The Old Tram Road
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The Lancaster Canal
In 1792 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of the Lancaster Canal. The canal would link the towns of Wigan, Preston, Lancaster and Kendal. The main purpose of the canal was to enable the supply of cheap coal to the north and cheap limestone to the south. (Preston required some 20,000 tons of coal each year to fuel its burgeoning factories. It was the only major textile town in Lancashire that lay distant from a coalfield).

By 1799 the “easy” parts of the canal, to the north and south of Preston had been completed. The canal between Preston and Kendal was referred to as the North End, whilst the section between Walton Summit and Wigan was known as the South End. The extension of the North End of the canal to the Preston Basin was completed in 1802. The basin, completed in 1804, was formed at a point 40yds from the end of the main canal, almost at right angles to it and extending for 100yds in an easterly direction. The north side of the basin was designated a public wharf, the south side was set out for the lime-stone trade and the coal yards were situated closer to Fishergate.

The Old Tram Road
The cutting of canals over level ground was comparatively inexpensive, but where hills and valleys were encountered, the costs were much greater and in many cases became prohibitive. The Ribble valley presented a formidable obstacle. The original plan was to install a series of 32 locks in order to lower level of the canal by 222ft from Walton Summit to the Ribble valley flood plain and to cross the river via a massive stone aqueduct.

When it came to the crossing of the Ribble the canal company found itself in an impossible position. There was insufficient funding to traverse the Ribble valley and the truncated canal did not earn sufficient income to return a profit.

A cheaper alternative was sought to cross the valley and a tram road was constructed to (temporarily!) connect the two ends of the canal. The tramway was inspired by the Derbyshire tramways designed and constructed by Benjamin Outram (It is possible that the name “Old Tram Road” has evolved from “Outram Road”). The tram road took three years to construct and was open for business towards the end of 1803. It comprised a dual iron plateway upon which horses pulled trains of up to six wagons, each carrying two tons of coal or limestone.

It had been perceived from the outset that Fishergate would present a natural barrier to the progress of the canal through Preston. The difference in level between the canal and the highway decreed that a tunnel some 90 yds in length had to be constructed to carry the tram road to a cutting at the opposite side of Fishergate. From the Preston basin the tram road gradually descended towards the Avenham Incline, were wagons were lowered down the slope by a winding engine and crossed a timber bridge spanning the river Ribble. A 7ft high embankment traversed the flood plain (to ensure that flooding would not disrupt the operation of the road) to the foot of the Penwortham Incline. Here, the wagons were hauled out of the valley by another steam engine.

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