History of the Bradford Canal

In the wake of plans to construct the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, passed by Parliament in 1770, a bill was approved in 1771 for a canal from Bradford to join the Leeds and Liverpool at Shipley.

The canal had 10 locks, climbing 58 feet. They were arranged as a 3-rise staircase at Crag End, 2-rise staircases at Pricking Mill, Oliver Locks and Spink Well, and a single lock at Windhill, Shipley.

The Bradford Canal opened for commercial traffic in 1774 at a cost of ٤,000. It thrived for nearly a hundred years, being an important route for exporting goods produced in Bradford.

There were always problems with water supply. When the canal was built, it was supposed to draw its water only from Bowling Beck, as Bradford Beck suffered from much pollution. Bowling Beck was unable provide enough water to keep the locks working so the canal company extracted water from Bradford Beck anyway. This meant that the canal itself became highly polluted and was virtually an open sewer.

Eventually, due to the health problems being caused, the council served an order for the canal to stop extracting water from Bradford Beck. The canal had to close the top section (now around Forster Square). The canal became increasingly difficult to run and the company closed it in 1867.

This didn't please the businesses of Bradford which had found the canal useful. A group of local businessmen took over the canal and re-opened it in 1872. They did this by back-pumping water up through the locks. Five pumping stations were built - one at each set of locks. The original terminal basin had by this time been sold off, so the re-opened canal terminated short of the central area and new wharfs had to be built.

Trade built up well, in spite of the competition from the railways. The canal reached its peak usage in 1910 but had never actually made much of a profit since its re-opening, due to the cost of the back-pumping. In the years that followed, the cost of maintaining and operating the pumping engines was more than the income received from tolls. Most of the trade stopped during World War I and the canal was officially closed in 1922.

There are proposals to re-open the canal a second time, in conjunction with extensive regeneration of the area around the city centre. if this happens, it could be the only canal to have been closed twice and re-opened twice!

Virtual Journey along the Bradford Canal
Bradford Canal home page