Cannock Chase Heritage Trail - header


The Trent and Mersey Canal



James Brindley, the engineer of the Trent and Mersey Canal, was a giant of the
canal age. He had a vision of connecting the four main rivers of England (Trent,
Mersey, Severn and Thames) in an ambitious scheme known as the Grand
Cross. This canal was part of that scheme and was also known as the Grand Trunk canal.

James Brindley, the great canal engineer. The first of his
towering achievements to fire the imagination of the age was
his aqueduct near Manchester, which carried a canal ‘as high
as the tree tops’ over the River Irwell.
Image reproduced courtesy of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Josiah Wedgwood, the pottery designer and manufacturer based in Stoke-on-Trent, saw how a canal could be a vital route for the transport of his wares.
Canals offered a smooth ride for his pottery, which could otherwise be easily broken. He was present at the momentous meeting at Wolseley Bridge, just outside Rugeley, where the canal was planned in 1765. It was opened fully in 1777.

The canal helped to raise the profile of Rugeley and greatly benefited the trades and industries of the town. It had cost approximately £300,000 to build (equivalent to over 27 million pounds today) but was nevertheless a good investment, as carriage costs were reduced by over two thirds. It cost nine shillings (45p) to transport a ton by road and two shillings and sixpence (12.5p) by canal.

The murder of Christina Collins

On 15 June, 1839, Christina Collins began her journey as a passenger on a freight-carrying narrowboat from Liverpool. Her intended destination was London, where her husband had gone to look for work. She never got there. Her body was found in the canal at Brindley Bank near Rugeley aqueduct, about a mile from here. Two of the crew of boatmen with whom she had shared her journey were later convicted of her murder. The story was used by the author of the Inspector
Morse novels, Colin Dexter, in ‘The Wench is Dead’.

These steps, known locally as the Bloody Steps, are at Brindley Bank, just outside Rugeley. It was here that Christina Collins’ body was carried after being found in the canal. Some said that her blood had dripped on the steps and stained them, giving rise to the local legend: the ‘Bloody Steps’.

Nearly 10,000 people attended the hanging of James Owen and George Thomas in Stafford for the murder of Christina Collins. This broadsheet shows the portable gallows that was wheeled out of the gaol gatehouse into Gaol Road to enable the public to view the hanging.



From commerce to leisure

The development of the railway network in the mid 1800s brought a cheaper and quicker method of transporting goods and presented canals with a serious threat. In 1846 the Trent and Mersey Canal Company merged with the North Staffordshire Railway Company, but by the 1860s the canal had lost much of its business. The next hundred years saw the canal struggling to recover and a steady decline in commercial traffic. Today, under the control of British Waterways, leisure use has grown and traffic is mostly recreational.

A boatman and his family on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Rugeley, c1890–1900. Horses were used to draw the narrowboats, and could transport up to one hundred times more weight on water than on land.
Image courtesy of Staffordshire Arts & Museum Service

Spot the differences

These two photographs, taken one hundred years apart, show the same spot on the canal, at Trent Lane about four miles from Great Haywood. The lock-keeper’s
house, seen in the earlier photograph, still stands. The narrowboats seen on
the canal now are more likely to be pleasure boats than the industrial
transporters of a hundred years ago.


Image courtesy of Staffordshire
Arts & Museum Service


The junction of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Staffordshire and
Worcestershire Canal at Great Haywood. Construction of both canals was
granted by Act of Parliament on the same day.

Explore and discover
Canal furniture

Canals are engineering on a grand scale.
For the Industrial Revolution to flourish a
transport system was needed to carry
heavy, as well as fragile, goods and raw
materials around the country. Canals
were the 18th-century equivalent of today’s
rail and road network.

You can find clues to the past along any
canal, and you can see how canals
continue to work today.

Canal bridges are numbered.
This helped the narrowboat
families know where they were
  On many old canal bridges you
can see where ropes drawn by
horses rubbed against bricks
and wore grooves in iron bars




These planks kept in a shelter are used to seal a lock when
maintenance work is done. They slot into the notches you can find on canal bank stonework.


Sturdy paddle-gears are used to control the flow of water in and out of locks   A sluice allows water to flow out
of the canal. This sluice operating
gear is near Rugeley

Cannock Chase Heritage Trail Kiosk Disclaimer