The Lancaster Canal Comes Back To Life At Kendal Museum

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 28 August 2007
an old black and white photograph showing a canal in a basin

The Kendal Basin. © Lancaster Canal Trust

A new exhibition organised by the Lancaster Canal Trust at Kendal Museum celebrates the past, the present and the possible future of the Lancaster Canal.

Kendal’s Waterway – Bringing a waterway back to life, looks at the history of a once great canal system that linked Lancaster and Kendal and the ambitious £60 million plan to restore it and bring waterways back to the heart of Kendal.

Currently without water, with large parts of it filled in, the northern route of the canal towards Kendal is currently a popular cycleway, going through the town, and the Lancaster Canal Trust is at the forefront of the battle to re-open it.

an old colour print showing a canal barge approaching a tunnel

The Packet Boat prepares to negotiate the Hincaster Tunnel. © Lancaster Canal Trust

Through a series of photographs, interpretation panels and canal related artefacts the exhibition gives visitors an appreciation of the conception, construction and development of the canal and canal head basin from its opening in 1819 until closure around the end of World War Two.

Many of the photographs contrast historical scenes with the canal in its present state – the latter being commissioned by the Lancaster Canal Trust.

The Canal was officially opened on November 22 1797 although a series of financial difficulties meant that it wasn’t opened in its entirety until the last branch of it, a section running to Glasson Dock, was opened in 1826.

an old black and white photograph showing a family on a barge

In its heyday the waterway carried up to 420,000 tonnes (460,000 tons) of freight a year between Preston, Lancaster and Kendal. © Lancaster Canal Trust

In its heyday the waterway carried up to 420,000 tonnes (460,000 tons) of freight a year between Preston, Lancaster and Kendal. The main cargo was coal from Preston and limestone from Galgate – an exchange that led to the route being dubbed the Black and White Canal.

As well as the lifeblood of trade the canal also ran packet boats for passengers between Kendal and Preston.

The opening of the railway to Kendal 1847 led to a decline in canal traffic and in 1856 the warehouses in the Kendal canal basin became an engineering works. The northern reaches of the canal towards Kendal were eventually filled in in 1947.

an old black and white photograph showing several men with caps standing next to a barge

Waterways staff. © Lancaster Canal Trust

A final deathblow to the canal was dealt in the 1960s when the M6 motorway was constructed, severing the canal’s route in several places.

However, partly due to the increased interest in canals and narrow boats in the UK, ambitious plans are now gathering apace to re-open at least the northern reaches and restore the waterways to Kendal.

“Historically the canal was a lifeline for Kendal, and much of the town’s wealth was based on trade along the waterway,” said exhibition organiser Claire Chapman. “Many people in the town can trace their family trees back to canal folk, so it’s a great opportunity to come and learn more about what’s going on.”

For more information about Lancaster Canal Trust see

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