The Rochdale canal runs for 32 miles, has 91 locks and over 100 bridges. It navigates over the beautiful Pennines from Manchester via The Summit (over 600 ft) to Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire.
The Rochdale Canal was conceived in 1776 when a group of 48 eminent men from Rochdale raised £237 and commissioned James Brindley to conduct a survey of possible routes between Sowerby Bridge and Manchester. Further progress was not made until 1791 when John Rennie was asked to make a new survey in June and two months later to make surveys for branches to Rochdale, Oldham and to some lime works near Todmorden. The first attempt to obtain an Act of Parliament was made in 1792 but was opposed by millers who were concerned about water supply and it was not until 4th April 1794 that an act was obtained which created the Rochdale Canal Company and authorised the construction of the canal.
The canal was opened up in stages, as it was completed, with the Rochdale Branch being the first in 1798, further sections in 1799 and the bottom nine locks opening in 1800 so that boats from the Ashton canal could reach Manchester. Officially, the canal opened in 1804 but construction work continued for another three years.
The “Rochdale” is a broad canal. Its bridges and locks are wide enough to allow vessels of 14ft width. Because of its width, it was more successful than the Huddersfield Narrow canal and became the main highway of commerce between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Cotton, wool, coal, limestone, timber, salt and general merchandise were transported. In 1890 the canal company had 2000 barges and traffic reached 700,000 tons/year, the equivalent of 50 barges a day but this traffic soon faced competition from the railway (1841). By cutting tolls, the canal managed to maintain business and for a time remained profitable but by the start of the 20th century it was in trouble. In 1923 the canals reservoirs were sold. The canal was closed in 1952 when an act of parliament was obtained to ban public navigation.
With the growth in leisure boating, a campaign was mounted for its re-opening. The Rochdale Canal Society was formed and worked hard both to protect the line of the canal and to begin the process of refurbishing it, concentrating on the section from Todmorden to Sowerby Bridge, re-opening in 1983 but this section was still isolated from the canal network.
The next success was a link with the Calder and Hebble canal at Sowerby Bridge which joined the restored section to the national network in 1996 and involves one of the deepest locks on the British canal system (Tuel Lane lock at nearly 20ft). In 2000 the canal, which had never been nationalised passed from the control of the Rochdale Canal Company to British Waterways and a £23.8 million investment package was announced. As restoration proceeded, boats could travel further and further west.
On 1st July 2002 the entire canal was re-opened linking both ends to the national network.