hamlet that became Ellesmere Port
Since the middle of the l9th Century, Ellesmere Port was one of
England’ s principal ports, originally linking with such important
industrial areas as Birmingham, the Black Country, the Potteries
and North Wales.
Ellesmere Port was born precisely on July 1st, 1795 with the opening
of the Wirral line of the Ellesmere Canal. At that time the area
we know today as Ellesmere Port was Netherpool, an isolated hamlet
of a few farm cottages on the southern side of the Mersey Estuary.
The nearest manor was Whitby Hall but much of the surrounding area
was poor marshy ground which probably accounts for the isolation
of the Port even in later years. Maps as late as 1831 show Ellesmere
Port only connected to the inland villages by water.
The original port was no more than a few buildings and three broad
locks down to the tidal basin into the river. A map of 1802 shows
only five buildings, a lock-keeper's cottage, stables, a row of
cottages, an inn and a building containing a steam driven pump,
to pump water up to the canal, to augment the supply from the Chester
Canal. There was a large basin at the upper level running parallel
for the full length of the locks.
These buildings have long since disappeared, although the present
Toll House, Stables and Lighthouse at theriver entrance must have
been built shortly afterwards.
Reports suggest that the canal prospered initially not primarily
from cargo but from the transport of people and livestock. A packet
service was soon established between Chester and Liverpool, a steam
tug, the Countess of Bridgewater being purchased in 1816. The service
continued until 1840 when the Birkenhead Railway was opened. The
probable reason for the lack of cargoes in the early days was the
delay in opening the rest of the canal to Ruabon until 1805.
The real expansion of the Port to the size we can see today was
being planned in the 1920's and was due to two new lengths of canal.
One was a link between the Ellesmere and Chester and the Trent and
Mersey, at Middlewich, so enabling the Potteries traffic to use
the Port, not only for the export of the finished products but for
the import of china clay and flint.
Even more important was the link between the end of the canal at
Nantwich and the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal, at Autherley,
near Wolverhampton. This canal, the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction
Canal, provided a direct route between these towns through Ellesmere
Port, so opening up the industrial Midlands to the sea whilst avoiding
the climb up to and the congestion through the Harecastle Tunnel.
As this new canal and those in Birmingham were narrow (maximum 7
ft beam beam) all the cargoes had to be transhipped before going
onto the estuary, or further onto the sea. This new traffic required
a massive increase in basins, warehouses and general facilities.
Thomas Telford who had been involved with the original developments
was asked to draw up plans for the expanded docks in 1828, his proposals
becoming the foundation of the layout of the area as we know it
today, even though some of the major buildings have been destroyed.
The first stage, the large dock, was opened in 1837, and the arched
warehouse in 1843. Further developments were added throughout the19th
The Canal Company also built houses for its employees and from 1816
it financed the erection of churches and other buildings that go
to make a community. Much of the early housing was in the area now
occupied by the container base. Some housing does still remains
In 1863 a Gasworks was built by the Company to provide lighting
to enable work to continue at night. Later the system was extended
to supply the town. The pipe once used for this supply still crosses
The middle of the 19th Century saw the development of the railway
network and an Act was passed in 1845 enabling the Ellesmere and
Chester Company to buy the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction, with
permission to convert any or all of their canals into Railways.
This new Company was called the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal
Company and was later leased to the London North Western Railway
Utimately it was this that kept traffic flowing on, their canals
long after many of their contemporaries had been virtually eliminated
by their railway owners. The reason for this was that their canals
ran into the territory of their great rival the Great Western Railway.
The Shropshire Union operated regular carrying services and scheduled
fly boats until 1921, linking the towns and villages in the area
to the major towns of the country.
This service only stopped with the compulsory introduction of the
eight-hour day to all employees of railway-owned canal companies.
During the second half of the 18th century the port prospered and
expanded. Additional warehouses were built and hydraulically powered
cranes were installed to cope with the huge tonnages of cargo that
had to be lifted from boat to boat and to and from the warehouses.
The workshops for the building and maintenance of boats and the
canal were extended but, most significantly, other industries began
to be attracted to the town. In 1883, Nicholas Burnell opened his
galvanising worksand in 1905, the Wolverhampton Corrugated Iron
Company moved in. Other important industries were cement, soap and
In 1891 the Manchester Ship Canal was opened as far as Ellesmere
Port and completed to Manchester in 1894. This enabled much larger
craft to reach the Port. Previously craft entering the dock had
been limited by the 120' x 30' dimensions of the sea lock. Wharves
were built alongside the ship canal, another grain warehouse and
three flour mills with their own arm off the dock. Extensions to
the upper and lower (only used up until then for back pumping water
into the dock) pump houses were also built.
The increased trade did not last long as the railways were taking
more and more traffic and there was a dramatic drop after the First
World War. The Shropshire Union finally gave up carrying in 1921
and sold off their fleet. This was not the end of the docks though.
Other companies carried on, in particular Fellows, Morton and Clayton,
and Thomas Clayton & Co. which were engaged in carrying heavy
oil from the new refineries at Stanlow, just up the Ship Canal.
After the Second World War traffic again slumped and in 1948 the
docks were officially closed. Today many vessels are still use their
canal and Ellesmere Port is a busy port, handling container ships
and oil products from the Stanlow Refinery.
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