In the middle of the 1700's, Yorkshire had a well established woollen manufacturing industry. By the 1760's there was a need to improve the supply of lime and limestone from the Craven district and to expand their market to the growing colonies in Africa and America. The route they chose was up the Aire valley to Gargrave, then through Padiham, Whalley and Leyland to Liverpool. However Liverpool merchants were more interested in acquiring a good supply of coal for the town from Wigan. They suggested a different route, through Wigan, Chorley, Blackburn and Burnley, joining the Yorkshiremen's line at Foulridge. They eventually agreed to a compromise but by 1777, when the canal was open from Liverpool to Wigan and from Leeds to Gargrave, the promoting company ran out of money. Construction ceased until 1790 when the economy improved and more finance was available. By then East Lancashire was rapidly developing as an industrial area and the canal proprietors realised that there was a greater opportunity for trade around Blackburn and Burnley. The proposed line of canal was altered and when it opened throughout, in 1816, it had been constructed along the route first suggested by the Liverpool merchants.
This is the route today ...
Leeds - the start of the canal in the east. Here the locks to the River Aire are at the redeveloped Granary Wharf. From Leeds the route to Liverpool climbs to a height of 488 feet above sea level and extends for 127 miles - through open countryside and industrial heritage - providing a coast to coast connection between Lancashire and Yorkshire
After a series of locks the canal enters the Armley Pool, at a height of around 122 feet. This runs for 2 miles or so before the next climb starting at Kirkstall Lock. Apperley Bridge Pool follows (178 feet) and runs for around 4 miles before another series of locks lead up to the Shipley Pool at 226 feet. In this section was the former Bradford Canal branch.
Past Saltaire there are two locks up to the short Bingley section before the total of 8 rises to the Skipton Pool and a clear run of about 17 miles. At Skipton the short Springs Branch goes towards the castle. The cut is now at a height of 345 feet above sea-level and some 98 miles from Liverpool.
A series of locks over 2 to 3 miles take the canal through Gargrave and up to the Marton Pool (458 feet). This runs for around 5 miles before the 3 rises to the Summit Pool. This runs for about 6 miles and includes the 1,600 yard Foulridge Tunnel.
About 47 miles from the Leeds the descent to the sea starts with the Barrowford Locks, followed by the 24 miles of the Burnley Pool (418 feet) - passing through Nelson, across the Burnley Embankment, through Gannow Tunnel and on to Hapton, then Church before reaching Blackburn Locks.
The next section, Riley Green Pool (364 feet), runs for over 7 miles before the descent through Johnson's Hill Locks at Wheelton to the junction with the Walton Summit Branch and the 10 mile run past Chorley to Heath Charnock and on to Aspull.
The descent to Wigan involves a drop of over 200 feet and near the end meets the Leigh Branch with its link to the Bridgewater Canal. Over the next 5 or 6 miles there are a number of locks before reaching Appley and the start of the Liverpool Pool (54 feet above sea level and around 29 miles in length). This section passes through the canal town of Burscough; at the junction with the Rufford Branch. This is a 7 mile canal running to Tarleton Lock and its link to the River Douglas.
The final 24 miles run through Pinfold, Halsall, Haskayne, Lydiate, Maghull, Melling, Aintree and Bootle before reaching the Stanley Dock Branch and the western terminus in Liverpool.
For 178 years the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was a private company, leading an independent existence. But in 1948, together with the majority of the country's canals and railways, it was nationalised and by 1963 it was under the control of British Waterways. In 2012 all of British Waterways responsibilities for England and Wales' waterways were transferred to the Canal & River Trust.