Burnley Civic Trust Heritage Image Collection

The Culvert


The Original Aqueduct-without Subways -(Gimlets) Prior to 1896

Text used in this article is from the Burnley Express and Advertiser February 2nd 1927


The original Aqueduct across Yorkshire Street (no small engineering feat in the early days of canal construction) was, after some delay, completed in 1797. The canal, however, has not proved an unmixed blessing to Burnley. The diversion from the route originally intended resulted in the canal almost encircling the town, and this has undoubtedly restricted wider development in several directions owing to lack of communicating roads under or over the waterway.
The old Culvert comprised a masonry horse-shoe arch with horizontal arched abutments at each end to give lateral stability, the strength of which construction depended upon the weight of material used. The distance through the arch was 70 ft., the headroom was only 14 ft., and the maximum width available, for all highway and pedestrian traffic was 22 ft. 6 in


Photograph after 1896 with Pedestrian Gimlets added


A photograph showing livestock being driven through the left Gimlet and main Arch


For almost a century this was the limit of the highway facilities, until in 1890 a scheme for improvement was decided upon, and the Corporation were subsequently authorised by the Canal Company to construct two subways, one on each side of the original opening, 88 ft., long and 9 ft. 6 in. diameter, to be used as footpaths, leaving the centre opening for vehicular traffic. After considerable anxiety and risks the subways were completed in the year 1896, and the Corporation were from that time made responsible for the maintenance of the whole structure. The growing volume and speed of road traffic, and the construction of a tramway through the central archway, rendered the altered structure quite inadequate for present day requirements. Moreover, serious leaks from the canal into the roadway below caused the maintenance costs to rise, created public inconvenience, and finally a fracture at the east end of the central arch in 1924 induced the Corporation seriously to consider the construction of a new Aqueduct and the present improvement scheme is the result.


Photograph above: reported in the Burnley News 20 Feb 1926

The photo shows an excellent idea of the rapid progress that is being made on the aqueduct on Yorkshire Street. With tw0 70ft girders in position as walls of the canal, the cross steel bracing is bolted together for the reception of the covering plates. When the shape of the steelwork is assembled it will weigh the enormous amount of 110tons and with the water it will contain it will weigh another 260tons.

Photograph below: Reported in Burnley Express 27 Feb 1926.

The Burnley Improvement Committee along with the Town Clerk and Borough Surveyor paid a visit to the new aqueduct, reporting that the work has reached an interesting stage and the committee was delighted with the progress made. Most of the sheeting of the trough has been completed and the work of making the quay walls is proceeding apace. Given the weather, it is hoped to have water in the trough by the end of March.

Description of the New Works.

The Council decided, after considering several alternative schemes, to construct, in view of present and future requirements, a new Aqueduct having a highway with an uninterrupted width of 70 ft., and a composite structure of steel and reinforced concrete, with mass concrete and masonry abutments and wing walls, was adopted. The waterway, 24 ft. wide, 6 ft. deep, consists of a steel trough carried by two main plate girders, 2 ft. wide and 7 ft. 6 in. deep, parallel to the centre line of the canal. Cross girders 5 ft. apart support the trough lining of 3/8 in. mild steel plating, coated internally with a bituminous compound 1/8in. thick. The total weight of steelwork used in the trough and supporting girders is 103 tons. The waterway is flanked by a 10 ft. towing path and a 6 ft. walking space, constructed of reinforced concrete paved with grit setts and supported on reinforced concrete ribs. These, while. serving a structural purpose, have been employed to add architectural form to the elevations and mask the rigidity of steel plate girder work. They are surmounted by natural stone balustrades, from Eastburn Quarries, which stone has also been used to face the abutment and wing walls. Provision in made for-·drawing off the water from the Aqueduct when necessary, for internal examination by supplying stop gate races, stop planks, stays and an outlet pipe. The existing archway was used as a staging during construction, and also for the protection of the public below. After its demolition (a much more difficult operation than at first anticipated), the highway was lowered 15 inches to allow statutory head room for double deck tramcars. Six public service mains were then taken out and nine others put in before the road construction works were put in hand. The carriageway is 50 ft. wide, paved with specially dressed granite setts on a reinforced concrete foundation. In designing the scheme, and in the sequence of operations, due consideration was given· to enable both canal and highway traffic to be maintained throughout. This required the construction of a temporary waterway and a temporary tramway track. The former, 20 ft. wide and 6 ft. deep inside, was constructed of timber and steelwork lined with 3in. tongued and grooved planks, bitumen sheeting and 1 in. boarding, and provided with heavy fenders to take shocks. Concrete entrances with stop gates were introduced at each end, and a temporary by-pass pipe 2 ft. diameter was provided to connect the two portions of the canal in case of failure of the temporary trough. Fortunately, this by-pass pipe had not to be brought into use. The whole of the temporary works gave satisfactory service, and 2,689 barges were successfully passed through during the eight months such works were in commission. The distance through the structure has been reduced from 70 ft. to 40 ft., and the waterway from 40 ft. to 24 ft. wide. A traffic census taken for the week ending November 7th, 1926, showed that about 20,000 vehicles passed through the Aqueduct during that period.

Authorities Combine.


The various authorities concerned all gave hearty support to the scheme, The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company assisted in several directions. Their ex-chief engineer, Mr. A. W. Stansfeld, whose long service with the company and intimate knowledge of the canal were most helpful, Mr. Robert Davidson, his successor, and Mr. F. Bateman, sectional engineer, gave all possible assistance in carrying out the scheme. The Ministry of Transport readily promised financial assistance when the plans and estimates were placed before them, and later indicated a grant of £16,952 towards the cost. The design, specifications, drawing and bills of quantities were prepared by and under the direction of the Borough Engineer and Surveyor. The cost was estimated at £34,000, and it is not anticipated that this figure will be exceeded. Messrs. Wellerman Bros., Ltd., of Sheffield and Hyde, were the general contractors for the work, and sub-contracts were entered into with· the Graphite Oils Co., Ltd., of Grimsby; Messrs. Smith Bros. (Burnley), Ltd. for natural stonework; and the Fleetwood Granite Co., Ltd., for the artificial stonework. The Canal Company constructed the necessary cofferdams across the canal; and the road, tramway works, and laying of service mains were carried out direct by the departments of the Corporation.


Photograph of the temporary canal before filling with water


The following facts in connection with the Aqueduct are of interest :-
The original Aqueduct was constructed in 1797; the two subways (gimlets) were completed in 1896; the scheme for the new Aqueduct was approved by the Council and the Ministry of Transport on February 4th, 1925; work commenced on July 13, 1925; the temporary trough was completed September 4th, 1925; the new structure was commenced on September 18th, 1925; the abutment walls were ready for the steel trough on January 23rd, 1926; the, steel trough and the elevation to the town side were completed on April 13th, 1926; the temporary work was dismantled and the canal made good on May 13th, 1926; the temporary roadway and tramway track on the south side were completed on July 14th, 1926; the original Aqueduct was taken down to the street level on July 30th, 1926; the highway was completely paved and the stone facing to the abutments were completed on December 24th, 1926; the unveiling ceremony took place on January 31st, 1927.

The general contractors were Messrs. Wellerman Bros., Ltd., of Sheffield, and they were responsible for the general arrangements and methods of undertaking the work. The same firm are also engaged on work for the Corporation at the 'new gas works which are being erected. The Fleetwood Granite Co., Ltd., supplied the artificial stone, which was made from Penmaenmawr granite, and faced an inch thick with actual natural stone dust. This firm is also at work on the Lionel-street School, which will be opened shortly. The Graphite Oils Co., Ltd., of Grimsby, supplied the protection for the steel plates from the corrosive action of the canal water. The material they used was the result of an accidental discovery during research work in the laboratory.


The new steel trough during construction


The Contractors Adverts in the Burnley Express


Workers on the Aqueduct

Work in progress viewed from the east

Demolition of the Old Aqueduct below the New Aqueduct


A brief but interesting ceremony took place on 13 April 1926 on the canal, this being the throwing open of the new aqueduct supplanting the old stone structure. The steel trough had been completed and tested and had been given a coating of preservative material and the concrete towing path finished on the town side to enable it to be opened to passing barges. Everything was ready and the temporary dams were removed to allow the section to fill earlier in the week.

Red and white ribbons were stretched across the water at each end of the bridge and just before eleven 0'clock the mayor- Councillor J Sutcliffe and other councillors and Aldermen boarded the canal companies steam launch "Alexandra" which then moved slowly forward and when the bow reached under the entwined ribbons, the Mayor-as Chairman of the Improvement Committee, cut them with a pair of scissors. This was the signal for a hearty cheer from the large number of people who had assembled on the towpath and a loud blast from the launches whistle.

After cutting the ribbon, the Mayor remarked " I now declare this aqueduct open and I hope it will be well used". The launch then passed along the aqueduct to the other end, where Councillor Place as Vice -Chairman of the Improvement Committee performed a similar operation. He wished "Good luck to the Aqueduct, success to Burnley and better trade" a wish that was re-echoed by many spectators.

The Mayoral party then steamed away, but returned subsequently. In the meantime several barges which had come on the scene made the crossing, the first being an empty one, 'Fly Boat" and the next a loaded one 'Omega' both being horse drawn. The straight course of the canal has been restored and will be used henceforth. When the temporary canal has been partitioned off it will be removed and so the work will proceed rapidly to a finish.


Road and Tram tracks being renewed


A completed Aqueduct


The Mayor, Councillor J Sutcliffe cuts a ribbon of red, white and blue tape to formally open the Aqueduct accompanied by the Town Clerk Mr Colin Campbell. At the other side of the new arch the Vice Chairman Councillor Place cut a similar ribbon.

The Opening Ceremony
There was a large gathering at the Aqueduct when the Mayor and the members of the Improvement Committee and their guests arrived from the Town Hall by special tramcars. The road was closed by two bands of red, white and blue tape on both sides of the Aqueduct. The Mayor (as chairman of the Improvement Committee) cut the one band with a pair of scissors and Councillor Place (as vice-chairman of the committee) cut the other.

The Mayor then proceeded to unveil the stone tablet which is placed under the Aqueduct on the north side. The tablet bears the inscription: "County Borough of Burnley. Yorkshire-street Aqueduct, originally constructed in the year 1797; reconstructed and highway widened to 70 feet by the Corporation, 1926. Councillor James Sutcliffe, Mayor; Arthur Race, Borough Engineer; Colin Campbell, Town Clerk," and it was draped with two Union Jacks. The Mayor, in unveiling the tablet said that
this was a red-letter day in his history so far as his municipal life was concerned. When he entered the Council years ago he made up his mind that if there was one thing more than another which he would try to do it was to put forward a scheme to build a new Aqueduct. After many attempts in the Council to bring this forward, at last the Council decided that they would accede to these wishes. Therefore, they had taken down an old eye-sore of the place. Not only was the old Culvert an eye-sore, but it was an insanitary piece of work. There was no one prouder of the present Aqueduct than he. A great deal was due to the contractors, Messrs. Wellerman Bros. Ltd., for the excellent way in which they had carried out the work. He also wished to thank the Canal Company for the way in which they had dealt with the Corporation, and to say a word of respect to the Borough Surveyor. '(Hear, hear.) Mr. Race had been responsible for the carrying out and the designing of the Aqueduct, and it must now be a pleasure for the residents in Fulledge Ward to be able to go home through the structure, " After all," he said, " we live in an age when we have to progress, and I think you will agree with me that the work has been carried out by the representatives whom you send to the Town Council in a way which is giving satisfaction not only to the people who are engaged in the work, but to every ratepayer who contributes to the cost."
Ceremony at the Town Hall.
After the ceremony at the Aqueduct itself, the party proceeded to the Town Hall where, in the "Mayor's Parlour, light refreshments were served and followed by a few speeches.
Mr. J. Kelly, the managing director of Wellerman Bros., presented to the Mayor a silver tea and coffee service and to Councillor Place a silver table centre. He made the presentation, he said, on behalf of himself and his fellow directors as the general contractors for the scheme.

In returning thanks, the Mayor repeated that he said at the Aqueduct, and added that he had in his possession a copy of the " Express," dating back about 33 to 34 years. In the correspondence column of that date 'there appeared a communication from a Mr. Holden Riley urging the construction of a new: steel bridge with a road of 50 feet underneath it. The Mayor said that he was pleased than scheme had not matured because they now had a road 20 feet wider than that. He thought the Corporation was making progress in the town, and, speaking as the chairman of the Improvement Committee, in everything that body had tried to do, they had tried to combine architecture with engineering. If the Council would only let the committee have its own way they would get on better. (Laughter.) All the schemes which he had set out to do had been done-(laughter)-and the Council threw out a scheme only the other month, but that scheme, too, would also certainly be done. He often thought that the members of the Council did not consider schemes in all their bearings. He was also certain that the Improvement Committee of the Town Council was one of the finest, one of the most intellectual-(laughter)-and one of the best committees inside the Town Hall. He could not speak too highly of the members of that committee. If only the Council would trust them and not pry too much into their affairs-(laughter)-it -would be better. He did not like the Council prying into their affairs.. (Laughter.) They should trust the committee until the committee betrayed that trust. They never had done so yet.
Councillor Place said that the committee was out for the improvement of Burnley, and the completion of the Culvert, or Aqueduct, as it was now called, was one thing of which they as a committee and the ratepayers of the borough could be justly proud. He could not speak too highly of the way in which the work had been done, especially when he took into consideration the fact that not for a moment was the traffic either under or over the Aqueduct stopped. He. was also pleased to hear that the Council would not lose the services of the Borough Surveyor (Mr. Race). ln him they had a man in whom they could put every trust, and he, for one, amply trusted him.

Extending the Borough Boundaries.

Alderman Clegg, proposing the Borough Engineer, the contractors, and the Canal Company's engineer, said that possibly some of them were thinking what a pity it was that the canal ever came to Burnley. (Laughter.) Certain it was that if Burnley had not been built on both sides of the canal many of the difficulties of the day might have been avoided. The Aqueduct was a successful attempt to keep up the means of communication and there would come a time when someone would ask who was the originator of the idea. The council's year book for 1927 would be produced and Councillor Sutcliffe's name found to be opposite the word, Mayor. Then all discussion would be ended. (Laughter.) After referring. To the great improvement which the new Aqueduct would make to the traffic, Alderman Clegg said that he could foresee the day when Burnley would have to make another opening in another direction. · He had heard, many years ago, that Grimshaw Street was the next to be considered. The Corporation were spending a lot of money on roads and transport work and they were near to the end of the town in most of the directions in which they were launching out. He hoped the Councillors would take care that they were not making increased rateable values for other authorities than their own. Burnley to-day seemed to be very much shut in, and, with the trend of the times, it would become a problem which some of the larger towns had already faced-to see how far they could extend the boundaries. Otherwise, Burnley would some day be a place "near somewhere else." The area covered by the Burnley Union should have been, he suggested, the area covered by the borough, He hoped that something would be done in the direction he had indicated because it seemed to him that a great deal of the money they were spending would not be profitable unless they could take some such course. Like Mr. Place, he was glad that Mr. Race was not leaving the borough, They could all recall his father's work for the borough, and they all had a sort of feeling that Mr. Race had inherited many of the traits of his father. He had pointed out to the Council a great many things which were desirable and had shown them ways out of difficulties.

Not a little Rural Village.

Alderman Clegg complimented - the contractors on the manner in which the work had been carried out and said that all parties had approached the work in the correct spirit,
" We are not simply a little rural village,'' he concluded, and if we want Burnley to be the big town all of us expect it to be we must look to everything which has to deal with modern development; - fine roads, increased transport, extending our boundaries if we possibly can. I throw out that hint because it is a matter of very grave concern, I fail to see how Burnley, hemmed,in as she is, can develop unless she takes some such steps."
Councillor Lees supported Alderman Clegg and referred to the good work of Mr. Race. He said that the Council would be a very helpless body without the aid of their trained officials.
Mr. Race expressed his thanks for the expressions of confidence in him and his staff and said that the work in Yorkshire-street had been of a delicate and intricate nature. From the start he had received the greatest help from the Canal Company and the scheme moved with great rapidity, especially at the start. He would like to compliment the contractors on the efficiency of the body of men they had placed on the job, and Messrs, Smith Brothers, of Burnley, who supplied, the whole of the stone work and worked it.
Messrs. Wellerman had organised their work in a splendid manner and 'he was willing to admit that he had learned a lot by watching their methods. His personal part in the work had not been heavy and he would Iike to recognise the work of his assistant, Mr. Melville, in the original engineering which had been required.
Mr. Kelly, of Messrs. Wellerman Brothers, also responded, and congratulated Burnley on its efficient public officials. He said he could say without fear of contradiction that Burnley's organisation was one which had few equals in the country. But the success of the scheme could not be attributed to any one individual; it was the result of splendid co- operative effort.
Mr. Davidson, the General Manager of the Canal Company, also responded to the toast,


More recent years


From the front page of the Burnley Express 10 November 1967

What's this Waterfall?

Wet wait- Hardly the place to queue for a bus even if they are running on time!
Do you recognize this bus stop, and can you guess why it seems to be raining in?


Inside the paper

Leak plugged in Culvert overhaul

Danger men at work-the sign seems hardly necessary. Giving the mini-waterfall a wide birth and a nasty look are pedestrians both with and without umbrellas in Yorkshire Street yesterday morning. The water works well caused when workmen tried to drain off the canal in the aqueduct and the valve in the pipe behind the stone wall was blocked and sprang a leak.

They're flotsam I'm jetsam. The frogman bobs up after sealing the bottom of the timber and polythene dam with mud. Once that jobs done they'll be no need for him to drop in at the culvert for another six years when the next overhaul is due. Next time - not in November, he hopes.

If a man empties a yard and a half in a bucket in a half in a day and a half, how long?
Boys of Rosegrove secondary modern school get a practical example of a problem in hydraulics from their teacher mr John Tomlinson. As previously reported in the Burnley Express, the aqueduct at the culvert has been sealed off for cleaning. Silt and rubbish collected during the last six years are being removed from the cast iron bed of the canal which will be painted at the end of the week.

Traffic was disrupted during the works


Culvert Jubilee -celebrated by Burnley Express edition 6 August 1976

A photograph-in a more restricted view - appeared on 6 August 1976 edition of Burnley Express with text summarising much of our previous comment. The photo did not show the Culvert Garage on the left, nor the Ford Anglia and Ford Escort cars-typical of the era.


Burnley Civic Trust members attended to inspect the plaque in May 2012. The plaque is awarded to mark that the Burnley Embankment is a marvellous engineering achievement. It is 60ft high, 3/4 mile long, carrying the Lead Liverpool Canal across the Calder/Brun Valley. The meeting was attended by BCT members with Judy Jones-Heritage Officer from Burnley Waterways Leeds Office and Mike Clarke of the Leeds Liverpool Canal Society.