Wednesday 16 March 2022


by Dave Roberts

We've taken the unusual step of splitting our coverage of the Middlewich canal breach into two parts (so far), simply because of the incredible amount of information available, both from official sources and from local people. Part One was in danger of becoming unwieldy because of its prodigious length. Thanks once again to everyone for their contributions.

In part two we'll be taking a look at the measures taken by the Canal & River Trust to secure the canal and towpath and to begin the process of restoration. Considering that it is still only a week since the breach occurred, the progress made is impressive.

To coin a phrase the Canal & River Trust seems to believe in 'action not words' and the organisation's reaction to the incident in Middlewich greatly impressed local people, so used to endless talking, consultations, surveys and opinion polls about anything and everything, followed by a lack of any constructive action.

 A week after the breach measures were in place aimed at sealing the lower section of the canal so that it could be filled with water, enabling the boats trapped in the de-watered canal to escape via Wardle Lock and the Trent & Mersey if they so desired.
Darren Roberts' photo shows the beginning of the construction of the dam - destined to become a familiar sight in the months to come - by CaRT engineers on the 22nd March. The breach in the canal can be glimpsed in the distance (underneath the label on the fencing panel, right centre).

Many people were intrigued by the sight of the dam, which seems to be a very lightweight, temporary looking structure, rather than the steel piles driven into the bed of the canal we might have expected.
It appears that the dam is purely a temporary measure designed to allow the canal to be filled with water and to allow boats to escape. So will a more substantial dam be built to replace it? Will there be a need for a dam once the boats are all out of the way?
The issue is by no means as simple as you might think. The draining of the bottom end of the canal revealed a lot of sub-standard brickwork, particularly around the bases of bridges (although the CaRT were, no doubt, already aware of the problems) and this is seen as an opportunity for repairs to be carried out. On the other hand, it's necessary to keep some water in the canal to prevent the bed cracking, particularly if there is a dry spell. So the pumps (see below) will stay on site to keep sufficient water in the section to prevent drying out, but the canal will be drained at some point to allow repairs to the brickwork. So it may well be that this temporary dam will suffice. Some in the canal world are of the opinion that when work starts to repair the breach the canal will be drained, as it would be unthinkable to have such a large body of water contained just above a working site.
On the other hand, Phillip Hancock says on Facebook: 'Those fabric dams are used quite regularly to hold the water back above work sites. There was a stoppage at Napton Lock 14 this winter and one was used there as the stop plank grooves were shot'
Stop planks are lengths of timber laid horizontally across the canal to 'stop' a short section of canal and allow maintenance to take place. They're usually stored in those little shelters with black corrugated roofs found at locks and other strategic points along the canal.

On  Thursday 22nd March powerful pumps from local firm Pump Supplies of Winsford were on site at Wardle lock ready to begin the task of filling the section between the  lock and the temporary dam so that the trapped boats could be refloated and those that wanted to could leave the canal via the Trent & Mersey. Wardle Lock Cottage can be seen on the left and  to its right can be seen the shelter where stop planks are stored.

Estimates for the time taken to fill the section varied from 10 hours to two to three days. Because of the close proximity of housing it was not possible to run the pumps at night.  In fact by three o'clock on Friday afternoon there was a respectable amount of water in the section, as observed from Flea lane Bridge.

First One Afloat:  23rd March 2018. The bottom section of the Middlewich Branch comes back to (temporary) life.

As Mike Jennings says, what a difference a week makes. The sight of the emptied canal on the morning of Friday 16th March brings the people of Middlewich out in force to take a look at the breach in the canal (a few yards behind the camera) and the stricken boats in the section. The bridge in the background is bridge no 28, which takes Flea Lane from Manor Lane on the left through to Eaton Drive and Hayhurst Avenue to the right.

On Friday afternoon a week later it's almost possible to believe that nothing ever happened and that nothing has changed. In fact appearances are deceptive. Only that temporary dam, again behind the camera, is preserving the illusion of normality.

The Canal & River Trust tweeted:

'We just wanted to say 'Thank you'. We are totally blown away with the support that the people of Middlewich have given us and the boaters affected by the breach'.

On Friday the 23rd march, the following information was released by Middlewich Town Council:

Middlewich Town Council is working closely with the Canal and River Trust to ensure that the Trust’s expertise and the Council’s local knowledge and contacts combine to find solutions and a way forward following the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union.
Already in our minds are the preparations for the Middlewich FAB Festival 15th to 17th June 2018. We want to make it clear that the issues on the canal will not put this year’s event in jeopardy.

The Show will go on!

Obviously, access to Middlewich will be an issue for some of our boating visitors, but we hope to have some helpful information to issue to boaters and indeed all stakeholders early next week.

Thank you to everyone for your perseverance and patience. Thank you to the residents who have offered to help in so many ways and special thanks to the Canal and River Trust team for their positive and professional response to this major incident.
Jonathan Williams
Town Clerk

Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council
Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council
Courtesy of Middlewich Town Council


Bob Shoosmith
Charlotte Pinney
Jonathan Stringer
Mike Jennings,
Darren Roberts
David Groves
Canal & River Trust

Text © Salt Town Productions 2018

See also:

Stanthorne Lock to Wardle Lock
UPDATE 19th March 2018


You can help the Canal & River Trust in its repair work on the  Middlewich Branch  by contributing to this appeal. The appeal was set up by the Trust following requests from several Middlewich residents.

FIRST PUBLISHED 23rd March 2018
RE-PUBLISHED 16th March 2022


  1. Hi dave, very good post as always. Flea lane? Never in my 24 years of living here have I heard it mentioned. I presume that's the official name which co-locally is known as dog s#it ally (excuse me don't shoot the messenger). What's the history behind it? I've never seen it mentioned and I walk across and through onto the canal and onto town most days. Keep up the good work.


    1. It's a strange one. 'Flea Lane Bridge' appears in canal gazetteers and maps, but Flea Lane doesn't appear on local street maps. I've always thought that a lane which passes over Flea lane Bridge must be Flea Lane, but I think the name has passed into history because of its slightly embarrassing origins ('Flea' usually indicating poverty). As you imply, though, 'Dog Shit Alley' is not much of an improvement. There's another example in the town where 'Tannery Alley'has become the slightly pretentious sounding 'Southway'. The latest example, of course is the Bellway Roundabout on Warmingham Lane where attempts by the building company to immortalise their name for posterity have come to nought. That roundabout will forevermore be known as the 'Bellend Roundabout'.


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