The Whitchurch Arm

This article was first published in Spring 2024 Cuttings. Please click on the below photos to view a higher-resolution version.

In 1796, the ancient town of Whitchurch in Shropshire saw plans by the Ellesmere Canal Company for a canal arm leading into the town to be built off the Ellesmere Canal (now known as the Llangollen Canal).

Authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1796, by 1805 a decision had already been made to abandon the plan. However, a group of Whitchurch businessmen approached the company offering to not only build the branch but also include a short extension to Castle Well bringing the terminus closer to the town centre and improving trade. Ellesmere Canal Company refused permission for the businessmen to build the arm but were happy to continue the build with the proviso that their costs were met by borrowing money from them. The extension opened on 6th July 1808 – the extra quarter mile terminating in a narrow triangular basin opening four years later in 1811.

Fast forward now to 1939 when traffic on the Llangollen Arm of the SUC had all but ceased resulting in both the Llangollen and the Whitchurch Arm formally closing to navigation under the LM&S Railway Company Act of 1944.

By the 1950s, the Ellesmere Canal, now referred to as the Llangollen Canal, had been re-opened but this did not include the Whitchurch Arm. By the 1980s, Whitchurch Town Council was considering bringing the arm back into use, mainly for tourism. The result was that, by mid-1986, the Whitchurch Arm Trust had been formed with the backing of the Town Council. This later became a charitable trust known as the Whitchurch Waterway Trust incorporated on 26th July 1988.

The initial aim was to re-open three-quarters of a mile of the branch leading from the Llangollen Canal; after that much of the land had been developed so a new route would be required to reach the town centre.

Grants were secured to fund the section of the arm to Chemistry Bridge and this was completed in October 1993 with 48-hour overnight and long-stay moorings provided. It was hoped in 1997 that the Trust could raise funds to buy the land to restore the canal right into the town centre.

In 2012, the Trust announced plans to extend from Chemistry Bridge – where currently the canal ends – to create a new basin with moorings on part of the country park. In 2014, a cost of £650,000 was anticipated. By 2023, the Trust announced plans to build a short extension terminating in a new basin and the first stage (land levelling, new paths, boards etc) had been met with money from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Currently, the Trust is seeking further funding to complete.

Current information on the above can be found at whitchurchwaterway.uk. More information on the Arm can be found here (Whitchurch Heritage Centre).

The two photographs accompanying this article are from the turn of the century. The first, pre-1918 ‘Drawbridge on the Canal, Whitchurch’, I think this is New Mills lift bridge 31, adjacent to the junction with the Whitchurch Arm.

The second, date-stamped 1909 entitled solely ‘Whitchurch’, shows the canal not far from the church – this part of the original canal is now filled in. By 1808, this section had been extended to Sherryman’s Bridge, continuing in 1811 to the basin near Park Road and Mill Street. To accommodate the basin the town mill was demolished and the mill pond filled in; today, it is Tesco’s car park.

Any information you may have on the two illustrations positively identifying their locations would be gratefully received. Photographs of what is there now would be even better! Please use the comments section below or email cuttingseditorial@shropshireunion.org.uk.

Jan Johnstone

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