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The Old Tram Road, Preston’s missing link and history trail

Posted on - 30th January, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, South Ribble News
The closed Old Tram Bridge Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
The closed Old Tram Bridge Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

In Preston, there was once a tramway that bridged a gap in the Lancaster Canal. The line crossed the Ribble by a timber bridge. This bridge – the Old Tram Bridge – is under threat. A group has been set up to try to save it. This 1960s structure is in danger of collapse.

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Glenn Cookson, chairman of Friends of the Old Tram Bridge, said people are ‘passionate’ about the bridge.

“Some were concerned about heritage and some about the green credentials of being able to walk from one side of the river to the other,” he said.

“The inconvenience of it being shut is just frustrating for people.”

Originally built in 1802. The current bridge is actually a replica, built of concrete. Notably, it was designed to look like the original, which was made of timber.

A massive aqueduct was planned to cross the river at this point. However, money ran out and it was never built. Interestingly, the route of the canal and tramway can still be walked.

The route of the Lancaster Canal tramway

The route of the canal and tramway can be followed from the southern end. This makes for a fascinating walk. A lot of the original structures still survive.

End of the Lancaster Canal spur Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
The end of the canal spur, this once ran much further towards Preston Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

The Lancaster Canal splits from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the east of Whittle-le-Woods and the M61. There is a surviving spur before a derelict section. The route is then blocked by the M61.

The map shows the surviving spur of the Lancaster Canal

Map of the surviving spur of the Lancaster Canal Pic: Lancaster Canal Trust
Pic: Lancaster Canal Trust

The canal originally crossed the River Whittle on a small aqueduct, followed by an in filled tunnel

Lancaster Canal originally crossed the River Whittle on a small aqueduct Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

The tunnel is filled with mud.

Tunnel filled with mud Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

Once past the tunnel, the canal bed can be followed.

Lancaster Canal bed Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

Next the route passed under Chorley Old Road.

Under Chorley Old Road Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

In Whittle-le-Woods the canal has been filled in, however you can still follow the old towpath.

Filled in canal at Whittle-le-Woods Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

Here the tramway began at an interchange.

Map of Walton Summit tramway Pic: OS Maps
Here the tramway began at an interchange Pic: OS Maps

The canal ended at Walton Summit.

Canal ended at Walton Summit Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

There are still clues to the tramway route.

Tramway Lane Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

On Todd Lane North is an old house that once belonged to the canal company.

House on Todd Lane North that used to belong to Lancaster Canal Company Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Lancaster Canal Company sign Pic: Ashley Warren Preston
Pic: Ashley Warren Preston

From here the embankment for the tramway can be followed to the bridge.

Aerial view of tramway embankment Pic: Google Maps
From here the embankment for the tramway can be followed to the bridge Pic: Google Maps

History of the tramway

Below is the route of the canal and tramway

Map of canal and tramway route Pic: Wikimedia, OS Street Map
Pic: Wikimedia, OS Street Map

In 1792 a canal was proposed to link the towns of Kendal, Lancaster and Preston with the – then under construction – Leeds to Liverpool Canal at Wigan. The main traffic was to be coal, from the Wigan coalfields going north to Preston. Additionally, limestone was to be moved south. 

Originally an aqueduct and 32 locks were planned, however this would have been colossally expensive. Therefore a ‘temporary’ tramway was constructed, using inclined planes to pull the wagons up to Preston.

The tramway was a rather clunky affair. The rails were L shaped and the wagon wheels had no flanges. Horses pulled up to six wagons, weighing two tons each. There were two tracks and a winch above the tramway bridge in Preston. The winch hauled the wagons up the incline. Later the railways took over and the tramway closed in 1862. 

Funding for a new bridge?

The Old Tram Bridge was recently lit up by the Friends of the Old Tram Bridge.

Old Tram Bridge lit up Pic: CDS Events
Pic: CDS Events

A replacement bridge could cost around £8 million to build and be paid for with a council bid to the government Levelling Up Fund.

David Borrow, cabinet member for planning and regulation, in Preston, said more details on the criteria were needed and there was competition for the cash.

He said the bridge needed ‘significant investment which will need to be considered against other priorities in the city’.

Read more: Preston residents urged to submit Old Tram Bridge replacement designs

You can still cross the river on foot using the old East Lancashire line railway bridge.



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