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). 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 British Waterways 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 canal’s bi-centenary 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.
Adapted mainly from an item by Bill Froggatt, Heritage Adviser for North West Waterways, in the Milestone Society Newsletter, Feb 2016, no 30, p 27