Monday 26 March 2018


The Middlewich Branch Canal in 2016, photographed by Jim Moores

by Dave Roberts

The breach in the Shropshire Union Canal's Middlewich branch in the early morning of Friday March 16th has concentrated the minds of local people like nothing else in the town's recent history.

The cataclysmic event occurred without warning - although several people claimed to have seen it coming when they walked up the towpath shortly before it happened.

Some said that the stretch of towpath over the Wheelock aqueduct 'seemed more waterlogged than usual' and others said that activities by the local badger population had riddled the canal bank with holes, making its collapse sooner or later inevitable.

When the first reports started to appear on Facebook as the town was waking up, someone suggested that the aqueduct, rumoured by some to have 'collapsed' - and that really would have been a disaster - may have 'been hit by a truck'. Hardly likely, of course. As someone pointed out, that particular truck would have to be very lost indeed.

But the comment does highlight a recurring anxiety among Middlewich people, particularly those living in Nantwich Road and the surrounding area, about the Nantwich Road aqueduct, just a few yards away from the aqueduct where the breach appeared.

As we've pointed out before, the River Wheelock aqueduct and the one in Nantwich Road are almost twins - though the Wheelock structure is slightly the bigger of the two - but for obvious reasons the Nantwich Road aqueduct is much better known.

The recent spate of bridge strikes by truck drivers, many of them apparently following cheap and unsuitable satnavs which show the road passing above the canal rather than underneath it, has caused consternation among many people who fear that one day the structure might be struck so hard  that the resulting damage might cause a breach in the canal.

Hardly likely, of course. The photo below shows just what a huge and solid structure the aqueduct is. It would take a very determined effort indeed from a very large and very heavy truck to cause such a catastrophe.

But that doesn't make hitting the bridge OK. Recently an Eddie Stobart driver who had found out too late that a quart won't fit into a pint pot was issued with a traffic violation notice - the first time, to our knowledge, that this has happened. 

The Nantwich Road aqueduct is, ironically, less architecturally ornate than its near-twin a few yards away. Its massive construction shows that it would take a very large truck indeed to make much of an impression on it.

The sweeping curves of the River Wheelock aqueduct, hidden from view among the fields on either side of the river. The recent breach caused massive damage to the canal and its banks, seen at the top of the photo, but the aqueduct itself suffered only superficial damage.  Photograph by Andy Boardman

It's fortunate indeed that the bank collapse happened where it did.

If it had happened over the Nantwich Road aqueduct the effect on any early morning traffic might have meant not just a disaster, but a real tragedy.

Fortunately, it didn't happen that way.

Facebook feedback:

Ian Murfitt It never ceases to amaze, the enormous effort that was put into building canal structures that would be largely out of public view for most of their existence. This aqueduct being a case in point. There must have been a lot of brickies around at the time. There are thousands of such examples of such structures, many of them in the middle of nowhere.

Jim Moores Judging by the aerial photographs of the breach the sweeping buttresses of the Wheelock aqueduct have survived and even helped to channel the canal water!
(photo: John Carlton Bancroft, courtesy of Jim Moores)

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