From 26th July 1875 till May 2002 a total of 127 years the Anderton Boat Lift near Northwich was the biggest and only lift in britain, its reign ended when the Falkirk Wheel rolled onto the scene leaving its claim reduced to the biggest in England. The reason for the building of the
was far more important for the economics of the area than just a nice way of redeveloping the eyesore left by extinct coal mining casts and spoil heaps. In the early 1700's salt mining in the Cheshire plains where it dates back to Roman times was at a peak and more advanced forms of transport needed to deliver the payload, the Weaver River was widened and dredged to create a link from the town of Northwich to the Mersey River and the ports accessible once he boats entered it. This was done in 1734 and the river became a hive of activity, then in 1777 the Trent and Mersey Canal opened to provide another link to the north but also bringing access to Stoke on Trent, the potteries and coal mining in the south Rather than compete against each other the owners of the two waterways decided that it would be to their own advantage to join forces and to this end between 1793 and 1831 two cranes, two salt chutes and an inclined plane, were used to transship goods at the point where the two passed in close proximity also adding a second quay in the Anderton basin. By 1870 the interchange had four chutes and three inclined planes along with lots of warehouses and was very busy, the trustees wanting to cut down on the time lost by all the trans-shipping first looked at building a series of locks between the waterways but deciding it was not viable settled on a boat lift idea. The chief engineer of the company Edward Williams devised a plan using two large hydraulic rams to support the boat containers which meant the structure could be much lighter in design.The two containers of wrought iron were 75ft x 15ft x 9.5 ft they weighed 90 tons empty and 252 tons full with water or barges (two narrow or one wide), the rams were 50ft x 3ft inside a tubular cylinder 50ft 5.5ft had a five inch interconnecting pipe allowing water to pass from one to the other so that as the loaded container lowered the empty container would rise,and were buried on the island in the river At the top of the supporting frame was a platform connected to the Trent and Mersey canal by a 165ft long wrought iron aquaduct with two sets of gates at either end. The lift opened on 26th July 1875 and worked well for five years then the hydraulic system started to develope problems by 1904 it was becoming increasing more difficult to repair the system, drastic action saw the hydraulics taken out of commission and replaced by wires and pulleys driven by electric motors using a number of counterwieghts to balance the weight of the containers. This idea required major strenghtening of the superstructure as it was going to have to support a lot more weight than it had previously. With the 36 wires attached to each container slung over the pulleys and hooked to a 14 ton weight the motors turned the pulleys to raise the boat to the top of the structure using surprisingly little power. The switch to this system took two years to implement but for most of that time the lift or one of them remained operational the maintenance was easier to do as most of the components were readily accessable and whilst the wires needed changing quite regularly as with the pulley bearings these could be done with a mimimum of time loss. For 75 years the lift was in full operational mode till the superstructure was found to be badly corroded and the lift was closed in 1983 for safety reasons.Luckily £7.5m was ear-marked and restoration undertaken. Most of the superstructure had to be replaced and whilst the pulleys have been left in place the lift has returned to Hydraulic ram operation using two 50ft rams weighing 50 tons it opened in 2002 another monument to the british engineers who designed and built it.