Unlocking the hidden potential of the Industrial Revolution

December 21, 2020

RSK Geosciences has supported Unlock Runcorn in a project to reconnect the western end of the Bridgewater Canal, in Cheshire, UK, to the Manchester Ship Canal. The meandering waterway that had connected the two points has remained buried for the last 70 years. The Geosciences team recently completed the first phase of drilling; Structural Soils and Envirolab are now testing the samples.

The project, run by the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society, has been 30 years in conception. Recent funding has enabled RSK Geosciences to undertake the initial phase of the investigation that included gaining approval from Network Rail to drill adjacent to Runcorn railway station. Dynamic Sampling, an RSK company, performed rotary drilling to confirm the ground conditions and recover samples and rock cores. “As the restoration society was spending its remaining grant money, there was no headroom for delays or overrun costs,” offered RSK Geosciences Principal Consultant Dr Siôn Roberts. “Achieving the project aims for the client within budget and within the short timeframe was due, in no small part, to those on-site undertaking the work. It was great to see a keen and interested delegation of volunteers from Runcorn Locks Restoration Society in attendance. They were genuinely thrilled to see boots on the ground and rocks coming out, which was fantastic to experience.”

Completing the drilling section is only the beginning of this fascinating journey to reconnect a relic of the Industrial Revolution. The Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761; its watercourse twists and snakes for 65 km and it connects the tidal River Mersey with Manchester. Its original purpose was to facilitate shipping traffic loaded with coal destined for the industrial areas of Manchester and, after an extension, on to the seaport of Liverpool. After about 170 years of continual use, the old line of locks in Runcorn fell into disuse. The locks were closed and filled in under the Manchester Ship Canal Act of 1949, thus burying a relic of the Industrial Revolution that remained dormant for more than 70 years, until the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society began campaigning to restore the watercourse to its original splendour.

According to the Runcorn society, the restoration will create two new canal-cruising rings, one small, taking in the River Weaver plus the historic Anderton Boat Lift, and a larger one involving the Shropshire Union Canal. Data from similar projects indicate that creating the rings and regenerating the canal corridors will provide enhanced economic, social, and recreational benefits for a wide range of people.

“This project is so important, not only at a local level but also to national industrial restoration. Now that we have completed this initial work, we are well-positioned to continue supporting the project that may, hopefully, extend to involving other parts of RSK. The next steps are for the charity to apply for the next round of funding. If the application is successful, we will undertake further investigation and assessment of the proposed scheme to inform a detailed design,” commented RSK project manager Siôn Roberts.

Contact sroberts@rsk.co.uk or visit www.unlockruncorn.org to find out more about the journey ahead.