Historic canal lock uncovered

John Sheward, head of asset management at St Helens Council, with Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron
John Sheward, head of asset management at St Helens Council, with Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron

Workmen building a new cycle track have uncovered a piece of the borough’s industrial history which had been lost for decades.

The Engine Lock in Newton-le-Willows was brought to light as part of work to improve drainage along the historic Sankey Canal as part of St Helens’ new network for two-wheeled transport.

The lock, just west of Wagon Lane in Haydock, was once part of the waterway which opened in 1757 but was lost after the section of canal it served was closed and filled in during the 1930s.

The Sankey Canal Restoration Society (Scars) is continuing to help with investigations to find any remaining sections of the canal.

When fully excavated the lock will provide a flood storage facility and eventually become part of a wetland wildlife habitat, creating an impressive green space along the Sankey Valley cycle track for riders to enjoy.

Dave Smallshaw, chairman of Scars, said: “This has been another very exciting development indeed and we are really pleased to be involved with St Helens Council on this project.

“In these days of central government inspired cuts it is often easy to knock local councils for negative attitudes but we are refreshed by this proactive project with its array of benefits that ensures the area’s proud industrial heritage is celebrated appropriately.”

Once completed, the Sankey Valley route will run from Widnes to St Helens via Warrington, Newton and Haydock.

Completed sections already take in St Helens town centre, Haydock Industrial Estate, Sankey Valley Trading Estate, Earlestown town centre, Parkside, Omega, Gemini and Widnes.

St Helens Council’s cabinet member for green smart and sustainable borough, Coun Seve Gomez-Aspron, said: “The new track is a vital economic link across three boroughs. As well as providing a sustainable transport route to current and future economic opportunities, it’s also a welcome recreational facility.

“We have also tried our best to bring to life as many remains of the canal as possible with the continuing help of Scars. We hope to complete other sections of the route along the canal as we see this as a great resource that can contribute to our visitor economy.

“It mirrors works that we have done to expose our heritage at Sankey Viaduct, Common Lock, Old Hey Lock in Newton and Earlestown and now Engine Lock.

“By addressing historic drainage issues we’ve also been able to open up the last missing lock on this, the world’s first industrial canal. The route is rich with various wildlife zones meaning that biodiversity along the route can be promoted and encouraged.”