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Ashton Canal

The Ashton Canal runs from the Rochdale Canal at Ducie Street in Manchester to its junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Peak Forest Canal at Ashton under Lyne.

Things to do nearby

Facts & stats

6.7 miles

(10.8 km)

The length of the Ashton Canal that is navigable.

18 locks



The canal was reopened following a major restoration scheme in 1974.

From Manchester to Ashton-under-Lyne

The Ashton Canal runs from the Rochdale Canal at Ducie Street in Manchester to its junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Ashton-under-Lyne, 0.4 miles (0.6 km) east of Dukinfield Junction, where it is joined by the Peak Forest Canal

The canal was built in 1792 to serve the textile mills of Ashton and the surrounding coalfields. Following a major restoration scheme, it reopened in 1974.

Ashton Canal has two disused branches, both partly filled in but proposed for restoration:

  • the Hollinwood Branch – 4.6 miles (7.2km) and 7 locks – which joined at Fairfield Junction
  • the Stockport Branch – 4.9 miles (7.8 km) and no locks – which joined at Clayton Junction, in the middle of the Clayton Lock flight

How the Ashton Canal was saved

In 1951, IWA unsuccessfully opposed the closure of the Stockport Branch of the Ashton Canal.

At the start of 1953 IWA expressed concerns that the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive had plans to transfer canals that were not “required commercially” to local authorities or other bodies.  Some of those included on the list were waterways that had been legally abandoned; the Cromford Canal, the Grantham Canal and the Llangollen Canal.  Other canals on the list were; the Ashton Canal, the Peak Forest Canal, the Lancaster Canal, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and the southern section of the Oxford Canal.  In response IWA called for the establishment of a National Waterways Commission to cover all waterways as well as a public enquiry into the best ways of developing them.

In March 1955, the Government’s Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway.  Included in this new list were canals like the Huddersfield Narrow and Barnsley canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic, plus the Ashton Canal, the Peak Forest Canal, the Macclesfield Canal and many other now-widely-used waterways.  In response, IWA called for a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all inland waterways.  We pointed out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

1959 brought a new threat to the Ashton canal when British Waterways excluded it from the scope of the general cruising licence and discouraged its use.

1961 started with local authorities calling for the closure of the Ashton Canal. A protest cruise was organised for Whitsun, which British Waterways tried to put off by withdrawing the canal from the scope of its pleasure boat licences. Despite this, a reduced scale cruise of 15 boats went ahead but was stopped at Lock 12 by a burnt and dismantled lock gate.

In 1968, volunteers led by Graham Palmer undertook a massive clean-up and restoration to support the then Peak Forest Canal Society. IWA, and others, also issued British Waterways with a writ over the neglect of the Ashton Canal and the Peak Forest canal.

In 1970, IWA offered £10,000 and unlimited voluntary labour towards the restoration of the Ashton Canal.

Following agreement on funding from the local authorities in 1972, IWA, British Waterways and other volunteers were mobilised to take part in the restoration of the canal.  In May 1974 the restored Ashton and Peak Forest canals were reopened.

In 2004, the Hollinwood Manchester & Stockport Canal societies were formed to promote restoration of the Hollinwood and Stockport arms of the Ashton Canal.

Waterway notes

Maximum boat sizes

  • Length: 74′ 0″ (22.5 metres) – Lock 2
  • Beam: 7′ 3″ (2.2 metres) – Lock 4
  • Height: 6′ 5″ (1.95 metres) – Bridge 21 (Lumb Lane)
  • Draught: 3′ 7″ (1.1 metres) – cill of Lock 9

Navigation authority

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.