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The Seven Wonders of the Inland Waterways of Great Britain. Or is it the Top Twelve?

We have combined Robert Aikman's 'Seven Wonders of the Waterways' with British Waterways' 'Seven Wonders of the Inland Waterways for the 21st Century' to bring you our Top Twelve Engineering Wonders of the British Inland Waterways!

The original "Seven Wonders of the Waterways" was compiled half a century ago by co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association Robert Fordyce Aickman (27 June 1914 – 26 February 1981) and published in his book 'Know Your Waterways'. In 2002, British Waterways conducted a poll of the general public to choose the current or "Seven Wonders of the Inland Waterways for the 21st Century". The list selected was Anderton Boat Lift, the Bingley Five-Rise, Caen Hill Flight, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Standedge Tunnel, Falkirk Wheel on the Union Canal and Forth & Clyde Canal and Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames & Severn Canal.

Combining the two definitive works gives us a grand total of 12 Wonders of the British Inland Waterways. We have placed Robert Aickman's list in the 1 to 7 positions:

1 Thomas Telford's Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The number one wonder of the British Canal System!

On the Llangollen Canal the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was built between 1795 and 1805 by the Ellesmere Canal Company. There are 18 piers made of local stone, the central ones over the River Dee being 126 feet high to the 1007 foot long iron trough; 11'10" wide and 5'3" deep. It remains the highest and longest aqueduct in Great Britain.


2 Standedge Tunnel

The Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal (Standedge is normally pronounced Stannige). Thomas Telford was called in to advise on the tunnel's completion.

3 Caen Hill Lock Flight

Click on image to see larger view

Caen Hill Lock Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal, at Devizes, Wiltshire England.(See the 1949 O.S.map. Note the brickyard, where the bricks to build the original lock walls were made. Grid lines are at 1000m)

4 Barton Swing Aqueduct

Barton Swing Aqueduct over the Manchester Ship Canal on the Bridgewater Canal, AKA 'The Dukes Cut'. The original Barton Aqueduct was constructed by James Brindley in 1761 over the River Irwell, replaced by The Barton Swing Aqueduct, a moveable aqueduct in Barton upon Irwell in the present Greater Manchester area. It carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal, the swinging action allows large vessels using the Manchester Ship Canal to pass underneath and the smaller narrowboats to cross over the top. The aqueduct is a Grade II listed building and is considered a major feat of Victorian civil engineering. Designed by Sir Edward Leader Williams and cast by Andrew Handyside of Derby, it opened in 1894 and remains in use today.

5 Anderton Boat Lift

Anderton Boat Lift on the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver. Originally opened in 1875, closing in 1983, A grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund enabled the restoration of the lift, which was reopened in 2002 and is now a popular tourist and educational learning centre.

6 Bingley Five Rise Locks

Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The Bingley Five-Rise Locks allow boats to go through 60 feet of elevation in five cavernous chambers. The staircase was designed by the Leeds & Liverpool's chief engineer, John Longbotham, and completed in 1774.

7 Burnley Embankment

Burnley Embankment, designed by Robert Whitworth, also on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. An impressive earthworks construction, ranked above some of the embankments on the Shropshire Union Canal. Dating from 1795, when such an undertaking was remarkable. Also, because the canal embankment is open for passage allowing extensive views over the roofs of Burnley.

8 Crofton Pumping Station

Crofton Pumping Station on the Kennet and Avon Canal. With a summit level of 450ft ASL, around 40ft higher than any reliable local water sources a need to replenish the water in the summit pound. A stream engine powered pump at Crofton was used to raise water the 40ft into the summit level, The brick chimney replaced an original iron stack pipe in 1856 but the top 36 feet were condemned and removed in the 1950s, unfortunately the reduced draft made the pumping station unworkable, and it was closed. In 1968 the pumping station was sold to the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, who have restored it to its original splendour, the chimney was reinstated to its original 82 feet in 1997.

9 Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is a boat lift designed to connect the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, some 25 metres above. It was part of the 2000 Millennium Project to restore the canals linking the east and west coasts of Scotland. The Falkirk Wheel is the world's first and still the only rotating boat lift. Visitors can enjoy 'The Falkirk Wheel Experience' using special trip boats at the site. The Falkirk Wheel boat lift can carry six hundred tonnes including eight or more boats at a time with a single trip taking around 15 minutes.

10 Foxton Inclined Plane

Foxton Inclined Plane on the Grand Union Canal (Leicester Arm) is undergoing reconstruction, so we believe this to be a notional No.10 You can see the Inclined Plane whilst visiting the Foxton Locks, built in 1810. The Foxton Inclined Plane opened in 1900 with two tanks or caissons, each capable of holding two narrow boats or a wide beam barge. The tanks were full of water, and balanced each other through Archimedes Principle. The lift was powered by a 25 horsepower engine; with around a 12 minute trip time for two boats up and two down using the same water over again. The lift worked well, but the traffic didn't increase due to other problems within the system. This made the lift uneconomic and the locks were refurbished for night traffic in 1909. In 1911 the Lift was mothballed to save money, the traffic returning to the locks which have been in use ever since.

11 Harecastle Tunnel

Picture Credit: Akke Monasso

Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal - The original Harecastle Tunnel was was designed by, one of the canal master builders, James Brindley. When it opened in 1777 it was the longest tunnel in the world. It took eleven years to build and was one and three-quarter miles long. A second tunnel was added with Thomas Telford as consultant engineer, completed, including a towpath, in just three years, opening in 1827. Until the early years of the 20th century, Brindley's tunnel was used by southbound boats and Telford's for northbound, but in 1914 Brindley's tunnel was abandoned due to subsidence.

12 The Sapperton Canal Tunnel

The Sapperton Canal Tunnel is a tunnel on the Thames and Severn Canal near Cirencester in Gloucestershire, England. It was the longest canal tunnel, and the longest tunnel of any kind, in England from 1789 to 1811.The tunnel was opened in 1789 after five years of construction and is 3,817 yards (3,490m) long. It has no towpath; narrowboats were transported through the tunnel by legging. It was superseded as the longest canal tunnel in England in 1811 by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal's Standedge Tunnel, which is 5,456 yards (4,989 m) long and remains the highest, longest and deepest canal tunnel in Great Britain; though, unlike Sapperton, Standedge can only accommodate 7ft wide narrowboats. Sapperton Tunnel is not currently navigable, but restoration is proposed by the Cotswold Canals Trust as part of their project to re-open the canal route from Thames to Severn. The trust operates tourist boat trips into the tunnel in winter months. The Sapperton railway tunnel, on the Golden Valley Line, follows a broadly similar route under the 'Cotswold Edge'.