The Act of Parliament permitting the construction of a 127-mile canal that would go all the way between Leeds and Liverpool was passed in 1770, and the first stretch of canal linking Skipton to Bingley was opened in 1773. The canal was gradually extended over the next 43 years until the final section, the Wigan flight, was opened on the 22 October 1816 and Leeds and Liverpool were finally linked.
The canal was originally marked with stone mileposts, though these only extended from Leeds to Johnson’s Hillock at Chorley, and from Aspull near Wigan Top Lock to Liverpool (the length in between actually being the Lancaster Canal). One or two of these survive, though with no surviving markings, in the Wigan area.
The existing cast iron mileposts date the 1890s. They were installed as a response to legislation introduced to regulate canal freight tolls – the Railway and Canal Rates, Tolls and Charges Order of 1893. This prompted the whole of the canal to be re-surveyed and new mileposts, along with half and quarter mileposts, installed along the towpaths.
200 years later the mileposts had become damaged and approximately a third of the original 127 were missing altogether. In 2003 the British Waterways Board (now the Canal and Rivers Trust) sponsored a programme to clean and paint the mileposts between Bingley and Gargrave, and cut back the vegetation. A survey then found that nearly 25% of the posts were missing and that only one milepost was complete.
And so to celebrate the bi-centenary of the completion of the canal the EveryMileCounts Project was established, aiming to restore all of the mileposts, replacing those that were missing, repairing those that were damaged, or simply cleaning and repainting those that were intact – and to do as much of this as possible with the help of the communities that live along the canal.
All the mile-markers are now in situ, about 20 of the 33 missing half-mile plates have been re-instated, though the 85 missing quarter-mile plates are still absent.
Adapted mainly from an item by Bill Froggatt, Heritage Adviser for the Canal and Rivers Trust, in the Milestone Society Newsletter, Feb 2016, no 30, p 27, and talks by him to the Northern Spring Meetings, 2016 and 2023.
RWH / rev May 2023