When you open a lock gate and see the water pour through, have you ever wondered where this water goes, or where it comes from? Due to this constant movement of water caused by the opening of locks, the water level at the top of waterways must constantly be replenished. Many canals were designed to make use of natural sources such as rivers, but sometimes this simply wasn’t possible and another solution was needed. The answer that canal engineers came up with was to pump water from nearby wells, reservoirs or rivers. Some of the earliest pumps were wind or water powered, but the pumping station found its heyday in the steam era, where striking buildings with towering chimneys were constructed to house the pumps and the engines that drove them.
As traffic on canals began to decline, many of these pumping stations fell into disuse as canals became unnavigable or maintenance costs could not be justified and others were replaced by modern diesel or electric powered pumps. Some pumping stations around the country have been restored to working condition and still operate today, while other examples of these unique buildings have been converted into houses, museums of cafés.
One such conversion lies on the Bradford Canal, which once joined the city of Bradford to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Pumping stations were constructed at each flight of locks on the 3.5-mile canal to pump water back up the waterway after it suffered from water supply issues. However, the canal struggled with pollution and was never financially viable, and after the canal closed most of the pumping stations were demolished. The one remaining pumping station on the stretch has been renovated and converted into a private dwelling.
The Montgomery Canal also boasted the impressive Newtown Canal and River Pumping Station. Built to transport limestone from quarry to kilns, the canal closed in 1944, but is currently undergoing restoration. The pumping station was originally water powered, using bucket pumps to raise water the 9 feet from the River Severn to the canal, but was later replaced by a steam engine. The building and chimney were demolished in 1972.
Plan your visit along The Montgomery Canal with our online guide.
Canal & River Trust