Anderton Boat Lift, aqueduct, basins, meter building, toll houses and buried remains of salt chutes, inclined planes, the east basin and dockside features


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire West and Chester (Unitary Authority)
Anderton with Marbury
National Grid Reference:
SJ 64731 75231

Reasons for Designation

River navigation in Britain originated in the prehistoric period and continues in use to the present day. The Romans were responsible for the construction of the earliest artificial navigation or canal, the Fossdyke, which linked the rivers Trent and Witham, whilst medieval canal building such as the navigable dikes dug by the monks in Holderness or the Exeter Canal are also documented. Canals are artificial waterways constructed primarily for navigation purposes and as such they differ from river navigations which were improvements to existing waterways to make them easier to navigate. Although the advantages of canals and inland waterways had long been recognised in Europe as an inexpensive means of transporting heavy and bulky goods and the safest way of carrying fragile ones, the golden age of canal building in England only began in 1759 with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Manchester. Constructed by James Brindley and opened in 1761, the Bridgewater Canal carried coal from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines at Worsley, 7 miles (about 11km) to Manchester at less than half the cost of the traditional packhorse method. Over the next 70 years canals played an important part in the growth of industry and the expansion of trade in many parts of the country; in particular in the cotton, woollen, mining and engineering industries of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, in the growth of the Staffordshire pottery industry with its new water connection to the River Mersey and the port of Liverpool, and in the huge industrial expansion of Birmingham which, as the hub of the inland waterways system, rose to become England's second most prosperous city. Additionally canals also facilitated the relatively rapid movement of bulk agricultural produce from the countryside to the rapidly expanding industrial towns of the North and Midlands. Canal construction also brought with it the requirement for a whole range of associated structures. Many of these, such as bridges, canal worker's houses, warehouses, wet docks, dry docks, locks and water management systems involved the modification and development of the existing designs of such structures to meet the new requirements of the canal age. Additionally the canal age also introduced the need for major technological innovation in, amongst other things, the construction of tunnels and aqueducts, and the development of inclined planes and boat lifts. The great age of canals lasted until about the 1840s, after which the huge expansion in railways and their subsequent quick and cheap transportation of people and goods led to the rapid demise of canal usage. During their relatively brief lifespan of construction and heavy usage canals became the most important method of industrial transportation and provided a major contribution to the rise of the Industrial Revolution in England. The surviving remnants of the early industrial waterways transport network are particularly important both by virtue of their rarity and representivity. The Anderton Boat Lift is the world's first commercially successful boat lift and it displays a rare and unusual mix of Victorian and Edwardian engineering innovation and expertise. Limited excavation on the hillslope between the Trent and Mersey Canal and the River Weaver has revealed a rare example of the survival of buried remains of late 18th and 19th century features associated with the transhipment of goods between the canal and river in the years prior to construction of the boat lift. Additionally limited excavation has also revealed the good survival of warehouse foundations and other associated features which collectively comprise a unique example of the development of an unusual dockside area over a 200 year period.


The monument includes the Anderton Boat Lift and its associated basins and aqueduct, the meter building, two toll houses, the buried remains of the original engine house together with an assortment of features used to transport and store salt and other goods between the River Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal. It also includes the buried remains of the east basin and various associated dockside features and the buried remains of part of a graving slip. It is located a short distance north of Northwich at a point where the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal are at their closest proximity to each other and where the canal is 15.24 metres above the level of the Weaver. In 1734 work to make a 20 mile (32.18km) stretch of the River Weaver navigable was completed thus improving transport links between the salt towns of Cheshire and the River Mersey. In 1777 the Trent and Mersey Canal was opened. This was constructed to improve the shipment of Cornish china clay from the River Mersey to the North Staffordshire pottery producing towns and the subsequent transportation of finished pottery. The proximity of the river and canal at Anderton led to the purchasing of land between the two waterways by the Weaver Trustees in 1788 in order to facilitate the transhipment of goods between the canal and river. By 1793 the first dock basin had been constructed on the north bank of the Weaver and by 1800 two salt chutes and an inclined plane connected the canal towpath to the dock basin. Salt was carried along the canal by narrowboat to Anderton then wheeled along timber gantries and tipped down the chutes directly into boats known as Weaver Flats which were moored in the basin. The inclined plane was a self-acting type in which the weight of the descending truck raised another on parallel rails. Cornish china clay was carried up the incline while Staffordshire pottery was carried down the incline. In 1831 increased trade led to the river basin being extended so that it had a second western or downstream entrance thus forming a loop on the north bank of the Weaver and creating an island which was accessed by two bridges. By this time three salt chutes were in operation together with a second inclined plane which was driven by a steam engine housed at the north west corner of the basin. A warehouse had also been erected on the east side of the basin. By the 1870s extensive warehousing reflecting the increasing transhipment of goods occupied the east and west sides of the basin whilst a fourth salt chute and two additional inclined planes had been added to move the growing number of goods between the canal and river. A graving slip had also been constructed close to the western entrance to the basin. In order to develop this trade further a hydraulic lift designed by Edwin Clark was opened in 1875. The lift consists of two wrought iron counterbalanced caissons working side by side in an iron framework, each supported on a central hydraulic iron ram and capable of accommodating barges of up to 100 tons (101.6 tonnes). It was situated on the island between the loop of the basin and the river. Boats paid a toll at one of the two toll houses situated at the entrance to the lift, entered the lift from the basin, were transported upwards, then sailed along a wrought iron aqueduct supported on iron piers to a newly-constructed canal basin before entering the canal itself. The lift was powered by engines located in an engine house beneath the aqueduct. In 1896 the basin beneath the lift was filled in after a landslip, thus creating the east and west basins, only the latter of which gave access to the boat lift. Early in the 20th century the original steam boilers were giving cause for concern and these were replaced by an electric variable speed motor thought to have been housed in the newly built meter building to work the hydraulics for the lift. Due to corrosion of its hydraulic rams, the boat lift was converted to an electrically operated system in 1908; the rams were removed and a massive assembly of shafts, gears, weights, wheels and pulleys were erected over the lift and supported on steel A-section columns. Each caisson was suspended by cables which passed around overhead pulleys. Cast iron counterweights suspended at the other ends of the cables enabled the caissons to be moved using relatively little power. During the 20th century alternative transportation methods saw a gradual decline in the use of the boat lift, however, during the early 1920s three of the four salt chutes were still in place and one survived until the 1950s. At about this time the east basin was filled in as traffic continued to dwindle. Commercial traffic continued to decline and the boat lift was mainly used by leisure craft until its closure in 1984 due to the corrosion of its main support piers. In 2002 the boat lift reopened after extensive restoration work and now functions again using hydraulic rams as originally designed. The 1908 alterations to the boat lift have been conserved as a static monument whilst the 1875 method of operation has been restored to working order. Limited excavations in the vicinity of the boat lift have found an assortment of salt chute footings, remains of a loading platform, a steam engine bedstone, part of a retaining wall, the well-preserved surface of a trackway thought to have connected the canal towpath with a stable block, part of the late 18th century basin wall and a flight of stone steps and part of the wharf area, part of the east basin warehouse complex, a culvert, a flue and chimney, and the remains of the engine house which housed the steam boilers and engines which ran the hydraulics to operate the boat lift prior to the early 20th century. The meter building has been recently enlarged to accommodate modern operating machinery and equipment whilst the two toll houses have been refurbished to their original style. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these include the operations centre, a marquee, all modern operating machinery in the meter building, toll houses and the control centre, a toilet block and adjacent brick structure, all modern temporary buildings, the western end of a timber footbridge over a culvert, a brick and concrete canal-side service block, all fences, fenceposts, railings and barriers, all signposts, litter bins, picnic tables, seats and the plinths which they occupy, the surfaces of all modern paths, gravelled areas and steps and their handrails, and all lifebuoys and their holdings. The ground beneath all of these features is, however, included within the scheduling.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Collens, J, Penney, S, Anderton Basin: An Archaeological Survey, (1989), 1-32
Collens, J, Penney, S, Anderton Basin: An Archaeological Survey, (1989), 1-31
Cook, M, Building Recording at the Meter Building Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-12
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
Coxah, M, Gardener, L, Henderson, J, Arch survey and eval on land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (2000), 1-46
British Waterways Environment Services, Archaeological assessment of land adjacent to Anderton boat lift, (1999)
British Waterways, Arch Assess of land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (1999)
British Waterways, Arch assessment of land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (1999)
British Waterways, Arch desk based assess of land adjacent to Anderton Boat Lift, (1999)
Coxah, M and Gardener, L, Eval on the footprint of the prop exten to the meter building, 2000,
Coxah, M and Gardener, L, Eval prop extension to the Meter Building, Anderton boat lift, 2000,
Coxah, M and Gardener, L, Eval prop extension to the Meter Building, Anderton boat lift, 2000,


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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