Friday 24 May 2024

A Tram Mystery (3)

Lancaster Canal South

The grand plan for the Lancaster Canal was that it would run from Kendal via Lancaster and Preston to join the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Johnson's Hillock just to the east of the present M61. But we now know that it got no further south than a canal basin in the centre of Preston.

The southern section did exist and ran from the Leeds and Liverpool to Walton Summit a piece south of Preston. The junction is still there ...
... but, effectively the canal isn't! On this Google Earth extract, Johnson's Hillock is top centre; the Leeds Liverpool canal is the bit with locks and ponds ...
... and the remains of the Lancaster canal fizzles out centre left. 

A while back a group of the brave tried to canoe further, starting at a very stagnant junction ...
... struggling with undergrowth amd rubbish ...
... and even having to get out and walk.
So where was the joined up thinking? Think of "The Lancaster" as the canal world's HS2 but dug and run by private enterprise.

They ran out of money! To get from Preston to Walton Summit would have involved a huge aqueduct crossing the flood plain of the Ribble - and they had already built plenty of aqueducts to get from Lancaster to Preston.

But thy needed to get to the Leeds and Liverpool to capture the customers to make the whole project viable.

So, said the inventive directors, we will fill the gap with a cheap and cheerful tramway!

We need a slight explanatory etymological excursion. 

Historically a tram was a wooden frame on wheels into which was slotted a large basket of coal.
They ran on very basic "L" girders bolted to stone blocks, Later they morphed into more recognisable wagons with a tippler mechanism at their terminus and using flanged wheels and crude pointwork.
They were horse drawn and hills were rope worked with stationary steam engines. The "design" concept lasted many years and well into mechanisation where they became known as chauldron wagons, recently manufactured for OO modellers by Accurascale.
Our Preston based tramway would link the canal basin north of Fishergate ...
...with an interchange at Walton Summit of which nothing remains apart from a diagram on a map.
The original plans for the transfer "station" were even more extensive!
This diagram shows the outline "shape" of the tramway.
South of the Ribble, there is an embankment then a cutting ...
... running from top left to bottom right. The embankment bit can be spotted from an aerial view but that is about all.
However, after hours of pertinent research, fbb has traced the tram route from the canal basin in Preston as far as the "old tram  bridge" across the Ribble. 

Not only that, but your elderly and chubby author has appended his researches to a modern map extract.
There is nothing to be seen north of Fishergate, where industrial clutter has covered the site of the exchange sidings. - see old street map above. But the entrance/exit of the underground bit of a car park retains the stonework of the former tunnel approaches.
Next we come to an old bridge abutment on Garden Street ...
... which must have been a VERY low bridge indeed. The route veers slightly to the right to cross East Cliff Road where these gates matk the crossing on the east side ...
... and this track is the continuation on the west side.
The tram then ran under the road labelled East Cliff, which is very appropriately named.
There is the inevitable swirl of undergrowth and a footpath inder the road on the line of the tram track.
The path (to the left of the text for the balloon shop!) leads direct to the bridge which it reaches after crossing another pathway on a splendid bridge.
Originally the tramway needed an "inclined plane" to get down to river level, so this bridge might be a later addition added after the tramway was closed and when the park was developed.

But, at last, the old tram bridge ...
... currently closed and awaiting demolition and replacement, is revealed in all its collapsing glory.

So it was a tram bridge after all, but NOT a tram as we know it, Jim!

As Spock did NOT say ...
... "It's life., Jim, but not as we know it."

More on the collapsing (?) old tram bridge and its replacement as part of tomorrows blog.

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 25th May 


  1. Andrew Kleissner24 May 2024 at 06:02

    In South Wales, the similar trucks used to carry coal inside mines were called Drams (nothing to do with Scottish tipples!)

  2. There remains a very low bridge in Preston, just 6'6" clearance where Lytham Road passes under the WCML.