The Grand Opening of the Rochdale Canal in England

December 21, 1804

The Rochdale Canal in northern England was officially opened. The plans for this canal had been prepared by civil engineer John Rennie, with the Rochdale Canal Company established in 1794 to coordinate the construction of the new waterway. While Rennie developed the designs for the Rochdale Canal, it has been widely acknowledged that his assistant William Crosley and others were far more involved in the actual building efforts.  

At the time of its formal debut, the Rochdale Canal – seen as a key part of the connected network of waterways within England – extended from the market town of Sowerby Bridge to the major city of Manchester. (The town of Rochdale is located between those points.)  The 32-mile (51-kilometer)-long route, which was hailed as one of the more significant engineering accomplishments of the era, consisted of more than 80 locks.

This waterway also had the distinction of being the first completed canal to run through the Pennines, a wide range of both mountains and hills in that region of England. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal, another one of the canals crossing the range, made its debut in 1811; the final of the three trans-Pennines waterways, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, was not fully opened until 1816.

The grand opening of the Rochdale Canal was marked by considerable fanfare. The London-based Monthly Magazine, “Two elegant yachts, containing the Committee of the Canal Company, and other proprietors, preceded by ice-boats, came down from Rochdale to Manchester, a distance of twelve miles [19.3 kilometers], and arrived at the wharf in Piccadilly [in central Manchester] at half past three in the afternoon.” As the vessels made their way through the Rochdale Canal, thousands of people lined up on both sides of the route to take part in the festivities. Bells were rung in celebration, and a music band played patriotic anthems such as “Rule, Brittania!” and “God Save the King.”

The Rochdale Canal remained in operation for many years. By the 1960s, however, various segments of the canal either had been closed or were mostly unusable. Following a large-scale restoration effort, the canal was reopened in its entirety in 2002 and has since been popular as a leisure boating route.​

For more information on the Rochdale Canal, please check out

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