger Baker, Cumbria Industrial History Society, for the following.  


To read the full account go to A look around ... Ulverston Canal and South Ulverston


Notes on its industrial history by Alan Postlethwaite



McKay's Shipyard, afterwards Brocklebank's Shipyard - timber importers, later in The Ellers
John Rhodes (shipbuilder). Built only one vessel - "Annie McLester" - which stuck while being launched in 1865
Salmon, Barnes & Co, Canal Head Foundry (also A Attwood & Co.). Later John Stones Ltd., Shutter Manufacturers, Dragley Beck Works


MIDDLE BASIN (near the Six Arches Bridge, built 1854)

John & William White's Shipbuilding Yard, previously occupied by Hart & Ashburner. Patent slip. Following closure of White's Yard the area accommodated grandstands for the annual Swimming Gala.
Samuel Pollitt's Paper Mill (formerly Furness Paper Works and Ulverston Paper Works) occupied the ironworks buildings, established c.1870, and employed 300. Railway connection.Serious fire in 1895. Armstrong Siddeley occupied buildings from 1940 to 1944 for aircraft engine servicing, and also had test-bed plant at Bardsea (now Kingfisher etc.). In 1945 premises taken over by firm of C G Wade which later became The Powder Metal Co Ltd producing metal furniture, pencil cases and naval shell casings. Relocated to Aldershot in 1955. Premises later occupied by knitting factory. Site now used by Travis Perkins, G W Waite, Acrastyle, etc.



Furness Railway Bardsea Branch received Parliamentary approval in June 1876 and August 1881, opening 1882. Boring for bridge foundations began February 1878. Gradwell's tender accepted November 1878. Railway formation complete and bridge deck in situ September 1880. Hydraulically powered bridge withdrew into recess on west side of Canal, leaving navigable channel in centre. Bridge protected by wooden fenders. Work completed June 1881. Used for siding to Ironworks, September 1881. Opened for passenger traffic June 1883. Rail traffic to Glaxo ceased in 1994, track lifted in 2000. Bridge now fixed and carries Glaxo emergency water main from Newland Beck, and a public pedestrian walkway. The bridge and nearby accumulator house were both granted listed building status in 2012.
Galloways (of Manchester) Foundry, later the Old Bone Mill, cast components for the Leven Viaduct.