Lower Frankton etching
The spot where this etching stands is remote, rural and lonely now, but if things had gone to plan it would have been a busy junction on an important inland trunk route called the Ellesmere Canal Navigation.
The branch to the left of the etching led to Newtown. Not many years ago this length was bone dry, and still is in parts, but is undergoing slow but steady restoration on its way to Llanymynech where there is another Canal Etching. It was the first bit of the narrow Ellesmere Canal to be built as limestone from Llanymynech and coal from the Oswestry coal field was important to the agriculture of the area.
To the right you see the remains of the original main line for Shrewsbury and the Severn. It peters out just beyond Weston Wharf and never reached Shrewsbury only 11 miles further on.
If you look straight ahead while standing in front of the canal etching you are looking up the intended main line to Chester and the Dee.
The plan began in 1789 when three local landowners started to think about a canal to link the Mersey (Liverpool and the sea) with the Dee at Chester and the navigable Severn at Shrewsbury and so to Bristol and the sea again. They were wealthy men, two MPs and a Reverend, all living within a few miles of this spot. It was the height of canal mania in Britain and the period of the Enlightenment.
This inland trunk route would allow movement of heavy goods from place to place by boat, and was a vast improvement on horse and cart, in winter a cart could be up to its axles in deep mud, and railways were not yet invented. A horse and cart could carry 1 ton, a horse drawn boat could carry 25-30 tons, depending on the depth of the canal. This area was rich in lime stone, coal and iron ore, with a ready market in the rapidly expanding cities. The Industrial Revolution was driving canal building and canal building was driving the Industrial Revolution.
Cross the very humpback road bridge and walk up the towpath towards the four locks and you will see what was the boat builder’s cottage and workshop. The dry dock is just visible in the garden on the offside below lock 3, and there is an interesting related plaque.
“This area was rich in lime stone, coal and iron ore, with a ready market in the rapidly expanding cities. The Industrial Revolution was driving canal building and canal building was driving the Industrial Revolution.”
The escarpment that makes the locks necessary is clearly visible to your right. Half way up the locks on the left was the pub. The family also operated carrying boats and a wharf from here. Steps lead to the pub from the water level (a loaded boat lies very low in the water), with a metal guide above to stop the horse line snagging on the masonry. It is now a farm but still owned by the same family.
On the other side is a lock keepers cottage and stabling for canal horses. Beyond the staircase lock and footbridge is the original toll office and a small car park on the site of the warehouse and crane. You can see the wear marks from the cotton line used to tow the boats worn into the elegant footbridge. Boating families liked to stop at this bustling hub for news of loads and gossip, supplies and repairs, an evening in the pub and even to get their washing done.
Left at the top, the canal takes you past another Canal Etching at Gledrid, the gateway to the World Heritage Site, through two tunnels; Chirk and Whitehouse, and over two aqueducts; Chirk and Pontcysyllte, to Trevor Basin.
This is as far as the canal got on its way to Chester. Now, from Trevor, you can turn westwards and follow a narrow canal to Llangollen, built originally to feed water from the Dee into the main line.