Boats Gate - The Walkden Adit
Not too long ago in the group a weblink was posted to a "Tunnels/Underground"
interest website where there had been a post back in 2010 of an account of a visit to
the Underground canal system under Walkden and Worsley, a regular topic here on
the GUWW2 group page! :)
This visit took place in 1962 and unlike many accounts which have their starting point
from the original Levels entrance at Worsley Deph this visit was to be part of the regular
NCB safety inspections that were undertaken at the time from Ellesmere Colliery in
Walkden town center, however on the day there was a fault with the pit winding cage.
But it seems there was a "backup"!
The full text of the account can be found at the link below, it's well worth a read
But for those who want to just crash on this is an extract from the "downward" journey.
"And so it was that I duly reported to the old pit yard in Walkden, and was kitted up
with a helmet and lamp, and a 'pass' to descend to the canal level. At that time the
electric cage from the pit yard was not in working order, so we crossed the main Little
Hulton road, and went through a gate into the yard of the cotton mill, (now demolished
and replaced by a shopping mall.) With a great deal of effort, a large iron hatch was
levered up, to expose a set of stone stairs that descended into the darkness. I cant
remember how far we climbed down this stairway, which was hewn from the rock, but
eventually we arrived at a small landing stage, within a high brick vaulted chamber.
There were tied up two 'starvationer' ex coal box boats. I was told this name had been
applied when the canal was working, because the ribs of the boats were exposed. (One
such boat now remains sunken in Worsley Delph, at the main outside canal entrance to the
workings. As a boy, I remember several dozen of this type, and the smaller ones used for
the lower canal levels, being sunk at the same location.)
Climbing aboard, we headed 'upstream'. (Note: there is no real natural current in the
system. empty boats were brought in as trains, and propelled to the workings by the
boat-boys attaching roped hooks to rings in the tunnel roof, and walking backwards
through the empty boats. Full boats were 'washed' out of the system, by opening the
sluices at The Delph, thereby creating a current.) I was surprised to see that mostly
the tunnels were unlined, with brick being used only where the natural rock was bad or
fractured. Many side tunnels lead off, to old workings I was told, where once an
exploring canoeist had entered, got lost, and was only found following an extensive
Presently we arrived at what I came to know as the inclined plane chamber, devoid of all
it's ironwork, but the still with a huge block of stone surmounted by a large iron wheel
in place. We walked up the plane, to the top 'pound' of the canal, and entered a much
smaller boat for the onward journey. Here the roof became very low in places, forcing us
to lie on our backs within the boat, whilst my guides propelled us onwards by 'legging'
with their feet along the roof."
Top end of the Inclined Plane - Upper Navigable Level
Some would say I'm a little bit OCD about the Underground Canals, I just like to think
I have an energetic curiosity but I have to admit the above account really did energize it!
It's the first account I've read about the adit(inclined non vertical shaft) entrance in Walkden to
the Navigable Levels still being used in relatively modern times(1962).
I knew there had been an adit used extensively in historic times, Walkden had a "boatyard" for repairing
the "starvationer" boats that were used on the levels, but their adit was constructed in the 1790's, it
originally went down to the upper level canal so it's boats could be hauled up to the surface, it was then later
extended to connect to the lower "main" level canal from Worsley that ran below it. I also knew people
who had worked for the NCB at Ellesmere Colliery who knew about such a shaft, one had been an
apprentice to the last "safety man" at Ellesmere and I distinctly remember him talking about how you
could open a set of doors and just "walk" down to the canal.
But where was this shaft or more correctly "adit" located in relation to todays Walkden and
what eventually happened to it when the tunnels and canals were retired in the late 1960's ?
It could open up a fascinating opportunity for promoting our local "Industrial Heritage" if it were still
in any way accessible, a very long shot I know but.....
The "adit", the technical term for a non vertical or sloping shaft or tunnel, was closely
associated with Walkden "Boatshed" and this appears well defined on the early OS maps
of the area, but in the early 1840 map it's shown as "Boats Gate" and just to the left and lower than
the "B" in "Boats" are two small buildings, interestingly one of these(the lower) can be tracked on maps
and photographs all the way through to the 1940's, and it has an interesting location, but more of that later.
"Boats Gate"......a gateway or portal for boats..