Marple Aqueduct at Marple, Greater Manchester, in north-west England was built to carry the lower level of the Peak Forest Canal across a length of the River Mersey that was renamed the River Goyt in 1896.
The company's engineer, Benjamin Outram, was responsible for the design and Thomas Brown, the resident engineer, for its construction. The construction contract was placed with William Broadhead, Bethel Furness and William Anderson in 1795. Furness having died later in 1795, the aqueduct was completed by the remaining partners in 1799, but not brought into use until 1800. Seven men lost their lives during its construction.
This is the highest canal aqueduct in England and the highest masonry-arch aqueduct in Britain. The difference in water levels in the river and canal is some 90 feet (27.4 meters) (exceeded only by the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, an iron trough carried on stone columns, where the difference is 126 feet (38.4m)). It contains some 8,000 cubic yards (6,000 m³) of masonry. The three semi-circular arches are about 78 feet (23.8 meters) above water level, with spans of approximately 60 feet (18.3m) at 72 feet (22m) centres.
The lower parts are of red sandstone from the nearby Hyde Bank quarry. The upper parts are of white stone from a quarry at Chapel Milton. The abutments widen in well-proportioned curves and batter or diminish upwards in the same manner. The skilful use of architectural features, such as the circular piercing of the spandrels, string courses, arch rings and pilasters of ashlar stone, oval piers and stone of different type and colour have created a graceful structure, which is superlative in its class.
In 1860, damage caused by repeated frost heave after water leaked through the puddling of the trough had to be urgently repaired by Charles Sacré, chief engineer of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, which then owned the canal. He tied together the two faces above the central arch by 2-inch bolts through the structure, secured by the plates that can still be seen.
A hundred years later a similar problem was ignored by British Waterways (BW) and on the night of 9 January 1962 the outer face of the north-east arch collapsed. BW, supported by the Ministry of Transport, thought that it would be 'a complete waste of money' to do other than demolish the aqueduct and formally close the lower Peak Forest and Ashton Canals. However, it was saved by the intervention of Geoffrey Rippon, the Minister of Public Buildings and Works, who facilitated an agreement whereby a sympathetic Cheshire County Council funded the extra cost of full restoration, over and above what it would have cost BW to demolish it, under the terms of the Local Authorities (Historic Buildings) Act 1962, which Rippon himself had steered through Parliament. The main contractor for the restoration was Harry Fairclough Ltd of Warrington, with Rendel, Palmer & Tritton as the consulting engineers.
The aqueduct was soon afterwards scheduled as an ancient monument and in 1966 listed Grade I. For many years its picturesque setting in the Goyt valley was obscured by the uncontrolled growth of self-set trees. These have now been cut back to restore the view.
* Marple Lock Flight. *
Marple Lock Flight is a flight of sixteen canal locks, situated on the Peak Forest Canal in Marple, near Stockport. Whilst the rest of the canal was opened to navigation by 1796, insufficient money was available to complete the necessary flight of locks to connect the two halves, and a temporary tramway was installed until such time as the locks could be completed, which finally happened in 1804.
With the end of commercial carrying the locks became dilapidated and by the early 1960s the flight had become impassible. Pressure in the late 1960s from the Peak Forest Canal Society and the Inland Waterways Association, who wanted to save the Cheshire Ring, resulted in the restoration and re-opening of the flight in 1974.
Today, the location of the flight, with easy access to public transport, and its scenic merits so close to a town centre, make it a popular destination with walkers, and during the summer small crowds can often be seen around the locks as boats pass through.
The sixteen locks raise the canal by 209 feet (64 m) over the course of about a mile (1.6 km). Whilst this is a single flight, it can be divided into three different sections, each with a distinctive environment:
* Visiting *
The flight of 16 locks at Marple is a spectacular sight, one of the steepest flights in Britain. With the beautiful countryside around Marple Aqueduct a 20 minute walk up the towpath to the top of the flight, it makes a wonderful place for a family day out.
It's an absolutely facinating part of our industrial heritage. Not only does Marple boast Benjamin Outram's splendid stone Marple Aqueduct together with its slightly higher railway viaduct neighbour running parallel. But you're sure to bump into Oldknow - the man who made Marple.
Samuel Oldknow (1756 – 1828) transformed rural Marple and Mellor into a hub of industry. By the time he was 30, he had made a fortune producing muslin. With a loan from Richard Arkwright he built mills in Stockport and Mellor; Mellor Mill, next to the River Goyt, was the largest cotton spinning mill in the world at the time.
Since 2015, this part of the Peak Forest Canal has been a Green Flag Award winner, the Marple Aqueduct itself winning a Heritage Green Award in 2017.
A new waterside welcome station has been opened in Marple, near Stockport, to offer tourist information and advice to visitors – they are appealing for new volunteers to get involved with running it. The mini visitor information centre has been created from a refurbished old stone canal toll house, at the top of Marple’s famous lock flight on the Peak Forest Canal, near to the junction with the Macclesfield Canal.
Cafes, pubs and restuarants: The Midland.
Download the free nature spotters guide and go on your own nature trail. There are public toilets in the town centre.
Location : Canal, Peak Forest, Marple, Stockport SK6 5LD
Transport: Marple (National Rail) then 6 minutes. Bus routes 383 and 384 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Dawn till Dusk
Tickets : Free
Tel: 0303 040 4040