A short history of the Montgomery Canal

The Montgomery Canal was built over 200 years ago.

The history of the Montgomery Canal goes back two centuries. The section from Frankton Junction to Carreghofa, just south of Llanymynech, was built by the Ellesmere Canal Company in the mid-1790s. The rest of it was the independent Montgomeryshire Canal which opened from Carreghofa to Garthmyl in 1797, but by then had exhausted its money. The final six miles into Newtown was separately financed under an Act of 1815, and then opened in 1819.

The majority of the freight carried on the canal was local limestone and coal which was burnt in kilns, often by the side of the canal, to produce quicklime primarily as a fertilizer; other significant cargoes included timber, building stone and slates.

A horse drawn narrowboat on the Montgomery Canal

With the more depressed state of agriculture in the second half of the 19th century, together with the increasing use of alternative fertilisers, traffic diminished, and by 1870 was barely covering the cost of maintenance. By then part of the Shropshire Union, the canal struggled on until 1936. A breach in the canal near the aqueduct of the River Perry in that year resulted in its closure by Act of parliament in 1944.

One of the last freights carried was grain from Liverpool to a mill at Maesbury Marsh in Shropshire.

The section north of Llanymynech dried out, but much of the rest was an integral part of the local land drainage, so no active steps were taken to fill it in and sell the land.

Canal volunteers restoring the Montgomery canal in Welshpool

A plan in the late 1960s to use the line of the canal at Welshpool for a bypass led to well-organised protests and proposals for the canal’s restoration. The inspector at the public inquiry recommended that the canal be retained ‘as an important local amenity’.

Over the next three decades the eleven mile section through Welshpool was restored with the active support of the Princes of Wales’s Committee.

At the northern end, Frankton Locks were reopened in 1987, the section to Queens Head in 1996, to Gronwen in 2003 and to Crickheath in 2023.

Today, half the canal has been restored and we are working to close the gap between Maesbury and Welshpool.

Lock winding mechanism on the Montgomery Canal

Parts of the canal are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and, in Wales, the canal is also a Special Area of Conservation. Today it is the home of the largest UK populations of the rare aquatic floating water plantain and grass wrack pondweed. Otters have been seen near Welshpool.

The Montgomery Canal has 127 listed structures, more per mile than any other part of the canal network, including the Vyrnwy aqueduct on the Welsh/English border at Llanymynech and unique iron paddle fittings at locks.

The canal’s special built and natural heritage are important features of the restoration plans in the Conservation Management Strategy of the Montgomery Canal Partnership, which brings together local authorities and statutory agencies with restoration and wildlife interests.

If you would like to be part of the future of the canal, please consider donating to our ongoing Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal or join the Friends of the Montgomery Canal today. Together, we can be part of the history of the Montgomery Canal.