account arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right closecontact-us emailFacebookheart instagramjoin linkedin phonepinterestplaysearch twitteryoutube

Waterways heritage for
future generations

Explore the benefits highlighted in our Waterways for Today report

Waterway projects can protect waterways heritage for future generations.

With historic buildings and structures, waterways form a vast, open-air heritage network which is accessible to all.

How Waterways Can Help

Our inland waterways form a vast, open-air network of historic canals and rivers. This heritage is not in a museum but is open and accessible to everyone, and is unsurpassed in its scale and inclusivity.

The built heritage of the waterways ranges from the simple 18th century architecture of locks and cottages, humpback bridges, wharfs and warehouses to pioneering tunnels and embankments, soaring aqueducts and a unique 21st century boat lift.

Waterways heritage is holistic; it is not only the buildings and engineering structures, but also the landscape, the traditions, the culture, the boats and the people who operated them. Add in the fact that each waterway is unique, and this all contributes to the sense of place and living history that people experience when visiting them.

Most of the structures and engineering features date from the 18th and 19th centuries, and are at risk from weather extremes caused by the changing climate. This heritage is what makes our waterways special. It needs protecting through the local planning system, and through sufficient funding for maintenance.


Hidden among the backstreets of Runcorn Old Town is a key that could unlock Runcorn, releasing its potential and building on its proud history, and change the future of Runcorn forever…

John Bishop, comedian and actor (from ‘Unlock Runcorn’, a film made for the Runcorn Locks Restoration Society and narrated by John Bishop)

Case Study: Chester recognised as an
Inland Heritage Port

Heritage Inland Ports, a new initiative from the Maritime Heritage Trust as part of its Heritage Harbours scheme, is organised jointly with National Historic Ships and European Maritime Heritage. The scheme aims to breathe new life into historic buildings, moorings, maintenance facilities and wasteland, while connecting with local communities and developing training opportunities for young people.

In Roman times, Chester was the busiest port in north-west England. The Maritime Heritage Trust recognised this long history when it announced Chester as its first Inland Heritage Port in 2021.

It followed an application by IWA Chester & Merseyside Branch, Chester Civic Trust and Cheshire West and Chester Council, which outlined its unique historical development, catalogued surviving features and evaluated its environmental and heritage significance.

Chester’s waterways are part of an interconnected system linking the open sea, Dee estuary and the River Dee with the national waterways network via the Shropshire Union Canal.

Designation as an Inland Heritage Port will help protect the city’s waterfront, maritime and inland waterway heritage assets, while supporting local business growth and increasing tourism. It will also promote community inclusivity and attract investment and heritage funding.


Facts & Stats

80% of people think local heritage makes their area a better place to live, while 45% of adults living in the UK have an interest in heritage transport.

Britain’s waterways are home to well over 3,000 Listed structures, 50 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Canal & River Trust, the largest navigation authority, is the third largest owner of Listed structures after the National Trust and the Church of England, and ahead of English Heritage.

Thousands of working boats and barges once carried cargoes along this network of waterways. Today only a few hundred historic craft remain, with around 400 listed in the National Historic Ships Register. Some are in museums, but most are in private ownership, and they bring history to life as they move around the system.

Hundreds of Conservation Areas include canals. This can lead to wider investment and benefits to the economy, such as the £1m investment in Stoke-on-Trent’s canals in 2016, following a review of its canal Conservation Area.

Heritage skills can be kept alive by protecting the few remaining historic boatyards and ensuring their long term future as working sites. Tooley’s Yard on the Oxford Canal in Banbury, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is believed to be the oldest continuously working boatyard on the canals. Now run by a charitable trust, it is keeping history alive with courses on traditional boatbuilding skills and apprenticeships, to pass knowledge to the next generation.