Trent and Mersey Canal
The Trent and Mersey Canal stretches from Shardlow in Derbyshire, where it meets the rivers Trent and Derwent, to Preston Brook in Cheshire, where it meets the Bridgewater Canal.
On its completion in 1777 the Trent and Mersey Canal was the greatest civil engineering project carried out in England. The development of the canal also led to the expansion of a few Derbyshire settlements in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in particular Willington, Shardlow and Stenson.
The Trent and Mersey Canal became about from the interests of a number of men. The intention of the canal was to link the east and west ports of Liverpool and Hull across the country, by means of connecting the two principal rivers that led into Liverpool (the River Mersey) and into Hull (the River Trent near to Hull). The intention was that the canal network would intersect and form a “Grand Cross” of waterways. This idea seems to have been in the minds of several men, including the famous canal engineer, James Brindley. Surveys for a waterway were made as early as 1755. With this network in mind, the Trent and Mersey Canal initially went by the name of the Grand Trunk Canal.
In December 1765 a meeting was held at Wolseley Bridge near Rugeley of “the Company of Proprietors of the Navigation from the Trent to the Mersey”. All canals had to be authorised by Act of Parliament and it was on 14th May 1766 that the Act was passed enabling the navigation. The first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood in July 1766. The Trent and Mersey Canal was completed in 1777, one of the earliest inland waterways to be navigable in Britain.
The canal stretches for 93 miles from Shardlow (Derwent Mouth), where the canal connects with the River Trent, to Preston Brook near Runcorn, from where it eventually runs into the Manchester Ship Canal and then the River Mersey. The cast iron mileposts that run along the towpath reveal the distances between the two end points. The actual length of the canal is slightly longer than the mileposts suggest, as it terminates at Derwent Mouth, a mile beyond Shardlow.
In 1770 the first section of the canal was opened between Shardlow and Shugborough in Staffordshire. Several of the bridges within Derbyshire still bear a datestone with 1770 carved into the face.
The Development of Stenson
In 1846 Stenson had 19 houses and 115 inhabitants spread out in a linear form to the north and south of the canal (1846 – Bagshaw’s Directory). Stenson had been historically an area dominated by yeoman farmers and a large part of the land was owned by the HarpurCrewe family, including the manor. Of the buildings to the north of the canal, most were built as roadside encroachments, outside the conservation area, with only Stenson House sitting in its own extensive grounds, built for a Harpur-Crewe tenant circa 1820.
There are a handful of surviving lock-keeper’s cottages; a cottage at Weston Lock, one at Stenson Lock and a cottage at Swarkestone.
The surviving cottages at Weston Lock and Stenson Lock are of the same type, although the cottage at Weston Lock was extended in the mid 19th century. They are symmetrical buildings, with gauged brick lintels and stone cills, a central door and recessed panel “blind” windows above at first floor level, a central chimney stack and hipped roofs. In both cases the roofs are Welsh slate with wide overhanging eaves. This detail and the map evidence suggest that they were built around 1820.
The new cottage at Stenson Lock displaced the original lock-keeper’s cottage and was located on the opposite side of the canal. For a time, both may have been in use, but the original lock-keeper’s cottage had been demolished by 1880.
A grade II listed cottage “Stenson Lock Cottage” to the south of the canal at Stenson, developed shortly after the canal was built, was built by the Harpur Crewe estate and has the unmistakable estate chimney stacks, with rounded moulded brickwork. It may have been built by the estate for use alongside an impromptu wharf.
Stenson is a colourful place, with a busy marina and boatyard used by pleasure craft. The cluster of buildings fronting the canal, where the lock and road meet, creates an interesting group and some memorable views. Stenson House, which lies to the north of the lock, is set back within its private grounds and is largely not visible from the road. Its former farm outbuildings have been adapted into a pub and semi-industrial buildings serving the boatyard.