A major tourist attraction, the Caldon Canal, which passes through Hanley Park, links The Potteries with Leek and Froghall.
Branching from the Trent and Mersey Canal at Etruria’s Summit Lock, the Caldon Canal was constructed by Scottish civil engineer John Rennie.
John, who designed London Bridge, Southwark Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, was born at Phantassie near Edinburgh on June 7th, 1761. He began his career building flour mills and constructing drainage systems on the Solway Firth. Moving to England, he worked on projects to drain East Anglia’s fens and built roads, bridges and canals, including the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Lancaster Canal and the Rochdale Canal.
Opened in 1779, the Caldon Canal meanders for 17 miles through the Trent and Churnet valleys.
Canal boats brought coal from Kidsgrove to forges in the Churnet Valley and flint stones to flint mills where they were ground, bake-dried and turned into slop, which the pottery industry used to make earthenware more durable.
The canal terminated at Froghall Wharf, where a tramway had been laid to limestone quarries at Cauldon Lowe.
Between 1779 and 1797 two thousand boats were loaded at the wharf with 40,000 tons of limestone, which was used as a flux to smelt iron ore, to make fertiliser or to build houses, town halls and churches.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the Trent & Mersey Canal Company, which owned the Caldon Canal, decided to build a reservoir at Rudyard and construct branch canals to Leek and Uttoxeter.
The Leek branch opened in 1802 but work stopped on the Uttoxeter branch in 1809 when the company ran out of money. It borrowed £30,000 to complete the branch which opened on September 3rd, 1811 when six or seven boats took the directors and their guests from Uttoxeter to Crump Wood Weir (between Denstone and Alton) for a picnic lunch.
Large wharfs and dry docks were constructed at Uttoxeter where canal boats were built and repaired.
The branch to Uttoxeter, which carried coal, copper and brass from Alton, Kingsley and Oakamoor, was not a commercial success. It closed in 1847.
The canal was drained and its bed was used by engineers who were constructing the section of the Churnet Valley Railway that ran between Uttoxeter and Froghall.
Like the Uttoxeter branch, the Leek branch of the canal was not economically viable although it continued to carry coal until the late 1930s.
Copyright Betty Cooper – The Phoenix Trust 2012